How you should spend your precious movie time
Most of my friends and colleagues don’t get to the cinema very much – clearly they don’t prioritise it quite like I do, but heck, they have families and real lives, while I just spend my time watching other people’s (well, that’s not quite true).
So here are some reviews in brief to help people decide what to see. I’ll get more critical on the ones I feel strongly about, in another post.
Let’s start with this much-heralded New Zealand offering. From the creator of Eagle vs Shark and the Oscar-nominated short film Two Cars, One Night, this is a charming piece of Kiwiana set in the mid-1980s in the small (make that “tiny”) locale of Waihau Bay . Alamein (named after his dad, but nicknamed “Boy”) lives with his grandmother and several smaller siblings, dreaming of the absent father he believes to be at least as heroic and cool as his other hero, Michael Jackson. Boy’s father is, in fact, just about to be released from a stint in prison, and his return to the community and the family’s lives brings upheaval as well as amusement for us viewers. I didn’t think this was as amazing as Peter Calder (he of the NZ Herald) and other local reviewers have found it, but it’s enjoyable and sweet, full of nostalgia and some belly laughs, and definitely worth seeing.
This Way of Life
Another NZ film, this is simply mesmerizing and an unconditional must-see. No, really. This Way of Life is a documentary tracking the Karena family through a story that is so remarkable, you couldn’t make it up. Two parents and six children live happily in relative poverty, making ends meet by working on the land, farming pigs and riding wild horses, and living a truly wholesome “good” life. Their life is simple, and beautiful for it. But as with real life, there is drama along the way, and some of it must have seemed a Godsend to the film-makers, who can’t possibly have anticipated what transpired. The interviews are heartfelt and touching, and you cannot help but leave the cinema with a new perspective on life. Highly recommended.
The first feature by British artist Sam Taylor-Wood, Nowhere Boy tells the story of the young John Lennon, growing up in Liverpool with his aunt Mimi, and being reacquainted with his troubled mother Julia after many years. It’s a real coming-of-age film, with superb performances from the charismatic lead (19 year old Aaron Johnson – who is now engaged to the 43 year old director, who is pregnant with their child) as well as the outstanding Kristin Scott Thomas as Mimi, and Ann-Marie Duff as Julia. The film is a pleasure on every level (the 1960s are evoked brilliantly through music, costume and production design), and despite the fact we know what becomes of our young hero, watching the path to Beatlemania unfold (including his first meeting with Paul McCartney at a school fete) is exciting and satisfying.
From the director (Paul Greengrass) and star (Matt Damon) of the Bourne trilogy, I had high hopes for this latest slice of Iraq war reality. Damon plays a US soldier who starts to believe that the hunt for WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction, in case the last few years have wiped your memory of the term…) may be a politically-motivated ruse. His quest for the truth brings him into dealings with the usual suspects: a disgruntled CIA veteran, a shifty politician, an astute and talented journalist, and an indignant Iraqi prepared to sacrifice everything for this country. The tone is very Bourne, the camerawork dodging back and forth to make us feel we’re in the thick of a war zone (or the Green Zone itself, which is the International Zone in central Baghdad , replete with swimming pools and bars enjoyed by the
international armed forces and p0liticos). Unfortunately the story is not exciting, nor particularly new, and though the performances are solid there is little to engage even a war-thriller buff such as myself. You could probably save it for DVD.
The Boys are Back
Set in the Australian outback, brought to you by the director of Shine, and starring the terrific British actor Clive Owen, this film is much better than its dreadful title suggests. As a widowed father struggling to raise his sons while he gets to grips himself with the sudden loss of his wife, Owen is typically charismatic, and the performances of his Australian and English children are a delight. Owen decides to start saying “yes” to everything, and mayhem ensues which alternates between exhilarating freedom and predictable disaster. The script and story are realistic and well-told by the actors, hitting many a nail on the head in its portrayal of this challenging family set-up, and the pain and beauty of grief.
Martin Scorsese is a legend (we share the same birthday – date, not year…) and one of my two favourite directors. I am always desperate to see his next creation. However, the trailer for this suggested it might be a horror – uncharacteristic of the man known for his gangster flicks (the superlative Goodfellas and Casino rating high on my list) as well as dark, soul-searching pieces such as Bringing Out the Dead, and romantic period pieces like The Age of Innocence. So, I figured, let’s see what he’s capable of with this genre. Thankfully Shutter Island turned out to be less schlock horror, more psychological thriller. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Federal Marshall Teddy Daniels, sent to an island-based psychiatric hospital to investigate a missing patient. With a dark past of his own that reveals itself to us through amazingly vibrant and increasingly disturbing flashbacks, it is soon clear that all is not as it seems. There are excellent supporting performances from Patricia Clarkson, Ben Kingsley and Michelle Williams, and the lighting and photography (deliberately and heavily reminiscent of Hitchcock) are simply stunning. The intricate plot may require some water-cooler discussion afterwards, however…
Jeff Bridges finally won his Oscar for his central performance of Bad Blake (when asked his real name, the grizzled country singer says that will only appear on his tombstone, and until then he’ll just stay “Bad”). Bad Blake has a shining career and a series of marriages behind him, and we find him drunk and destitute, being offered the supporting set at concerts for the far more successful Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), a young musician who was once Bad’s protégé. Encouraged to write more songs and go on tour, Bad falls for a younger woman and starts to get his life on track – but of course this is country music, and country ain’t about happy endings. There is soul-searching, struggle, heartache and redemption, and though the story isn’t maybe particularly novel, it’s Bridge’s performance that keeps us with his heart
throughout the film.
The Blind Side
“Poor old” Sandra Bullock (as I’ve taken to calling her) won her first Oscar for this film, days before her husband was revealed to be a cheating ratbag. Suffice to say, when she filmed this piece of all-American, predictable, by-numbers fare, they were still “happily married” – and so she produced a pretty good, enjoyable performance, but actually (dare I say it) not Oscar-worthy. In a rather Erin Brockovich-like tale, Bullock plays real-life Leigh Anne Tuohey, a privileged Republican living in a beautiful house in Memphis with her loving husband and 2 bright children, who takes a disadvantaged black teenager into her family home, and gives him the life she believes he deserves. So far, so lovely. Wouldn’t we all do the same! Big Mike becomes a fixture in the family, is pressed to take up football (the American kind – ie. lots of ploughing into your opponent and violently blocking their play up the field) and, once his grades are good enough (thanks to a rather weak cameo from Kathy Bates), he’ll be allowed to apply for football scholarships to University. It’s all enjoyable enough, but completely unsurprising – except for when Bullock’s feisty “hockey-mom” takes on the dangerous black people in the projects (uttering the immortal line “No, you listen to me, bitch – I’m in a prayer group with the DA, I’m member of the NRA, and I’m always packing”), the woman in the welfare office, the football coach – and gets her own way. This is a Tuesday night DVD rental, rather than a Friday night Cinema Trip. But if you beg to differ (as the Academy obviously did), let me know.
The Brothers Bloom
An understated, charming and slightly quirky film about two con-artist brothers (Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo) who take on a naïve, charming and slightly quirky heiress (Rachel Weisz), with complicated results. Shot in Serbia, Montenegro, Romania and Prague , full of clever tricks and engaging set-ups, this film is a pleasure to watch, principally because of the three main performances. There are a few odd moments that don’t quite work (Robbie Coltrane’s French accented investigator, for starters) but on the whole this is definitely worth 2 hours of your time.