Month: May, 2019

Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion

asterix1If you’ve been into any local library recently you’d most likely have seen an empty section on the shelf where the Asterix books normally sit. Such is the popularity of the moustachioed hero and his oafy side-kick that they’ve been flying off the shelves since the sixties.

Animated versions of the French comic are nothing new, having spawned multiple efforts with varying quality (including the awful, but oddly popular Gérard Depardieu live-action renditions). Here, writer/director Alexandre Astier is ably assisted by Louis Clichy who boasts animation credits on Wall-E and Up. It’s a second time around for the duo who commanded Asterix’s first foray into the world of CG-animation with 2014’s Asterix: Mansion of the Gods. The results are, unsurprisingly, similar here.

This film sees an injured Druid Getafix deciding it is time to search for a worthy replacement—someone he can entrust with the recipe of his magic potion that keeps the village safe. The future security of their village hangs in the balance as Asterix and Obelix head-up the search. It’s a simple story that works as a parable of our times; read deeply and you might find it emblematic of Brexit, Trumpism, climate change or other current miseries that threaten our “global” village. But most likely its a simple nod to the recent retirement of Uderzo (Asterix’s co-creator) and the successful search for his successor. Indeed, replacements Ferri and Conrad have rekindled the original magic that this film represents.

The animation is surprisingly agile and while not Pixar grade it visually captures the warmth and feel of the comics. There are faults though; the dubbed voices do take some adjusting to—American accents never quite match my mind’s ear of how residents of a little Gaulish village should sound (dedicated fans will do well to hunt out a subtitled showing wherever possible); and the film trips over an overly fanciful final act that departs from the feel of its source material. Nonetheless, there are still plenty of village brawls, confused Romans, roast boar and an off-tune bard. It’s all fairly lightweight fun, full of nostalgia for the older fans and plenty of slapstick giggles for the young’uns.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

tmwkdqIt’s been three decades in the making but Terry Gilliam has finally done it! For so long, the spectre of cinematic death has loomed large over his project but the fact that The Man Who Killed Don Quixote has been released at all represents a marvel of Directorial tenacity. It certainly was an ambitious assignment, made more so by some spectacular bad luck; illness, floods, financial difficulties and a number of other studio ailments. But finally it’s here and it’s wonderful to see Gilliam having the last laugh…. even if his film isn’t very good.

Quixote is unmistakably a Gilliam film, popping and fizzing with the ex-Python’s eccentric grandeur. A testament to its lengthy gestation, the film runs the stylistic gamut of his back-catalogue; breathing the leathery pungency of Time Bandits, the derailed loopiness of Brazil and the woozy nausea of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

The story (confused as it is), operates as a fevered auto-biopic of a Director’s arm-wrestle with his art. Adam Driver plays Toby, an aspiring feature Director who has been put out to pasture on a diet of advertising work. Cynical of his vocation and struggling for motivation, he relives his past through a chance job located in rural Spain where his career began. The film blurs the lines between reality and fantasy as he reconnects with a village cobbler who thinks he is the famed Don Quixote de la Mancha (played by the wonderful Jonathan Pryce). Toby’s flirtation with Quixote’s delusions leads them both down a comical path of madness and redemption.

Quixote’s grand visual style is undoubtedly mesmerising, but unfortunately the writing bloats a production already struggling to support the weight of its troubled past, unduly hampering it with swathes of incoherence too bothersome to wade through. Indeed, when Driver exclaims midway through the film “This is insane!”, I think he might’ve mistaken his line for a margin note. Alas, Gilliam has clearly suffered from his lengthy stare down this production’s endless rabbit hole. And despite periods of biting comedy and some delightful old-school production heft, this is a project that would’ve been better to have died on the vine.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

Poms

poms
If her recent roles are any indication, Diane Keaton (Bookclub, 5 Flights Up) is mining a comfy retirement plan by seemingly accepting any “senior-age-dependent” parts offered. She’s a busy woman and now you can add Poms to the list. It’s a Retirement Village comedy that pits an elderly group against the youthful sport of cheerleading. Think The Full Monty, or the more recent Swimming with Men for the aged. However, before you dismiss this as dreary sentimental dross laced with cheap incontinence gags you might want to put down your knitting and push up your bifocals—Poms is better than that.

Sure, Poms does lean into a fair amount of cheap humour and sentimental cringe; it doesn’t hold back on body humour or avoid revelling in its many silly situations. But it’s far from the cream pie face-splat that the trailer might lead you to believe. It is at times disarmingly delightful.

Essentially a buddy flick, the film centres on Martha (Keaton), who has terminal cancer and wants to see out her final years in the tranquility of Sun Springs Retirement Village. However, her serenity is rocked by the effervescent Sheryl (Jacki Weaver) whose boundless energy sparks an awakening in Martha. And so, against all odds, the Sun Springs Retirement Community Cheerleading Squad is born.

Branching out from her documentarian roots, Writer/Director Zara Hayes has played it safe, employing a very formulaic approach to this fist-pumping triumph-over-adversity tale. Her effort at corralling an ensemble cast and navigating them through a minefield of banal comedy and saccharin vibes produces mixed results. But high water-marks are provided by Celia Weston as the overbearing village President and Charlie Tahan as the endearing teen who lives with his grandmother.

To reiterate; there are many corny moments that some will find irksome and it certainly won’t make you dust off the ol’ cheerleading kit. But on the whole, one can’t deny Poms has a life-affirming quality and an emotionally charged finish that’ll have you leaving the theatre on a high.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir

tejotfGiven the world’s recent refugee crisis, it is surprising how few films on the topic have hit the big screen.  Journey goes some way to rectify this with a lighthearted story about an Indian tourist who, through the fickle finger of fate, is mistaken for a refugee. 

Built on a series of flashbacks, Aja (played by Dhanush) recounts his tale of woe and misfortune to three young delinquents. Guided by Dhanush’s warm-hearted voiceover, Aja rises from the Mumbai slums in search of his estranged father, making his way to Paris only to be swept away by love and an ill-fated nap in the wrong place.  As the title suggests, it becomes an extraordinary adventure that takes him via planes, trucks, ships and hot air balloons across Europe and Northern Africa.

Liberally drizzled with glugs of whimsy and twee, Journey mixes magical realism with deadpan comedy to give a visually lush film that unashamedly borrows heavily from (among others) Slumdog Millionaire. However, it never achieves the same level of depth and polish, operating instead in fits and starts and frenetically shifting gears through an array of emotions.

At a modest ninety-two minutes, it’s almost impossible to do Aja’s many encounters justice. Beholden to Romain Puértolas’ best selling book, the screenwriters felt it necessary to not leave anything out. The shoe-horning in of its many parts is a gamble that doesn’t quite pay-off, resulting in a retelling potholed with more tonal disparity than Dominion Road during roadwork season. Ben Miller (Paddington 2) for instance, appears in a bizarre cabaret styled cameo, and Bérénice Bejo’s (The Artist) odd love triangle feels like a head-scratching after-thought. 

And yet, there is a radiant warmth emanating from Journey‘s lead performance. Dhanush adds a sense of restorative sincerity to a production that often feels too overstuffed for its own good. This, coupled with a well-meaning subtext about the displacement and dehumanisation of refugees, and you have a movie that does eventually deliver its parcel by the final act—even if it is tenuously wrapped.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.