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Film Reviews September 2010

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SIGNIS FILM REVIEWS SEPTEMBER 2010




CAIRO TIME
EXPENDABLES, The
EXTRA MAN, The
GIRL CLOCK
GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, The
GOING THE DISTANCE
LETTERS TO PASTOR JACOB
MATCHING JACK
PIRANHA 3D
SALT
SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD
SECONDHAND WEDDING
SORCERER’S APPRENTICE, The
SPLICE
STEP UP 3D
VAMPIRES SUCK


CAIRO TIME

(Canada, 2010, d. Ruba Nadda)

It’s an obvious thing to say (and quite a number of reviewers have said it) that if you haven’t the money or time to visit Cairo, then Cairo Time is a pleasing 90 minute substitute.

This is a film for audiences over 35, especially a women’s audience who could identify with the middle-aged central character. There is no concession to younger sensibilities which may be action-oriented, expecting everything to be fast- paced. In fact, one word that Canadian director, Ruba Nadda, has used is that she wanted the atmosphere of Cairo and its heat (even in November) as ‘languid’. The film is agreeably languid. It has a PG rating and all older audiences will be comfortable watching it.

Yes, the city of Cairo is one of the stars of the film and features in a great deal of attractive detail, dusty markets and bazaars with their crowds, buildings old and new, traffic often jammed. There are also luxury hotels with fine views of the Nile as well as a visit to the desert, to a wedding in Alexandria and, finally, to the pyramids which hover in the background of the city from many angles. We look at the city from the perspective of an American woman as well as a local who migrated years earlier from Syria.

The fine actress, Patricia Clarkson, is Juliette, an editor on a women’s magazine, who visits Cairo for the first time, to meet up with her husband who works for the United Nations in Gaza. He is busy with difficulties in a camp there and Juliette is left to her own devices. As with so many Americans, she is not very familiar with the countries of the eastern Mediterranean and Islamic customs for men, for women, for modesty and behaviour. Gradually, she learns and succumbs to the atmosphere of Egypt.

The person who helps her is Tareq (Alexander Siddig) who had worked for her husband and now runs a coffee shop (for men) left to him by his family. He is a man of courtesy and charm, shows Juliette the city, explains situations to her (including picking her up from a bus trip to Gaza where the bus and travellers are prevented by Israelis from entering).

Almost imperceptibly, given the subtleties of the performances and the delicacy of the screenplay, the two are attracted to each other, he meeting a past love whose daughter is now marrying, she feeling alone with the absence of her husband. It should be said that the tone of the film is the opposite of those stories of lonely people becoming overwhelmingly involved with each other.

As the film slowly unfolds, as the characters reveal more of themselves, we experience a small film but one which is attractive and humane.

THE EXPENDABLES

(US, 2010, d, Sylvester Stallone)

Testosterone. No. TESTOSTERONE. No. T- E- S- T- O- S- T- E- R- O- N- E. Yes, and with a huge plus...

Having established a screen presence with Rocky and Rambo (with sequels to both in recent years), Sylvester Stallone is branching out into a new character, Barney Ross, the leader of a squad of mercenaries who, had they been employed by the US military might have stopped the war in Afghanistan in the first couple of days. We see them at once in operation against Somali pirates (a new and topical enemy for movies), total enemy body count, releasing their amazed hostages and getting unobtusively back to the US to await further bookings.

One comes almost instantly. A mysterious Mr Church (cameo by Bruce Willis) urges them to destroy, with extreme prejudice, the corrupt government of a Latin American island (when they are interrupted by a comic cameo, aureole shining behind him, from Arnold Schwarzenegger in some amusingly hostile banter with Stallone and the comment, as he leaves, about his wanting to be president).

Stallone’s mainstay is Lee Christmas, played by movies’ current tough guy, Jason Statham. He is expert with knives, Stallone with bullets which sets up some competitive rivalry in mid-mission. Jet Li is there too (with wry comments about his being small) and some wrestlers, Randy Couture and Steve Austin (and some jokes about the former seeing a psychotherapist).

And, Eric Roberts is there, too, smiling and snarling simultaneously, in a performance that has stood him in good stead in many a B or straight to DVD movie: the master villain.

If you want action, more action and then more action, plus impossible stunts and punishing body fights (Stallone keeps getting up again and again after more physical pounding than was inflicted in The Passion of the Christ), then here you are.

There are plenty of nasty touches, vicious deaths with an immediate aftermath of nonchalant wisecracks. There is also a grim torture sequence when the woman who tries to help the expendables is waterboarded.

The whole thing is more than a bit much for all except the macho, hawkish niche audience.

THE EXTRA MAN

(US, 2010, d. Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini)

Idiosyncratically droll.

That is a reviewer’s word choice to indicate the tone and style of this film about a group of eccentrics who aspire to and live the high life of New York society (and holidaying in Florida). The film is more amusing than funny (though there are some good laugh sequences and one-liners), a comedy of manners, both good and bad manners, and relies on its off-kilter characters and the strong performances to communicate this oddball world.

As the film opens with a Gatsby-like mansion, we find our anti-hero, Louis Ives, imagining himself as Jay Gatsby only to find that he is Daisy as well. This leads to a theme where he thinks he is a woman and is into cross-dressing with the help of some S and M mistresses, though avoiding any sadism or masochism. He is played by the young, ganglingly awkward actor, Paul Dano, so impressive and different in Little Miss Sunshine and the villain in There Will be Blood. A would-be writer who works for a Green magazine, we follow his Candide–like adventures in New York.

While he is the main character, the spotlight falls on Henry Harrison, played by Kevin Kline as a waspish dandy, a ‘walker’ for elderly grandes dames who need an escort for social functions or, simply, for an elegant afternoon tea outing. He accepts Louis as a boarder and, after getting accustomed to his odd behavior and comments, Louis begins to ape his mentor. Kevin Kline is given many witty lines, rather misanthropic and conservative-sounding, and he delivers them with relish and panache.

One neighbour is a hirsute John C. Reilley who, when he finally speaks, is trapped in a falsetto register (except when he sings Somewhere My Love). In the cast are Katy Holmes as Louis’s co-worker at an environmental magazine, Celia Weston as a society follower who imposes herself on functions and Marian Seldes as the grande dame of all grandes dames.

The film may not appeal right across the board with its characters trying to live an F. Scott Fitzgerald life in the 21st century and their wry humour. But, for those who appreciate something a little different and touches of wit and irony, this will be quite a pleasure.

GIRL CLOCK

(Australia, 2010, d. Jennifer Ussi)

Many audiences are going to enjoy this film. It is a modestly budgeted film from Queensland with a fine cast who are probably not so well-known outside Brisbane (and that is a pity). It is a film from suburbia with people you might know but not know so well.

Not that the plot is without its problems for audiences to think about, some complex issues of relationships, sexuality and fertility. Not all audiences are going to necessarily agree with some of the attitudes and behaviour. But that is what drama is all about. (An American archbishop once said that he could not write a pastoral letter to the people of his diocese on a bioethical issue without consulting widely and listening to the experiences of people with a range of viewpoints. I watched this film – on principally women’s issues – in this vein.)

Girl Clock (probably more accurately, Middle Aged Woman’s Clock because the clock for pregnancy seems to be ticking faster and louder for the central character, Christine (Veronica Neave)). She is a career woman, a photographer, conscious of the approach of menopause but who feels an overwhelming compulsion to conceive a child. She has no partner. Much of her dilemma throughout the film is how to find one when she does not want and can’t commit to a permanent, let alone temporary, relationship. (Whether it is the writing or the skill of Veronica Neave or both, Christine does give the impression that, despite what she says, deep down she does want some lasting relationship.)

There are some funny episodes in her search for a partner which leads her to an ex-lover (who does not want to be used), a dating site with the expected group of eccentrics, to IVF. The finale is not what the audience is expecting and there is a scene which may/will have us thinking twice – to which another reviewer reminded us of deceased people’s wish to be organ donors and the question of where the limits are.

But, the film is not just about Christine and her ticking biological clock. She has two best friends, much her own age, and we share something of their stories. Mikki (Caterina Hebbard) is a researcher, aged an unwilling 42, whose obsession is her appearance and the feeling that people look through her. There is fine scene where her partner, wordlessly and sensitively, makes a gesture that affirms her as a person, a woman, and enables her to break through the obsession. (The partner, Tom, is played by Adam Couper who co-wrote the screenplay.)

And then there are Margot and Keith who have two adult children. They are the rock of the film, the reassurance to those who cannot commit that years of a happy, contented, marriage are more than possible. Queenie van de Zandt is a wonderful earth mother with a wry sense of humour. Jamie Dunn’s Keith is balding and certainly not thin, a wonderful, common-sensed father with a wryer sense of humour.

While the film is one of female sensibilities (co-written with a man to ensure no male-bashing, produced and directed by a woman who has drawn on her own life experiences), most of the male characters in the film are quite sympathetic.

There are lots of funny moments, lots of sad moments (and a wonderful cameo by Carol Burns as a lonely old woman whose dog Christine has accidentally run over).

The issues are real, especially for women, and an alert for male viewers. As has been said, not everyone will agree with the women’s decisions and the consequences but, because the film is human and humane, their actions ask for humane consideration.

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE

(Sweden, 2009, d. Daniel Alfredson)

Over a year in the life of Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) has gone by when we take up her story in this sequel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. She is now back from her travels and trying to get her life in order. That is not to be. However, by the end of the film – and this should please and interest those who have not read the novels (and there are probably a few, including this reviewer – we learn the full story and background to Lisbeth’s tormented life.

Her lawyer-parole officer assaulted her sexually, and quite graphically, in the first film. This sequence is repeated in part and becomes a key issue for the narrative now.

There are two strands of plot which are interwoven. On the one hand, Michael Nykvist (Michael Blomqvist) ) is working again for his magazine, Millennium, and two researchers are preparing an expose of trafficking in women in Sweden, names of criminals as well as the women’s clients/exploiters. As might be expected, this is a risky undertaking and murders follow. It would appear, on some evidence, that Lisbeth Salander is responsible. The police believe this and investigate accordingly. Michael does not and pursues his own search for Lisbeth who has disappeared (in disguise – and giving us the opportunity to see what she looks like without the punk nose rings...)

The other strand is Lisbeth’s own search for documents about her past, especially about her father. We have seen her setting him alight in the first film and this one opens with that scene. However, the denouement is not what she expected.

Along the way, her friend, Miriam, with whom she has a sexual relationship and Paolo, a boxer friend, are set upon by a giant bruiser who works violently for the unseen criminals.

In many ways, this is tough stuff, as was the first film, filmed with a Scandinavian serious and sometimes-intensity that makes it different from the many American versions of crime and police investigations (and American versions are under way). While this film comes to a conclusion, it is clear that it must also be continued (and according to the cast list of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, at least seven of the characters here will be seen again).

GOING THE DISTANCE

(US, 2010, d. Nanette Burstein)

If you go the distance, you may appreciate this 2010 romantic comedy. On the other hand, you may not.

It’s a story of two people in love who are separated (one in New York, the other in Los Angeles) who miss each other, try to keep connected but who fall foul of what happens to so many couples, job opportunities which favour one and disadvantage the other.

So far, so ordinary enough.

The couple is played by Drew Barrymore and Justin Long (who have been together in real life so the relationship is not as realistically far-fetched as might at first appear – as well as testing credibility during the film). One trouble is that Drew Barrymore is such a strong personality, even when acting as hesitant and indecisive, and Justin Long is rather laid-back. When she says she can’t make a decision by herself, we are inclined not to believe her.

The other trouble is the screenplay which has taken a very lazy way out of trying to write characters who have some distinctive personalities by inserting crass language and expressions wearyingly often. It’s not the bodily function jokes (of which there are many), but the constant incidental swearing for no good or realistic reason. Yes, people do talk like this, but that does not make it any less wearying either. The language tends to sabotage the action and the comedy.

Maybe Drew Barrymore’s next romantic comedy will be better.

LETTERS TO FATHER JAKOB (POSTIA PAPPI JAAKOBILLE)

(Finland, 2009, Klaus Haro)

If you would like to see a finely sensitive film that explores the mercy and love of God, then Letters to Father Jacob, a SIGNIS award winning film at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, 2010, can be recommended.

The plot of this short film (75 minutes) is quite simple. We are introduced to a morose and taciturn prisoner, Leila, who is offered a placement, working with Pastor Jacob. She is resentful. We do not know what her crime has been. But, we do know that she is unable to accept human or divine mercy.

Pastor Jacob is an old blind priest living in retirement in a ramshackle house in the countryside. He has requested Leila as he has a ministry of answering letters from the large number of people who write to him. Leila reads impassively and gets about ordinary duties in the house with a silent sullenness.

It is we the audience rather than Leila (though we know that ultimately her reading the letters and listening to Pastor Jacob will touch her but in ways we don’t quite anticipate) who listen attentively to Jacob’s answers. It is the language of a God of love and mercy, a God of grace, spoken directly and with warmth and feeling – with time and space for some meditative reflection. We hear of several cases (which Jacob immediately recognises when he hears the letters), a man oppressed by teachers, a woman to whom he had given his money so that she could move away from her violently abusive husband.

Audiences will be moved by Leila’s final response to Pastor Jacob and appreciate the human need for deep communication and truth.

It is still possible to make a fine film on explicitly religious themes.

MATCHING JACK

(Australia, 2010, d. Nadia Tass)

Because of its theme, one wishes that one could be kinder and more recommending of Matching Jack than is possible.

The core of the film, reminiscent of Lorenzo’s Oil and many telemovies that focus on children and serious illnesses, is that young Jack (a vigorous Tom Russell who appeared as one of the children in The Tree) is found to have leukemia which is making destructive progress. His devoted mother (Jacinda Barrett) does her best for her son, especially when it appears that a bone marrow transplant from a compatible relative or sibling offers some hope. Her philandering husband (Richard Roxburgh, both concerned as a father and callous as a husband) gets some comeuppance as his wife tries to interview the many women with whom he had affairs in the hope that one of their children is his.

While that is the core of the film, it is often waylaid by the sub-plots, that of the search for a compatible child, but more emphatically by the story of the boy in the adjacent bed in the children’s hospital ward and his Irish father. In many ways, this becomes a more involving story than the main one. This is due to James Nesbitt’s charm and his eccentric concern for his son (filling him with Irish folk tales and building him the framework of a sailing boat for his bed). The son is played very well by Kodi Smit-McPhee?, who has shown his acting talent in Romulus, My Father, The Road and as the young vampire in Let Me In. More emotional response from the audience is drawn for this story.

Nadia Tass knows how to make comedies (Malcolm, Rikki and Pete, Pure Luck, Mr Reliable) as well as emotional dramas (Amy, The Shirley Temple Story). Many audiences will be involved and moved by Matching Jack, but, perhaps because of the lopsidedness of the different plot emphases – and there is another one with the relationship between the anxious mother and the Irishman as well as the story of the result of the search for the compatible sibling – it does not quite have the effect that was intended.

PEEPLI LIVE

(India, 2010, d. Anusha Rizvi and Mahmood Farooqui)

Indian films are being released increasingly widely. Peepli Live screened at the 2010 Sundance festival and is being released in the US and other western countries.

It is not in the Bollywood style, though there are some songs in the background, rather than the foreground, and there are some eccentric characters and quite some emotional shouting at times.

The film does focus on Indian social problems, with some dire statistics are the end indicating how so many farmers in the sub-continent are moving away from their farms and holdings and many of them are committing suicide.

This is one of the themes taken up here. Two brothers are trying to raise a loan to stop the forclosure of their land. They have been refused by the banks (much to the yelling consternation of the wife of Nartha, the central character). They try the local politicians who are well off and tend to wallow in their prosperity. These politicians have their eye on forthcoming elections and embarrassing the higher powers. It is they who bring up the fact that the government is prepared to pay farmers compensation if they commit suicide.

What are the brothers to do to save their land? Nartha is persuaded to sacrifice his life for his wife and children.

However, the locals have something else in mind and Nartha disappears. Has he killed himself or not? The media get hold of the story and off they go in chase. Delhi becomes aware of the situation and proposes issuing a Nartha card offering recompense, ‘offering’, as the wily politician suggests, not ‘paying’.

It all comes to a head with everybody scrambling to find Nartha. Meantime, he is bewildered by the whole circus around him.

The film offers rather heavy but nonetheless valid satirical points against the politicians and against the swarming and exploitative media. It ends with a somewhat pessimistic tone before the final statistics come up. So, a more serious Indian film than might have been anticipated. It offers an opportunity for western audiences to attend to and appreciate the particularly Indian sensibilities and styles of storytelling and performance as well as be alert to pressing social problems.

PIRANHA 3D

(US, 2010, d. Alexandre Aja)

If ever there was real schlock horror, then this is it.

It can probably be best described as a ‘hoot’. It is one of those movies that can (not necessarily should) be watched at home by a young adult audience (not being required to act in any adult way), better with a group who will laugh out loud, jump and scream now and again, and ogle the sexy content (even an aquatic nude ballet, performed underwater – after all the director is French!), which brings to mind the title of one of the main songs from A Chorus Line.

This is a film of depth. Well, not that kind of cinematic depth, just literal depth.

Piranha 3D at its deepest: it opens with a seismic shift under Lake Victoria, Arizona, just at the time that Richard Dreyfuss, in his Jaws character, is out fishing – with a destructive result from special effects that the shark from Jaws would be jealous of. The tone is set: knowing laugh about Jaws and disaster movies, anticipation of plenty of beyond-Jaws devastation, peril and rescue (with a large body – and body parts – count). All fulfilled. That’s the depth at the bottom of the lake which some scientists explore with the same skin and bone-shredding results.

Just up from that is another depth level, that below the water surface – lots of repeats of limbs splashing, blood spurts and piranhas moving almost at the speed of light to do their thing. It is also at this level that the aforementioned aquatic ballet takes place, lasting more than might be expected but, also tailored for disbelieving laughs as Kelly Brook and her partner swim to the accompaniment of the well-known aria from Lakme! And, it is at this level that, one the one hand, a woman’s hair gets entangled with a boat’s motor (grizzly!) and, on the other, the teenage dorky hero rescues his sometimes petulant girlfriend (split-second heroics!).

Coming up to the surface, we have both the serious and the silly. Serious is the work of the local sheriff (Elizabth Shue, always welcome), her trying to keep her three children safe but obedience to their mother is not the order of the day and she finishes up having to rescue them all (peril and stunts) when she thought they were safe at home. She also has to assist the scientists in their quest for what happened under the lake. Oh, and Christopher Lloyd turns up as the local scientist, a specialist on prehistoric piranhas – who has almost the last word, which is swiftly taken from him in a jolt ending which shocks and makes us all laugh as the credits roll and, because of the box-office success in its opening weekend in the US, we realise there is going to be a bigger, if not better, sequel. (What did Joe Dante set off with his original Piranha back in 1978 and continued by, of all people, James Cameron , in the 80s sequel!)

Also on the surface are thousands of those college students, hounded by hormones and compulsive extraversion, which has them descend in hordes to holiday resorts for spring breaks and lose all inhibitions and most of their clothes, so that they can shout, drink, gyrate on the spot to loud music, and indulge in wet-shirting and leering. Also on the surface is a porn-film-maker, played with crass relish by Jerry O’Connell? (the underwater ballet is his idea), apparently a send up of the web master of Girls Gone Wild (who wanted to sue for defamation). The moral satisfaction for the righteous audience is that so many of those who have been the titilators are the first on the piranha menu.

There's lots of grisly special effects, some realistic and some so gorily gross and unrealistic-looking that they have the audience gasping and laughing at the same time.

So, it’s the same Jaws scenario of holidays, menace, the authorities trying to handle the situation (which some commentators have noted has already been made classic in Ibsen’s 19th century play An Enemy of the People, but who on the crew of Piranha 3D might have known that!).

The running time is fairly short – which means that that group watching the DVD might click ‘play’ again for a re-hoot.

SALT

(US, 2010, d. Phillip Noyce)

Of course, The Salt Identity, The Salt Supremacy and The Salt Ultimatum.

We had thought that all the sleepers trained in Russia and infiltrated into ordinary and suburban US society in Cold War decades were more than middle-aged by now. But, it looks as though some of the Russian dissidents, not pleased with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and relying on their training talents of the past, have been keeping up-to-date with the program. But, the question is who is the spy and who is not and who has infiltrated the CIA.

There used to be a short British Film with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan called The Running, Jumping & Standing Still Film. This is really the Salt Running, Jumping film (not much standing still) and Angelina Jolie spends most of the time doing just this with an agility that defies belief and a timing that keeps her alive more often that it really could or should.

When a Russian defector turns up in Washington and Evelyn Salt interviews him, he warns that there is to be an assassination attempt on the visit Russian president and the sleeper agent to be activated is called... Evelyn Salt. Is she or isn’t she? Agent Chiwitel Ejiofor believes she is, fellow department agent Liev Schreiber (who had overseen her release from a North Korean prison as the film opens) believes she isn’t. For quite a while, as Salt (running and jumping) evades and eludes her pursuers, it doesn’t seem to matter which side she is on as long as she keeps alive.

Then there is to be an attempt on the life of the US President (nothing done by halves in this movie). Will she do it? Will she unmask someone else? If that tantalises you, and you like Angelina Jolie being more energetic than Lara Croft, then you will suspend disbelief (and that is a mighty ask even when the pace is so fast) and just go with the flow, wherever it leads.

Directed by Australian Phillip Noyce who has directed some fine films like Newsfront, Rabbit Proof Fence and The Quiet American but who also showed Hollywood action flair with his Jack Ryan adventure films and The Bone Collector (also with Angelina Jolie). Popcorn action for adults – with a neo-Cold War subtext.

SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD

(US, 2010, d. Edgar Wright)

Well, not quite the world. Rather, vs the exes of the girl Scott Pilgrim has a thing for – so maybe the title should be Scott Pilgrim vs His World.

Based on a six year series of comics/graphic novels, with the author, Bryan Lee O'Malley collaborating with director, Edgar Wright, on the film, it is an entertainment for the 20 plus or minus age group who can identify with the characters and the situations, for whom Scott Pilgrim (and actor Michael Cera) could be surrogate figures.

This is a role that suits Michael Cera perfectly. He is more Michael Cera-like than usual, and that is saying something. He does always seem the same, though in taking an alternate role in Youth In Revolt, he showed that he really could do something different when required.

Edgar Wright, British director who enjoyed playing with zombie conventions in Shaun of the Dead, and police mysteries in Hot Fuzz (as well as a humorous trailer spoof in the middle of Grindhouse), tackles the graphic novel with exuberance and visual flair that has comic-style words all over the screen, has the characters performing as if they are in comic strip panels, not worrying about realism at all but creating Byan Lee O'Malley's world visually and letting rip.

Needless to say, any audience in an older age bracket needs to be warned that they are going to feel much older than they thought they did and some frustration tolerance might have to be exercised. But, this is a film of its time, of our time, of the culture of comic books, graphic novels, of computer games, of the instantly instant. (Wright is 31.)

And, that older audience that watches Scott Pilgrim, may be reminded of other comic book heroes. Back in the early 1930s, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman and his mortal incarnation, Clark Kent. In real life they were Clark Kents who were able to imagine Superman and experience some vicarious adventures. Scott Pilgrim is somewhat Clark Kentish, with Michael Cera look, hesitancy and rising diffident intonations.

Superman was truly a hero, a super-hero, vs the evil world. Scott Pilgrim is much more modest. He has tentatively begun a relationship with a 17 year old Chinese schoolgirl who becomes the biggest groupie of Scott's band (Clark Kent was a journalist, nowadays everyone young wants to be in a band). His band members are really variations on this theme, except for Kim (Allison Pill) who used to be Scott's girlfriend in school. There is also his gay room-mate, Wallace (an effective Kieran Culkin) reminding us that we live in a franker era on relationships and orientations. When Scott sees Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a refugee from New York to Toronto, where the film is set (and Michael Cera comes from), he discovers a fickleness in himself and sets his heart on Ramona.

His quest is not the elimination of evil, so he is not quite vs the world. Rather, he has to confront Ramona's exes in comic fights or musical competitions that allow him to be a hero and for the screen to highlight his kapow battles. (Superman, Brandon Routh, and Fantastic Four's Human Torch, Chris Evans, are two of his foes.) And, besides, the superheroes usually give up their love interest in life to dedicate themselves to their quests. Scott Pilgrim really wants Ramona Flowers.

So, many younger audiences and young adults will resonate with all of this and the film may become something of a cult movie. On the other hand, in thirty years time, movie watchers and social commentators may be wondering about 2010 sensibilities.

SECOND HAND WEDDING

(New Zealand, 2008, d. Paul Murphy)

Films with wedding in the title are not necessarily sure-fire box office successes. But, more often than not they are, whether they are big fat Greek, monsoon, my best friend’s or Muriel’s. Second Hand Wedding, coming from New Zealand and with a cast of locals, may not be destined for the same kind of celebrity but, if it were well known, it could.

This is a very entertaining slice of very ordinary New Zealand, Wellington life.

(At this point of the review, adding a personal note: I saw it one Tuesday morning at 10.30 am at an independent cinema in the Melbourne suburb of Waverley. And drizzling. However, there were forty patrons to see the film, 25 from a social group for the aged, who had sandwiches afterwards as part of the outing, and a minibus full of handicapped and Downs people. And they laughed at all the right spots, really enjoying themselves. Quite infectious. It is that kind of film.)

A prologue introduces us to second hand and bargain shops with buyers employed by the owner to scout garage sales for specials. Then we are into it. Jill and her friend Muffy spend Saturdays racing from one garage sale to another. Jill is able to spot real bargains but she has a compulsion to buy... and buy.

Then we find that she is an assistant school principal and that her daughter is about to get married, though she cannot bring herself to tell her mother for fear that Jill will take over the wedding reception. She does tell her benign father. When Jill does find out, through a spiteful move from the teacher who had applied for Jill’s job, Jill is upset with everyone, especially her husband, for keeping her in the dark. Then things go wrong with the plans for the reception, especially in terms of prices. But, you know it is going to work out well and much of the delight in the characters is seeing how everything eventuates.

Geraldine Brophy is very engaging as Jill even when she can be exasperating. Patrick Wilson as her husband, Brian, is a nice retired man. Jill and Brian, as well as some of the other characters, are not paper thin, a welcome acknowledgement that diets, fasting and exercise regimes need not rule one’s life (though there is a heart attack at one stage).

There are the family tensions, the banter in the car servicing firm where the fiancé is employed (and the takeover of plans by the scrawny owner’s plumpish wife who is called Sugarpuff!), the crises concerning bookings, catering, decorations, ... and more garage sales, the culmination being a sale to cap all sales. Everybody (except the mean owner of the shop) is nice, even the jealous teacher comes round and does the right thing.

A pleasant local feel, characters that you could meet anywhere in the suburbs, and a genial entertainment all round with some good laughs.

THE SORCEROR’S APPRENTICE

(US, 2010, d. Jom Turteltaub)

Older audiences (for whom this fantasy adventure from Arthurian times to the New York present is not intended) may well remember Fantasia and Mickey Mouse and the mops, brooms and buckets dancing relentlessly to Dukas’ music. In fact, the final credits acknowledge that this screenplay was inspired by that short film. And, entertainingly, there is a brief live-action, special effects re-creation of/homage to that Fantasia scene.

Magic in New York? Sorcerors in Manhattan? In these Harry Potter years, why not?

Actually, the film is a bit reminiscent of Harry Potter (and not just in the fact that Jay Baruchel as Dave, the apprentice in question looks like and describes himself as a ‘physics dork’). But, so busy has he been with his physics experiments that he has probably never heard of Harry Potter, let alone ready any of the books or seen any of the films. He may not have seen Night at the Museum which this film reminds us of in passing.

It all begins with Merlin and his three apprentices, Balthasar (Nicolas Cage), Veronica (Monica Bellucci) and Maxim (Alfred Molina) and the confrontation with Morgana le Fay (Alice Krige). One is a rogue apprentice (no prize for guessing which one). When the spirit of Morgana (ingested by Veronica to save Balthasar) is trapped in one of those dolls with layers of dolls, Balthasar begins his trek through the centuries to find ‘The Prime Merlinian’! Why are they always in the US and, specifically, now and in New York City? What was Merlin thinking in setting a line of prime merlians ending with Dave!

The reluctant Dave does go though his apprenticeship with Balthasar (though often with one or more eyes on the lookout for dream girl, Becki Barnes (Australian Teresa Palmer looking like Naomi Watts’ younger sister). Maxim turns up looking like a catalogue sketch (coat, tie and hat) in a turn of the century advertisement, but a sneering villain none the less.

Lots of action, car chases, flying on gargoyle eagles, clashes with magic powers and, of course, Morgana being released to face her judgment day at Dave’s hands (literally filled with magic).

So, some good holiday fun for younger audiences. (And, for those who wait until the end of the credits, a suggestion for a sequel).

SPLICE

(US, 2010, d. Vincenzo Natale)

The Frankenstein myth.

It must be a deeply archetypal story for it to have been expressed in so many different forms, from the Golem to the Frankenstein monster of Mary Shelley, let alone all the film versions and variations, of which Splice is a 21st century example. Once again, we have scientists who may be motivated by benefiting the human race with their experiments but are not initially aware of their hubris, of their 'playing God' in wanting to create life. And, then, when they have pronounced those mythical words, 'It's alive', and delighted in the wonder of creation, the limitations of their creature and their own personal limitations wreak destruction and the creation has to be terminated. Doubtless, there will be many more dramatisations of the story.

Clive and Elsa (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley) are a couple employed by a pharmaceutical company who seem to have a great deal of independence and lack of supervision or accountability. While trying to find genes for curing diseases, they do splicing tests, with animal tissues and bring into existence Fred and Ginger, artificial creatures, who seem to be compatible and can mate – but, ultimately, they provide more than a surprise in their development which leads to twists in the plot.

What if there were splicing of animal and human DNA? Step by step, Elsa takes command and has her way with the splicing and the cultivations of the creature. Clive hesitates but does not stop the process. The creature that emerges has animal characteristics but has more presentable attributes of feminine beauty. If you think you can see where this is going, you are more alert than Clive and Elsa, but you would be right.

Giving the creature the name, Dren, Elsa finds a substitute child figure and when Dren observes Clive and Elsa together, she makes a huge leap forward in psychosexual development which we know will turn out badly.

With pressures from the company and the threat of the closing down of their labs, Clive and Elsa decide to present Fred and Ginger (not Dren) to the investors and board members. Here the film moves from science-fiction conventions to some horror conventions and to a conclusion that won't be alien to science-fiction fans – as well as to a mysterious future which could easily lead to Splice 2.

Filmed in chill colours, the film has a coldly pervasive atmosphere. It is old-fashioned B movie material given A production and cast. And, as with all the Frankenstein variations, it is sceptical of this kind of scientific progress and even more sceptical of the values and behaviour of the scientists.

STEP UP 3D

(US, 2010, d. Jon Chu)

Dance movies have been popular over recent years, especially with competitions from ballroom to the streets. The British 3D film, Street Dance, made a connection between popular stomping styles and ballet. Actually, here there are two interludes from/interruptions to the Step Up group style confrontational acrobatic dancing (apart from some scenes of familiar drama that interrupt the dancing from time to time): a ballroom tango performance with the two leads and a Gene Kelly routine that reminds us of Singin' in the Rain by the two secondary leads. But, all in all, if you've seen the other two films, you've seen most of this one too.

The difference? 3D.

When 3D works well, the audience is immersed in the action. This is the advantage here. Much of the dancing is highly energised and choreographed to make the 3D have maximum effect. If you enjoy this kind of dancing, then sit, not back, but forward, with the 3D glasses, and be involved.

The story line is Step Up 101 in its familiarity. Competition, rivalries, betrayals, friendships, breaking of friendships, falling in love, competition from studies (and finals always seem to be programmed during exams that can't be missed), a champion to the rescue at the end – and victory, as if we didn't know.

The performances of the leads are serviceable. Rick Malabri looks good enough but it would seem his double did a lot of dancing. Australian Sharni Vinson has some presence and did her dancing. Adam G. Sevani from Step Up 2 shows great versatility even though his character is made to look and act like a geek. And the villain behaves in a dastardly fashion.

Colour, music, noise, movement, dance – and 3D.

VAMPIRES SUCK

(US, 2101, d. Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer)

A lot of people in this decade have taken vampires in movies and television series (from Twilight to True Blood) very seriously and take this title seriously and factually. Of course, vampires do suck. However, many others take the whole matter far less seriously, so the title is a corny but funny title for this parody.

The writer-directors of Vampires Suck have been making spoofs of American movie trends for some years now. They don’t get very good reviews but they feel that they fill a need for someone to send up the trends. Audiences often get a giggle or two from these spoofs, like Meet the Spartans which took on Leonidas and the campy treatment of 300. In fact they have written The Scary Movies and then directed Epic, Date and Disaster Movies. It was only to be expected that they should come up with this one.

The earlier films had some laugh out loud sequences but sometimes strained for these or took refuge in bad taste. Vampires Suck, following Twilight and New Moon rather closely, is not a laugh movie. Rather, it is one that can offer smiles as we watch the spoof tone of the film, the send-ups of the characters (Edward, ‘the pale guy with the constipated look’ who powders his face and puts his hair in curlers and Jake taking his shirt off for no reason except that his contact requires him to take it off every ten minutes of screen time). Bella becomes Becca. The way her character behaves quietly parodies Kristen Stewart’s rather morose heroine.

There are some incidental jokes if you are quick enough, a stab at Tiger Woods’ affairs, the movie Dear John..., no werewolves to be seen, only a Chihuahua.

Those who like the Twilight films and solemnly watch them (and the number is legion) will probably not be pleased or impressed. Those who have seen the films and not liked them might get some satisfaction at the poking fun. For those who have not seen them, they may wonder what it is all about. So, a mild but more accurate contribution to the spoof series.

Created by: malone last modification: Sunday 14 of November, 2010 [00:25:59 UTC] by malone


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