New this week: reviews of a Brahms concert movie from the BBC Proms series, Win Win, The Help, and Friends With Benefits.
BBC Proms 2011: Brahms Not the equal of being there, but so much better than listening on your home stereo. Partly for the sound quality, but also for the editing, which is top drawer: the inner textures of the music are brought out by the visuals, with the cameras nudging you to notice things your ear might otherwise miss. (Especially valuable with Brahms, who’s famous – or, to his detractors, infamous – for his dense orchestrations). The great Bernard Haitink gets the best out of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in the 2nd Piano Concerto and the 4th Symphony. Soloist Emmanuel Ax beams like a supremely happy teddy bear through much of his masterful performance, which, curiously to anyone raised on the idea that classical music is a deadly serious business, makes the whole experience so much better. DL
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
Cowboys and Aliens So much to admire, so little to like. Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are great, the classic Western bits look properly classic, and the aliens … just want to torture people and steal stuff. Don’t you dare ask why. With a few more laughs or a plot that makes any sense at all, this would have been a fun night out. DL
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. 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.
Footrot Flats: the Dog’s Tail Kiwiana classic makes brief comeback. In all honesty, we haven’t rewatched it yet and the memories have dimmed, but – come on, it’s Wal and the Dog, plus Dave Dobbyn and Herbs. Hard to imagine there’s not something there to love.
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
Hanna She looks like a consumptive Bronte heroine, and she could snap you in half. This latest variant on the Extremely Violent Little Girl meme (see Kick-Ass, Let The Right One In) (not kidding, you should go watch them both) has style to burn and not a single weak performance. Director Joe Wright answers the obvious question – “Pride and Prejudice and Atonement prepared you for high concept action thrills how, exactly?” – with aplomb, though the ending is weak and suggests a degree of contempt for the genre. Still, and without meaning to give away which characters in particular survive said ending, I’d line up for a sequel. DL
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 2 The grand finale the series deserved. In other words, it has some problems, but it’s great fun. Don’t pay extra to see it in 3D; it was shot for 2D and it looks better that way. Yes, I watched it both ways to be certain. Yes, I’m a nerd. Reviewed here. DL
Horrible Bosses Comedy. About Horrible Bosses. We haven’t seen it.
How I Ended This Summer Welcome return of one of the best films at last year’s film festival. Slow-burning, gorgeously shot arctic wilderness suspense drama. Bleak and wild. No polar bears were harmed in the making of this movie. 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
Kung Fu Panda 2 For the first time, DreamWorks’s big mid-year children’s animation is better than its Pixar rival; and not just because Pixar dropped the ball with Cars 2. A conventional slacker hero comedy-action adventure, without vast amounts of crossover adult audience appeal, but very sweetly done. DL
Larry Crowne It might have the starpower of Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, but this tepid treatment of middle-age job loss and reinventing yourself is flat and forgettable. Review here. HW
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.
Mrs Carey’s Concert Fly-on-the-wall documentary which manages to make the teaching of music at an elite Sydney girls’ school completely fascinating. Reviewed here. DL
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
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
Oranges and Sunshine The items in the title were promised to British children separated from their mothers and sent to Australia in the 40s. What they really got is revealed in this dramatisation of a social worker’s quest to reunite families and heal the damage. The sense of history being documented is tempered by a restrained script and heartbreaking performances. Reviewed here (scroll down). HW
POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold Documentarian-cum-showman Morgan Spurlock seeks funds for film about product placements. Will give funder in return … product placements. Slick, hardly investigative, but an entertaining look at the world of pitching, branding and risk-taking. HW
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
Priest Not seen.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes Still not seen. People keep telling us this is the big hole in this list at the moment. Sorry. We’re working on it.
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.
Something Borrowed Another wedding, another romcom in which the bridesmaid falls for the groom-to-be, but the “com” slips away from the “rom” and the whole drags on through nearly two hours of flaccid dialogue and a mire of patheticness. HW
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 Change-Up Body swap comedy. Not seen. We can tell you with some confidence that when the wild-living bad boy and his over-domesticated best friend pee in a magic fountain and unwisely wish they had each other’s lives, they both learn useful lessons. We can also tell you that Rotten Tomatoes currently rates this at a whopping 24%: yes, only 76% of critics seem to hate it. But is it funny? We couldn’t possibly venture a guess.
The Double Hour Taut, intelligent noir thriller. Killer twist. Literally? That would be telling. Back from last year’s film festival, and well worth going out of your way for. 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 Reluctant Infidel No Brits, Muslims or Jews are safe from David Baddiel’s comic prodding at stereotypes in this multicultural mayhem piece about a Pakistani Muslim suddenly learning he’s actually Jewish. The ending’s a bit lame, but the humour’s kept rolling by stand-up comedian Omid Djalili’s physical and verbal gags. Reviewed here. HW
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
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
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