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Wellington’s first Roxy Cinema was either notori­ous or legendary depend­ing on your point of view. Originally the Britannia on Manners Street, it was renamed the Roxy in 1935 and ran as an idio­syn­crat­ic inde­pend­ent until demoli­tion in 1974. Old school pro­jec­tion­ists would tell you that the Roxy was a genu­ine fleapit, run­ning con­tinu­ous ses­sions (no clean­ing) and provid­ing a cent­ral city hideout for people skip­ping work or school.

According to “The Celluloid Circus”, Wayne Brittenden’s won­der­ful his­tory of cinemas in New Zealand, own­er Harry Griffith was once asked by a cash­ier if she should call the tru­ant officer to appre­hend some young miscre­ant. “Let him buy his tick­et first,” snapped Griffith, “then report him.”

Griffith took a showman’s approach to pro­gram­ming, once risk­ing the wrath of 20th Century Fox by schedul­ing an impromptu double fea­ture of Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra and Kenneth Williams in Carry On Cleo. That’s the kind of spir­ited whimsy we tried to encour­age at the Paramount in my day and I do miss it.

And now, we have a new Roxy in town. Actually not in town – in sub­urb­an Miramar where the movies get made. Now the good burgh­ers of the Eastern Suburbs get a pic­ture palace of their own on the site of (and incor­por­at­ing the front­age of) the old Capitol – a Kerridge cinema for years until the arrival of tele­vi­sion kept people in their homes. So which Roxy are we going to get? The glam­our­ous and opu­lent ori­gin­al New York ver­sion (that gave all the oth­er Roxies their name) or the dubi­ously dingy Wellington one?

Roxy Cinema, Miramar (pic. by Tom Aykroyd for

The water­fall cur­tain in Cinema One at the Roxy, Miramar. Your cor­res­pond­ent is try­ing out the front row. (pic. by Tom Ackroyd for

That was a stu­pid ques­tion of course as the pro­ject is co-owned by Wellywood/Weta/Wingnut luminar­ies Jamie Selkirk and Tania Rodger and one thing we know about those guys is that they don’t do things by halves. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to have a look around the Park Road Post facil­ity you’ll see argu­ably the only con­struc­tion pro­ject in New Zealand his­tory where money was def­in­itely no object and the Roxy has a sim­il­ar vibe.

High ceil­ings, top qual­ity detail­ing (includ­ing Weta-sculp­tured door handles for Pete’s sake) and a prop­er box office are signs that a vis­it to the Roxy is going to be some­thing out of the ordin­ary. The down­stairs café/bar (Coco it’s called) space is huge – any oth­er cinema oper­at­or would have stuck a couple more screens in but the Roxy only has the two. I was deeply impressed by the lar­ger aud­it­or­i­um at the first pub­lic screen­ing (Peter Jackson’s King Kong, edited by Mr. Selkirk) and can see the Roxy becom­ing a firm favour­ite for fans of big screen entertainment.

That is, if the films them­selves don’t turn us off. This week we have two under-imagined, over-sugared, anim­ated movies for kids to be bored by: Rio (2D and 3D) about a blue macaw with the voice of Jesse Eisenberg who learns how to fly and Hop (2D only) about a bunny rab­bit with the voice of Russell Brand who wants to be a rock drummer.

He’s actu­ally the next Easter Bunny (a 4,000 year tra­di­tion accord­ing to his dad, Hugh Laurie, which might come as some sur­prise to Jesus flip­pin’ Christ whose demise 2,000 years ago gave the week­end its point) and he lives under­ground in Easter Island. Hop appears to be try­ing to give Easter the same sort of com­mer­cial kick we get from October every year with, what’s it called, Christmas, but I’m not sure any­one needs it or wants it.

Rio is no more essen­tial, although the voice work from Wellingtonian Jemaine Clement as vil­lain­ous cock­a­too Nigel is first rate. Frankly, if you are a par­ent and want to take your kids to the cinema this school hol­i­days, take them to see Oceans and blow their minds. A French doc­u­ment­ary (voiced by Pierce Brosnan) fea­tur­ing some of the most stun­ning under­wa­ter pho­to­graphy ever, Oceans does some­thing very spe­cial: it restores a sense of mir­acle and won­der in our plan­et even if, at the same time, it ques­tions wheth­er human beings even belong here any more.

Finally, Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. For some reas­on this film has been pro­vok­ing spir­ited debate online and gen­er­at­ing plenty of heat far bey­ond any­thing it deserves. Snyder seems to have become an auteur des­pite a cv that con­sists of remakes and com­ic book adapt­a­tions (actu­ally I know that’s no imped­i­ment to auteur-status – thanks Film 101 stu­dents) but Sucker Punch is all him and I think he wants us to take it ter­ribly ser­i­ously even though close exam­in­a­tion reveals no great insight.

Baby Doll (Emily Browning) rebels against her bru­tal step­fath­er and is shipped off to the tau­to­lo­gic­ally ques­tion­able Lennox House for the Mentally Insane. There she retreats into a kind of video game dream state to cope with the abuse she receives, has some amus­ingly invent­ive adven­tures with oth­er, sim­il­arly lightly clad, inmates and attempts to win her free­dom (even if only in her own head).

Suffering from an over-reliance on Snyder’s trade­mark visu­al styles (sev­er­al shots are lif­ted whole­sale from his earli­er films) and not even get­ting close to being as clev­er as it thinks it is, the only thing I can say for Sucker Punch is that it expresses the nature of dreams far bet­ter than Inception (right down to walk­ing around with no strides on) but that doesn’t really count for much.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 13 April, 2011.