Now Showing, May 17 2012by David Larsen
New film reviews this week: Man On Ledge, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, Shihad: Beautiful Machine, The Dictator
A Dangerous Method This appears to be a three-legged stool of a film, supported equally by major performances from Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud, Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung, and Keira Knightley as Sabina Spielrein, Jung's patient and lover, and one of the first female psychoanalysts. In actual fact it is a film powered by Mortensen (a brilliant Freud), Fassbender (a fascinating Jung, though the particular ways in which he fascinates will be exasperatingly familiar to anyone who's seen his last half dozen films; it isn't that he's any less good here, but it would be nice if he'd add some new strings to his bow), and the excellent work of director David Cronenberg, screenwriter Christopher Hampton (adapting his own play), production designer James McAteer, and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky. That's a long list of very able people, and all of their efforts taken together just about make up for Knightley's unfortunate mix of over- and under-acting. This is a fine film built around material of major significance, intelligent, visually beautiful, full of well turned dramatic moments and challenging ideas. It's also the latest in a long line of Keira Knightley films that could have been quite a lot better if the female lead role had been given to someone else. 3.5/5 DL
American Pie: Reunion The useful lesson to take from the American Pie franchise is that when you have a surprisingly sweet, surprisingly successful teen sex comedy, you should avoid the temptation to make it into a franchise. Since this temptation is a financial one, it is not, generally speaking, going to be resisted. We did not see this latest Pie. Perhaps it's splendid. Perhaps you'll win lotto this week. Anything is possible.
A Separation Very few of the people I've discussed this Iranian masterpiece with in the nine months or so since it screened at last year's film festival have failed to report that it blew them away. The subject matter is severe, though not extreme: a couple in the throes of a contested divorce get caught up in a legal dispute with another couple, less educated, less prosperous, and far more religious than they are. Director Asghar Farhadi attends to each of the four litigants with a spacious, careful respect; this is multiple perspective storytelling raised to a high art, and the acting, like the camera work, is so unshowy you could almost fail to notice how good it is. Without much in the way of stylistic bells and whistles, Farhadi earns himself a place at the very top of his profession. Full review here. 5/5 DL
Battleship Liam Neeson, a friend commented recently, is fast emerging as his generation's Michael Caine: has talent, doesn't care what he does with it. With Wrath of the Titans and this board game adaptation (read that phrase again, slowly) out this month alone, the less distinguished end of his filmography may soon rival the mighty Caine's for oceanic depths of wretchedness. Or perhaps not; the truth is that we couldn't bring ourselves to watch this one. Transformers meets Battle Los Angeles, judging by the trailer: and may God help us all.
Beauty And The Beast 3D This might be a good moment to wave the flag for 3D. Remember 3D? The never-seen-that-before expansiveness that made Avatar more than just a well dressed collection of cliches? (We insist on this point). A brand new tool in the toolkit, a whole new way to think about shot composition, a wow factor that actually let film-makers do new stuff. TT3D was magnificent. How To Train Your Dragon, there was a great big screen experience. (The flying scenes! Pure delight). We know of at least one novel being written in the wake of Wernor Herzog's Cave Of Forgotten Dreams. And meanwhile, of course, every other Hollywood would-be blockbuster is being released in why-bother retrofitted 3D, older "classics" are leaping hopefully back onto screens at higher ticket prices than ever before, and audiences could be forgiven for yawning. We saw The Avengers in 3D without quite noticing the 3D was there. And there are older Disney films we'd love to see back in theatres, 3D or 2D - okay, preferably 2D - but were we really going to get excited about Beauty and the Beast's acquisition of an all-too-appropriately-thin layer of illusory depth? Someone make 3D fun again. Please.
Carnage Curious: Roman Polanski's adaptation of this four-hander stage play is so intelligently shot and so well cast that the limits of the source material become glaringly obvious... and yet, being so intelligently shot and so well cast, it's still a treat to watch. Two New York pre-teen boys get into a fight. One knocks the other's teeth out, and the parents of the evil-doer go over to the victim's apartment to apologise to his parents. Much back-handed courtesy ensues; and then things go downhill; and then things go off a cliff. Jodie Foster reminds you just how good she can be; her role is perhaps the juiciest, but Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, and John C Reilly all shine as the other warring spouses. Polanski's direction is a masterclass in getting the most out of a small set without resorting to attention-getting weird camera placement stunts - brief opening and closing sequences aside, the film takes place entirely in one small New York apartment, but it never feels cramped or visually static. The play ultimately wastes its best satirical opportunities in favour of over-the-top couples-on-the-warpath humour, but it's hard to object too strenuously when it's done this well. 3.5/5 DL
Chinese Take-Away The obvious phrases to describe Chinese Takeaway – “charming”, “warmhearted”, “delightful” – would be perfectly adequate, except that the opening, a prologue of wonderful absurdity, introduces an almost magical element that wafts this Argentinian film beyond cliché. In Buenos Aires, the chance meeting of a solitary, grumpy shopkeeper (Ricardo Darín of The Secret in Their Eyes) and a penniless Chinese immigrant (Huang Sheng Huang) sparks a tale of human connection and coincidence that unwinds gently and surprisingly without ever feeling engineered. Darín is deadpan amusing, and Huang’s almost exclusively nonverbal performance is just right. 3.5/5 HW
Coriolanus Taut and thrilling, Ralph Fiennes’ adaptation (with writer John Logan) of this Shakespearean tragedy is a triumph for him as both actor and director. Set in Rome but with sly visual referencing of contemporary theatres of civil war (Eastern Europe, the Middle East), this production takes the concept of “opening it up” by the scruff of its neck and hurls us into a cinematic telling that’s visceral and urgent in look and feel, yet never sacrifices the tragic psychology at its heart. Shaven-headed and dead-eyed, Fiennes is a truly scary Martius – dubbed Coriolanus after he saves Rome – a soldier hero lugging a bag of pride, anger and disdain which curdle into a shocking vengeance that we know cannot – must not – end well. Even his mother Volumnia (pretty dodgy herself when it comes to patriotic bloodlust, as underscored by Vanessa Redgrave’s appearance in military drag), cannot tame the monster in her son. Fear and pity indeed. Showing in Auckland and Hamilton only. 4/5 HW
Dark Shadows It's a Tim Burton film. It's also a remake of a cult TV classic, in the "obscure, still has fans, probably dreadful even in its day" sense of that phrase, and you could certainly see its many and various weaknesses as side-effects of the distorting compressions, elisions and exaggerations that tend to go on when Hollywood reimagines a small screen property. But I'd put most of the blame on those increasingly ominous words, "a Tim Burton film". In an astonishing departure, Johnny Depp stars as a whimsically drawn comic character with overtones of menace. (In this instance, a 200-year old vampire, newly released from the grave and working his way down a long list of of fish-out-of-water cliches as he gets to grips with that mod, mod year, 1972). Helena Bonham Carter has a pointless supporting role, the set design is gorgeously overdone, and neither the story nor the characters have any great dramatic coherence. So yes, a Tim Burton film, and not one of the now vanishingly rare ones where he seems to care about what he's doing. But it isn't his worst. I laughed a few times, smiled quite often, said "Give me a break" only once or twice. With Michelle Pfeiffer as the matriarch of Johnny Depp's dysfunctional clan of descendants (she's great), and Eva Green as his immortal lovesick nemesis. (Sorry, Casino Royale fans, I'm calling it: she simply cannot act). 2.5/5 DL
Documentary Edge Film Festival ‘Spoiled for choice’ best describes this year’s programme, with categories ranging across arts, politics, global and social change, and of course portraits of interesting or exceptional individuals. It’s impossible to give a summation here, except to say you’re likely to find a thing or three to grab your particular interest. Suggest you browse the catalogue, or better still, www.documentaryedge.org.nz where it’s very easy to navigate to whatever that interest might be. But here are some titles worth checking out: for the head, Four Horsemen, Public Speaking, and the category Arab Spring; for the heart, Hitler’s Children and Yakel 3D; for the funny bone, Exporting Raymond and Big in Bollywood; and for Trekkies, The Captains, natch. Auckland 26 April – 13 May; Wellington 17 May – 3 June. Longer review here. HW
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
Footnote From Israel, a delicious tale of father-son and academic rivalry that expertly juggles comedy, thriller and satire while pitching its characters into excruciating moral and ethical dilemmas. So well written that our sympathies are torn every which way even as another part of our brain sees the absurdities in the situation. The Israeli cast is perfect, and vanity, jealousy and sheer stubbornness have never been quite so funny ... or painful. 4/5 HW
Good For Nothing It's a Western. It was made in New Zealand. South Otago and the McKenzie Country stand in (brilliantly) for the mid-American plains. Cohen Holloway (Boy, Eagle Vs Shark) plays Clint Eastwood, or at least, Clint Eastwood as he might have been, were the classic Eastwood characters of yore more inclined to rape people, and more troubled by erectile dysfunction. Holloway's great, and the film looks magnificent - first-time DOP Mathew Knight should be getting lots more work offers. The potential difficulty is the rape-driven storyline, in which Holloway's Man With No Name abducts Isabella Montgomery (Inge Rademeyer, very good in her first screen role), a young British woman with a lot of romantic ideas about the American West. Director Mike Wallace sets out to explode every one of these ideas, and his humour is so dry you could frequently miss it altogether: especially while his hero is attempting (and failing) to rape his heroine. Male impotence is the film's grand comic theme, and it works very nicely in a running gag about a sheriff who can't shoot straight, but the funny side of rape is harder to locate than Wallace possibly realises. The thing which ultimately sold me on the film despite its wince-inducing moments is the John Psathas score, at once so original, so stirring and so evocative of the great Western soundtracks of the past. Psathas has never scored a film before. He's going to be in hot demand internationally as a film composer from now on; not that he needs the work, but I hope he takes some of it. I haven't been this impressed by film music in a long time. The first thing I wanted to do after watching the film was to find out more about his contribution, and happily, Guy Somerset has an interview with him here. 3/5 DL
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. 3.5/5 HW
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. 2.5/5 DL
Jiro Dreams of Sushi The perfect subject for an unlikely hit biographical documentary meets not quite the perfect film-maker. Jiro Ono is a Japanese sushi chef. Actually, he's the Japanese sushi chef, 85 years old when this film was made and widely viewed as the zen master of his field. People wait months and years for a booking at his little Tokyo sushi bar, where he serves them whatever he thinks they ought to eat: the simplest of food, prepared by a living exemplar of the principle that you should devote your life to perfecting your art. And what kind of father and boss does a man like that make? We meet Jiro's various apprentices, one of whom is his son and presumptive heir; they're stoical about the decades they're expected to devote to learning to cook rice, after which Jiro may, possibly, allow them to invest further decades in learning to slice fish. It's fascinating material, but it presents director David Gelb with a problematic challenge: when your subject is constantly emphasising the importance of getting the little things right, your audience is likely to pay more attention than usual to your editing, your choice of music cues, and, generally speaking, your broad-spectrum technical competence. To say that Gelb's work is not up to Jiro's standards is to put it kindly, because few people's would be - but a lot of directors would come far closer than he does. 3/5 DL
Man On A Ledge Look up there! Is it a drama? Is it a comedy? Hm, there’s all that really intense stuff with the police psychologist trying to talk the guy, well, not so much down, as in through the window, and him throwing the occasional vertiginous dance move to make us gasp, and it does seem to be a case of genuine injustice, so ... oh, wait, now there’s this girl burglar across the road stripping off her skin-tight thieving gear to reveal a screen-filling, red lingerie-encased cleavage, and then look – there’s a wasted-looking Ed Harris hamming it up as Evil Corrupt Person, so, um, what? Oh, never mind. If you’re looking to fill rather than waste time, forget the tonal disconnect and enjoy the way it hooks you in and juggles heist movie clichés, high-rise thrills, good baddies and bad goodies into a moderately clever if improbable plot. This won’t do much for Sam Worthington’s reputation, but will add to Elizabeth Banks’s. She might look the stereotypical blonde, but she continues to evade typecasting by tackling a range of roles – very well – and by disappearing into them so thoroughly that you have to wait for the credits to find out it’s her. I’ll spare you that this time – she’s the psychologist. 3/5 HW
Margin Call Moral fibre is conspicuous by its absence in JC Chandor’s compelling imagining of what happened the day the music died on Wall Street. Or rather, the day the musician-traders watched in paralysed horror as the volume began to fade from 11. The resulting overnight scramble, overseen by a CEO based not-so-loosely on Lehman Brothers’ John Tuld, and played to eminence gris perfection by Jeremy Irons, is a visual orchestration of internalised spinelessness and panic. It also earned Chandor a well deserved screenplay nomination in this year’s Oscars. And unlike documentary treatments of the crisis (eg., Inside Job), there are no whizzbang diagrams or jargon garble to grapple with. Some of these players admit to not really getting any of this stuff either, so, usefully for us, have to have it explained over and over. It’s an example of the way the film humanises those we would normally label greedy bastards, but it doesn’t let them off the hook, either. Kevin Spacey heads a good, solid ensemble of unshowy performers, and a nice surprise is that one of them is Demi Moore. Review here. 4/5 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. 3/5 DL
Salmon Fishing In The Yemen I thought this was supposed to be a satire of British politics, based on Paul Torday’s book, but Simon Beaufoy’s script has channelled most of the comedy into a light and quirky romance, producing more of a chickflick than commentary. Odd couple Harriet – assistant to a progress-minded Yemeni sheik who decides to have a go at introducing North Atlantic salmon to the desert – and Fred, the government fisheries expert recruited to help her, spend most of the film behaving as though what we know is going to happen between them isn’t going to happen, only you couldn’t exactly call it sexual tension. Despite the contrivance and predictability, it’s gentle and amusing enough to pass the time – although when the satire does put in an appearance, in the form of an OTT Kristin Scott Thomas as the PM’s media minder, it almost punches a hole in the screen with the force (farce?) of its caricature. And thus loses much of its satirical power. Emily Blunt as Harriet, and Ewan McGregor as Fred are fine, but are hardly exercised by this material. OK if you like your salmon in spring water rather than oil. 2.5/5 HW
Shihad: Beautiful Machine Fans will enjoy this inside look and its generous use of archive footage of both the onstage and offstage life of the band. If you’re not a fan, you’ll still appreciate the choice to focus on the personal stories, even though they track the familiar rise-and-fall arc of most band documentaries. They’re frank about the personal highs and lows, and there’s a decent section on THAT decision to change their name when they went to conquer America. Although it would have been good to have explained why they chose as its replacement a word that Americans use for a baby’s dummy. I mean, what were they on? Oh, right. Overall, as competently made as it is, it never rises above mere document ... except for the moment when we first clap eyes on Jon Toogood’s Mum’s splendid tat. Now there’s a story. 2.5/5 HW
Spud A dated little curiosity from South Africa, adapted from what’s claimed to have been a best-selling children’s novel from 1990. My question is, surely even back then the character clichés, boarding schoolboy humour and escapades must have seemed gaggingly stale? OK, there’s an attempt to insert some contemporary political context – Nelson Mandela’s release – into the main character’s coming-of-age story, but the entire endeavour is a clumsy, drawn-out mess that you watch – assuming you stay – with growing disbelief. Spud, by the way, is the nickname for someone whose balls haven’t dropped. So, except perhaps for small boys still in the tits-and-farts phase, Spud, I’m afraid, is a dud. 1/5 HW
Starbuck Charming French-Canadian comedy based around one of the great comedy film tropes of our time, the Boy-Man Who Needs To Grow Up. Patrick Huard plays David Wozniak, a middle aged loser perpetually supported by his long-suffering family and on the verge of being dumped by his long-suffering girlfriend. Who is, it transpires, pregnant, and disinclined to see David as a good potential father figure. While he's dithering over how to respond to this unwelcome turn of events, he discovers he is, in fact, a father figure already: long ago, he raised some much-needed quick cash by selling his sperm to a fertility clinic. He now has 533 children. And they're challenging his anonymous donor status in court. Surprisingly witty, surprisingly sweet, and in the end, surprisingly moving. 4/5 DL
The Avengers Superhero movie agnostics, here is your test case: if you don't like this one, you're never going to like any of them. This is not quite to say that writer/director Joss Whedon has squared the circle and produced the perfect marriage of big budget action and old fashioned storytelling, but my god, it's hard to imagine anyone getting much closer. To put it at its crudest, this is a film where the fight scenes have actual characters in them. I could have done without the rent-a-villain hordes of aliens who turn up in the final act (no spoiler; we see them coming from the first scene) so that our cast of heroes, having fought each other a bit and then other people a bit, can take things to the next level (in the computer games sense) and fight a city-levelling, world-threatening army a bit; or rather, I'd have liked it if the aliens had been slightly less anonymous. And that final battle does go on rather. But it's so cleanly composed as an action sequence, so easy to follow, and, thanks to the work Whedon's put into building his subplots and establishing his characters, it's so full of moments that have meaning: it is in fact a character-driven final battle, a thing which any student of the works of Michael Bay might have taken to be a contradiction in terms. And the process of getting to it is just pure fun. Robert Downey Jnr and Tom Hiddleston get the best of Whedon's many good lines, playing Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Loki (evil brother of Thor), respectively, and their big scene together was my favourite one by far; but this is an ensemble film, and none of the characters is neglected. Even the Incredible Hulk gets to be a real person here, and many another character who's annoyed or baffled me in previous Marvel films serves a meaningful purpose. I still rank the much-neglected Serenity - another ensemble action movie requiring a degree of investment in a previously established story universe for full appreciation - as Whedon's best work on the big screen. But only by a whisker. Interview with Brian Michael Bendis, writer of the Avengers comics and consultant on the movie, here. Update: I forgot to mention that I saw this in 3D, which tells you all you need to know on the format choice question. If I were seeing this again, and I most likely will, I can't think of any reason to pay more for the 3D version; on the other hand, if someone insists on thrusting 3D tickets into your hand, the 3D isn't the murky, irritating kind that sabotages your enjoyment. 4/5 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. 3.5/5 DL
The Dictator Borat was a work of demented genius. Bruno... wasn't. And now we get to see what Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles can do by way of in-your-face, sacred-cow-slaughtering comedy when they strip away the fake documentary device. Who would have thought it would be this little? Cohen plays Aladeen, the title despot, a North African strongman on a mission to defend his nation's nuclear program to the UN Assembly. A coup attempt - courtesy of a grand vizier character played by Ben Kingsley, whose loyalty to his Hugo co-star must have overwhelmed his sense of self-preservation - leaves Aladeen lost on the streets of New York, where he proceeds to say ever such daringly rude things about women, Jews, blacks, and whoever else he can think of. None of it's at all funny, and the implication that liberal sensibilities can be bruised by such lame wannabe offensiveness is the only shocking thing on offer. That, and the revelation that Cohen, who bottled lightning with Borat, could sink this low. 1.5/5 DL
The Five Year Engagement Comedy-drama with some nice comedy and some affecting drama, but a high degree of dissonance between the two. Jason Segal and Emily Blunt play a young couple trying to make a life together as their careers pull them in different directions. He puts his work on hold to support hers (of course he does; even today, few people would think it film-worthy if the polarity were reversed), and the consequences of this relationship-saving decision turn out, oh the irony, to be relationship-threatening. A much more satisfying treatment of the tensions between romantic ideals and harsh realities than the recent Like Crazy, but marred by the same very basic problem: the more the lovers start getting on each other's nerves, the more they become genuinely irritating. Many great moments, but I walked out of the theatre wishing the film had opted either for more comedy, or for less. 3/5 DL
The Grey So. Very. Bizarre. It's hard to write about the things that make this Liam Neeson man vs nature thriller so improbably ridiculous without getting into serious spoiler territory, but to put it in the most general terms, writer-director Joe Carnahan (whose The A-Team pleased me much more than it seemed to please a lot of people) wants to pull off the big double: on the one hand, a high octane popcorn film about a group of plane wreck survivors trying to get out of the Alaskan wilds while a pack of territorially enraged wolves picks them off one by one (bad choice of plane crash site, guys), and on the other, a serious contemplation of What It Is To Be A Man. The two ambitions aren't necessarily incompatible, but Carnahan's notion of well wrought manly dialogue is embarrassingly naff, and when Neeson's character starts reciting his father's poetry, it's time to turn and run. ("Live... and die... on this day. Live... and die... on this day". Seriously?) Other challenges: a portentous, self-hating Neeson voice-over, and frequent anguished flashbacks to his happier, pre-wife-loss days. And I give very high odds you'll hate the ending. 2/5 DL
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. 3.5/5 DL
The Kid With A Bike An abandoned preteen boy teeters on the edge of a very bad future, and a sweet-souled woman sees what's happening, sees the huge emotional price adopting him is likely to cost her, and does it anyway. The latest film from Belgium's writer/director/producer Dardenne brothers duo is built around this simple idea, and it's built very simply. We know almost nothing about the characters' histories, and key moments (the handful of seconds immediately after the boy's father tells him to go away and not be part of his life any more, for instance) occur off-screen. In the end, the raw, honest acting of Cecile De France and young Thomas Doret won me over, despite the Dardennes' poorly judged insistence on treating their characters as figures in a schematic morality tale. 3.5/5 DL
The Lucky One Romance drama with Zac Efron. Not seen. We actually have some fondness for the Zac; not seeing this was an accident of timing, not a principled decision.
The Most Fun You Can Have Dying Nope, sorry, not much fun at all. I was initially impressed by first-time Kiwi director Kirstin Marcon's take-no-prisoners stylistic flair, so nicely matched to her main character's screw-you, take-it-or-leave-it attitude to life. And, indeed, to death: Michael (Matt Whelan) is 20-something, and on initial acquaintance a somewhat typically shallow good-time Kiwi boy, and as the film opens he's faced with the ultimate reality check. He discovers he's terminally ill. Spoiler alert for the next sentence: friends and family rally round and raise the money for a long-odds experimental treatment, and he steals it, and runs off to Europe to kiss life goodbye in style. Or to eke out a protracted period of furious and futile denial; there's some ambiguity to his response, and if the film had explored this more I might have ended up more impressed. But the story takes a hard left when he meets and falls for Sylvie (Roseanne Mesquida), who is, from her very first long drag on her cigarette, an appalling congeries of cinematic cliches. Marcon's abilities are clear; the film snaps and crackles with energy, and it looks great, thanks to the excellent work cinematographer Crighton Bone does throughout. But in the end Michael's self-absorbed shallowness, which ought to be the film's starting point and only a part of its subject matter, is allowed to set its whole tone. 2.5/5 DL
The Pirates: Band of Misfits British claymation specialists Aardman (Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, Arthur Christmas) deliver the best kids' movie of the holidays. (Yes, alright, I ran screaming from the prospect of having to watch The Lorax, so that should be "probably the best"). It's not a classic for the ages, but it's well crafted, full of quirky humour, and one hundred percent loveable. The only warning note is that the 3D, while perfectly inoffensive, doesn't add a lot of value; you'll get just as much fun at the lower 2D ticket price. A lot of the jokes will fly over very small heads, but the story (endearing klutzy Pirate Captain goes all out to win Pirate of the Year, with the possibly self-interested and untrustworthy help of shifty-eyed naturalist Charles Darwin and his supercilious chimpanzee butler) will keep them entertained. 3.5/5 DL
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. 4/5 DL
The Way “You don’t choose a life, Dad; you live one” is the line that tells you what you’re in for. Just so you know. Which isn’t to say this road movie is just an episodic greeting card, but it does have flat patches and the kind of plot predictability that has you knowing what’s going to happen just before it pops up on the screen. Never mind. It has great scenery, since it’s a kind of tourist doco for Spain (interestingly, the landscape looks a lot like New Zealand). An American widower (Martin Sheen) travels to Spain to collect the body of his son, killed when walking the 800km Camino de Santiago, a popular pilgrimage from the French Pyrenees to the Atlantic coast. Dad then decides to do the walk too, but has to suffer some unwanted companions: an irritatingly cheerful Dutchman, an acid Canadian and a garrulous Irishman (sounds like the basis for a joke, but at least the actors here are capable of lifting them above mere stereotype). Sheen does his crusty old bugger routine, and much international bickering ensues before the inevitable hugging and learning. And only after lots of shots of walking, drinking and smoking, some minor jeopardy and a final extraordinary piece of religious theatre which I won’t spoil by divulging. Directed and written by Emilio Estevez, Sheen’s son. The better-behaved one. 2.5/5 HW
The Women On The 6th Floor The pitch for the film probably went something like, “culture clash meets class conflict”, and there’s plenty of fun to be anticipated when Spanish maid Maria replaces a French maid in the Paris household of the middle-class Jouberts. (This did happen in the 60s, when Spanish women sought work and refuge from Franco across the border). Life-changing events ensue from this meeting of Parisian detachment and Spanish exuberance, and although you can see them coming a mile off, they’re played out with light cheerfulness rather than delving into their underlying psychology. Sandrine Kiberlain, who was wondrous in Mademoiselle Chambon, is rather wasted here as Mme Joubert, inevitably upstaged by the bevy of Spanish ladies engulfing her stockbroker husband (Fabrice Luchini), who can’t seem to believe what’s happening to him. Not total froth, but not particularly demanding either. Review here. 3/5 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.
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. 5/5 HW
Click here for more stories and reviews by David Larsen, here for more stories and reviews by Helene Wong.
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