SAM GASKIN and ALEXANDER BISLEY recap the best and rest in film and DVD. In this edition: A Serious Man, Sherlock Holmes, An Education, New York, I Love You (Film); Flight on the Conchords: The Complete Second Season, Extras: The Complete Collection, The Simpsons: The Complete Twelfth Season (DVD).
A Serious Man (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2009): In the latest Coen brothers comedy, Larry Gopnik is a capable physics professor rendered helpless by metaphysical forces. Gopnik is happy as Larry, but then his wife leaves him for another man. He moves into a pirate-themed motor lodge with his soft-minded brother. At work, a Korean student named Clive tries to extort a better grade from him. Things only get worse for Larry. Larry seeks guidance from three different Rabbis, each more senior than the last, but none can parse the message the universe is sending Larry. That message, a Coen favourite, is that the universe is an uncaring place. It’s unfunny ‘cause it’s true. (In Cinemas Now)
An Education (Lone Scherfig, 2009): There’s a Chinese saying for relationships between people of very different ages: “the old cow eats the fresh grass”. In 1960s London, a schoolgirl named Jenny goes through all four stomachs of her older lover, David. Jenny thrills to the enlivened world that Gatsbyesque David shows her, and abandons her plan to read English at Oxford. Sharp as cutty-grass, she shreds her teachers’ meager arguments in favour of study. Chaos reigns. It’s a fine portrayal of that precarious moment when an emerging intellect first rejects the advice of people she’s been listening to too long. (In Cinemas Now)
Sherlock Holmes (Guy Ritchie, 2009): Beneath the grim skies of industrial revolution London, the Tower Bridge is nearing completion but Sherlock Holmes’ troubles have just begun. The nefarious Lord Blackwood is hell-bent on world domination, and the detective’s live-in companion, Watson, plans to move out and marry. Holmes’s jealousy of Watson’s fiancée isn’t the film’s only homoerotic hint—some ripe archaisms are nicely exploited too, like when Watson calls Holmes “old cock”. But in pursuit of the film’s considerable entertainment, this bromance is a mere accomplice, as are the bruising brawls, the gritty recreation of Victorian England and the game of following Holmes’ deductions. Robert Downey Jr is the mastermind, acting the title role capably, having thoroughly practiced the part of brilliant thinker but emotional child in Ironman, and nearly everything else he’s done. (Opening December 26)
New York, I Love You (Various, 2009): Footage of New York City links together short pieces on love and sex: a thief uses Chinese rock lyrics to seduce a girl; a lascivious lass in a wheelchair enjoys prom night; an artist paints his muse in soy sauce; and so on. The pieces have different writers, but each climaxes with a sudden twist, like Paul Jennings’s stories. One recurring ‘surprise’ is the city’s hyper multiculturalism—everyone speaks everyone else’s native languages. It’s a bit cute. But that’s a minor reservation. The movie builds such atmosphere that, impressively, it isn’t altogether eclipsed by the early appearance of Natalie Portman’s beautiful, bald head. (Scheduled tentatively for mid-2010)—Sam Gaskin
Sam Gaskin is a Wellington writer currently based in Shanghai.
Flight of the Conchords: Season Two (Warners, $19.95). Don’t believe the diss: Flight of the Conchords are still the best Kiwi comics since John Clarke and Billy T James. Season Two kicks off hilariously with the Duncan Sarkies penned ‘The New Cup’. Jemaine opens with his classic deadpan stare: “What’s that?” “A cup”. Bret disregard of the cup roster and $2.99 spending spree results in comic bliss. Bret pawns his guitar and performs air-guitar. Mel is back at the gig, same as she ever was, after the Crazy Dogs are busted for plagiarising Polish music. She offers money for massage. Murray scribes a scathing review for the consulate newsletter and can’t help with the emergency band fund, having lent it to a Nigerian emailer Nigel Soladu. He reacts with magnificent consternation to Jemaine’s suggestion that he has been scammed. “Why would anyone want to scam me, Jemaine?” “And on the internet service. One of the trusted things in today’s society.”
The second best episode is ‘Unnatural Love’, directed by Michel Gondry. Jemaine dates Ozzie chick Keitha, to the disgust of Bret and Murray. “What about your kids? They’ll be aberrations,” Murray warns. Conchords satire of MFAT and TourismNZ is still incisive and amusing. I found the whole enterprise tighter and funnier second time round. ‘Inner City Pressure’ is still my favourite song, but ‘Sugarlumps’ (ridiculing Fergie) and ‘Jemaine, You Don’t Have to Be a Prostitute’ (lampooning Sting’s ‘Roxanne’) and the dog epilepsy remix are terrific.
“What came first?” “Unemployment,” Jemaine riffs in Hannah Clarke’s Flight of the Conchords On Air documentaryette. Brit co-creator James Bobin and HBO producer Stu Smiley speak engagingly. “You don’t need to be a genius to notice,” Smiley recalls seeing their genius for the first time. Well quite, but yet again TVNZ missed the boat! The deleted scenes, more than 24 minutes of scenes such as Murray writing to Nigel Soladu, are better than usual. The best TV today is HBO: Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Sopranos, The Wire and Conchords. On the strength of this mint series, Bret and Jemaine have at least one more season in them. (2-disc set; deleted scenes; outtakes; documentary; featurettes.)
Extras: The Complete Collection (Roadshow, $99.95): You can’t make it up. In Extras Ricky Gervais got Kate Winslet to josh about how if she played a Nazi she’d win an Oscar. Sure enough, she was so awarded for the wildly overrated The Reader. I often find Gervais’s extras and commentary aboulia-addled, dippy and detracting; it’s his work that makes him hilarious. Extras: The Complete Collection charts the vaguely sympathetic extra Andy Millman’s rise from nobody to shitcom — When the Whistle Blows — celebrity. Fame rises, self-loathing rises (even Geri Haliwell gets lunch with Pinter!), and it’s gnawing at his soul. Gervais’s trademark blend of hilarious/painful rewards rewatching. The many highlights include Ben Stiller’s set meltdown, David Bowie’s mocking song, Darren and Barry selling cellphones and Andy’s mad-as-hell moment on Celebrity Big Brother. The only inept agent more amusing than Conchords’ Murray is Steve Merchant’s Darren. (5-disc set; audio commentaries; deleted scenes; outtakes; behind the scenes.)
The Simpsons: Season Twelve (Roadshow, $59.95): Does The Simpsons jump the shark in Season Twelve? Probably. There are definitely some outstanding episodes though. In ‘Homer Vs Dignity’, financial probs lead Homer to be Mr Burns’ prank monkey, throwing pudding at Lenny eye and so forth. ‘A Tale of Two Springfield’s’ boasts the Springfield Wall and ‘Simpsons’ Safari’ Africa. In ‘The Computer Wore Menace Shoes’ Homer becomes a scurrilous blogger. Chief Wiggum is accused of employing the electric chair to cook chicken. The best is ‘I’m Goin’ To Praiseland’. Ned Flanders builds a religious themepark, Praiseland, to honour Maude Flanders and God. Springfielders memorably putdown the joint. The last line belongs to the awesome Carl Carlson: “And this candy is sub-par. Any religion that embraces carob is not for Carl Carlson.” Lorryloads of unpreviewed extras for the obsessive. (4 disc-set; audio commentaries; deleted scenes; featurettes + more.)—Alexander Bisley