New this week: reviews of Johnny English Reborn, Norwegian Wood, Real Steel, The Orator, and, for Auckland audiences, a special programme of Kiwi WWI shorts, New Zealanders On The Western Front.
Abduction Twilight‘s teen werewolf, Taylor Lautner, headlines a movie for the first time. It’s a thriller, and we’re informed he takes his shirt off. Comfortably certain that we will get to see the Lautner abs in the next Twilight outing, we didn’t go the extra mile to see them here.
Amelie It’s better to help people than garden gnomes. Back on the big screen at Auckland’s Academy.
Bill Cunningham New York Easily one of my best of 2010. Brilliant doco about octogenarian New Yorker who’s so much more than a street fashion photographer – a gently eccentric artist still operating with the enthusiasm of a child. HW
Billy T: Te Movie Lively and nostalgic ride through the life and career of the multi-talented comic and musician. Ian Mune’s doco soft-pedals the darker episodes arising from Billy’s Mäori heritage, but demonstrates how it was also the source of his unique talent, and why he’s Te Legend. Review here. HW
Bridesmaids “Look! Chick-flicks can be so good even men will want to see them!” Have heard this a lot since this film arrived. Yawn. It’s hardly news. How about, “Look! Kristen Wiig is brilliant! She’s written herself a great vehicle!” Frequently raunchy, occasionally gross, mostly hilarious. More from the House of Wiig, please. DL
Chalet Girl Not seen. It would be prejudicial to add that the reason it wasn’t seen is that we watched the trailer and ran screaming from the theatre. Entirely possible this poor girl meets rich boy teen love story will work just fine for its target demographic.
Crazy Stupid Love Male mid-life crisis romantic comedy. Superb cast, clever writing, and quite a lot of covert misogyny dressed up as liberal-friendly family values. But it’s mostly funny, and – Ryan Gosling! Emma Stone! Julianne Moore! Steve Carrell! In a world awash with Katherine Heigl romcoms, the acting here is a welcome raising of the bar. DL
Final Destination 5 Not so much a case of “Not seen” as “Actively avoided”. You’re on your own here. Good luck.
Fire in Babylon Documentary on the West Indies cricket team’s rise to world-beating form in the late 1970s. Well received at this year’s film festival, but not seen by us.
Footloose The remake the world has been clamoring for. Not seen.
Friends With Benefits The year’s second romcom on the “meaningless sex will complicate your friendships” theme. But this one’s from the director of Easy A, which I loved. Turns out this isn’t as witty, but it’s not witless either: a smart, tart comedy with winning central performances and a great supporting cast. (Woody Harrelson, Patrician Clarkson, Richard Jenkins). Ideal for romantics trying to kid themselves they’re cynical and hard-edged, i.e. for me. But the rest of you should have fun here as well. DL
Happy Ever Afters Irish wedding comedy. Not seen.
Horrible Bosses Comedy. About Horrible Bosses. We haven’t seen it.
Incendies Stark, severe, powerful, gorgeous. A grand drama about the intergenerational transmission of violence and hatred, and yet such a passionately hopeful film. Not something to see alone. Not something to miss. Review here. DL
Italian Film Festival From the neo-realist classic Bicycle Thieves through to romantic comedies and their sequels, there’s plenty of the staples of Italian cinema to indulge in: cheeky or heart-tugging urchins; male and female pulchritude galore (note to the girls: Raoul Bova is in Sorry I Want to Marry You AND Our Life, plus a fleeting cameo in Baaria); families broken and families mended; the endless fascination with the battle of the sexes. And this time, a poke at the Pope (Habemus Papam) – affectionate and respectful, of course; after all, he’s not Berlusconi. More detailed coverage here. HW
Jane Eyre With dozens of adaptations of Charlotte Bronte’s classic to choose from, why pick this one? Michael Fassbender plays Rochester. Oh, and Mia Wasikowska is very good in the title role, plus, Judi Dench, and it’s by and large intelligently written and directed. But basically, Michael Fassbender plays Rochester. Review here. DL
Johnny English Reborn Spy-spoof sequel, again starring Rowan Atkinson as the Mr Bean version of James Bond. British humour at its very broadest. Am torn between pleasure at the good supporting work from The Wire‘s Dominic West and the divine Rosamund Pike, and annoyance that they’re wasting their time on this stuff. The trailer – this is almost unheard of – tells you exactly what to expect, yet doesn’t spoil the story. DL
Little White Lies The Big Chill goes French. Both funnier and more serious than its American template-setter, this comedy-drama about a group of friends whose holiday is overshadowed when one of their number has a near-fatal accident has a lot going for it, including Francois Cluzet and Marion Cotillard. At two and a half hours, it’s not a short night out, but the length lets it build up some real emotional heft. DL
Love Story Florian Habicht surprises and delights again with this left-field take on New York. It’s a romance, but the grand conceit is that it’s made up as they go along, the plot turns determined by suggestions from people on the street. Despite questions left hanging maddeningly in the end, it’s still a joyous, whimsical ode to the Big Apple. Review here. HW
Mr Popper’s Penguins Not seen.
My Afternoons With Marguerite The sentimental premise of an unlikely bonding between a lumpen tradesman and an elderly woman is elevated to something touching and human by Gérard Depardieu and 95-year-old Gisèle Casadesus. Review here. HW
New Zealanders On The Western Front Auckland’s Academy and Victoria theatres commemorate the October 12 anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele with a trio of short films by Kiwi directors. By far the best, and happily by far the longest, is Jane Andrews’ Our Lost War, following Robyn Malcolm as she retraces the footsteps of her great uncle, who died in the battle. Moving, intelligent film making; bringing these shorts together for the anniversary week is a nice bit of programming. DL
Norwegian Wood Not for the impatient. A long (133 mins) mostly visual meditation on melancholy in 60s Japan. Students deal with those old chestnuts, sex and death, in performances that ache with restraint. And showcase lots of handknits. As for the imagery – the director is The Scent of Green Papaya‘s Tran Anh Hung; need I say more? His beautiful, wintry, expressionistic landscapes provide the perfect canvas for a soundtrack by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. HW
Of Gods and Men A more powerful or affecting film about religious faith would be hard to imagine. Slow-building drama, both intelligent and wise; consummately well acted, and gorgeously shot. DL
Potiche Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu join forces across the class divide to save her family business. Competent, pleasant, unremarkable – industrial filler for two aging stars. HW
Real Steel Interesting mostly as a metaphor for its own weaknesses. In the near future, robots replace human fighters on the professional boxing circuit; if they weren’t also used to write the screenplay, you’d never guess it. Hugh Jackman (so likeable, but a certified genius at picking bad projects) plays a deadbeat dad forced to spend time with his 11-year-old son, while trucking a giant fighting robot across America. Robot falls apart, son finds beat-up old robot on rubbish pile, beat-up old robot turns out to be sturdier than those flashy modern robots: dad and son get a shot at becoming robot fighting champions. This wretched fusion of chump-to-champion sports movie cliches and touching father-son reconciliation cliches contains all the seeds of a good story, or at least a good-enough one, but it falls flat on every front. DL
Senna This documentary on Brazilian racedriver Ayrton Senna’s short but brilliant career is as gripping as a thriller, not just for the action on the track, but for the political shenanigans that accompany high-stakes sporting rivalry. Review here. HW
Shark Night Not seen.
Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World In a perfect world, one of us would have found the will to see this. Except that in a perfect world, we’re fairly certain it wouldn’t exist.
Steam of Life Or, Naked Finnish Men Talk About Their Lives. Relaxed, slightly over-earnest documentary about being a man in today’s Finland, via the novel device of following a wide assortment of Y chromosome owner/operators into the place they’re most likely to, er, come clean: the sauna. Forgive me for this, but, yes, these rambling, freestyle interviews are pretty revealing. DL
The Bang Bang Club In the final years of the apartheid system, four white photographers go out into the South African townships looking for trouble, so they can take its picture. They go partly for the money, partly to show the world what’s happening in their country, but mostly for the buzz. They become famous. The moral ambiguity of their position is very well brought out in the memoir two of them wrote, on which this film is based, but the film, a drama rather than a documentary, is brought low by a mix of shoddy acting and soap operatic scripting. The gritty township crowd scenes seem to belong to a different and far better film, especially the recreation of the horrific man-on-fire shot which won one of the photographers a Pulitzer. A shame the balance isn’t tilted more towards what these bland white boys were seeing every day, and away from how they felt about it. DL
The Beaver So much more interesting than I expected. Not a great film by any measure; it’s at once too dark to be an easy watch, and too timid and confused to say anything very coherent. But it’s not at all the anodyne Hollywood pep talk the trailer suggests – director Jodie Foster is trying to grapple with the intractable realities of clinical depression, and if she fails, it’s at least a lively failure. Mel Gibson plays a family man whose unconscious mind rebels at his glum withdrawal from life, and proceeds to manifest as a separate personality, complete with hand puppet avatar and dubious Cockney accent. It’s brave acting, though it’s hard not to read the character’s angry despair as a coded statement about Gibson’s self-sabotaged career. Foster is great as his desperate wife, and the subplot about their teenage son’s attempts to become less like his father serves as the occasion for another strong performance from Jennifer Lawrence, one of the great American acting discoveries of the last few years. DL
The Devil’s Rock Dreary Kiwi horror movie involving demon-summoning Nazis. Navigates its way between the twin perils of “good” and “so bad it’s good” with a sure instinct for the sub-mediocre middle ground. DL
The Guard FBI meets the Garda. Not your usual odd-couple/buddy-cop movie, and much more amusing as a consequence. For once, in the face of Irish blarney (Brendan Gleeson), an American (Don Cheadle) is at a loss for words. Review here. (Scroll down). HW
The Help Racism, feminism and knowing your place all get an airing in this adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s novel about white women and their black maids in 60s Mississippi. Some exceptional performances, but the Good Housekeeping art direction casts a distracting gloss over the deeper content. Review here. HW
The Holy Roller Not seen.
The Lion King 3D Whatever you think of Disney’s avenge-thy-father savanna musical, and I confess myself reasonably indifferent to its charms, having been neither a child nor a parent when it first came out, the 3D re-release has turned out to be one of the major cinematic landmarks of the year. The American box office has been so good that we can now look forward to at least a trickle, and very probably a flood, of remastered classics in theatres. A grand new reason to celebrate the big screen, or another nail in film’s coffin? Before answering, imagine that you’re a young director and you’ve just been told your potentially career-making new film will open the same weekend as Raiders of the Lost Ark 3D. DL
The Orator Glorious first feature from Tusi Tamasese. Strong story, excellent acting, and beautiful camera work from Kiwi legend Leon Narbey. The first film to be made entirely in the Samoan language. The second one is going to have a lot to live up to. Full review here. DL
The Round Up The deal between Germany and France that led to the notorious – and only recently officially acknowledged – rounding up of French Jews in 1942 gets a more multi-dimensional treatment than in Sarah’s Key: politics and personal stories combine in an often emotional mural of families and children, heroes and villains, and the machinations of leaders on both sides. HW
The Smurfs Call us when they make a film of The Wombles.
The Sorcerer and the White Snake Not seen.
The Tree of Life One of this year’s most talked about films, partly because no one understands it the first time they see it, and partly because it so richly repays multiple viewings. Reviewed here. DL
The Violin Not seen.
TT3D: Closer to the Edge The rare sports movie that lets non-enthusiasts see what the fuss is all about. In 3D, and, most unsually, all the better for it. Brief review here (scroll down). DL
What’s Your Number? Romcom. Stars Anna Faris. Not seen.
Win Win It’s got boys wrestling each other, but this is not a sports movie as she is spoke. No cheerleaders, no wedgies, no triumphalism; just the warm drama and gentle comedy of ordinary human beings connecting. It also has Paul Giamatti. You want more? Well, how about The Station Agent’s Tom McCarthy as the director? Review here. HW
Check theatres and movie times here.