Wednesday, November 21, 2007

We're Here To Help

While not exactly a Love Actually or even a Finding Nemo, We're Here to Help is definitely a feel-good movie and it's nice to know New Zealand can make them. It does have black undertones (you couldn't call it a New Zealand movie without them!) but it's good-humoured and funny and the little guy wins in the end. The style is almost documentary and the humour is deadpan, and the story unfolding creates its own understated drama. The plot is uninspiring on paper (man battles tax department) but you shouldn't let this fool you or keep you away.

There's a lot to enjoy about this film. The credits are done amusingly in the style of an IRD form and there's the soundtrack which features Dave Dobbyn. There's 1990's furniture and office decor to admire and it was good to see Erik Thomson (who plays Dave, the film's main character) working on this side of the Tasman for a change. All the IRD employees are great to watch, with actors Jason Hoyte and John Leigh doing a particularly fine job at being bastards in smarmy self-righteous and smug style. Jason Hoyte gave me much pleasure being smarmy in Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby, so I'm unsurprised at him being good at it. John Leigh being smarmy was a novelty - a bit of a change from being Sparky the mad on Outrageous Fortune, but just as much fun.

Here you see Dave (Erik Thomsen) on the right berating Steve (Jason Hoyte) in their first encounter- an action which he came to regret. And you'll regret not going to this film, so stimulate the economy and the film industry and go.

Anne's rating 4/5. Ian's rating 4/5

The Lodger

Jack the Ripper is a popular subject for film makers and The Lodger (1944) is billed the Wellington Film Society as the third filming of Marie Belloc Lowndes's novel about the Ripper. The film stars the large, soft spoken Laird Cregar as "Slade" who arrives carry a small black bag and inquiring about rooms for rent on the night of the fourth murder. The audience is left in no doubt that Slade is the Ripper and the suspense surrounds how long it'll take the family of the house to figure out what we already know. And will Slade kill Kitty the showgirl or will her sympathetic personality win her a reprieve?

Apparently filmmakers of the time were squeamish about mentioning the word "prostitute" so this Ripper kills female entertainers, because some beautiful "woman of the stage" had led his artist brother astray, which in turn led to his early death.

While Laird Cregar is very watchable as the menacing but sometimes naive Ripper, the best line goes to George Sanders who plays the inspector from Scotland Yard who has invited Kitty for a private tour of the Black Museum and asks her to come to tea with his mother. Kitty ignores his question and asks a series of questions about various artifacts, when she gets to a large poker the inspector tells her a man used it beat his fiancee to death. Kitty asks why and the inspector replies "Probably because she wouldn't answer a perfectly reasonable question". Not the sort of pickup line you hear every day.

(According to Wikipedia the Black Museum was established four years after this film was made!)

Ian's rating: 3.5/5

Via Satellite

Carol Dunn is swimming for NZ at the Olympics and doing unexpectedly well. The TV is talking of her as a medal hope, and are starting to take an interest in the Dunn family. Identical twin sister Chrissy (both played by Danielle Cormack) is happy enough to be recognised as Carol's sister especially if recognition comes with a free beer, but she is embarrassed by the idea that the rest of the family will be seen on national TV in all its looser glory.

There is prissy big sister Jen (Rima Te Wiata) trying to get pregnant and jellous of pregnant, flirty, but unattached, middle sister Lyn. In the middle trying ineffectually to make her daughters play nice, is slightly ditsy Mum -- who treats the TV people like royalty, bemusing the TV host with a curtsey! Rounding out the family is Jen's severely henpecked husband Ken (Tim Balme) is an electrician whose incompetence is matched by his over confidence.

Little wonder that Chissy has got it into her head that she and Carol were adopted -- they couldn't possibly be related to this mad bunch. Set in Wellington, there is plenty of the city to see as Crissy spends half the film running away from situations she can't handle; starting with the previous night's one-night stand with a guy (Karl Urban) who turns out to be the TV cameraman.

The plot is surprisingly complicated for a comedy and comes with an excellent twist at the end that Rima Te Wiata brings off very well. In fact all the cast throw themselves into their parts with relish, while being completely believable.

In the 1990s sport and television were dear to the hearts of most Kiwis. Given how we react when we caught by a TV camera scanning a stadium crowd they still are today. But in other ways Via Satellite is blast from the past, even though 1998 was only 9 years ago, some of the suburban interiors, clothes and attitudes would be more at home in the Telethon era than the latte era. But this distance in time makes it easier for us to laugh at ourselves.

Did I mention that there is some excellent pre-1980's suburban decore? It is worth hunting this film down on DVD and renting it.

Ian's rating: 4/5