Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Case for Anti Craze 2: Black out of Black

Now look: Daniel Carter has a fabulous physique, enough to make many people swoon and give a few men body image issues.

But look at the headline of the story on Stuff and compare that with the image of this All Black star and ask yourself this: is seeing Mr Carter shirtless, in a “model” pose on closer inspection, while fairly pleasant visually, really related to a story about his sporting prowess?

Verdict: While I tip my hat to the person who chose the photo for the visual impact, I have to take several thousand points away in the “respect” and “relevance” categories for what is, in theory, a news-based website. 2 headlines out of 5

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Case for Australian Animaniacs

I had wanted to go and see Animal Kingdom as part of the International Film Festival, but I suspected this Australian drama would come back as a general release – and I turned out to be right.

Starring Ben Mendelsohn, Guy Pearce and a bunch of other Australian elite actors whom I could recognise but not name, the film looked like a well acted but dark, drug fuelled version of Outrageous Fortune, but I was really not quite prepared for how bleak it actually turned out to be.

No one comes out looking particularly good – not the Victorian police, the locals, lawyers and especially not Guy Pearce with his criminal moustache. The film shows a corrupt and corrupting Australia far removed from the lucky country portrayed in the “well the he!! are you?” advertisements, and so it is possible that the film will be shown in countries that Australia does not want immigrants or tourists from. [However, I am not sure how successful a dissuasion policy that might be: the grim portrayal of Baltimore in the USA as a city of rampant death, destruction and drug use in shows such as Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire has got me interested in visiting that city, albeit in a bullet proof vehicle. But I digress]

I don’t want to go too much into the plot, as there is not a huge amount to it and saying anything could ruin the tension, but suffice to say it shows the story of one family’s fight against misfortune, drug use and the law (so far, very Outrageous Fortune) with the added downers of mental illness and an almost complete absence of a sense of humour. James Frecheville is incredible as the dumb/smart J caught in the middle of his disintegrating family, though Jacki Weaver’s powerful turn as the family’s matriarch takes centre stage in the second part of the film. Ben Mendelsohn has been playing disturbingly intense for many years now, with the real revelation in both his and Guy Pearce’s amazing performances being the acceptance of their aging.

Now then, could I recommend this film? Not to everyone. While it does bear a superficial resemblance, comparing it with Outrageous Fortune does not really brace the viewer for the dark path this film treads. And in a way, considering the negativity that washes through the film and clings even once the end credits have rolled, I was happy to be able to say “that was Australia” once I walked out the door, and to close my eyes to any similarities that might occur in life in New Zealand.

Verdict: Powerful, disturbing, bleak. Animal Kingdom is all about survival of the fittest, and in this film the fit will survive by any means necessary. Powerful performances, strong Aussie accents and a horrendous moustache make this intense and disturbing viewing, and a really good film to boot. 8.5 species out of 10.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Case for Inflight Movies 2010

One thing I love about long haul flights, in particular those in which the airline thoughtfully provide an in-seat entertainment system, is the opportunity to see movies that I might have missed or would not otherwise choose to go and see at the cinema.

And so, I now have a bunch of reviews to post, though I will not go into my usual exhaustive detail in my attempt to deal with all 14 I was able to view, though I will use the following key as a shorthand to help with that brevity:

CV – Communal View, or one screen for everyone in the plane
FF – Fast forwarded, for either time or sanity’s sake
BB – Before Bedtime, or entered into knowing I might start nodding off
DF – Didn’t finish, not a good sign
ST – Subtitled

Leg 1: Air New Zealand, New Zealand to Hong Kong

1) Hot Tub Time Machine [BB] - fairly dire, but actually quite a bit of fun especially for a flight leaving at 11.00pm. John Cusack and… others go back in time thanks to a mutated spa pool and experience the 1980s all over again, this time with a chance to change things for the better. Lowest common denominator stuff really, and ridiculously blokey, and heaps of fun because of it – it reminded me a lot of that Las Vegas film actually…

Verdict 1: For what it was, highly entertaining, but definitely not art. 2.5 hot tubs out of 5.

2) Surrogates – Bruce Willis has hair, but his real self is forced to come out from behind his ideal self to solve a murder in a world where everyone puts on their best face. It’s all very straight forward in an overly complicated, technobabblesque way, though the biggest crime is how underused Radha Mitchell is in the whole affair. Perfect plane fodder.

Verdict 2: Surrogates is a sci fi action flick that comes in the same vein as I, Robot and Minority Report, but lacks those films’ energy and excitement. And all the idealised humans look really quite strange too. 3 replicants out of 5.

3) The Topp Twins - Untouchable Girls - A documentary about New Zealand's favourite yodelling folk singing lesbian twins, charting their rise, activism, and recent struggles with cancer. The subject matter is more interesting than the documentary style (talking heads interspersed with songs and performances give a good all round introduction to the twin’s range and style, but it isn’t terribly exciting.

Verdict 3: I had heard good things about this documentary, and it lived up to that reputation. Not revolutionary or anything, but informative and (relatively) entertaining, depending on your tolerance for the almost-always-political songs. 4 yodels out of 5.

4) An Education - Another film I had heard a lot about, this time from the Film Festival, and it lived up to its reputation. Classily done with restrained performances (mostly) and an incredible turn by the lead actress, definitely worth a look if you like slow burning character development drama with a touch of levity – and a dowdy turn from Dollhouse’s Adelle too…

Verdict 4: The best of the trip methinks, and definitely deserving of all the praise heaped upon it. 4 marks out of 5.

Leg 2: Lufthansa, Hong Kong to Europe [CV]

5) Young Victoria – Another drama, this one a period piece charting the rise of the Victoria who would later become Judi Dench. Lots of behind the scenes manipulations and skulduggery are hidden by the opulent costume design and extravagant palaces, but again the leading lady (Emily Blunt) lifts the film above the sets and makes this a film worth watching.

Verdict 5: I was gagging for a film after an hour and a bit on this flight, so it was wonderful we started off with such a great film, and that it wasn’t one I had seen before. 4 suitors out of 5.

6) Arthur and the Minimaxies (or something) - This would not have been my choice if I had my own screen, which I did not, and to make things worse, it was only part 1. Arthur miniaturises himself to go and help friends he met in a previous film, and everything is cute and amusing with a slightly creepy love story worked in there as well until the end when of course the interesting bit is where the film finishes.

Verdict 6: Amazing how some kids films can be great and others, despite a bit of a budget, can just be painful. This one was definitely in the latter category, and I did my best to avoid as much of it as I could. 1 mini out of 5.

7) Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang – Considering how awful the previous film was, I actually really enjoyed this one even though I hadn’t seen the first Nanny McPhee film. I quite like a playful Emma Thompson, and she is evidently having fun in this film (though considering how much involvement she had in writing and producing this, she better). Nanny brings her bickering charges together in time to save the day, and it is kind of refreshing to see Maggie Gyllenhal pretending to be English in what is a quintessentially British kind of kiddie flick.

Verdict: Predictable family fare – but one I would actually recommend. 3.5 warts out of 5.

Leg 3: Lufthansa, Europe to Singapore

8) Shrek Forever After – This was a LOT better than number 3. How did the third one go so wrong? Perhaps it was the curse of Justin Timberlake? Ah well, that was not the point – this was a good film to pass the time: light, entertaining, and occasionally funny. And hopefully the last.

Verdict: Pretty okay. 3 ogre babies out of 5.

9) Please Give – I can’t recall having heard of this black comedy about death and relationships, but it stars Catherine Keener who I really like, so I had to give this a go. Slight, in that not a lot really happens in it, but bemusing and occasionally quite touching, in a fairly amoral kind of way. Wow, does this description make any sense?

Verdict: Hard to describe this movie, but easy enough to rate it. 3.5 pieces of classic furniture out of 5.

10) Robin Hood [FF] - I had to fast forward this one (the Russell Crowe version) as it was SO SLOW. Slower even than Alexander, though Angelian Jolie and Val Kilmer weren’t around to ham things up and provide a bit of mockable entertainment. Not really my cuppa tea, which I kind of suspected before I started, but there weren’t that many options on Lufthansa, so I gave it a whirl…

Verdict: No. Just no. 1 arrow out of 5.

11) Rock It! [FF, DF] – I chose this because it was a German movie on a German flight that claimed to have an English version (my German is non existent). However, I did not expect the movie to be dubbed by only one person, one man did ALL the voices and talked over the song. It was basically High School Musical in Germany, and I had to fast forward this one too, and then gave up once the dubbing got to me. Incredibly the nerdy geek did not appear to have a coolness makeover though it was obvious he would be a pretty good looking guy – maybe in the equally incomprehensible sequel.

Verdict: Rock It! might have been good, but I really could not stand to find out. 1 song and dance routine out of 5.

Leg 4: Singapore Airlines, Singapore to New Zealand

12) The White Ribbon [ST] - this was a Cannes winning German film which was apparently meant to be a metaphor for terrorism but was actually just really bleak and depressing, enhanced by it being filmed in black and white. There was no real ending, just a series of rather unfortunate events. It was really well done, but I think you have to be in the right mood to fully appreciate the particularly grim world it portrays, and I am not altogether sure when that might be.

Verdict: The Cannes people have fairly arty tastes, and I think this is one film I can appreciate for its effort and skill if not actually for its story… so my appreciation is fairly lacklustre. 2 ribbons out of 5.

13) The Last Airbender [BB, FF] – I saved this one for my before bedtime viewing, as this looked like it might be mindlessly diverting. And truth be told, this does look great, with amazing special effects and Cliff Curtis as the Emperor-lite bad guy, but (and this may have been the plane version) the whole thing was really badly edited, scenes chopping and changing and large leaps in storyline occurring – and all this without me hitting the fast forward button in the duller parts – and it really made next to no sense.

Verdict: M Night Shamalayan continues his run of fairly dire movies, performing the alchemical feat of transforming the animated series of the Last Airbender into a real-life visually impressive movie at the price of sacrificing any of its story line and soul. 1.5 bends out of 5.

14) Cemetery Junction [FF] – I am a bit wary of anything labelled Ricky Gervais when it is meant to be “funny” rather than “painful”, but I had heard that this movie was Gevais-light and meant to be quite evocative of life in 1960s Britain, with all that entails. Evocative it might have been, with some fine performances throughout, but I could also not accuse it of being fast paced or particularly interesting either. The characters are all quite dull in that they conform to stereotypes seen a zillion times before and they head in their fairly predictable directions to reach their pretty unsurprising ends. And… that’s that, really.

Verdict. Cemetery Junction is a fairly meh movie that left me glad I had not attempted to view it at the cinema as I would have felt I would have wasted my money. But then, I didn’t like Death at a Funeral either, and I know a lot of other people loved it, so perhaps this is another one of those kinds of films. 1.5 intersections out of 5.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Case for the Sunset in Paris

Okay, fewer words this post, as I am telling a movie story visually. As in, how much do I like Before Sunset? Enough to go and track down the movie sites, thanks to a handy internet page.

So in order, Shakespeare & Company (twice), Notre Dame de Paris, the Promenade Plantee, the Pur Cafe, Elmo was there, Celine's apartment.

I love Before Sunset! And being able to wander the streets of Paris on a gorgeously warm day with a light breeze and find these sites (not really in the order of the film) was wonderful... 5 Sunsets out of 5.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Case for World Beaters

Well, after a brief break, what a welcome back to the Wellington cinematic scene.

The first movie of the spring season: Scott Pilgrim versus the World. And it was great.

This is really a film for boys, based on comic book hijinks and geek underdog beating the cool guys. Michael Cera as Scott is the object of lust for every woman in this weird and wacky world of real life kneaded together with 1980s arcade games, and he, along with everyone else in the film - appears to be having a blast: Kieran Culkin's Wallace is a minor character man magnet; Chris Evans' eye brows take on a life of their own as he swaggers around as a megamacho moviestar; Brandon Routh plays a beefy vegetarian avenger; Jason Schwartzman oozes slime; Anna Kendrick serves coffee along with sisterly advice; and... well, EVERY character is cool, some in the most geeky way possible.

The main storyline is simple: Scott meets rainbow-haired Ramona, and has to deal with her exes in his attempts to woo her. Complicating matters are Scott's exes, and his not so ex Knives, and his not altogether reliable friends. Handily, a lot of things are labelled and it never gets too deep and metaphysical, though some of the references (like Scott's need to break out "the L word") only hit me a bit later on - and with not-too subtle nudges in their direction.

Even minor characters are memorable. Young Neil says about five lines all told, but his slack jawed performance is awarded by a bit of character development.

And the action scenes... Well, one could call them comical, and that would be unbelievably accurate. Fun, unreal, insane - and it had me waiting for Sub Zero or Raiden to pop up to join in the frenetic fun. The fact that noone else in the movie seems to think these super-powered scraps are anything other than normal was another constant source of joy.

And joyful I was, and the two plus hours of the film just flew by in a chaotic crayola coloured carnival, while underneath the insanity, the film's heart beat strongly.

All credit to Michael Cera for managing to hold the whole thing together as the hero. He's funny, charming, a bit of a geek, but can whip out the action hero when he needs to. And full credit to film maker Edgar Wright, also of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead. More please!

Verdict: Considering what has come before, I am sure I will surprise noone by rating this insanely highly. Scott Pilgrim vs the World is lots of fun, a great tonic for a rubbishy weathered day, smart and dumb together, action and romance intertwined, and every bit of it was enjoyable. [Perhaps less so for non boys]. 9 level bosses out of 10.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Case for Anti Craze

Well, I have been travelling a bit and will write a few posts about that, but on my trip down from Auckland, I experienced the new Air New Zealand safety video that features the All Blacks - click on the link to see the "Crazy about Rugby" ad on YouTube.

After about 30 hours of travel and several inflight safety presentations, I have to say I was not thrilled to have one lasting longer than some flights and featuring a multitude of cringe worthy rugby puns. I did like the tongue in cheek "naked" version, but I think my AllBlackometer is still a bit overloaded after the deluge of Rexona and Powerade commercials and so I was over the whole thing after the first minute.

But I am probably in the minority, as this link kind of shows.

Verdict: I really don't make a particularly good Kiwi, I have to admit, as I have to rate this particular advertisement lowly. It's not because it does not have a sense of humour, as the advertisement does. It's not because I am suffering from a bit of cultural cringe - well, perhaps a little bit. But really, I am rating this lowly because I am getting tired of the All Blacks dominating everything in the country. Here's just hoping they dominate the actual World Cup as comprehensively. 2 emergency slides out of 5.