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The always watch­able Will Smith returns to our screens this week in a more than decent drama called The Pursuit of Happyness. Smith plays solo dad Chris Gardner who struggles to find a way out of the poverty trap (through an unpaid intern­ship at stock­broker Dean Witter) while bad luck, and life itself, con­spire against him. Happyness is a well-made remind­er that it can be flip­pin’ expens­ive being poor and it suc­cess­fully wrung sev­er­al salty tears from these cal­loused eyes.

Incidentally, Smith’s son Christopher is played by Smith’s real-life son Jaden, prov­ing that the apple really does­n’t fall very far from the tree.

Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro, two of the heavy­weights of American cinema, first appeared togeth­er in Scorsese’s Mean Streets in 1973. Their most recent, sur­pris­ing, col­lab­or­a­tion is the English lan­guage ver­sion of Luc Besson’s new anim­ated fam­ily film Arthur and The Invisibles with De Niro voicing the King of the Minimoys and Keitel play­ing his Chief-of-staff, Miro.

They’re not the only choice voices as they fea­ture along­side Chazz Palminteri, Jason Bateman, Madonna and a lovely, vil­lain­ous per­form­ance by David Bowie. Ubiquitous Freddie Highmore plays Arthur in the live-action sequences. Arthur is a charm­ing film and there’s a cute homage to Pulp Fiction in there too.

Not so cute, but hap­pily gobbled up by the under 6’s in the row behind me is Open Season, Sony’s most recent attempt to get on the computer-animation band­wag­on. It’s noisy and silly and occa­sion­ally tasteless.

Meanwhile, Epic Movie is a new low-point in the dreary, lazy “spoof-a-lot-of-recent-films” genre and cost me 86 minutes of pre­cious Wellington sunshine-time that I can nev­er get back. Effortlessly unfunny.

On a dif­fer­ent plane entirely is the screen adapt­a­tion of Alan Bennett’s multi-award win­ning stage play The History Boys (which Wellingtonians got to see in the Festival last year with this splen­did cast). Set in Sheffield in 1983, a group of sixth-formers have one term to prove that their tal­ent can get them in to either Oxford or Cambridge. Two teach­ers with con­trast­ing styles are tasked with pre­par­ing them: Hector believes that he’s teach­ing the boys know­ledge for know­ledge’s sake and fresh-faced young Irwin wants to focus on simply get­ting through the exams by any means necessary.

In the battle between the two philo­sophies we real­ise, of course, that both are import­ant along with the oth­er intan­gible les­sons that great teach­ers deliv­er – often without real­ising it.

Lastly, more star power is on dis­play in Blood Diamond with Leonardo DiCaprio as a South African dia­mond smug­gler in the midst of civil war in Sierra Leone.

From Djimon Hounsou’s dis­placed refugee fish­er­man he hears of a rare blood dia­mond, pink and as big as a bird’s egg. It’s worth mil­lions and is the tick­et out of Africa for who­ever can find it. The film makes it clear that the dia­mond industry has relied on such ‘con­flict dia­monds’ for years, per­petu­at­ing the hor­ror and misery of wars across Africa.

Blood Diamond isn’t a bad film but it’s not the great film that it aspires to be. The heavy hand of the screen­writer is vis­ible at every turn and the film nev­er really comes to life, des­pite excel­lent work from every­one in front of the camera.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 31 December, 2007.