New this week: reviews of Anonymous, Drive, the Show Me Shorts festival, and The Debt.
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.
Anima Mundi Gaia may not be your goddess, but Australian filmmaker Peter Charles Downey pulls together the nexus of energy, economics, climate change, population and ecology in a way that will give pause for thought. Drawing on interviewees who are clearly passionate but who deliver in calm, non-proselytizing tones, he adds his own touch with telling archival montage and lively graphics. Educational rather than cinematic. Review here. HW
Anonymous Take a ridiculous, snobbery-drenched notion (a commoner could not possibly have written the plays of Shakespeare!) and turn it into a humdinger of a film: why not? Because you’re Roland Emmerich, silly! He has instead made the serious historical drama you might expect from the director of Independence Day and 2012, thus inadvertently giving the Shakespeare authorship conspiracy theory the big screen incarnation it deserves. Which as an abstract proposition would have a kind of beauty; but since this self-impressed tumult of confused mediocrity isn’t an abstract proposition, allow my suffering to avert your own. Tis a very scurvy film. DL
Beautiful Lies Pierre Salvadori (Priceless) is back in the south of France again with Audrey Tautou and another of his uneasy comedies about the capacity of humans to walk a fine line between nice and nasty. Longer than it needs to be, and less substantial than it wants to be, but the cast, which includes Nathalie Baye, is fine, and the good intentions-bad consequences plot is suitably farcical. Review here. HW
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
Cave of Forgotten Dreams Or, Werner does speleology. The idiosyncratic Herzog takes a camera underground into the Chauvet Cave in southern France, and gives us his take – and that of expert researchers – on its 30,000 year-old paintings of animals and traces of Ice Age Paleolithic life. It’s an opportunity only a few can have in situ, and soon the cave itself will be closed, so this is the next best thing. And in 3D, it’s almost as if you’re there. (For those who have difficulty with 3D, this is not about fast-cutting, comin’ at ya tricks. It’s serene, and involving in a good way.) Fascinating to see; tantalising to contemplate. Review here. HW
Conan the Barbarian Robert E Howard’s most famous creation is back. We haven’t seen this, but we have it on good authority that it contains the line, “I fight, I slay, I love, I am content”. So that’s something to look forward to.
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
Drive Think Tarantino, only with more visual panache and a script pared down to the barest of bare minimalist bones. So actually, don’t think Tarantino; but this does play his pop-cinema-commenting-on-pop-cinema game. If you’re at peace with the notion of extreme violence as legitimate art film shock tactics, and if you’re well versed in the great and not-so-great car chase movies of the past, you’ll be well placed to enjoy one of the most polarising films of the year. Ryan Gosling is cucumber-cool, odd moments of protracted skull stomping aside. Review here. DL
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 City (Boston) meets country (Bomont in the Bible Belt) and teaches them a thing or two while leaving their dignity intact. There’s some biffo and a bit of a shock opening, but this is nice, harmless formula with stock characters, rebellious youth and simple plotting. Oh, and dancing. Line-dancing. And that song. Hey, it’s a musical, so it’s toe-tapping and exuberant and the leads are clean and pretty. HW
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
Fright Night Very odd, but very watchable: the director of Lars and the Real Girl remakes a good but not great vampire film from 1985. Why? Never mind, it works, in a B-movie kind of way. The just-good-enough screenplay is courtesy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer graduate Marti Noxon, the bland teen hero/superficially-strong-but-soon-to-be-in-need-of-rescue girlfriend pair are acceptably played by Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots, and the vampire is … Colin Farrell. Who’s a little dull, possibly because he’s busy suppressing his accent, but does whatever he’s called on to do: suck blood, give chase, gloat, leer, etc. David Tennant gets to leer too, playing a Russell Brand-esque celebrity vampire hunter who may or may not be the real thing. He, at least, gets right into the spirit of it all. In unproblematic-and-sometimes-worthwhile 3D. DL
Happy Ever Afters Irish wedding comedy. Not seen.
I Don’t Know How She Does It We don’t know either. Not seen.
In Time How to take the right idea at the right time and turn it into the wrong movie. Andrew Niccol wrote, produced and directed this science fiction allegory of our current rich-get-richer global society, and thus gets all the credit for a fine concept. In the near future, immortality will be available to anyone who can pay for it, but the cost is, the poor die young. Fail to earn 24 hours worth of life today, and you’ll fall dead tomorrow: there’s economic inequality for you. Niccol also gets the blame for the awful, awful dialogue and the idiotic Bonnie and Clyde plot. Of the film’s many sins, the worst is its casting. Justin Timberlake is unremarkable as the ghetto-boy-turned-Robin Hood hero, which puts him on a high plinth of excellence relative to his deadwood costar, Amanda Seyfried; but the chief problem is the large supporting cast. Everyone in this world, however old, is genetically locked at physical age 25, so all the texture of a multi-generational society has to be conveyed without benefit of wrinkles or gray hair. As testing a challenge as this is for a bunch of insipid young twentysomethings, two hours of watching them fail at it is more testing still. DL
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
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. DL
Monte Carlo 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
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
One Day The book is apparently very good. The film is adapted by the book’s author and directed by Lone Scherfig (An Education), and it would like to be very good too. Serious dramatic intent boils off the screen. Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess are friends. Not lovers, friends. Definitely friends. We see them every year on the same day across decades, a device which in theory gives us a rich experience of life as it’s lived, and in practice means one scene after another getting crushed into not quite enough room, and one mood after another not quite establishing itself before the next one comes along. All that’s left is the broad outline of the story, and it’s both predictable and banal. DL
Paranormal Activity 3 Fans of the fixed camera, low-budget horror/suspense original report that this is better than the first sequel. This was not strong enough praise to lure us to the theatre.
Pina Wim Wenders waited decades for the 3D technology that would let him do justice to the choreography of Pina Bausch. He waited so long, Pina herself was dead before he could start shooting. Her long-time ensemble perform her work in a variety of settings, some of them, exhilaratingly in this depth-enriched format, outdoors. The extra dimension puts you right there, watching the dance: sometimes it puts you right there among the dancers. It needs to be said that this is not the most accessible film in the world for the dance-illiterate; I did not feel, as I’d hoped to, that an art I’ve long failed to respond to was finally offering up its secrets. But it’s beautifully made, and beautiful to watch, even for the likes of me. For dance enthusiasts, it will be one of the great films of the year. 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 ageing 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
Show Me Shorts Festival Sixth year, 47 films, 7 theme categories, 12 locations. This year’s collection of short, sharp bursts of filmmaking fervour include titles that have already won plaudits overseas, notably Stephen Kang’s Blue (Cannes) and Tammy Davis’s (aka Munter) Ebony Society (Sundance, Berlin). Also this year, “overseas” comes to us, with work from Europe, South Africa, and the US. Of the few we’ve previewed, there’s a couple of notable animateds: Alan Dickson’s Preferably Blue (NZ), a smart-looking interpretation of a clever poem about the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus; and Nullarbor, a road trip offering from Alistair Lock (Aust) – equally good-looking if a bit anti-climactic. Thomas Sainsbury’s lead performance in Andrew Hedley’s Plimpton is worth seeing, and with their distinctive styles and creation of place, Last Flight (Damon Keen), and 3 Hours (Regan Hall), could be excerpts from bigger, feature-length stories. HW
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.
Tabloid Not seen.
The Debt Remake of the Israeli film Ha-Hov, adapted by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class) and directed by John Madden (Shakespeare In Love). An odd combination any way you look at it, but Goldman, Vaughn and Madden make a good team: as do Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas and Jesper Christiensen, who play two Israeli agents undercover in East Berlin, and a former Nazi they take prisoner. (Sam Worthington, as the third agent, is the weak link). A needlessly lurid ending fails to spoil an espionage suspense story with some good tricks up its sleeve. Review here. 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 Inbetweeners Not seen.
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 Thing Prequel to the 1982 remake of the 1951 adaptation of the 1938 science fiction/horror novella, and it would be wrong to speculate that this sentence may well be more interesting than the film, because we haven’t seen it.
The Three Musketeers The director of Resident Evil and Mortal Kombat takes on Alexandre Dumas. A mix of tale and talent made in heaven, you may well think, but somehow we have not yet managed to see this either.
The Trip A miracle of sorts: an edited down version of a hit comedy TV show which works at least as well as the longer form, small screen original. Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden bravely play versions of themselves, in what amounts to an extended psychological vivisection: as they tour the north of England by road, we see their (fictional, though that’s hard to remember) foibles laid bare in hilarious, excruciating detail. DL
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
Zookeeper Not seen. (We’re holding out for Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson in We Bought A Zoo.)
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