New this week: reviews of The Round-Up and the Italian Film Festival. We’ll be adding We have added The Beaver over the weekend.
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 this weekend, at Auckland’s Academy.
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
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.
Cowboys & 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.
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.
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. Longer review here. DL
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 2 Still in theatres after two months. 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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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 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 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 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 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
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