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This Is Not a Love Story (2002)
Something about the NZ Film Commission....
There is something wrong with the New Zealand Film Commission. Something very wrong. The script for this film is appalling, the dialog drags, the plot meanders through a myriad of clichéd situations - physical and meta-physical - and flounders on the inevitable disaster that is suggested from the first words.... "Once upon a time...." Keith Hill wanted to suggest the story as a fairy tale, all very good, but why would you automatically use the most clichéd device to imply this? All it signals to your viewer is that the film's production lacked vision, right from the very moment the write put pen to paper. This is why i wonder about the NZ Film Commission. Can't they see this? Its written on the page in front of them: as soon as anyone opens the script there it is in plain sight, words that suggest boldly and succinctly, "DO NOT READ ME - I AM VISIONLESS AND DULL." But that seems to be the desire of the Film Comm, the production of dull and stupid films that nobody particularly wants to watch as they are either pushed far to far in a commercial direction when they should be left to their own devices, or they green light the production of foul and clichéd scripts because they look on paper like a commercial proposition mainly because they aren't challenging, the reality is they are just rubbish. It makes me sad as a NZer.
The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
The Bourne Identity took the viewer on an often violent, highly entertaining and delightfully intriguing romp through Europe. The Bourne Supremacy employs much the same tactics but with a larger scope, both geographically and narratorially.
We pick up Bourne's trail in GoaIndia, track him through Europe and then finally follow our hit-man into Russia and the post-Soviet mess of Moscow for the tradition final show down between good and evil. This binary conflagration, of course, occurs inside Bourne's rather mangled mind as well as in the East West paradigm that still lingers in these types of movies. Perhaps, in an allegorical sense, that's what makes the film interesting. Bourne's uncertainty about his identity (an amnesiac former hit-man for the CIA trying to come to terms with who he was and who he is). Going on a killing rampage on the way to making an apology to an innocent victim of his rampant violence seems, in the end, a pretty good option as it is what he is constructed to be - simply it's what he is good at, what he's trained for - just as the confused American Government (here's the allegory) feels it necessary to attack whatever moves in the post-Cold War environment (Islam being the new Red of course). However, the lesson here is that one can put the gun back in the trench coat pocket and walk towards the light (standing amongst the detritus of the final conflict, JB looks back where he has come from, a mess of piled up cars and smoke and chooses to exit the tunnel where it is brimming with light).
Hmmm, maybe asking a bit much of the film here. But the flick seems desperately to want to make a comment about East West intrigue in an age where the very notion of such a conflict is essentially dead. Hence, it posits - What do you do when your enemies become your friends?
The complex patchwork of visuals and plot somehow seems to allow for the film to explore this type question without it becoming bogged down in its own special effects bonanza. Its a fun little film that manages, and this is remarkable for a sequel, to continue and improve on the original idea without killing itself. However, if indeed it really is asking this kind of question, why doesn't our protagonist shoot himself in the knowledge that he cannot change?
Really Quite Dreadful.
I have had the utter displeasure of watching this film twice. Once on a flight from Auckland to LA and again when my wife decided to get it out at the video store without knowing id seen it and disliked it with a deep, unsentimental passion - it was a cold, white hate. Anyway, I thought id watch it again just in case my inability to actually follow the plot, my annoyance at the completely jerk-off qualities of Matthew McConaughey's character acting, Steve Zahn's brutally annoying one liners, the cracker box direction and the moronically offensive portrayal of Africans as either noble mystical creatures or cold blooded killers with brains the size of small yams had something to do with the sleeping pills, hangover, the dreadful sound found on the Qantus inflight entertainment system or the food (which i remember quite enjoying - but you never know). Turns out my first impressions were completely adequate; the film is rotten. Rotten beyond compare. There seemingly is no plot - or if there is, it isn't communicated via dialogue, cinematography or any other form of signifying system - just a whole lot of stupid coincidences without the luxury of serendipity. Hence, my wife turned to me as the sleazy McConaughey and dopey Zahn were attacked by monolithic Nigerians on the Niger for no reasonable explanation (except perhaps they where bloodthirsty savages in military uniforms?) and said: "This makes no sense. Can you explain what is happening?" I said no. I could not help my darling out - despite having viewed this scene twice i could not for the life of me understand why they were attacked or for that matter the motivation for any of their actions from then on in the film. We kept watching for no better reason than it was comfy on the couch and i couldn't bring myself to move wife's head from the my lap as she was soon fast asleep and in a way better place than I. She was a lucky woman. So: Don't watch this film. Starve the director of any respect, destroy his career and starve his children 'til he is forced to give up the ridiculous notion that he might have any talent whatsoever and force him to work in a crappy video store where he will be destined to live a lonely life hoping that someone will one day make him smile by renting his horrible film. They won't, of course, for it is rotten, rotten, rotten.
Oh! And how is this? Darling just emailed me about lunch and at the end was this little reminder: "P.S. remember how awful that movie was last night?"
Plot smarter than its shrubs.
What a strange and interesting beast of a film. I rather enjoyed it for its pathos and its camp exploration of Bruce's psyche, i enjoyed it for its restrained pacing, i enjoyed it for its lack of cliché in the face of what has got to be one of the stupidest plots this side of King Kong (it is a comic book after all). I enjoyed it rather a lot, that is until the green one started leaping all over the Utah, precipitating a war with his deranged father and generally spoiling all the good work of the previous hour. At that point it just got boring and i promptly fell asleep. Hmmm. Why you may ask? Isn't action what we are paying for here? No, it really didn't seem so to start with, and that's how i was suckered into watching the thing. To me the film initially seemed to be quiet a good attempt at circumventing the idiocy of the original comic book plot and delivering itself as a decent, light hearted, scientific paranoia thriller with a discerning lack of accursed mutants and such-forth to spoil what might have been a nice little plot. Of course this wasn't to be; my desire for Banner to reveal himself as an enraged and perhaps slightly larger than life version of Erica Bana, released from the burden of torn clothes and that dreadfully painful looking change of complexion experienced each time he gets vaguely annoyed was, well, flattened by the rapid emergence of an awfully rendered CGI green bull of a 25 foot tall man out the roof of a laboratory with a healthy comic book zest for destruction. Very, very boring. I was lying on the couch thinking, why couldn't Ang Lee have just gone:
'Okay, we have this character right, and for some reason he turns green and monstrous each time someone pushes the wrong buttons. Very silly. Okay, now, how about we change it to when he gets massively disgruntled he can't control himself and smashes *hit up like the big comic book guy - but lets, for the sake of keeping to the script i've already half written, not make him 25 feet tall, green and able to jump like a giant flea all over the place but someone who has a massive personality shift and a perhaps humongous amount of adrenalin each time someone throws sand in is face and then we just let him loose on the world. Ooo, and hey, lets not turn the ending into a Manga style nobody-understands-nobody-else-chaos-freakout."
Why didn't he say that? Because if they did that it wouldn't be The Hulk then would it? My problem then is that the film is just far to intellectual in its initial plotting for its own good. With a central character possessing an intellect the size of a shrub any small amount of intelligence is going to be wasted. Its a tragic fact that stupid characters will always ruin any half good idea by stomping all over it. A likely reason why King Kong has been so popular is that it doesn't have this kind of two mind thing going on. The plot IS as stupid as its central character and that seems to help out somewhat. Bruce Banner's Hulk is big and stupid. Ang Lee's The Hulk initially was slim and smart, then the beast took over. And a damn shame because we seem to end up with a somewhat schizophrenic film that seems to justify itself by not making any sense in its finale. Oh well.
King Kong (2005)
Fun - but ultimately as pointless as the '76 version.
There is something about Peter Jackson's films that rather irks me, and it is a large irk. He seems to be a stickler for realism and undoes it at each and every turn. He spends millions and millions of dollars on creating his sets, honing his costumes, creating virtually a whole world for is film to exist within (rather than merely his film creating the illusion of another world). An example of this is a mock anthropological study accompanying the movie which is an in-depth account of Skull Island's natural history. This came about as a result of Weta Worshops over the top creationism which they admitted something like 10 % of which was going to make into the movie - ludicrous! But quite wonderful nonetheless, for they surely are the gods of The Over the Top and why the hell not. This world they create is helped along in its development by the use of one of the world's most powerful computers (so i read somewhere) to create CGI monsters, settings, trinkets and various other wonders. They also use it to create people when the people can't be coaxed into doing the long shot sitting inside the fist of a marauding ape or onto the deck of a ship in the middle of a capsizing maneuver. Fine, again, why not? Works for everything else, why not people. Well, there is a problem for doing it for people; we know what people look like and how they move and behave when shoved about at a high velocity (we have all been to theme parks, right?). So, this is where his realism starts to fall apart. As I watched this film last night I noticed in amongst several hundred brilliantly executed CGI shots at least 20 dreadful performances from the CGI humans. The worst was when Kong is running through Central Park and skips and falls down a hillock onto the frozen lake. Poor old Ann Darrow is like a stiff misshapen doll in his paw, her hair doesn't move as he bangs about, she reminded me of a Barbie with all its hair glued to its head in the hand of an errant child. This sort of thing is a real let down for Jackson's reality fixation. You hear stories of how many months it takes to make a single ape hair and you see the ape and you go, 'Woh, that's an impressive ape, glad they spent all the time on the ape hair.' And then you see Ann Darrow stiff as a board, legs like plastic and you just want to punch someone. There were also some absolutely shonky blue screen effects: characters' edges shimmering so obviously it looks like it was planned that way. You just suspect someone should be loosing their job considering they were paid such a silly amount to do such a crap job on the roto-scoping in the first place. Ah, a bug bear.
But there is more. Jackson's reality is atomised further by one other rather critical thing: his dialogue is so dreadfully awful you sort of want to go out and find people who actually talk in such rotten clichés and put them out of their misery. It is an odd thing (as was the case with all the Star Wars prequels) that a producer and director will spend all this money and have characters say such utter rubbish as do in this film. Oh well.
But tragically there is even more wrong. With all this going on, the collapse of the film's projected 'real' world into the film's fictional world is inevitable. They merge to the point that Jackson's treatment of the eye rolling savages of Skull Island is as ridiculous as Denham's reproduction in New York. Slippery slope this one, and i don't wish to spend the rest of my day on it. But the one upshot of this is that you begin to feel that this is JUST another remake. That it isn't a wholly fresh re-visioning of an ubber film but one that has merged with the 1976 remake as a misguided folly. But then again, it is a film about a giant ape going silly in he big city. How could it not be a folly.
Nothing too much wrong here.
Fracture came out around the same time as In My Father's Den, another Maurice Gee adaptation, and seemed to disappear from the public eye as quickly as IMFD became THE NZ film of the year in 2004 and, for many, the great NZ film we had been waiting for since old PJ started to hint that it might be possible. Which was a big plus for IMFD but a big shame for Frature - for this isn't a bad little film. If not quite up their with its bigger and certainly superior cousin this film is still there or abouts nonetheless, and a lot better than I suspected it might be. The film basically takes its title as the basis for its narrative structure: shards of what turns out to be a relatively simple story are posited within the labyrinthine walkways of Wellington's Kelburn, a hillside suburb renown for its confusing back streets and pathways, vertical steps and an ever-extending university campus. The violence of the fast cutting and swift editing of the opening that includes a bungled burglary and the story's monadic attack on a woman slowly resolves into a violence of a different kind. The cerebral, the domestic, the emotional come under fire from various quarters, culminating in death for one protagonist and a whole swag of grace for another. It seems to work in a similar way to the excellent Lantana, if not pulling off the same emotional intensity. Its good, better than than the other reviewer here might have you believe. Well I think so anyway.
I Heart Huckabees (2004)
Delightful little postmodern run-about. Mark Wahlberg made me an unlikely fan with his performance in Three Kings and here David O. Russell again extracts another wonderful performance from the overly bicep-ed one as a fireman concerned with the world's oil crises and the destruction of our forests, who prefers to cycle to fire emergencies rather than take the big red fire appliance. Fun Fun. Definitely my fav Wahlberg character in from his odd little oeuvre. Actually, all the characters are a delight. Hoffman doesn't really have to do anything, he just says his lines and wanders about - and the lack of effort is perfect. Malaise, multiplicity and morons. I'm sure there will be people who dislike this for not making a hell of a lot of sense, and in that case it isn't for everyone. But who cares. If you enjoy it - I'm sure you will get a lot out of it - if you don't..... Nevermind. Actually, that's about as deep as this film gets. It doesn't actually want to say anything new, it just seems to enjoy confusing the old.