Sunday, 30 June 2013

Before Midnight: Movie Review

Before Midnight: Movie Review

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Ariane Labed
Director: Richard Linklater

18 years ago, a film made romantics everywhere swoon.

The nearly a decade after Before Sunrise, came the sequel - and once again, hearts were a-flutter with the film Before Sunset when the duo of Jesse and Celine finally made it.

Now, we rejoin them some 9 years later for the conclusion of the trilogy and finding that happily ever after never quite works as well as it should. It starts with Ethan Hawke's slightly older Jesse bidding farewell to his son at an airport, before joining the love of his life Celine (Julie Delpy) for the final days of their summer writing vacation in Greece.

With two young daughters, both are happy but are approaching a crossroads in their cosy life. Jesse's finding the departure from his son a lot more emotionally draining than before and it leaves him contemplating packing their lives up in France and relocating to America.

However, that nagging thought soon becomes a widening chasm between the pair...

Before Midnight is an effortless conclusion to the trilogy which has now spanned some two decades.

Linklater, Hawke and Delpy know we are all invested on these characters so we don't have to reassociare ourselves with them; nor do they have to bother with back story, choosing to fill in the gap from the last film with throaway lines, glances and dialogue as opposed to exposition.

But it's the film-making which also shines brilliantly here; long, swooping uninterrupted tracking shots follow Delpy and Hawke as they take a walk / drive and they build an intimicacy and comfort with the pair which is hard to deny.

The dialogue and situations which arise and escalate from their sojourn on the Greek isle are all simply handled for maximum effect: a talk about the future which begins amorously soon builds to an horrific row which feels all too realistic and relatable. Some times they are on the same page, other times poles apart.

Theoretical discussions sit alongside juxtapositions of beautiful sunsets and it's all so easy to get lost in as these rambling raconteurs and romantics lose themselves on bouts of verbal jousting or heart to heart moments. Sure, Hawke and Delpy may be a little older and greyer but they've lost none of the cinematic charm which has found this couple so ingrained on our psyche and make them feel so real.

Before Midnight is a superb closing chapter; a wonderfully poignant and truthful rumination on life, death and most importantly, love. It's cinema to rhapsodize to, art to fall in love with and an experience to be treasured.


Saturday, 29 June 2013

Safe Haven: DVD Review

Safe Haven: DVD Review

Rating: M
Released by Roadshow Home Ent

In the latest weepie to hit the cinema and to prove the chagrin to all self respecting partners worldwide, Josh Duhamel stars as Alex, a widower with two kids who lost his wife to cancer. Alex runs a store in the quiet sleepy coastal town of Southport, which is in the middle of nowhere.

Into his life comes the blond Katie, (Julianne Hough) a mysterious young woman who wants to start life anew. But Katie has a secret and is unwilling to open up to anyone, preferring to keep to herself and stow her past away. Gradually though, she forms a bond with Alex and his two kids which blossoms into love. Until Katie's dark sercret from her murky past threatens their future happiness...

The movie Safe Haven is formulaic Nicholas Sparks drama. It ticks all of the boxes that you'd expect from the 8th adaptation from his batch of books. Scene in the rain? Check. Gooey romantic mush set to middle of the road music? Also, check. Cute kids, one who's for the new prospective love interest and the other who's against? Also, check again. Snatched looks between two people clearly meant for each other, despite adversity and who let down their guard to fall hopelessly in love? Again, check and you've got a full house from the Sparks' world of cliche and formulaic.

Vulnerable Duhamel and blonde quivery-lipped Hough have an easy affability to their characters, but there's little sizzle between the pair of them on screen. David Lyons plays the cop looking for Katie, and makes a reasonable fist of his baddie despite the OTT blaring of nasty soundtrack and attack of the sweats every time he's on screen.How I Met Your Mother's Cobie Smulderscomes away relatively unscathed as Katie's best friend in Southport.

If you lower your expectations going into this on a date night, then perhaps you won't be surprised by what plays out. But, to everyone else, this predictable mix of the relatively bland and inoffensive drama will set their teeth on end as it plays out in true romantic drama fashion - and it's a relative carbon copy of Sleeping With The Enemy in many ways too.

Until the final few minutes, which throws in a twist which is worthy of a certain Bruce Willis movie, and which is totally out of left-field and makes no sense whatsoever, no matter how good looking the main cast are.

Ultimately Safe Haven is by the numbers, pleasantly inoffensive and gentle enough to hook in some. It's not as mushy as some previous fare, but it doesn't offer any real surprises.


Friday, 28 June 2013

Hitchcock: Blu Ray Review

Hitchcock: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

The list of Hitchcock's influence is as long and wide as his jowls. From Psycho, North by Northwest to The Birds, Vertigo, Rear Window, the list goes on and on.

This latest release details his struggles to get Psycho made, following the success of North by Northwest and is a light and frothy affair, which is based on Stephen Rebello's non-fiction book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho.

Anthony Hopkins dons the prosthetics and curls out his bottom lip to play the portly master of suspense in this film, set in 1959, which finds Hitch mulling over which project to take on, following the major success of "North by Northwest" and stung by a reporter asking him when he plans to retire.

Various proposals come his way - including Casino Royale - but taken by a novel Psycho by Robert Bloch (and about killer Ed Gein), Hitchcock becomes obsessed with getting this project off the ground - despite the protestations of both the studio and his wife Alma Reville (wonderfully portrayed with richness by Helen Mirren). But Hitch's a man on a mission - and he starts to risk it all by taking on this project. From mortgaging his house to self finance the flick and dealing with the censors, it begins to push their relationship to the absolute breaking point.

Coupled with starting to see Gein and suspecting Alma of an affair, the making of Psycho could be the unravelling of Hitchcock's hitherto charmed life.

Hitchcock is a knockabout film in parts which is potentially more suited to a telemovie. Thankfully, some wonderful character performances elevate it from the level of the small screen; firstly, Helen Mirren, whose portrayal and portrait of a woman behind the man is nothing short of compelling, rich and watchable from the get go. How she never received some form of recognition beyond a BAFTA nomination for this is incredulous.

Anthony Hopkins is, in all honesty, a mixed bag in terms of his portrayal of Hitchcock. There are moments when he's spot on with the role, working under a prosthetic face and an enhanced girth. And certainly, there are times when he has the trademark pout spot on.

But then there are others when Hitchcock sounds like a curious mix of cockney Michael Caine put through a Welsh burr and mixed in with a fat suit. It's an extraordinarily odd sense of the man and at times, the make up and vocals become distracting. However, in encapsulating Hitch's more lecherous side, his obsessive compulsions and his propensity towards his leading ladies, Hopkins gives a never less than rounded portrait and insight into what propelled the man. All in all, Hitchcock is an entertaining, if occasionally forgettable, piece which will have you turning off the movie at the end and seeking out Psycho to rewatch - as well as some of Hitch's other fare. Which is no bad thing at all.

Extras: A solid bunch including behind the scenes on the make up, commentary and a public service announcement


Thursday, 27 June 2013

Paranorman: DVD Review

Paranorman: DVD Review

Rating: PG
Released by Universal Home Entertainment

He sees dead people - everywhere.

We've been here before, haven't we?

In  this stop motion animated film, Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is an outsider in his home town of Blithe Hollow; a zombie lover, bullied by his classmates and mocked by his family for claims he can see the dead, he's an odd solitary figure in the world.

But one day, Norman finds a friend in fellow bully victim and fat kid, Neil (Tucker Albrizzi). Which is a good thing because shortly after that, Norman's eccentric uncle tells him that he holds the key to saving the day and must perform an annual ritual to stop the dead from rising due to a curse laid down by a witch centuries ago. However, when the ritual doesn't go to plan, Norman has to convince everyone that his zombie obsession is real and that if they don't help him, it could be game over for Blithe Hollow...

Paranorman is a macabre animated treat which makes the best of a slightly lacking story by throwing in some truly undead animation. Purples and vibrant yellows pack out the screen towards the end and give a suitably spooky glow to the proceedings which get a little dark and frightening towards the end.

With hints of The Crucible and a tragic story of sadness, it's certainly enough to stand out from the usual animated fare but also wise enough to throw in a few great sight gags here and there. From the mocking of Norman's zombie obsession to the mafiosa ghost haunting the streets with his feet encased in concrete, this is a film which is reverential and respectful of the genres which have inspired it. Even the heroes of the piece, the jock, the cheerleader, the nerd, the fat kid and the bully are stock stereotypes from the splatter films of yore, but by putting a fresh spin on them,Paranorman doesn't rely on cheap gags and simplistic shocks as the dialled down story plays out. A great sight gag involving a certain hockey mask is cleverly executed as this skewed Grimm fairy tale rolls on.

Paranorman is a little something different for the animated holiday fare - it should have been released nearer Hallowe'en as it has that creepy feel - but at its heart, it's a sad story which just may touch you in ways you hadn't quite been expecting.


Flight: DVD Review

Flight: DVD Review

Rating: M
Released by Universal Home Entertainment

Director Robert Zemeckis returns to his first live action film since Castaway back in 2000.In this, which saw Denzel Washington nominated for an Oscar, Denzel plays alcoholic and addicted pilot, Captain Whip Whitaker. When we first meet him, he's waking up from a heavy night of booze, drugs and sex with cabin crew member Katerina Marquez (Nadia Velazquez). Due to fly a little later that morning, Whip does a line of cocaine to remain centred before boarding his flight to Atlanta.

However, after some quite rough turbulence on take off, things seem to be going okay. That is until some time into the flight when the plane suddenly begins to nose dive. With equipment failing and his co-pilot beginning to panic, Whip has no choice but to flip the plane upside down and try and land it. But he can't completely save the day and the plane crashes in a field, killing six of the 102 onboard.

When Whip comes around in hospital, he finds an investigation into what went wrong is underway - and he realises, that despite the plane potentially being at fault, his addiction could squarely come into the spotlight and the blame could land on his shoulders....

Flight is an utterly compelling and non-showy portrait of addiction. It's also Denzel's film from beginning to end - with a side of chilling plane crash to put you off flying forever. Washington has everything down pat, from a captain reassuring his passengers that everything will be ok while lacing an orange juice with 2 mini bottles of vodka to a scene in a hotel where a mini bar offers temptation and salvation in equal measures, and defies your expectations, it's a performance which is airborne from the minute it begins and stays at a stellar height all the way through, while carefully negotiating the line of agony for his character and anger at his actions. But it's also the slow burn of the story which grips as it begins to play towards its horrifying and perhaps inevitable conclusion as Whip's web of denial begins to wind around him, choking him with the truth of what will have to happen. Zemeckis uses the time to build up scenes thanks to precision direction and a great leading man and the effect is mesmerisingly good. (The aforementioned mini-bar sequence shows how he's great at taking a scene, extending it out a little and never losing you in the final outcome - although the final sequence reeks of Hollywood cliche and while watchable, feels a little forced given the way the story's gone)

All in all, Flight stands on a towering performance from Washington's portrait of addiction - he's rightly been nominated for an Oscar (after all, Academy loves issues) but it's also a compelling story which avoids outright pity and simply dumps its hero in a situation where he has to take control of his life as it tells a fairly common Hollywood story of detox and life turn-around, but one which is definitely worth boarding.

Extras: Anatomy of a crash scene

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

ZB movie Review - World War Z, This Is The end, and Silver Linings Playbook

ZB movie Review - World War Z, This Is The end, and Silver Linings Playbook

The World's End Featurette

The World's End Featurette

A brilliant featurette on the World's End here, with interviews from all the players of the Cornetto trilogy.

The World's End hits cinemas July 18th but has its New Zealand premiere in Wellington on Saturday July 13th.

Remember - it's all for The Greater Good.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The Place Beyond The Pines: Movie Review

The Place Beyond The Pines: Movie Review

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne, Ray Liotta,  Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen
Director: Derek Cianfrance

The Place Beyond the Pines sees Ryan Gosling once again with the director of Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance, who helped put him on the map.

Gosling is Luke, a bleach blonde drifter and high-wire motorcycle performer who moves from town to town with a travelling carnival. He shares a connection with former lover Romina (an unglamorous Eva Mendes) but his world is turned upside down when he realises that she's had his son while he's been gone.

With a new family thrust upon him, Luke throws in the adoration of the crowds and the uncertain lifestyle of the carny to try and provide for them. But Romina believes he's unstable and despite Luke's efforts, rejects his push to provide.

Working as a car mechanic, Luke's thrust into the world of crime by his boss (played by Animal Kingdom's Ben Mendelsohn) and takes part in a string of bank robberies. But that puts him on a direct collision course with cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) and sees their lives intertwined in ways they could never imagine as the tale unfolds.

The Place Beyond The Pines is a film whose three rich narrative strands don't get pulled together until the final third - and when the realization comes, it's devastating. Beautifully shot, compellingly acted by all those within, it defies expectations as this generational tale of fathers and sons slowly reveals its hand.

Gosling, with his bleach blonde dyed locks and tortured silences impresses in a turn which hints at the pain but never fully shows it; likewise, Cooper once again builds on the stellar acting work done in The Silver Linings Playbook and an unglamorous Mendes gives an unmissably restrained turn as the mother.

But it's Chronicle star Dane DeHaan who emerges as the real talent of this piece with his fractured and damaged character shouldering way more emotional intensity than his years would suggest as the final act plays out.

Granted, it's a little overlong with its 140 minute running time, but The Place Beyond The Pines has a power and intensity that impresses. It has a haunting quality which endures and is a drama which is weighty, compelling, intriguing and an insightful reminder of the bonds which tie us together long into our years.


White Lies: Movie Review

White Lies: Movie Review

Cast: Rachel House, Whirimako Black, Antonia Prebble
Director: Dana Rotberg

Based on the novella "Medicine Woman" by Witi Ihimaera, White Lies is the story of Paraiti (Whirimako Black), a medicine woman in 20th century New Zealand.

Orphaned when her father's murdered by European soldiers, she leads a nomadic life, predominantly healing the sick and teaching of the old ways. One day, when in town, she's approached by Rachel House's Maraea, who needs her to help for her mistress Rebecca Vickers (Antonia Prebble).

Vickers is pregnant and she needs Paraiti to help her get rid of the baby... Initially reluctant, Paraiti ends up helping Vickers. But there's a clash between Paraiti and Maraea over cultures and traditions...

White Lies is a bit of a tough watch thanks to poor pacing.

Despite being beautifully shot, using perfectly captured period detail and settings, the live action is simply not gripping enough unfortunately to involve you as it plays out.

Whilst Black's softly spoken and spiritual Paraiti is a well put together character among the lush verdant greens of the New Zealand scenery, her interaction with Maraea and Vickers leaves a little to be desired. Using minimal soundtrack and music, you'd expect the piece to have more of a hold on you but rather than captivating you as you watch, it simply ends up making you feel like the time is dragging - despite it only being some 90 minutes long.

Prebble's porcelain and haughty Vickers is a difficult creature to warm to, even when a shocking revelation comes to light; and House's Maraea is more angry than shades of grey as the tensions play out within the house. That's the thing too - it feels very much like a theatre play that's not translated well to the big screen. I'm not particularly au fait with Ihimaera's novella, but I'm sensing there may have had to have been some padding out at this point to fill the time - and unfortunately, the film suffers from it.

In all honesty as well, this film is not an emotionally easy watch - there's a real feeling of maudlin melancholia as it unspools which won't really strike a chord with many heading to the cinema hoping for a bit of escapism.


Monday, 24 June 2013

Bill Gosden talks the 2013 Film Festival

Bill Gosden talks the 2013 Film Festival

Tonight has seen the launch of the 2013 New Zealand International Film Festival in Auckland, with the programme being unleashed to the masses.
Now, the scheduling of the film smorgasbord begins - and I managed to catch up with Bill Gosden, the festival director to get a look inside this year's fest:

It's the 45th Film Festival - that's quite the achievement; give us a summary of how you feel on this auspicious occasion.
Well, it’s not my 45th, but I’ve been around long enough to know the thick and the thin of it. I’m amazed that we’ve weathered so many changes, and kept on fronting up every year with something new and lively, because it has never, not even once, felt that it was getting easier. Anyone keeping an arts organisation afloat in this fair land will know what I mean. Fortunately we have had some great allies, best of all an enthusiastic audience.

Every year, it's a veritable feast of film, how do you manage to top it each year?
Topping oneself is probably not a healthy ambition...We’re just trying to identify what’s new and exciting and channel it New Zealand’s way.

How would you describe this year's selection? Are there any over-arching themes? 
Trends that became apparent a year ago are still trending. The idea still holds that there are multifarious clearings in the forest where the multiplex monsters don’t play, so that individuality, even eccentricity can and do occasionally flourish. The increasing concentration of “event” movies in the cinemas has led to a proliferation of smaller scaled productions for varied, smaller scaled platforms. A big, generalist festival such as NZIFF can turn an aggregation of the best examples into an event in its own right.

There is one specific tendency that I have noticed: the ‘everything old is new’syndrome, which is reflected in the retro-futurist look of our own poster, but has also prompted an unusual number of filmmakers in the last year to shoot their films in lustrous black and white. It may look as if they are picking up the abandoned tools of a suddenly obsolete technology, but of course they’re achieving these old effects through entirely new means.

The festival starts with a bang of fabulousness with Behind the Candlebra, a film rumoured to be Soderbergh's last. What made this the opening night film?
You got it, fabulousness.

We've had over 91 short films sent in this year - does that mean the quality's higher than ever and we're in rude health?
No, but the good ones are very good.

It's a veritable extravaganza of live theatre this year - A Buster Keaton, a Goblin and Suspiria and The Crowd. Where do you get the ideas every year for these events and how much of a collaborative process is it?
Ideas are never a problem. It’s the resources that are hard to stack up. We are sharing Goblin tour costs with some Australian shows. The Cameraman stems from our long association with composer Timothy Brock who never scored a film that wasn’t worth watching 100 times over. I may have been the one who nudged Wellington composer Jo Contag towards The Crowd, and I certainly wasn’t surprised when he was excited by the movie. I could not have been happier when he applied, with NZIFF support, to Creative NZ for funds to score it and they said yes.

Plus a couple of great Hitchcock films (after last year's Live Event) and Joss Whedon doing Shakespeare - variety is indeed the spice of life?
 North by Northwest is simply one of the great movies, don’t you think? And it never looked better than it does now. Hitchcock makes inventive use of 3D to define a very constricted space in Dial M. It’s fascinating to watch how he works it. And no Grace Kelly fan will want to miss the chance to see her at her most perfectly porcelain-like. Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing is a treat. Even the low comedy that can seem such heavy lifting in otherwise fleet Shakespeare productions is funny in this one.

There's an extremely strong slate of Independent films this us through some of the best.
I liked Starlet a lot, and it’s probably the hardest one to talk through. Dree Hemingway plays an independent young woman in Los Angeles who gets caught up in a strange, guilt-laden stand-off with an elderly widow. It’s fresh and constantly surprising. The little truths stirred up by their encounter have really stayed with me months after. Computer Chess, set at an early computer chess tournament, is a hoot, but you need to be prepared for a film that looks like it was shot on home video in 1982, which is very much part of its geek-loving, nostalgic vibe.

As well as some truly unique New Zealand films - what more can you tell us about Romeo and Juliet on a campsite? And the Deadly Ponies gang as well as nature doco Antarctica on Ice. These films have some truly delicious premises...
I thought Romeo and Juliet: A Love Song was great fun, full of marvellous visual invention. Deadly Ponies nails a great pair of rural clowns. Anthony Powell’s Antarctica: A Year on Ice bursts with his love of the place. He invented his own tools and taught himself film-making to make it. He succeeds impressively not only in sharing his wonder at the environment, but also in conveying the special proprietary sense that grows from actually living there.

What's the strangest film on this list in your section - is it a toss up between a Pedro Almodovar mock airplane movie or Upstream Colour?
The Almodovar film came to us late and could only be accommodated into Auckland, but it’s not really especially strange, more a regression to sex farce basics, and nelly gay stereotypes no straight director would dare revive. Upstream Colour is consummately weird and utterly seductive on the big screen.

You've tapped into the zeitgeist of fears over privacy with Terms and Conditions Apply and Wikileaks - is this the year of paranoia / Big Brother do you think?
It’s not paranoia when it turns out they really are watching. Terms and Conditions delves into precisely the issues that prompted Edward Snowden to blow his whistle. Alex Gibney’s Wikileaks film provides a bracingly clear assessment of the issues that need to be discussed when you discuss Julian Assange.

What's your personal pick from the festival fare this year and why?
I’m hanging out for all 21 Cannes titles, vetted for us by our Paris-based programmer Sandra Reid. Here are a few picks from the extensive register of films I have already seen and would hate anyone to overlook:

2 Autumns, 3 Winters. Don’t be put off when I say that the three principal characters often speak to camera.  This tale of two 30something couples is inventive, funny and charmingly self-aware. I was a little reminded of Florian’s Love Story.

The Act of Killing
The Act of Killing. Joshua Oppenheimer’s encounter with veterans of the murder squads who devastated Indonesia in the 60s is startling and utterly revealing.

Dormant Beauty. Superb classical filmmaking applied to an utterly contemporary subject by Italian master Marco Bellochio.

Museum Hours. A lovely low key drama in praise of platonic friendship and great museums.

Stories We Tell. Sarah Polley’s painful family secrets and lies are revealed and inspected with inimitable poise and discretion.

Utu Redux. It’s even better than you remember.

Wadjda. From a country where movies are never shown, at least not in public. This gentle drama proves a sly, surprisingly funny bid for gender equality on behalf of Saudi Arabian schoolgirls (and their mothers).

What's the movie you feel has the propensity to change lives and which do you feel would garner great word of mouth?
To name just one: Gardening with Soul might open a few minds to the wealth of life possible in a convent. Jess Feast’s documentary about a nonagenarian gardening nun is completely winning. There’s an irresistible spark to Sister Loyola, and the camera really catches it.

Is there any chance of securing last minute the Cannes Palme D'Or winner, Blue is the Warmest Colour?
No. The word is that the film was rushed to Cannes in an incomplete state. I think it will be quite some time before the ‘complete’ version is ready to be seen at an art house near you.

The Isaac Theatre Royal
Just as an aside from the festival, there are just days to go with the Isaac Theatre Royal project in Christchurch - how's that going?
There are several other strands to this appeal, but more Boosted donations would definitely be in order at this point. Please donate the price of a ticket to help provide Christchurch with a fitting home for NZIFF.

We have some international guests heading this way as well - can you tell us more?
 I first knew about the director of This Ain’t No Mouse Music! Maureen Gosling from her longstanding association with the films of Les Blank. We showed her Blossoms of Fire about a matriarchal culture in Oaxaca, Mexico a decade ago. The film she made with Chris Simon about roots music producer Chris Strachwitz is a lovely celebration of the music he’s preserved and helped feed into the American mainstream. Sean Baker seemed a great choice as Starlet shows what resonance can be achieved with small resources – assuming, of course, that those small resources are as potent as Starlet’s arresting scenario and two actresses.

What's the perfect NZ Festival day for you?
 Only the movie titles have changed since you asked the same question a year ago. A perfect NZIFF Sunday begins when I look out my window, find an overcast sky and feel assured that it’s a perfect day for indoor pursuits. A wake-me-up documentary, The Human Scale perhaps, is followed by a World Premiere of a new Kiwi film. The filmmaker is delighted by the projection. The audience is delighted by the film. The Q+A is lively.  An exercise break at this point seems unlikely but would pay dividends ahead of the Australasian premiere of one of those Cannes winners I’ve yet to see. Then it might be time to sneak into something of Ant’s for cathartic mayhem. Or I could just go to bed....

The New Zealand International Film Festival is now launched - the site is live with all the smorgasbord of treats available - check it out at and then drop us a note in the comments as to what we can expect to see you all at! 

The Heat: Movie Review

The Heat: Movie Review

Cast: Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Marlon Wayans, Michael Rapaport
Director: Paul Feig

The cop buddy movie returns - this time with two female leads.

Oscar winning actress Sandra Bullock stars as uptight FBI agent Sarah Ashburn in The Heat; she's hoping for a major promotion despite being unloved by most of the troops she works with. Keen to please the powers that be, she's sent to Boston to help bring down a ruthless drug lord.

The only thing standing in her way is the brash and abrasive Boston cop Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy, re-teaming with her Bridesmaids director Paul Feig) - they're as incompatible as chalk and cheese.

But, whaddya know, they've got to work together to bring down the bad guy - cue friction and fireworks.

The Heat is a buddy-cop movie which is lacking in sizzle, despite initially showing some promise.

Sandra Bullock does uptight very well - and perhaps a little too much, given how her character's roundly disliked by all those working with her but she borders on being arrogant and unwatchable that it's hard to initially latch onto her.

Likewise, Melissa McCarthy once again rocks her out abrasive, brash and rough cackling character to maximum crude comic effect throughout - and of course, given the two extremes of these career women, there's likely to be clashes ahead before the inevitable buddying up / slight agreeing to each other's point of view / thawing of the female rivalry gives way to their complementing each other.

Sure, it's formulaic with the slightly different slant on the cop movie in that this time, it's two female cops who don't quite gel (what a shocker), but what's more problematic about this film is how unfunny it actually is during its nigh on two hours running time. Which is a real shame given the pedigree it's come from. A few unexpected curve balls here and there in the forms of acerbic put downs really lighten the mix. There's a lot of fun to be had at a couple of running gags - one of which comes at the expense of an albino cop and another about Ashburn's penchant for the neighbour's cat, but it's not enough to sustain the load.

McCarthy and Bullock have good chemistry together but after a while the abrasive squabbling and squirm inducing excruciating moments tend to outstay their welcome and really grates. The Heat had real potential as a final pre-end credits piece shows which brings more laughs than have gone before.

The buddy cop genre has many entrants - and this recalls Rush Hour in some ways given the clashes - but The Heat isn't a memorable entrant into the admittedly already crowded pantheon thanks largely in part to a weak script and a lack of doing anything really new and different with the formula.


Sunday, 23 June 2013

Man Of Steel: Movie Review

Man Of Steel: Movie Review

Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane
Director: Zack Snyder


That's the only way to describe the latest reboot of the Superman story.

Sucker Punch, Watchmen and 300 director Zack Snyder is the latest to dip his toes into the mythology of the red and blue caped crusader for justice - and relative unknown Henry Cavill is the latest actor to don the cape and giant S and stand for truth, justice and the American way.

As the film opens, we're transported to the world of Krypton, a planet about to fall thanks to the greed of its leaders who have mined the core for their own progress. Opposed to them but opting for a peaceful solution is Russell Crowe's haughty Jor-El; also opposed to them but via a diametrically opposed and violent solution is General Zod (a vicious Michael Shannon).

Realising their planet's number is up, Jor-El sends his only son to Earth to save him; but it's too late. Krypton is destroyed, Zod is banished and Kal-El is a loner, drifting from town to town, doing good deeds and hoping to go unnoticed. One plucky reporter, Lois Lane starts connecting the dots though...and things get worse when Zod escapes and turns up on Earth demanding Kal-El.

Threatening destruction of the world he now calls home, Superman has no choice but to reveal himself.

Man of Steel is brash, loud, epic, big, noisy and blockbuster in many ways.

It starts with nothing short of bold and big with the fight on Krypton (which looks stunning and sets out Snyder's visual flair with some considerable aplomb) - though Snyder does his best to give the prelude something of a heart and soul as Jor-El and Lyra mourn the loss of their son but face the potential of the saviour of their race. In amongst the FX and wonderfully realised technology, there sorely needs to be some quieter moments brought to the fore for the benefit of the movie itself and to allow the audience to catch their breath.

Crowe is all statesmanlike gravitas as Chief Scientist Jor-El, whose world is crumbling on many fronts - and a computer version of himself later on, certainly brings the more dour and serious elements of the sci-fi exposition and MacGuffin to the fore. Shannon by turns, is vicious and seething as Zod, whose desperation to find Kal-El is understandable (it's all for The Greater Good) and whose descent into military madness is perfectly executed. Amy Adams is to be praised for her Lois Lane. Granted, there's a bit of the spark missing between her and Clark, (as well as some of the playful banter) but she's got a dogged seriousness and stoicism which is endearing. Other players within the Superman mythos are given scant time to breathe and show personality (Perry White, Pete Ross) but that could come with time.

Henry Cavill is a commendable Superman (with one military type at the end commenting on how his cheekbones and steely jaw are "hot") but he never fully imbues his character with the humanity and potential moral turmoil that he really needs. Sure, he drifts from one place to the next, but could do with a little more humour and warmth as he does so. The brief moments when that does begin to shine through (such as his first flight through the clouds where he smiles with giddy joy) are sorely missed throughout as they bring soul to the piece which is occasionally bordering on the bloated.

But Snyder and the writers are to be commended in how they have executed the comic's 75 year history.

It's a Superman film which is completely respectful of the legend - iconic moments within the character's history are gracefully woven into the narrative via flashbacks here and there; and a future nemesis is glimpsed in a blink and miss it moment involving some tankers in the final showdown between Supes and Zod. The story blends in elements of Superman and Superman II with nary a care in the world - or a chance to stop and admire the view.

Perhaps, though, it's a touch too much - particularly during the final showdown sequences with General Zod, which see infinitely more destruction than the Avengers did, with very little consequence. It's a little too much smashing, bashing, flying and fighting as Snyder layers level on level of action that's almost constricting. This is a Superman where clearly the S is not meaning subtle. It could have used a few more moments to pause and reflect.

And an ending which has sent parts of the internet into meltdown with its moral dilemmas is to be commended for bringing a level of danger to Supes that has been missing from his do-gooder image for many years.

All in all, Man Of Steel is an epic blockbuster ride. Sure, it could do with easing off once in a while and stopping to take in some of the view but it's a breathless and creatively solid re-imagining of the Superman legend - with a sequel due next year, you'll believe a man can fly once again.


Anna Karenina: DVD Review

Anna Karenina: DVD Review

Rating: M
Released by Universal Home Entertainment

It's to 19th Century Russia we go for this adaptation of Tolstoy's novel of love and passion, which re-unites director Joe Wright and star Keira Knightley for a third time. Keira Knightley stars as Anna Karenina, who's married to Jude Law's respected Russian hero, Alexei Karenin. But she's unhappy with her marriage and accidentally starts to look elsewhere while on a trip. She garners the attention of Count Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson), who in turn is being pursued by Kitty (Alicia Vikander), who is being sought by Levin (Gleeson).

Despite her best attempts to avoid Vronsky, Anna begins a tempestuous affair which threatens her position as a socialite and the life of a married aristocrat.

When Karenin learns of the affair, he forbids her from seeing him - but she carries on regardless, risking the life of a social pariah and what price, happiness? 

Anna Karenina is a film which has amazing production designs. Scenes change as if they were set in a theatre - with actors walking apparently backstage as the sets change around them. It's a dazzling directorial touch from Wright which screams originality and brings the gusto and energy of the life performance to the screen, while still maintaining its passage as a film. Lavish sets adorn the celluloid and enchant the eyes as actors pirouette around the screen - one scene sees an actor open the double doors to a stark white snowy landscape - and give the film a life it so richly needs and deserves.

Tom Stoppard has penned the screenplay - and while he's condensed down a 950 page novel to a 2 hour film, it still manages to drag a little in its second half as the enthralling visual work gives way to a drudgery of a story of depression and lost love. And I have to admit, it was a struggle to care for Anna's predicament and ultimate fate in amongst all the sumptuous pomp of 19th Century Russia (which barely resembles Russia given the incredible amount of English accents).

It's not anything to do with Knightley's performance as Anna Karenina which is perfectly adequate at capturing the mix of conflicting emotions - nor is it anything to do with the sub plots of other versions of love, provided by the likes of a brilliant Matthew MacFadyen as the philandering Oblonsky or the moping Gleeson as peasant Levin. Some scenes crackle among the dour doledrums which permeate the final half of the film - a sequence where Anna finally reveals how she feels about Alexei sizzles with seething animosity and passion, something which is curiously lacking from the balletic courtship of Vronsky.

While Anna Karenina is highly stylised, it's ultimately an unmoving piece, devoid of connection as the lavish visual flair demonstrated so early on by Wright falls by the wayside and the whole thing gives way to a maudlin film about a thwarted passion, lacking in real tragedy and emotional bite.


Saturday, 22 June 2013

Mt Zion: DVD Review

Mt Zion: DVD Review

Rating: M
Released by Sony Home Entertainment

It's to 1979 New Zealand we go for this new local film opening on Waitangi Day, marking the debut acting performance of Australian Idol winner Stan Walker.

Stan Walker is Turei, a potato picker on the spud grounds of Pukekohe; his father (a restrained and commanding Temuera Morrison) runs the roost. A talented musician, Turei, dreams of getting away from the lands and pursuing his lifelong hope of making it on the stage. That chance comes along with the opportunity for Turei and his band-mates (including Ghost Chips) to win a spot to open for Bob Marley who's due into Western Springs for a concert.

However, in pushing those around him to help, Turei's put on a direct collision course with his father.

Mt Zion has an engaging earnestness to its honesty and integrity as the sweet family story plays out.

Sure, it's a little rough around the edges and occasionally slightly slow in places, but it has a heart and intimate focus which is hard to deny or not be swept along with. From time to time, Walker lacks some of the acting chops needed of him to give a bit of depth to his character, but an understated Temuera Morrison more than makes up for it. But, that said, it's an assured debut from Walker and when he belts out a song or two, it's hard not to get caught up in the moment. There's a nostalgic vibe to this flick and director Kahi has managed to brilliantly recreate the intimacy of home and community life in amongst the squabbles over land issues and the inevitable conflicts between father and son as Turei starts to grow up. Kahi's also to be commended for taking the script, which could have lapsed into something predictable, and fashioning something which has a real sentimental and touching centre, without over-romanticising the era.

With a blistering OST and vibe, Mt Zion is a gentle little Kiwi film which impresses more than you'd expect thanks to tenderness and intimacy.


Doctor Who: Inferno: Special Edition DVD Review

Doctor Who: Inferno: Special Edition DVD Review

Rating: PG
Released by BBC And Roadshow Home Entertainment

In the second of the Jon Pertwee releases for this month, it's a special edition take on an absolute classic.

As a top secret project burrows to the crust of the earth to harness a new power, the Doctor finds himself transported to a parallel universe where the project is further on and closer to achieving its aims. But, in this alterna-verse, everything's at risk, and before long, the Doctor's fighting for his life and the future of the real Earth.

A classic by every stretch of the imagination, Doctor Who: Inferno: Special Edition is a great release. It pulls together the original special features from the initial release, before piling on the goodness including a piece which sees Toby Hadoke bring together the original stunt cast of Havoc for one major reunion. This piece alone has humour, heart and pathos as well as a reminder of how much of a family the old Who was.

Doctor Who: Inferno: Special Edition is an essential purchase; a Who that continues to give and a release that showcases the best of special features and script writing at its 70s best.

Extras: Commentary, making of, Hadoke vs Havoc, Doctor Forever, a look at the UNIT family - a great set.


New Zealand International Film Festival - Cannes list revealed

New Zealand International Film Festival - Cannes list revealed

The Cannes List

Once again NZIFF audiences are amongst the first in the world to reap the harvest of May’s Festival de Cannes.
In 2013, we bring Auckland audiences a whopping 18 films from this year’s official Cannes selections.

In Competition

From the Competition, you’ll be able to see Heli, the controversial winner of this year’s Best Director award; Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin, winner of the Best Screenplay prize for China’s most insistently contemporary filmmaker; Asghar Farhadi’s The Past, the eagerly awaited follow-up to his A Separation, and winner of the Best Actress award for Bérénice Bejo (The Artist). Stand by too for Kore-eda Hirokazu’s Jury Award winner, Like Father, Like SonPaolo Sorrentino’s ravishing 21st century response to La dolce vitaThe Great Beauty; and Steven Soderberg’s brilliant foray into Liberace’s closet, Behind the Candelabra. No Palme d’Or for us or the rest of the world quite yet: word is that the version rewarded at Cannes requires further work. 

Un Certain Regard Section

From Un Certain Regard, the section that supplements the competition (and gives the cognoscenti  a chance to cry “That should have been in competition!”), we have The Missing Picture from Cambodia; the Kurdish western, My Sweet PepperlandOmar, a riveting thriller from the West Bank; Norte, the year’s slow cinema masterpiece; Stranger by the Lake, our most hardcore offering of the year, but also a seductive and tense mystery (which should definitely have been in competition); and Sofia Coppola’s eagerly awaited foray into Paris Hilton’s closet, The Bling Ring.

Directors' Fortnight Section

The prestigious Director’s Fortnight gave the year’s most striking British film, The Selfish Giant from Clio Barnard, director of The Arbor; Jodorowsky’s surreal and long-gestating memoir The Dance of Reality and the Singaporean kid-vs-nanny tale Ilo Iloawarded the Caméra d’Or for best first film in all of Cannes.

Cannes Classic

From the sidebars, we have two refurbished greats, direct from their Cannes Classics premieres, Satyajit Ray’sCharulata (The Lonely Wife) looking better than new; and Weekend of a Champion the long lost documentary made with young Roman Polanski and his Formula one hero Jackie Stewart at Monte Carlo in 1971. 
Cannes has its Midnight Madness too, and that’s how we found out about Monsoon Shootouta Mumbai police thriller with a what-if, triple Sliding Doors scenario.

On the Wire

Two more New Zealand films announced

New Zealand 2013/80 mins/Censors rating tbc
Annie Goldson and Kay Ellmers’ doco, expanded from the film they made for Māori Television, takes a timely look at New Zealand’s military and media, notably journalist Jon Stephenson, in Afghanistan. 
New Zealand 2013/83 mins/Censors rating tbc
Playing Tania, a feisty young petrol station attendant figuring out her place in the world with no real help from anyone else, Auckland writer-actress Sophie Henderson is mesmerising. Directed by Curtis Vowell.

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