On at the movies: May 9, 2015by David Larsen
Help us find and write the stories Kiwis need to read
David Larsen reviews Boychoir, The Ground We Won, plus our take on films now showing.
directed by François Girard
You remember me telling you about these kids, right? How they train to sing and tour the world?” Yes, inspirational teacher of underprivileged kids, your class probably does remember. But thank you for telling them anyway, because it’s possible that we, your audience, have failed to understand why this film is called Boychoir.
The possibility that audiences may not understand seems to haunt Ben Ripley, Boychoir’s sole credited writer. This is odd, because he also wrote Source Code, as sleek and clever a mainstream entertainment as you could find. But now, apparently, he’s incapable of writing a scene in which a nervous novice chorister finds himself abruptly promoted to soloist (the obnoxious regular soloist having come down conveniently ill) without checking to make sure we grasp this is a challenging proposition. “Stetson, this music is really hard!” says one of our soloist’s friends.
Poor Stetson. He’s an orphan, too. Or at least, his father’s not in the picture and his mother’s killed off 10 minutes into the story, in what ought to be the film’s most contrived event. But this is a film rife with contrived events, and soon, for no better reason than that the story needs it to happen, Stetson is whisked off to an elite boarding school, where his hidden musical gifts will make him a star. Think Harry Potter: Boy Soprano.
And yes, there’s a Dumbledore on hand to help Stetson navigate the vicissitudes of his cardboard cut-out story arc. Dustin Hoffman, on automatic from first scene to last, is the school’s irascible genius conductor. “I want you to celebrate yourself,” he tells the boys before their big concert. “This isn’t about music. It’s about you.”
He’s wrong there. Although everything anyone says about music in this movie is fatuous, factually incorrect or both, the music itself is the film’s best reason for existing. This is the one area where it’s easy to accept that Boychoir really was directed by François Girard. Girard wrote and directed Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, a high watermark of music-focused cinema, and how he fell from that to this, I do not pretend to guess.
But the choir’s music is heart-piercing, and the sound editing has all the subtlety the screenplay and acting lack: individual voices emerge from the vibrant ensemble and recede again as the camera pans over young faces. You wouldn’t want to mistake this for a good film about either boys or music. But it’s a film with some great music in it. ••½
IN THEATRES NOW
THE GROUND WE WON
directed by Christopher Pryor
In one word: magnificent. In two words: see this. Kiwi film-makers Miriam Smith and Christopher Pryor have done important work before now, but with this fly-on-the-wall account of a year in the life of a provincial rugby team, they’ve moved to a new level. The Ground We Won is a major New Zealand film.
It’s also sweet, funny, clear-eyed, unsentimental and quite remarkably beautiful. Pryor does his own camerawork and editing, and the way he deploys his black and white cinematography is a lesson in eloquent concision: the small Bay of Plenty town of Reporoa arrives on the screen as a revelation.
So does its rugby team. Smith and Pryor have the priceless documentarians’ gift of establishing trust and then fading into the background. Again and again, we see these guys as if no camera were in the room.
They’re not angels, they’re not louts, they’re just a team of average blokes trying to have a good season. They work hard, they play hard, they drink a ridiculous amount, and while we don’t end up with all our questions about them answered, we do end up seeing exactly what rugby means to them. The culture and nature of the game have never been given such an embracing yet unvarnished presentation.
Fifty years from now, people will still be watching this film. Watch it yourself. You’ll see why. ••••½
OPENS MAY 7
Intense if standard action thriller in which Sean Penn’s ex-hitman’s attempt at redemption is thwarted by someone out to get him. The rest of the cast is sorely wasted. [Helene Wong] •••½
A big nod to the Japanese helps give this indie take on the American teen horror a creepy, atmospheric edge. Slow in parts, but good suspense. [HW] •••
Avengers: Age of Ultron
A thing of beauty. Joss Whedon takes 11 major characters, innumerable superhero fight scenes and the sprawling multi-film backstory of the Marvel universe and somehow assembles them all into a fluid, exciting story. [DL] ••••
A near-perfect indie gem about moving on and growing up, set in Seattle’s music scene and starring Toni Collette. Beautifully written characters, a few laughs and one big surprise. [HW] ••••½
The plight of illegal immigrants in France, dramatised via some engaging characters and meandering storylines. Omar Sy and Charlotte Gainsbourg are worth watching. [DL] •••
The Book of Life [DL] ••½
Dior and I [HW] ••••
Get Well Soon [HW] •••½
Cinderella [DL] •••½
Still Life [HW] ••••½
Insurgent [DL] •••
Home [HW] ••½
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