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Readers of last week’s column will know that I am cur­rently over­seas on a quest, a mis­sion – a pur­suit if you prefer – hop­ing to dis­cov­er a new kind of cinema. After a week at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado I am now in New York and have got a clear­er idea of what that vis­ion should look like.

I think I’ll name this new cinema good cinema and it’s main char­ac­ter­ist­ic will be the absence of films like Hit and Run and The Watch, two of this week’s new releases. Is it pos­sible to redefine rub­bish like this out of existence?

The first is a Dax Shepard van­ity pro­ject about a man choos­ing to give up his place in a dull wit­ness pro­tec­tion pro­gramme so that his girl­friend (Kristen Bell) can get a job in the big city. In the space of a single day his pre­vi­ous iden­tity as a top get­away driver is revealed to her and his new iden­tity as a dreary small-town non-entity is revealed to the dim­wit­ted but single-minded hoods who he rat­ted out.

Also in the self-consciously wacky mix is Shepard’s buf­foon­ish US Marshall pro­tect­or – an entirely laboured per­form­ance from Tom Arnold – and a gay high­way patrol­man played by Jess Rowland. You may not know Shepard’s name but – if you have had the mis­for­tune to watch some of the more tra­gic Hollywood com­ed­ies of recent years as I have (When In Rome, Old Dogs, Baby Mama) his face will ring a bell. How a career filled with cameos has trans­formed him into a hyphen­ated auteur is bey­ond me.

Hit and Run is a piti­able excuse for a film – mean, sweary and des­per­ately unfunny. Somehow Bradley Cooper got involved in this – maybe he and Shepard are mates. Is that how it works?

Also fairly dis­mal, The Watch is anoth­er chapter in Ben Stiller’s ongo­ing invest­ig­a­tion into the par­lous state of American mas­culin­ity and the res­ults aren’t pretty. Stiller plays Evan, the man­ager of an Ohio Costco store and good com­munit­ari­an. When his overnight secur­ity guard (Joe Nunez) is bru­tally murdered, Evan takes the law into his own hands and forms a Neighbourhood Watch group con­sist­ing of oth­er comedi­ans coast­ing on past greatness.

Vince Vaughan, Jonah Hill and Englishman Richard Ayoade (TV’s The IT Crowd) improv relent­lessly so that dir­ect­or Akiva Shaffer can have some­thing to cut togeth­er later and the dis­cov­ery that the murder(s) are the res­ult of an impend­ing ali­en inva­sion only calls to mind fond memor­ies of the bril­liant British Attack the Block.

There’s prob­ably a PhD thes­is to be writ­ten on Stiller’s present­a­tion of the American male’s fad­ing man­hood – his char­ac­ter is even infer­tile, people, do I need to spell it out? A thes­is would prob­ably be fun­ni­er than this too.

Femininity is the sub­ject of Hysteria, a new com­edy by Tanya Wexler about the inven­tion of the vibrat­or, and it is so much more sat­is­fy­ing than the sausage-fests above. In Victorian England, women’s emo­tion­al troubles were put down to the above-mentioned hys­teria and the pre­scrip­tion was to be mas­turb­ated in pro­fes­sion­ally clin­ic­al fash­ion by a doc­tor (Jonathan Pryce plays the specialist).

When new part­ner Hugh Dancy arrives to take up some of the slack he soon dis­cov­ers that reliev­ing the stress of London’s women is a recipe for RSI and his elec­tric­al engin­eer mate (the always emin­ently watch­able Rupert Everett) devises an elec­tric­ally oper­ated tool for the job.

Not entirely his­tor­ic­ally accur­ate – although pre­sum­ably ana­tom­ic­ally accur­ate – Hysteria also fea­tures a romance between the hand­some young doc­tor and his boss’s daugh­ter (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a feisty fight­er for the rights of women and the poor.

Hysteria would make a good double-feature with the Meryl Streep com­edy about late-life sexu­al­ity, Hope Springs. They are both films about some­thing import­ant – and some­thing that usu­ally goes unre­marked – but at the same time both are gently humor­ous and fun­da­ment­ally inoffensive.

Finally, a word about going to the pic­tures in New York. It should­n’t be any great sur­prise to dis­cov­er that there is a lot more to choose from here. What did sur­prise me is that the stand­ard of art­house cinemas – present­a­tion and facil­it­ies – is well below what we are used to in Wellington.

The Film Forum in the Village is a non-profit three screen cinema with long thin aud­it­or­ia that reminded me of the unla­men­ted Rialto, with sim­il­ar seat­ing and legroom. The digit­al res­tor­a­tion of Citizen Kane looked fine though, even though the screen was­n’t all that big. Angelika on Houston St shares a brand with Readings in Wellington and the screens are in the base­ment, so close to the sub­way that you can hear the trains rumble along beneath you through­out the movie!

It was Angelika that I saw Melanie Lynskey’s new film, Hello I Must Be Going which is a fant­ast­ic show­case for her and a film that NZ audi­ences would really enjoy. No loc­al dis­tri­bu­tion yet, though. And it suffered from a pixelated digit­al present­a­tion that also reminded me of the bad old Rialto days.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 12 September, 2012.