Now Showing March 22 2012by David Larsen
New film reviews in our all-films-for-all-people round-up: The Hunger Games! The Raid! And, returning to our normal punctuation, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Alliance Francaise French Film Festival Five weeks, nine cities, and running till early April. Mostly titles not screened previously here, with notable exceptions such as Julie Delpy’s 2 Days in Paris, and the Oscar-nominated animated feature A Cat in Paris, both worth a second viewing. Charlotte Rampling fans will want to see The Look, a documentary that seeks to plumb the essence of this enigmatic and edgy actress, and the intersecting lives sub-genre is given an impressive and grittily realistic treatment in Heat Wave. Dates and cinemas: www.frenchfilmfestival.co.nz HW
Brother Number One At last – the film that made it into our Top 10 lists for 2011 gets a nationwide release. Arthouse cinemas big and small are now hosting Annie Goldson’s extraordinarily moving documentary about NZ Olympian Rob Hamill’s quest for justice for his brother Kerry, captured and killed by the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia in 1978. Any anxieties that this might be a piece of grisly voyeurism should be laid aside; its accessible blend of history, politics and personal experiences of villains and victims alike tells a much bigger story than that, and one which draws you into close engagement. Partly this is through Goldson’s trademark clarity of storytelling, but it’s also a lot to do with the onscreen storyteller. Rob Hamill is a quintessential Kiwi who could easily be your brother, husband, son or best friend, and through this medium not only do the politics become very personal; we also feel a powerful sense of being with him, step by step, on his quest. Highly recommended. Dates and cinemas: www.brothernumberone.co.nz HW
Chronicle As elderly as the found-footage device is getting, this iteration feels fresh: you could take it for the work of talented newcomers who've digested the last three decades of genre film and want to make something exciting out of it. You'd be bang on. Three American high schoolers - the popular guy, the clever guy, and the obsessive reject with the home video camera - find a Hole In the Ground, wherein lies Something Not of This World. They acquire superpowers. They have adventures. Popular Guy and Clever Guy start to become aware that Obsessive Reject, who has years of bullying and parental abuse behind him, is not necessarily someone you'd want walking round lose with superhuman abilities. Can they save him from himself, or are they going to have to save everyone else from him? The last act sags a little, and the ingenious efforts to provide a plausible source for every last security camera image, TV report fragment, private video diary segment, etc, eventually become a distraction. Still, this is great fun: energetic and likeable. DL
Contraband Without in any way being an interesting film, this is a fascinating artifact: a big-budget Icelandic thriller (I kid you not), remade in English, with the Icelandic star of the original as director. Mark Wahlberg, whose acting career continues to be a study in unlikely and occasionally fruitful zigzags, plays a retired smuggler and family man, forced by circumstances into pulling one last job. The ways in which it goes horribly wrong are not quite the ways you'd expect, which is not to say the film feels fresh: it feels both overly familiar and entirely bizarre, a case study in the effects of feeding a generic Hollywood plot through the prism of another film making culture and then feeding it back again. Wahlberg makes a solid center, and there's enough energy to the proceedings (just) to sustain the film's length. DL
Event Cinemas Retro Showcase Starting this month and running through June in Auckland, Wellington and Hamilton, an array of classics from the 30s to the 90s, the way they were meant to be seen: on a big screen. The 13 titles, which include favourites such as Gone With the Wind, Dr. No and Bridge on the River Kwai, all have great entertainment value. With a damp autumn predicted, what better way to pass it than Singin' in the Rain? Dates and cinemas: www.eventcinemas.co.nz
Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close A boy, a key, a dead father. A frantic quest around a famous city to find the thing the key will unlock. Meeting eccentric people on the way. Has anyone else noticed the similarity with Hugo? But the comparison ends there. Hugo was a feast for the eye and a lovely evoking of place and period; ELAIC is more internal, and frankly less appealing. A story of post-9/11 healing, it never seems to settle on what it wants to say. It sets out to show the point of view of a child coping – or rather, not coping – in the wake of a loved father’s death in the twin towers, then gathers in a range of characters whose contribution to the theme and the boy’s own emotional journey seems tenuous at best. Maybe you have to be a New Yorker to get this. But maybe even a New Yorker might find this a manipulative, uneven and ultimately sentimental treatment. And although young Thomas Horn does an amazing job as a first-time actor in carrying the movie on his slight shoulders, his character of Oskar can also be deeply irritating. Which is not, I imagine, what the filmmakers intended. HW
First Night If anyone tries to convince you that a good old fashioned British comedy about a live-in opera production in a country mansion is bound to constitute a fun evening out, recognise your danger and respond appropriately. I personally would consider going straight to lethal force. If the worst occurs and you find yourself in a screening, your best hope is to close your eyes and think of Mozart. Lovely sound-track, but you don't want to see the lip-synching. Acting, dialogue and story? Wretched beyond belief. DL
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance From the "sequels no one asked for" file. No reason on earth this shouldn't be a great movie. No reason on earth. We are not avoiding it like the plague, we simply haven't got to it yet.
Headhunters Slickly made and edited, this Norwegian crime thriller will make you laugh more than you expect. It’s not exactly black comedy, but there’s a looniness that owes much to the Scandinavian sense of humour. Adapted from one of Jo Nesbø’s non-Harry Hole novels, its protagonist is a top corporate headhunter with a criminal career on the side – a juxtaposition that matches shifts in tone and genre that shouldn’t work, but do, and turn the piece into a diverting ride. Full review here. HW
Higher Ground If Vera Farmiga is in a film, it's better than it would have been without her: Farmiga Rule One. Films she's in can go badly wrong, but she doesn't generally make boring career choices: Farmiga Rule Two. And now we get to formulate - tentatively - Farmiga Rule Three: films she directs will not be showy and may be flawed, but they will be well worth seeing. Her directorial debut is a gentle, sympathetic study of the birth and testing of religious faith in an American evangelical community; it's also the best recent showcase for her remarkable acting talents. Farmiga plays a woman whose ardent desire to believe in God gradually loses the support of her intellect, bringing her to a painful moment of lose/lose choice. The remarkable thing about the film is its alertness to both the rewards and the challenges of evangelical life; it refuses the easy cheap shots, but it also refuses to dodge the hard questions, and while it isn't afraid of seeming unsophisticated - a hostile critic wouldn't have to exaggerate all that much to make it sound like a modern-day suburban version of the Little House On The Prairie TV series - it has the same quick, quiet intelligence we see in Farmiga's face. It's admittedly a little long for its substance, and one late moment of symbolism (involving dogs; what is it with dogs and the movies this last year?) is a perfect instance of first-timer overegging. Still, this is that rare thing, a serious mainstream religious film capable of speaking equally to believers and non-believers, without talking down to anyone. DL
Hugo The film Martin Scorsese was born to make... and it's a family feature about a little lost boy in a train station? That, and so much more. This is a mystery story, and though its 11 Oscar nominations have fueled a king-tide of spoiler-rich commentary even greater than the one already sparked by Scorsese's name, I'm not going to go into plot details here. There's been a great deal of discussion on social media & elsewhere as to whether rave reviews (like my one) have overstated the film's merits; a small but impassioned minority claim it has none to overstate. Go form your own view. Myself, I don't see anything knocking it off my top ten film list for 2012. In fact, out of the 150 to 200 films I'll most likely watch this year, if I see three I love more than this one, I'll be (very pleasantly) surprised. See it in 3D if you possibly can. DL
In Search Of Haydn If ever a film was made for radio, this collection of talking heads and still photos is it. Juliet Stevenson is writer-director Phil Grabsky's chief mouth-piece, voicing an uninspired but reasonably informative script which walks us through the life of the late 18th century's "other" great composer, "the man Mozart and Beethoven looked up to". The rich sampling of the music is the main attraction, and the film certainly opens a door worth walking through. But would Haydn - puckish, lively, brilliant Haydn - like it? Glad as he'd be that we still listen to him, I think he'd be horrified to find his life could look this boring. DL
Jack and Jill Adam Sandler has been in some good films. He has. But when the accumulation of bad ones forms a pile capable, were it to topple, of crushing a film reviewer to death, certain conclusions become hard to avoid. One: Adam, buddy, it's not bad luck. It's you. Two: we'll be going to your new releases only when the word of mouth is better than abysmal. For this one, the word of mouth is actually worse than abysmal.
J Edgar Too long, and the ageing make-up is applied with an overly enthusiastic hand, but this biopic about the legendary founder of the FBI is far and away the best film Clint Eastwood has directed for years. Leonardo DiCaprio does great work as a man driven by a turbulent mix of ideals and neuroses; Judi Dench is his formidable mother. Full review here. DL
John Carter Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom novels are not much read now, and for good reason; but their influence on twentieth century science fiction is hard to overstate. Burroughs starts where H.G. Wells started in War of the Worlds - Percival Lowell's vision of Mars as a dying world, kept viable for life by a desperate rear-guard struggle pitting a vast network of canals against the encroaching desert - and whips up a frenzied White Man Saves The Natives farrago of warring civilisations, exotic beasts, and beautiful (egg-laying) princesses in desperate need of rescue. The planetary romance tradition starts here; we wouldn't have Ming the Merciless or Star Wars without Burroughs, and we wouldn't have the novels of Jack Vance or Frank Herbert. Given what's been done to Herbert's work by film and TV adaptations - David Lynch's last name has never seemed more like a verb personally addressed to me in the imperative than the day I saw his Dune movie - I suppose I should be glad Pixar's Andrew Stanton has chosen Burroughs, not the far more worthy Vance, as the source material for his first live-action film. But no one will attempt to bring Vance's magnificent visions to the screen now; not this decade, anyway. Because, short of literal incoherence, Stanton's film could really not be much worse. How do you take this much money - every frame screams "Mega-Budget CGI!" - and a setting this exotic, and proceed to make adventure look this dull? (And also sound this dull; the score is one long nightmare of non-stop sub-John Williams over-orchestrated "FEEL EMOTIONS NOW, PLEASE!" symphonic drivel). I spent over two hours watching airships soaring above the Martian deserts, armies clashing, Dominic West and Mark Strong sneering, and the only exciting moment was when someone spilled their coke on my shoes. DL
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island Sequel to 2008's Journey to the Center of the Earth. This substantial handicap is not the reason we haven't seen it. We were just busy that day. And every day since.
Martha Marcy May Marlene It’s not surprising this accomplished debut from Sean Durkin won him a Sundance directing award last year. An intimate journey into the world and mind of a young woman escaping a cult in the woods of New England, it’s non-sensational yet quietly disturbing, holding us in a state of suspension throughout. From the first frames, where we see Martha carrying out the ordinary task of laying a table, we sense a tension in her, and this is the first indication of Elizabeth Olsen’s talent for subtle conveying of the range of emotions she traverses in the course of the film. Never mind all that Olsen twins nonsense; this is their little sister, and she is a real actress. As we watch Martha struggling to live in the real world again – she’s sought refuge with her estranged sister and brother-in-law, but they have no idea where she’s been – Durkin skilfully weaves in her memories of the past to give insight and understanding into how that past creates confusion for all of them in the present. It’s a disquieting portrait of a cult, too, with its distorted philosophies and creepy social control. John Hawkes, who impressed as the meth addict in Winter’s Bone, is just as good here as the cult leader. Not a perfect film in all respects – there are some credibility issues – but its mood and ambience are completely involving. The open-ended finale and some brief episodes of violence may bother some, but they feel right in context. HW
Midnight In Paris Woody Allen goes to France, taking with him, as usual, a large ensemble of capable actors, and, far less usual, a rather lovely script. It's years - it's decades - since he's written so well for the screen. This giddy intellectual romance is not invulnerable to the same critiques as every other Woody Allen movie since the dawn of time - he's not kind to his female characters, and seems blissfully unaware of the fact - but it's light-hearted, and funny, and seems genuinely, infectiously in love with its setting. Review here. DL
Moneyball Even if you’re not a fan of sports movies, let alone of baseball, I can’t recommend this highly enough. It seems like a standard underdog story to start with, but when you see what the team’s manager (played by Brad Pitt) and his Yale grad recruit (Jonah Hill) do to get out from under, it reaches deep into ideas about personal potential that speak to us all: the undervaluing of individuals, and the randomness of subjective judgement. Inspired by a true story that’s been adapted into a sharply-honed script by the definitely not undervalued Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian, it’s engrossing, insightful and graced with excellent performances all round. Full review here. HW
My Week With Marilyn The weighting between frustration and pleasure here is finely balanced: Michelle Williams does a remarkable job of bringing Marilyn Monroe into her every move and gesture, and she's backed up by a long list of fine British character actors in fine British character acting form. (Kenneth Branagh's Laurence Olivier is a masterpiece of self-mockery). But director Simon Curtis can't quite decide whether he's making a Serious Homage To The Tragic Screen Goddess or a sweet coming-of-age comedy about the kid detailed to spend a week as her minder, and therefore, well placed to make both, he fails to make either. Full review here. DL
Project X Teen party gets out of hand. Every now and then one of these high school comedies turns out to be the next big thing, and when that happens, we're meant to let you know. Sorry. Weren't invited, didn't crash.
Romantics Anonymous Chocolate and anxiety. Really? Yes, but not in the sense of dietary guilt. Chocolatiers Angélique and Jean-René both suffer from the disorder. Hers is shyness and lack of self-belief; his is fear, especially of women. So when Jean-René hires Angélique to work in his shop, you know they’ll end up together, but the path is, naturally, a rocky road, strewn with smilingly comic encounters and misunderstandings. Lovely casting of the leads, more than a touch of Amélie quirkiness, and an almost storybook look to its Lyon setting. Soft-centred, but not gooey. HW
Safe House Ryan Reynolds, you are hereby forgiven for Green Lantern. Denzel Washington is the real draw in this tense, involving action thriller, ice cool as the CIA traitor Reynolds's young rookie has to bring in, but Reynolds holds his own. Director Daniel Espinosa (who he?) takes his time putting all his pieces in place, and the visual style is initially oppresive. (Lots of fast-panning low-rez close-ups, for that you-are-there, don't-throw-up feel). But the pay-off is considerable. The surprisingly dark story kept going places I didn't expect - literally as well as figuratively; the main setting, which I won't name because I had so much fun trying to place it, is non-American and non-European, and the unfamiliarity does a lot to keep things fresh - and the camera work, once you adjust to it, is immersive and visceral. (The film shares its cinematographer & editor with the Bourne series). There's a rare sense, as artificial and generic as the basic shape of the story is, that actual adult men are facing actual adult choices. With Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson, whose good instincts for picking their projects did not desert them here. DL
Shame Experimental film maker Steve McQueen's second theatrical feature is also his second collaboration with Michael Fassbender, which is the main reason, and quite reason enough, to watch it. Fassbender plays a familiar enough type in this pop-Freudian age, the sexual compulsive incapable of accepting a true emotional connection. (And yes, the pop-Freudian locution was chosen with his upcoming performance as Jung in mind, opposite Viggo Mortensen's Freud in Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method). (I'm so excited!) The film tells us far less about its characters than they know about themselves, an approach which needs better writing married to it than McQueen and screenplay collaborator Abi Morgan are able to supply - but Fassbender is a compelling presence, and the cinematography remakes New York. Full review here. Crackly and in places inaudible podcast of me discussing Fassbender with our arts editor, Guy Somerset, here. (Very much a trial podcast, offered in the spirit of "we'll get better at this"). DL
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn Steven Spielberg and producer Sir Peter Jackson bring out the best in each other, a cast of fine voice actors do excellent work, and the wizards of Weta do their best motion-caption animation yet. Tintin purists will carp, but this is outstanding summer fun, and worth catching in 3D if you can. DL
The Artist Silent, black and white film about a silent film star. The film industry's touching tribute to itself? No: this is slight, but its charm is real, its technology-driven unemployment storyline has obvious contemporary resonance, and it pulls off several coup de cinema moments that will stay with me a long time. Features yet another in the recent long line of bravura performances by dogs. Full review here. DL
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Not to be mistaken for any kind of masterpiece, but don't underrate the professional expertise required to put a good, likeable ensemble culture-clash comedy together. Director John Madden throws a dream cast of senior British actors - Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton - into a run-down Indian "luxury retirement facility", and they have a satisfying amount of fun there. At its weakest when it tries to be serious and meaningful, but never less than pleasant. Longer review here. DL
The Comedy of Errors The best romantic comedy now on our screens was written 400 years ago. Shakespeare's early comedies are the hardest of all his plays to present to modern audiences, but when they're done well they're a delight, and this National Theatre Live production is by far the best Comedy of Errors I've seen. The staging is inspired, and the acting is almost beyond praise: every little quirk and jibe of the language is inflected just so, with body language and ensemble work bringing even the most obscure Elizabethan jokes to life. As with all the National Theatre Live stage-to-screen events, you have to sit through a tedious and entirely unnecessary introductory presenter spiel before the play's allowed to start, but it isn't too long, and you'll be far too glad you saw this to object. DL
The Descendants I would like to pretend I'm astonished and horrified that this cute little exercise in fishing the shallows while dressed for big game has emerged as a strong contender for Best Picture. That's to say, I would like to pretend that the Oscars don't routinely reward trivial emotional stuntsmanship, because I enjoy betting on them, and I like the frocks. But back in the world we actually inhabit - the world of harsh truths and difficult confessions, the world this George Clooney vehicle purports to be about - I am forced to admit that my frustration and occasional boredom did not completely stop me enjoying yet another round of "Clooney plays Mr Flawed Nice Guy". His Hawaiian man of business, clearly a terrible husband and father, has to man up and help his daughters face their mother's imminent death. Oh dear: it comes out that she was cheating on him. Does George search his soul? Goodness no. But we're meant to feel sorry for him, and assume meaningful growth is taking place. What - as either of the daughters might put it - ever. DL
The Devil Inside Found-footage horror. An Italian woman gets possessed. Exorcism ensues. We have the strong feeling we've seen this already, but this feeling is not supported by the facts.
The Hunger Games The sun has nearly set on Twilight, and Harry Potter has finally graduated from Hogwarts. Where will the devoted teen audience dollars come from now? Fear not, Hollywood execs, Suzanne Collins's futuristic dystopia trilogy is here to save you: and in a startling plot twist, Gary Ross's adaptation of the first book is cracking good. The usual gotta-race-through-too-much-exposition science fiction book-to-film problem gives the introductory scenes a slight ADD feel - Ross's fondness for ultra-short takes even in contemplative moments doesn't help - and the basic shape of the story is highly predictable. But it's predictable the way a good "underdog runs the table" sports story is predictable, and the intelligent, economical writing, the pleasantly off-the-wall production design and the clean camera work all provide the necessary back-up to Ross's best decision: casting Jennifer Lawrence in the central role. I've seen Lawrence in five films over the last two years, and only Winter's Bone has made full use of her abilities; she isn't stretched here, but she lifts the film from adequate-plus to thoroughly entertaining. Excellent supporting work from Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and a quite unrecognizable Stanley Tucci. DL
The Hunter Sam Neill, Willem Dafoe, a story by Julia Leigh (writer/director of Sleeping Beauty), and the producers of Animal Kingdom: these are reasons to be interested in this Aussie psychological drama about a tracker sent into the wild to look for the (extinct, but maybe not) Tasmanian Tiger. We have not yet managed to see it, however.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Not a story I hold dear, and it's already been filmed well once. On the other hand - David Fincher. This English-language version of the Swedish bestseller is just too cool for school: nearly three hours long, and I loved every minute of it. Full review here. DL
The Ides of March Treachery in high places, as the title implies. The place is Ohio, on the Democratic campaign trail to the White House. George Clooney plays Mike Morris, a state governor fighting for the nomination. Ryan Gosling is Stephen, his communications whizzkid and a believer in his boss’s liberal idealism. That belief, as you might guess, is tested, and no one gets out unscathed. But if you’re hoping for something Shakespearean – again as the title implies – this falls short. It’s a thin, timid and almost naïve treatment of the kind of behaviour in politics we’ve become depressingly familiar with. Yes, of course we know that jaded cynicism awaits everyone who works in politics, and that you can expect to get shafted or have to shaft someone else. So? If you want to make a movie about it now, you need to be bolder and edgier with the characters and the themes, rather than simply settling for, “This is how it is.” HW
The Iron Lady Meryl Streep is Margaret Thatcher, but no matter your view of Britain’s former PM, this tremulous, unfocused biopic is less than she deserves. People will no doubt project their own Thatchers onto Streep’s predictably excellent performance; they’ll have to, because what director Phyllida Lloyd and writer Abi Morgan think of their polarising subject never quite emerges. DL
The Muppets I admit I'm no longer the target audience, so best to stop reading if you wish to preserve your rosy-hued memories. It's not that the movie's intentions are misplaced or misjudged, for its storyline of "let's put on a show to save the Muppet studio (and revive the franchise to hook in a new generation)" is entirely admirable. As is the production and performances. It's just that for old buggers like me, there's little besides a few potent stabs of nostalgia and some mildly referential humour to make it worth the trip. So, best seen with an accompanying ankle-biter. Still, a shout-out to Bret McKenzie for his nomination for Best Original Song, even though Oscar chose - of course - the serious one ("Man or Muppet") over the catchier "Life's a Happy Song". Full review here. HW
The Raid Ultra-violent martial arts action doesn't get much better than this. A bunch of Indonesian cops go into a crime lord's high-rise compound and fight their way up towards the Big Boss. Exceptionally well choreographed, high energy fight scenes make up 85% of the story; which is not quite to say there's no story. The sort of film where an audience's collective gasp at some exceptional act of brutality constitutes applause, though at the end my audience did, in fact, applaud. A classic of the form. DL
The Skin I Live In In years to come, perhaps it will be clearer just where, and how, this fits into the canon of Pedro Almodóvar’s work. For now, it’s a curious cocktail of ideas encompassing madness, revenge and a Frankensteinian obsession with perfection, which looks arresting onscreen, but fails to transcend its melodramatic and thriller impulses to express clearly what it wants to say. There’s always the possibility, of course, that it’s not meant to “fit”, and that this is simply the director exploring and experimenting. Whatever, there’s an uncharacteristic lack of humanity about it. Then again, it’s just occurred to me that given it involves a plastic surgeon experimenting, and not in a good way, on a human guinea pig, that lack of humanity just might be his point. Full review here. HW
The Vow Looks to be a tear-jerker romance. (Couple's perfect marriage derailed by amnesia on her part; he sets out to woo her back). We've not seen. So it would be prejudicial and unfair to link to a quirky picture-blog review which rips it to shreds.
This Means War An eyebrow-raisingly improbable plot, but gosh, it’s fun to watch. Mainly because it zooms through the what-the? moments and has actors smart enough to make it work. Plus they’re pretty darn attractive. Reese Witherspoon’s legs go all the way up to her shoulders, and the wardrobe department have knocked themselves out showcasing them with a different outfit for every scene. Tom Hardy, who’s everywhere at the moment, is not only hot; he has a comic funnybone, an understated British one. Chris Pine? Hmm. Nice eyes. As for comedienne Chelsea Handler, she rocks her dialogue and almost upstages everyone else. That plot? Two CIA agents, brothers-in-arms, fall for the same girl. There’s also a bad guy called Heinrich who pops in every now and then to remind them they have jobs, but essentially it’s a buddy movie fuelled by starpower and some pretty funny spy vs. spy gags. Oh, did I mention Tom Hardy’s hot? HW
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Just as in John Le Carré's novel, you're expected to hold far too many characters and subplots in your head at once, but rarely has so much confusion been so absorbing. It's due to an extraordinarily deft adaptation by Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan, cutting and telescoping where they should while leaving plenty of room for the equally extraordinary actors to fill in the gaps, not with dialogue, but with looks and actions. Captures the gloomy, chilly sterility of its environment, but at the same time manages to hint at the human emotions struggling to survive beneath the façade. HW
21 Jump Street The advance word on this unlikely-sounding remake-iconic-TV-drama-as-parody-film project is that it works. We are intrigued, but we haven't yet seen it.
Underworld: Awakening Zzzzz... vampires, werewolves, film franchises that mimic their appropriately lifeless undead heroes by refusing to die... zzzzz... (Kenneth Branagh once cast Kate Beckinsale in a Shakespearean comedy. Looking back, it can only have been because they share the same initials).
Vincent Wants To Sea Tourette's syndrome comedy-drama about a trio of variously compulsive characters who break out of a treatment center on a mission of mercy. German; and I admit Germany's is not a culture my possibly blinkered mind associates with great humour. But in fact, the last German comedy I saw was touching, unexpected, a rich experience in all sorts of ways. Alas, this one is a stereotype reinforcer. It manages to feel both formulaic and lost in translation; an achievement, when you think about it. DL
War Horse Steven Spielberg can still frame an impressive set piece, but this episodic meander through the First World War is boring, lifeless, and all in all as poor a film as he's made since (though not, I hasten to add, as poor as) Hook. (I do not believe Spielberg has another Hook in him, though that may just be desperate denial on my part). It's intended as a family-friendly war film, which may not be an inherently perverse notion, but in Spielberg's hands means, "Oh, are millions being slaughtered? Quick, look this way, kiddies - there's a horse in danger!" DL
Weekend There are a handful of moments in this beautifully well observed ships-passing-in-the-night love story when the hand of artifice weighs heavy on your shoulder. Most of them involve Glen, the pushy, artsy bundle of attitude whom our morose young viewpoint character, Russell, finds in his bed one morning after going out clubbing. Glen has a lot to say on a lot of subjects, one of them being the difficulty of accepting yourself as a gay man when you never glimpse anything that looks like your own life on film or TV. If most straights saw a gay sex scene they wouldn't know where to look! They never get the chance to start finding it natural! The "just in case you didn't get what we're doing here" signposting mostly serves to underline how relaxed, easy and rich with subtext the rest of the film is: in contrast to most of the young couples we see on the screen, Glen and Russell feel more like real people the more time we spend with them. We had to wait years for a sequel to the somewhat similar Before Sunrise. Part of me wants more Glen and Russell right now. But on the other hand, their story's nearly perfect as it is. DL
We Need To Talk About Kevin Whether you have read Lionel Shriver’s novel or not, and are therefore prepared or not for the terrible act that lies at its centre, you will not fail to admire Lynne Ramsay’s ability to build to the revelation of that act with an extraordinary visual and emotional power. It’s a twisty, mysterious journey through the eyes, mind and memories of a mother – played brilliantly by a gaunt and haunted Tilda Swinton – traversing the rarest but very worst of fears of parenthood with empathy and sensitivity. Review here. HW
Click here for more stories and reviews by David Larsen, here for more stories and reviews by Helene Wong.
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