Remember that feeling when you walked out of the Phanton Menance, and thought, what… the fuck… has Lucas done to me… and the great Star Wars was forever ”made dirty’ somehow?

This film was as bad as that feeling.

So awful…

To put this newfound drive to type into context, let’s take a step back for a second and think about The Hobbit the children’s story. This timeless tale has a what can perhaps accurately be described as a “middle-class” chap living by himself. I say middle class because he’s well-off, but not ostentatiously so. He’s soft-handed, literate, and gentile. THEN! Into his comfortable life intrudes a wizard and a mess of bumbling dwarves. These interlopers weave a tales of an unknown and terrible evil resident on the other side of the freaking world, and somehow, miraculously, this wee man finds himself on an adventure to defeat it.

In a nutshell, it’s awesome. The hobbit finds himself up against all kinds of unknown horrors, fighting and fleeing in turn, and all the while being sheparded by Gandalf the Grey. The dwarves are hopeless, and constantly getting themselves in untold troubles. But, somehow, it all ends up OK. The wee hobbit proves himself to be something of a hero, and everyone pulls through.

Now… Peter Jackson takes this timeless tale, one that I loved as a child, and does cynical, unspeakable things to it. The tale is distorted, which you expect in a screenplay, but distorted to the point that it has an only passing resemblance to the mood and myth of the original book. In a way, he has taken this piece of my childhood, and twisted and wrung every last drop of blood from it, with every microgram of that blood being converted to cash for his masters at Time Warner. This charming, subtle tale becomes an empty vessel, a simulacrim of a story; a bombastic, over-directed, ham-fisted, over-and-just-plain-poorly-acted, overproduced, awkward, frankenstein of a movie that is little more than an excuse to drape scenery against a cinema screen.

And somehow, hidden within this 3 hour abomination of a movie are some gems. The scene in which Bilbo contests with Gollum is fantastic. Gollum is incredibly engaging, scarey and sympathy-inducing all in one. The Goblin King is actually not so bad.

But the rest… the rest is nothing less than outright ridiculous.

Some specifics:

  • The Dragon. Smaug is, as stated, an unknown evil. A tale to scare children at night. The story leaves this monster until the very end, when our hero must face it entirely alone. The story arc is a slow climb to meet this immense horror. But… BOOM! There he is in the very first scene. One great-big fuck-off dragon right there. Ignore that the back story of the dwarves should be something of a mystery. Ignore that their true natures should be gradually revealled. No. Just drag that money shot right out front, because that’s what will keep the punters coming back for another 6 hours of this unadulterated tripe.
  • The Dwarves. One of these doesn’t even look like a dwarf. In fact, he just looks like a short, handsome bloke like one you’d see slightly over dressed in town. The remainder scale all the way upwards from what a cartoon dwarf should look like, to a dude with nothing more than a groucho marx nose, to a King who looks nothing at all like his father or grandfather. Then there’s them all being kick-arse warriors. Seriously, what? Half the time their goofing off being swept up by trolls or falling through walls, and the rest they’re performing feats of magical strength against Orcs than weren’t actually in the book.
  • Radagast the Brown. What can only be described as the pod-race of this embarrassment of a film.
  • The White Orc. The most impossibly gratuitous character in the history of cinema. The sole reason this albino freak exists is to drag out the length of this movie, and eventually enable Time Warner – and Jackson – to make more fucking money. He adds nothing to the story. Nothing. Nada. Zip. There are some scenes with his running about and doing things – even the back-story on Thorin Oakenshield is tenuous at best – but mostly he’s a great big critter running around in daylight when every Tolkien Fanbois worth his mithril knows that ORCS DON’T GO OUT IN THE DAY. And the fanbois are what this abortion of a film is supposed to be about.
  • The scenery. I know the intention was to showcase some New Zealand, but… in one scene where the company is running from the impossible outdoors orcs the cast runs through something like 3 entirely separate bits of scenery-featuring-rocks. They don’t even resemble one another except in passing… and this is all over the space of a few hundred metres at most. It’s crazy…
  • The soundtrack. Good lord I was glad I wasn’t in an actual cinema being bombarded with that crap. So, so, suicide-inducingly-awful. It was like someone locked a small symphony in a smaller room, and wouldn’t let them out until they made something, anything. A testiment to an attempt to make this dog bark.
  • But, it was very pretty.

And that’s about it. I say don’t see this film. Don’t go to the cinema and piss away >$20. Don’t hire it from the video store. Don’t talk about it with friends because you’ll get “that look”.

My advice? Someone told me once not to give money to bad buskers, and don’t clap for unfunny comedians, because it’s like giving bread to seagulls: you only encourage shit. If you really must see this “then borrow it from a friends collection”. The studio doesn’t deserve a cent more money that what New Zealand has already given them.

With its main premise the inhumanity of mankind to man, Never Let Me Go is perhaps the most prescient scifi I can remember seeing since The Road. Sharing with that story a bleakness of human spirit, Never Let Me Go is the tale of three clones bred for their organs by a near-past Great Britain.

The story begins with the children growing up together  in a stately home that looks and functions much like a boarding school in any Western country. Of course, this is no ordinary school, but instead a place where the children are kept in peak condition, in much the same manner as are well-treated free range animals. And it is this that makes the story so horrifying. These are of course human children, but humans intended as nothing more than mobile organ banks. Accentuating this horror is the knowledge that man’s inhumanity has created such injustice throughout history, be it in the greed that created slavery, the malice that worked Jews to death, or the myths of superiority that saw British invade and slaughter thousands of Australians.

A society where clones are bred for purpose is so likely, the setting so familiar, and the drive for self-preservation so hard-coded within each of us that such as place as these children grow, and learn, and love before they are dissected to extend the lives of their gerontologic masters could be occurring right now.

It’s a compelling film, an extraordinary example of the social critique scifi should actually serve, and one I heartily commend.

While much of the focus on The Road is used to highlight the supposed ‘environmental message’ of the film and the novel on which it is based, I was left wondering if in fact the apocalypse levelled on the fictional world was not more akin to the great devastation we so nearly faced during the Cold War. During The Road I was often reminded of that icon of the 1980s The Day After, and left the cinema wondering what that the latter film might have been if shorn of it’s propaganda (“we’ll make it, though it’ll be tough”), and humanity. I’ve also made a note to try and find it on DVD.

The similarity between the two films is of course the nuclear winter, and the key difference the willingness of humans to band together in the face of catastrophe. My memory of The Day After – seen in the eyes of a teenager scared of the holocaust, as we all were – is of people who have barricaded themselves in a hospital removing the mattress-screens once the radiation has dropped, and of the gradual decline due to radiation sickness of some of the individuals unable to hide. These scenes are of hope, that some will survive once the danger has passed, despite the misery they’re victim to. The Road creates none of these pretences whatsoever, and instead drops the two main characters into a world without ethics, morals, or future. There is nothing that can save them, and instead we watch perhaps the last two vestiges of our humanity picking their way through the utter devastation of a dying biosphere.

The question I was left with circles around why the author chose this world for his vision of our future. And most often I see his settling on the natural selfishness of man. The looming environmental catastrophe he is attempting to warn us of is one of our own making, and one which we propel ourselves towards despite the warnings of experts. We are told again, and again, that that future is an illusion, and if it is not, it is too expensive to change , and so it is that we continue to push ourselves towards an abyss. Contrast this message with The Day After, where it more or less a momentary ‘accident’ that almost destroys us, one that can be averted by the awareness of people that this future does not need occur. To reinforce the message the main character in The Road, the Father, often looks backward to the days of plenty, a time when he was surrounded by items, luxury and comfort. Food was cheap, colours abundant, light falling upon the face of an angel, his wife. The author is in this way both allowing us to see what it is we have now, while creating a contrast to what will be if this present is not changed. There is no way to turn off and dismantle the rockets. To live, we must leave the Garden, or the Garden will be no more.

Utterly harrowing.

What made this gut-wrenching message more prescient is a TV series of the 1970s we were made to watch in school (by a lazy social studies teacher). Connections was a major influence on a younger me, depicting as it did the holistic intertwining of science, art, and industry in the history of Western Europe. In one episode Burke, the host of the show, presents a world without a key resource, electricity. He begins in a modern, post-industrial city, and works his way out to the rural hinterland, the source of our other need, food. In a very simple description Burke made it very clear that you and I are entirely dependent on the network we support, and which supports us, and clearly demonstrates how simple it would be to collapse it all, with the flick of a switch. The Road epitomises that collapse in the most horrifying way possible, by turning humanity on itself in the search for food.

So what did this leave me with? A mild depression? Yes. A fear for the future, and Chef Du Plunge in particular? Absolutely. While Left and Right equivocate about the impending natural disaster we face, I sit and read of the collapse of civilisations throughout history, and take comfort in the knowledge that collapse is normal. All civilisations end, and almost always due to environmental exhaustion. The only question is whether the end of the Oil Age will bring so much damage to humanity that we regress to the horror depicted in The Road, or whether it is something more akin to the optimism of The Caryatids. And only time will tell.

Zombie flick cum road movie/teen film.

Piss funny.

Do not expect plot or the absence of holes (for example, how the hell do they still have electricity, and where the hell is all the petrol coming from?).

Best end of the holidays, like, ever.

I got to sit next to drunks. They staaank.

Otherwise it was geekorama. Star Trek 11, an odd-numbered Trek film and therefore automatically good, is a highly enjoyable bit of space opera.

And that’s about all there is to say. Switch off brain, laugh at funny bits, enjoy the old characters being put through their paces.

But… I knew nothing about the film before it screened. No reviews, no previews, nothing. And I was thinking, “damn Romulans… sneaky cloaking bastards.”

And whaddya know.

The old blue steel gets a serious workout in this Daniel Craig punchathon, and it’s when you get to the end of the film and notice that neither of the two famous lines get spoken that the brief Sean Connery cameo becomes all the more important. At least the old goat new how to lighten up.

In a film almost entirely devoid of story, and in what must have been the Capital’s most poorly advertised premier ever, we sat through a sumptuous roller-coaster ride who’s only redeeming feature was the Clockwork Orange tribute scene (and if it wasn’t a tribute, then the director owes a lot to Kubrick.) I’d say that the half-empty cinema was something of an indication of just how ordinary this film really was.

Half of the trouble is that this film is essentially a sequel to Casino Royale, but one so sparse and shallow it became devoid of meaning. The dark and brooding Bond just becomes a bit of an arrogant a[pe]hole, and the girl is undoubtably lovely, but ultimately, dull.

Ah well… at least they make the Americans out to be buffons.

In Bruges is the tale of two gangsters banished to a small Belgian town on account of a botched murder. I wandered into this one as a way to kill an hour in the afternoon (and on account of a decent review in the paper), and was very pleasantly surprised. The number of times I found this film laugh-out-loud funny was surprising, the acting was touching, and the story had surprising depths.

Starring Colin Farrel as a remarkably believable “lovable idiot”, Brendan Gleeson as his minder, and Ralph Fiennes as the surprisingly scarey mob boss, the film contrasts the violence of the gangster scene with a beauty of a preserved medieval village, and pulls off a film Guy Ritchie could only dream of.

I was compelled by the characters almost immediately, and as I found myself drawn further into the story I enjoyed myself more and more. There are a few foibles in there, but none so bad as to demand criticism. As I say, laugh-out-loud funny in patches. “Racism dwarf”. Need I say more.

Get yourself along to this one before it finishes.

This was maybe our fourth attempt to see this film, and having finally made it I think the only thing to say about this film is “go and see it”. It’s a subtle and fascinating documentary that, while not cinematic history, is a loving tale of the sort I think we’d all like to tell about someone we’ve known and loved.

The tale centres on Puhi, a Tuhoe woman born at the turn of the C20th deep in the Ureweras, and who eventually marries a son of the prophet Rua Kenana. The director, Vincent Ward, visited with her in the early 1980s on a naive mission to find some “authentic Maoris”, and captured a set of film that he gradually unravels for us, and brings us all into a deep acquaintence with Puhi.

And I loved it. In the telling of this story we are all brought close to a mystical world mostly lost to modern European culture, a world where explanations take many shapes, and where there are many things we simply cannot explain. It is a world where an old woman walks the boundary between life and death, and to whom the cost is the near-constant loss of life of those she loves most dearly.

It’s a fascinating watch. Ward uses the 1980s camera brutally as a young man. His lens is intrusive, capturing deeply significant events that his 21-year-old experience does not fully understand. The fear of an old woman. Her son’s ongoing battle to maintain his sanity, he having crossed the line into the world of the dead and paid an inevitable price.

All these events are wrapped in the history of the Tuhoe and the ongoing barbarism acted out upon them by the colonial government, injustices that carry on to this day, and which Puhi was near the centre of. Ward is unaware of this as a young man, and this tale is his redemption, to search out the hidden meaning and uncover it for us in a methodical penance.

It’s an understated film of untold depths, and one I recommend you go see.

Got along to the Penthouse, the only place in town that’s showing the film, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m thinking that the history buff in me is a sucker for these things.

Mongol is the story of the early life of Ghengis Khan, and it sweeps through his life from age nine to his ascension to the ruler of all the nomadic Mongol clans. And it’s quite the mystical, and bloodthirsty, journey.

The real star of the film is likely the be the landscape, which sits above and beyond the characters, drawing the viewer into the panorama. Amazing, and *big* are words that spring to mind. Otherwise the film is pretty much your standard hero story as retold in any number of countries. You know, boy loses crown, must reclaim it. Knowing that Genghis goes on to conquer kingdoms from China to Europe kind of gives away the ending, but as with all these things it’s all about the journey itself.

So get yourself all the way the hell up the hill into Brooklyn and watch this one. Well worth the $3 bus fare, and you can walk back down the hill for the exercise!

Great film, and highly recommended.

All too often New Zealand films just don’t get the right mix of cinematography, script and direction, but this isn’t the case with Apron Strings. A story set in suburban New Zealand city (“Auckland”) sees two families undergoing parallel falling apart, reconstitution, and redemption. It would be easy to make a film like this cheesy and sentimental, but this one seems to just skirt the edge enough to convey some real life drama without falling into the melo-.

I think it does this by drawing in other elements like cutlural hybridity, multicultural change, and a good look at the underbelly of New Zealand small-city life.

Won’t say more without beginning to crap on. So just go see this while you can. A loveable, accessible, multi-layered little look at our place in the world.

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