A Big Film Catch-up : Part 2

Posted by Lou. The time is 3.20pm here in London, UK.

And now for everything in between...

The Good

The first ten minutes of Boy are comedy perfection. Utterly. Fucken. Hilarious. While the humour continues throughout, the film isn't purely for laughs with Taika crafting a simple and affecting story about growing up. Boy is excited by the return of his adventurer father (who is actually a complete loser who has just been released from prison), but soon has to contend with the harsh reality of this person he has surrounded in myth. While the director himself takes the role of the father, the star and heart of the film is acting newcomer James Rolleston whose Boy is engaging, lively, and fully lives up to New Zealand's tradition of producing electrifying child performances.

I was pleasantly surprised by the directing - it is spectacularly well shot, with some scenes and shot choices showing signs of cinematic genius. The reason I have put it in with "the good" rather than "the great" is that personally I felt like the story arc is still not quite yet big enough to fully fulfil the scale of cinema, but it is leaps and bounds on from his debut feature Eagle vs Shark. While obviously I am a huge supporter of New Zealand's domestic cinema and love when New Zealand's creative geniuses choose to live and work in their home country, part of me would love to see what he could do with a Hollywood budget and a script by a great writer.


Drew Barrymore's directing debut Whip It! is everything you'd want it to be - full of sassy and interesting female characters, and centred around the aggressively physical roller-derby scene. Ellen Page is the perfect lead, the supporting cast come in all shapes and sizes (with Barrymore herself providing the comic relief), the "love interest" is befittingly cute-in-an-alternative-way, and all-in-all it's a bit of a middle-finger at dominant ideas of "what girls should be like" as according to mainstream American culture. Oh, and there's lots of eye-liner. High-fives Drew!


I love Robert Downey Junior. I think he has made probably one of the best Hollywood comebacks ever with the Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes series. He's just so gosh-darned likeable and quirky. In fact, it's pretty criminal that it took until now for me to even see Iron Man. And as expected, it ruled (because he rules). If only they had cast an unknown instead of ol' Gwynnie in the role of Pepper Potts - she is both spectacularly unsuited to the role, and the role is beneath her status as an Oscar-winning A-lister. It distracted me hugely, especially knowing that there are so many 30-something-year-old actresses out there deserving of a break who would have taken the role and made it awesome. But other than that, I give two-thumbs-up to RDJ's Iron Man.


The Disappointing

Okay it was only marginally disappointing, as I did like the film, but Baby Mama wasn't quite all I wanted it to be (unlike Whip It). This is solely because Tina Fey is fucking hilarious - in 30 Rock, on Saturday Night Live, and seemingly in real-life - but this film didn't quite showcase her comedy chops. It is a funny film however, as Amy Poehler is a riot. Fey is a successful career woman who, in her late-30s, is desperate for a baby and - unable to conceive - engages Poehler to be a surrogate. Physical comedy and witty banter ensues.

I liked the story - it seemed extremely empathetic towards a very real situation of being a woman with a ticking-down biological clock who wants a baby and doesn't have someone to be the daddy. It doesn't portray this as being a pitiable state, or present a man as being the solution. It very much centres upon two women in a comedy-double-act scenario that is traditionally seldom given to women on the big screen. There is also humour that is seldom portrayed by women (toilet humour and the like), and they do it well. And actually in writing this I'm wondering why I have put it in the disappointing section? I guess I just wanted Fey to be funnier.


Up. What the...? It got so much attention, so many award nominations, such great word-of-mouth... and yet... it's so disappointing. The first half is great, don't get me wrong. I thought the opening sequence was emotive and engaging, the characterisation excellent, and watching the house be carried up into the air by a flurry of helium balloons is brilliant. But once they reach a destination it just becomes a bat-shit-crazy downer. It took something like 5 minutes from me to go from being utterly engaged to tapping my fingers and wondering what the fuck. I'd recommend hitting the stop button once the balloon has landed.


The Sandra Bullock

A Certain Somebody who is married to a Certain Co-Blogger is quite a big fan of Ms Bullock, which has led to my Co-Blogger having quite a detailed knowledge of her films, which in turn piqued my curiosity enough to devote some of my in-flight film-watching time to checking out The Blind Side and Two Weeks Notice. Then coincidentally I arrived home one night to find The Proposal in the DVD player.

I don't think we're in any doubt that she won the Oscar for The Blind Side because she is a Megastar known for comedies, and Hollywood likes to reward Megastars who pleasantly surprise us by showing that they Actually Can Act. Whilst her performance is fine, take out the Megastar factor and we have a performance that would have barely garnered notice in a made-for-tv film. I guess elevating it to cinematic status is in itself worthy of reward, but overall it's just a good performance in an okay film.

I have a huge problem with this film. It addresses a stubborn form of racism, yes (the separation between white upper-middle-class lives and black communities upon whom they look down and "otherise"), and I can totally see how Bullock would be attracted to such a positive message and good intention on the part of the filmmakers. But for all the dialogue-heavy openmindedness, the actual substance of the film was discomfortingly patronising and, well, down-looking. You see, whilst Michael (the disadvantaged black teenager who Bullock's Leigh Anne adopts) says things like "I'm not dumb" and Leigh Anne says things like "I know you're not stupid" and some of the teachers say things like "he is really smart", the screenwriter and director have given us an entirely one dimensional Michael that lacks any personality, intelligence or spark, which entirely undermines the whole point of the message when set amongst the lively personalities of Leigh Anne and the white members of her family.


As for the other two... well. Whilst I would give The Blind Side a pass for trying and for managing to evoke an emotional reaction (no matter how superficially), there's not much I can say about Two Weeks Notice and The Proposal, other than that both films are entirely carried by the charisma of the two leads (Bullock and Hugh Grant, and Bullock and Ryan Reynolds). Oh well actually, Reynolds' body helps in the latter also... The plots are predictable and the laughs sorely lacking. Yawn.

A Big Film Catch-up : Part I

Posted by Lou. The time is 4.40pm here in London, UK.

Over the last few weeks I've seen a lot of films - in the cinema, on DVD, but mostly in-flight. Some were bad, some good, some great, some awful, and a few just a little bit eccentric. Too many for one post, so here are the extremes with all those from in between to follow soon.

The Great

Untouchable Girls, the feature-length documentary about New Zealand icons The Topp Twins (aka Jools and Lynda), is absolutely brilliant. The film features interviews with twins themselves and their various characters - including Camp Leader & Camp Mother (pictured left) and Ken & Ken - alongside archive footage and performances from a recent tour, all weaved together wonderfully.

The surprise of the doco is that as integral to them as their music and comedy characters is Jools and Lynda's determination to stand up for what they believe in: from Bastion Point to the '81 Springbok Tour to the fight for gay rights to the fight for woman's rights to the fight against French nuclear testing, and everything in between. Their charisma, passion, sass and utterly grounded natures makes them two of the most contagiously wonderful people on this earth, and I salute them.


Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is one of those animated films where you sort of secretly wish you had kids so you could use them as an excuse to run straight out to the cinema on opening day to see it. The story of a machine that creates food that rains down from the sky is stunningly realised by the animation artists, and the script is clever and funny. On top of all that it has a pretty good girl character. Oh, and lots of food. Need I say more?


The Eccentric

Okay so it probably wasn't considered particularly eccentric in its time, but watching the 1959 adaptation of Sherlock Holmes novel The Hounds of Baskerville (starring Peter Cushing) in 2010 while halfway between Singapore and London sort of made it seem quite eccentric. The opening flashback to a ghastly murder on the moors at the hands of a Lord Fuckwad, complete with swarm of hounds, is actually quite hilarious - almost self-parodying. And of course Holmes himself is an eccentric, so add in quite a lot of prancing about on the moors, a bit Christopher Lee, and one cliche of a Spanish lady and you've got yourself 90 minutes of forgetting you're in a confined space flying far above the earth. Plus, don't you think movie posters looked better back in ye olde days?


I'm putting this one in the eccentric category in honour of Martin Scorsese, whose determination to make old-style films is to me an eccentric and endearing quirk within a cinema landscape that is so obsessed with fx, edginess, and the now. I would imagine that a lot of people won't like Shutter Island, and to be honest I'm not entirely sure I did, but it sucked me in and it made my film companion literally cry out in fear.

Leo - ah Leo, how I love thee - pulls in another fine performance as a Deputy Marshall who has orchestrated being assigned an investigation into a missing woman on Shutter Island, home of nothing but a high-security mental hospital. Things are not as they seem and soon spiral out of control, with plenty of blood and shocks galore. Scorsese revels in the thriller genre, complete with exaggerated musical score, dark and stormy night, and a lighthouse on sea-battered rocks. It would certainly be a fine choice for a Friday night trip to the cinema... except that Scorsese then bends the genre, layering in haunting Holocaust imagery as the Marshall's experiences of the war haunt him through his investigation. Perhaps a Sunday night then.


The Downright Awful

The Lovely Bones. Perhaps I should have titled this one "The Soporific". Normally I find it really difficult to sleep during flights, but despite having already had a fulfilling (drug-induced) sleep, I still fell fast asleep during this. Thanks PJ, it made the flight much easier to bear than I suspect actually watching the film would have.

PS: I chose this picture as it looks like the dude has just gotten his first glimpse of Marky Mark's hair.


Couples Retreat is an appalling film. That it got greenlit while so many brilliant, smart, witty scripts never get picked up is a fucking travesty. First I would like to explain why I watched it. You see, there is a certain point on long-haul flights where I can't sleep but neither can I think properly, and I sort of don't want to waste any decent films by watching them during this lull, so I usually flick to the comedy section to see what they have to offer, and inevitably there is a Vince Vaughn comedy, and even more inevitably I make the dumb decision to choose it. I don't mind Vaughn - I mean, I certainly don't actively like him as an actor, and I take his presence in a film to mean that I should never pay money to see it - and so in flight purgatory his films can be satisfactory for the situation.

But this one is just awful. I won't bore you with any more other than to say that, predictably, a bunch of middle-aged, dislikeable and unattractive men implausibly have caring, beautiful wives. Marital problems (gosh, I wonder why?) and other straining-credibility factors lead them all to a couples retreat in tropical paradise where the women take their clothes off a lot and everyone lives happily ever after. Except the viewer. Avoid with all your being. The sight of Temuera Morrison degrading himself in the role of "the native" is something that will be with you for life.