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Kiwi crowd-pleasers don’t come much more crowd-pleasing than Tearepa Kahi’s Mt. Zion, fea­tur­ing TV tal­ent quester Stan Walker in a star-making per­form­ance as a work­ing class kid with a dream. Slogging his unwill­ing guts out pick­ing pota­toes in the mar­ket gar­dens of 1979 Pukekohe, nervously mak­ing the first steps in a music career that seems impossible and fan­tas­ising about meet­ing the great Bob Marley, Walker’s Turei is out of step with his hard work­ing fath­er (Temuera Morrison) and the back-breaking work.

When a loc­al pro­moter announces a com­pet­i­tion to be the sup­port act for the reg­gae legend’s forth­com­ing con­cert at Western Springs, Turei tests the bound­ar­ies of fam­ily and friend­ship to get a shot at the big time. The bones of the story are famil­i­ar, of course, but there’s meat on the bones too – a slice of New Zealand social his­tory with eco­nom­ic changes mak­ing life harder for a people who don’t own the land that they work. Production design (by Savage) and authentic-looking 16mm pho­to­graphy all help give Mt. Zion a look of its own and the music – though not nor­mally to my taste – is agree­able enough.

Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock presents the great dir­ect­or as a petu­lant child, a com­bin­a­tion of imma­ture patho­lo­gies rather than the extraordin­ary tech­ni­cian that he actu­ally was. The film opens with the première of the mas­ter­piece North by Northwest when – in a clunky bit of expos­i­tion typ­ic­al of John J. McLaughlin’s script – a report­er asks the 60 year old film­maker wheth­er he’s past it and should quit while he’s ahead. What fol­lows is the story of the mak­ing of Psycho, a film that redefined Hitchcock’s repu­ta­tion and vir­tu­ally inven­ted the inde­pend­ent fin­an­cing of stu­dio movies.

There’s a lot of fluff around this story to match the psy­cho­lo­gic­al inven­tion – wife Alma Reville’s lack of recog­ni­tion (Helen Mirren), Hitchcock’s pedestal-ising of those blondes he was so fam­ous for, etc. – but none of it feels ter­ribly legit­im­ate, much like Anthony Hopkins’ prosthetically-aided imper­son­a­tion of the great master.

Throughout the film, Hitchcock com­plains that he wants to try some­thing new, be more adven­tur­ous, break out. After watch­ing (one) Farrelly Brother’s “exper­i­ment­al” Movie 43 I can safely say that nov­elty ain’t always such a good thing. It’s a col­lec­tion of filthy sketches fea­tur­ing stars like Kate Winslet – I hes­it­ate to say “debas­ing” them­selves but there’s really no polite way to put it – loosely linked by wild-eyed Dennis Qaid pitch­ing to a straight Hollywood exec­ut­ive played by Greg Kinnear. If you’ve ever yearned to see Hugh Jackman walk­ing around with a pair of testicles hanging from his chin, this is the film for you – except if it wasn’t screened in a cinema and pro­jec­ted through actu­al film, I wouldn’t call it a film at all.

A brief word about a couple of French movies fea­tur­ing ten­sions between fath­ers and sons in the food and bever­age busi­ness – one is an over-egged melo­drama about the wine busi­ness called You Will Be My Son and the oth­er is one of those food­ie doc­u­ment­ar­ies, the awfully named Step Up to the Plate. In Son, pat­ri­arch (Niels Arestrup) decides to hand over his oper­a­tion to the son of his wine­maker rather than his own child but it nev­er takes flight. Plate fea­tures the multi-Michelined Michel Bras as he pre­pares to han­dover his Aveyron empire to his son Sébastian. Will Sébastian meas­ure up is the ques­tion posed and I sus­pect the ten­sion is exag­ger­ated a little by the film­makers. Not as much food in this one as you might think.

In On Air, Karin Viard plays that great cliché – the agony aunt whose own life needs plenty of sort­ing out – and adds very little to it. The twist in this case would be the extremes of her suc­cess and fail­ure. She is a top-rating star on French night time radio – anonym­ity adding to her mys­tery – but in her aus­tere apart­ment she sleeps in a closet instead of the bed­room because she is still trau­mat­ised about being aban­doned to an orphan­age as a child. Locating her moth­er in a Paris sub­urb she goes seek­ing res­ol­u­tion but instead gets involved in her new fam­ily in ways that amp­li­fy her own tragedy. I know that this stuff hap­pens in real life but some­thing about the exe­cu­tion here – more melo­drama? – meant I didn’t buy it for a minute.

Also strug­gling with authen­ti­city, Robert ZemeckisFlight starts out with an air dis­aster almost as har­row­ing as The Impossible’s tsunami, but then turns into a kit­chen sink drama about one man’s battle with the bottle. Denzel Washington plays against type as the troubled pilot who saves a plane load of pas­sen­gers while stoned off his gourd and Don Cheadle is the law­yer try­ing to keep him out of jail. Avoiding the awk­ward fact that most region­al pilots in the US are so badly paid that they have to pull double-shifts and extra jobs just to make ends meet – that’s your major safety risk, right there – Flight is about one man’s demons and has a few cute nar­rat­ive tricks up its sleeve.

Washington does a lot of drunk act­ing and a lot of hun­gov­er act­ing, rarely unleash­ing that movie star smile. Last time we saw him he was driv­ing a train in Unstoppable. Maybe that third Oscar will finally come when he hits the trans­port­a­tion tri­fecta and plays a Wellington trolley-bus driver. They should call it Snapper.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on 13 February, 2013.

Update: As was poin­ted out to me shortly after this column went to print, I had com­pletely for­got­ten Mr. Washington’s pre­vi­ous film was Safe House, a fact which ruins that last para­graph joke.