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Some Frank Langella trivia

By Asides, Humour, NZ and Theatre

Here’s a New York Times pro­file of Frost/Nixon star, and great char­ac­ter act­or, Frank Langella. Langella once bought the Broadway rights to the hit kiwi “com­edy” Ladies’ Night and author Anthony McCarten told me once of sit­ting in Langella’s trail­er in Hollywood col­lab­or­at­ing on the American-ization of the play that may or may not have even­tu­ally become The Full Monty. Periodically, Langella would have to excuse him­self and vis­it the set: “Excuse me, I have to go and make love to Ellen Barkin.”

Significant Contribution

By Asides, History, Theatre and Wellington

Heartfelt con­grat­u­la­tions to Sunny Amey who, at last night’s Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards, was presen­ted with “The Mayor’s Award for Significant Contribution to Theatre”.

Often on these occa­sions people will say, “without this per­son I would­n’t be here” but in Sunny’s case I believe it to be lit­er­ally true. When my par­ents got mar­ried in 1966, Sunny (and Ralph McAllister) organ­ised the event, cooked the kai (meat­balls and pavlova) and the recep­tion was hos­ted at Sunny’s flat in London. Therefore, she’s always been a pres­ence in my life (although I did­n’t actu­ally meet her until 1993 when I star­ted work­ing for Downstage the first time and she was on the Board).

I’m very happy that I’ve got to know her since, and that Downstage (where she was the first woman Director back in 1970) is where I have landed.

An Anniversary

By Newtown, Personal and Wine

According to TreeHugger, wine in 3 litre card­board casks is sig­ni­fic­antly more envir­on­ment­ally friendly than the equi­val­ent volume in glass. I was pleased to read this as, in my final year of drink­ing, when I was giv­ing it a bit of a nudge, pretty much all my con­sump­tion was from those cheap casks of Country Medium you get at the front of the New World in Newtown. So, I’m glad to con­firm that, even then, I was doing my bit for the planet.

Yesterday, Friday, marked two years sober, two years which have eas­ily been the most pro­duct­ive of my life. To cel­eb­rate (and while we are on the sub­ject of the envir­on­ment) here’s John Clarke and Bryan Dawe dis­cuss­ing an envir­on­ment­al cata­strophe: “The Front Fell Off”.

John Clarke & Bryan Dawe – The Front Fell Off (Bob Collins)



By Cinema, meta and Wellington

This is the column I sub­mit­ted to the Capital Times last week. After a little dis­cus­sion, Editor Aaron and I decided that it would serve no good pur­pose in run­ning it in the paper, but it might be of interest here.

First up, I’d like to thank every­one who voted for this column in the Readers’ Poll – very grat­i­fy­ing. It was very nice to con­firm that one is read and appreciated.

But I’m not actu­ally review­ing films this week, for a couple of reas­ons which will give you an idea about how this thing gets put togeth­er. For the (almost) two years that I have been drop­ping this column on you I have attemp­ted, space per­mit­ting, to cov­er every film that gets released in as timely a fash­ion as we can man­age. Not because I des­per­ately need to see the new Nancy Drew film or Curse of the Golden Flower or Meet Dave, but so that you, dear read­er, when decid­ing what to do this week­end, will at least know that a film exists, what it might be about, and that “that clown Slevin hated it” so it’s prob­ably worth a look. It’s a ser­vice and nobody else provides it.

This means watch­ing upwards of half a dozen films a week on top of a full-time job and part-time study, mak­ing each week­end a mil­it­ary exer­cise in effi­cient time man­age­ment; check­ing sched­ules for every cinema along with bus timetables, work rosters, fam­ily birth­days, you name it.

This year, the Capital Times was­n’t offered a media pass for Reading Cinemas which meant screen­ing options were reduced some­what. If a Readings film is play­ing any­where else in town, I’ll hap­pily watch it at that loc­a­tion (except Hoyts as Capital Times does­n’t have a pass for there, either) but on the rare occa­sion they have an exclus­ive I rely on radio sta­tion pre­views, the occa­sion­al dis­trib­ut­or pass or the gen­er­os­ity of the Dom-Post’s Graeme Tuckett (as his date). With cre­ativ­ity, we get by.

This week, of the four films open­ing that haven’t already been covered, three are Readings/Hoyts exclus­ives which, as you can guess, is an almighty pain in the a$$.

On Saturday I dis­covered that I am no longer on the Penthouse Cinema’s accred­ited review­ers list, I’m guess­ing due to some­thing I wrote in this column a few weeks ago cri­ti­cising the tech­nic­al present­a­tion in two of their four cinemas. It was noth­ing that I had­n’t men­tioned to staff at the time (who respon­ded with a shrug) and in the very same column I praised the new cinema 3 which is a lovely room, beau­ti­fully pro­por­tioned, very com­fort­able and tech­nic­ally excellent.

I’ve always believed that, because of the intensely loc­al nature of the Capital Times, I should review the exper­i­ence as well as the indi­vidu­al film and if the cinema is cold (Rialto), the aspect ratio is wrong (Rialto again), the purple soundtrack is clearly vis­ible on the side of the screen (yes, Rialto again – an easy tar­get as they don’t exist any­more): if it effects the exper­i­ence I’ll men­tion it. Or not. For example, I did­n’t men­tion that at my last (final?) vis­it to the Penthouse I tripped over an empty wine bottle left behind from the even­ing before, had to close the door to the cinema myself once the film had star­ted and, half way through the screen­ing find an attend­ant and tell them that the house lights had come on.

Of course, the Penthouse is under no oblig­a­tion to give free tick­ets to any­one, par­tic­u­larly if they feel they’ve been maligned, but I could have done with find­ing this out before I schlepped my way up the Brooklyn Hill in the rain and wasted my Saturday after­noon. Son of Rambow is the fourth film of the week, and hav­ing been turned away from it, frankly, I’m in no mood to bust my balls try­ing to see the the others.

I really don’t want to sound all “poor me” about this busi­ness, as I say it’s neither here nor there wheth­er I see rub­bish like Mrs Ratcliffe’s Revolution or not, but it’s Capital Times read­ers that miss out and that both­ers me. Normal ser­vice will be resumed next week, minus any Penthouse exclus­ive product until fur­ther notice, but I’d be inter­ested to know what read­ers think. Do you care about stand­ards, or just the films?

2008 Film Festival preview

By Cinema, Reviews and Wellington

Wellington Film Festival posterThe Film Festival has been a fix­ture of Wellington’s winter cal­en­dar for nearly 40 years and for those of us who organ­ise our lives around glow­ing rect­angles of one kind or anoth­er there is no bet­ter way to spend a cold and wet after­noon than in the com­fy leath­er chairs at the Embassy, engrossed in a work of art.

Programming a Festival like Wellington may seem easy but I can assure you it’s get­ting tough­er every year. The sheer volume of inde­pend­ent film is grow­ing bey­ond all reas­on (I read that there were around 5,000 films sub­mit­ted to Sundance last year) and atten­tion must be paid to all four corners of the globe nowadays.

The glossy pro­gramme (doing double-duty this year as Festival Guide Book and Souvenir Programme) is 90 pages long and I dir­ect you to it forth­with – my role here is, with the help of some pre­views from the Festival office, to point your atten­tion towards some of the unher­al­ded titles avail­able amongst the hun­dreds on offer.

The first thing to point out is that, unlike the old days, there is noth­ing to be gained in try­ing to guess which films will return for a com­mer­cial sea­son. With the loss of the three (oth­er­wise unla­men­ted) Rialto screens in June, there is even less chance of a film com­ing back than before and the gen­er­al down­turn in attend­ance this year has made dis­trib­ut­ors wary. At the moment there are no plans to release The Savages (a well-observed, superbly acted drama with plenty of black humour star­ring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney) and even the Jack Black – Michel Gondry com­edy Be Kind Rewind is expec­ted to go straight to DVD post-Festival (although strong loc­al sales may pro­voke a change of mind). Recommendation: if the big screen exper­i­ence is import­ant to you, don’t wait.

Many films in the Festival are nev­er likely to come back com­mer­cially – they may not even have loc­al dis­tri­bu­tion and thus even a DVD release is unlikely. Of the fea­ture films I got a chance to see before dead­line, I was most taken with Silent Light by Mexican Carlos ReygadaJapón, 2003). In an isol­ated Mennonite com­munity in Mexico, a hus­band has to deal with the con­sequences when he tells his wife of his love for anoth­er woman. A fable-like story, exquis­itely pho­to­graphed, with an end­ing that more than rewards the work you have to put in. I made the mis­take of watch­ing it over two nights which reduced its potency by about 75% and I recom­mend you get to the Embassy screen­ing (if pos­sible) where you can wrap it around you like a blanket.

Director Shane Meadows has been a per­son­al and Festival favour­ite for nearly 13 years and he showed with last year’s This is England that he is strik­ing a rich vein of form. Somers Town stars that film’s Thomas Turgoose (now 16) as Tomo, on the run from an unmen­tion­able fam­ily life in Nottingham. In London, he meets anoth­er lonely drift­er, Polish immig­rant Marek, and they spend the Summer lark­ing about and grow­ing up in the streets around St Pancras. Fully fun­ded by the Eurostar com­pany as an act of pure pat­ron­age, per­haps it could be a mod­el for the new KiwiRail com­pany to follow.

In the doc­u­ment­ary sec­tion (with the immensely strong music depart­ment jus­ti­fi­ably giv­en its own sec­tion of the pro­gramme) there is some­thing for every­one. With no less than three Iraq War docos to choose from you could do a lot worse than Errol Morris’s Standard Operating Procedure about the abuse-revealing pho­to­graphs from Abu Ghraib. No one frames a story bet­ter than Morris and, while all most of the talk about the film has been abstract dis­cus­sion about the nature of pho­to­graph­ic real­ity, it should arouse plenty of right­eous anger simply for the hor­ror it portrays.

Crazy Love is anoth­er well-constructed tale. With this one it helps to not know too much detail going in, as the reveals are deli­ciously handled. Suffice to say that love is blind, in more ways than one.

If you wanted to explain to a stranger why New Zealand is known as Godzone, show them Barefoot Cinema, the doc­u­ment­ary about beloved cine­ma­to­graph­er Alun Bollinger. His idyll­ic life in Reefton on the West Coast, his career choices (not least to stay in NZ when his con­tem­por­ar­ies in the 70s and 80s left for Hollywood) and of course the AlBol-HelBol 40 year love story. There’s a dark shad­ow that appears but even that is handled by the fam­ily with impec­cable grace.

Ant Timpson has revived the some­what moribund Incredibly Strange Film Festival after sev­er­al years as a watered-down That’s Incredible sub-section. It still sits a little uncom­fort­ably with­in the whole but the pro­gram­ming is back to it’s best: you’ll find our cov­er star tucked away there in Takashi Miike’s Sukiyaki Western Django. Meanwhile King of Kong plays like an amped up ver­sion of that cross­word doc­u­ment­ary last year, this time fol­low­ing vin­tage video game obsess­ives and the quest for the world Donkey Kong record. It’s a clas­sic good guy/bad guy set-up and you’ll be as manip­u­lated as any 8‑bit Mario, but it’s a lot of fun.

Finally, tucked away at the Film Archive for two lunch­time screen­ings is a little gem called The Return by Wellington film­maker Kathy Dudding. I have just re-watched my two favour­ite films, London and Robinson in Space by Patrick Keiller, and was delighted to see Wellington get a sim­il­ar aes­thet­ic treat­ment – beau­ti­fully com­posed, per­fectly bal­anced, stand­ing images of mod­ern Wellington (the Harbour and Oriental Bay for the most part) with Dudding’s grand­mother­’s memor­ies of Edwardian and post-WWI Wellington on the soundtrack. Mesmerising and moving.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 16 July, 2008. Cross-posted to the Wellingtonista.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: All titles except Standard Operating Procedure were pre­viewed on DVD, usu­ally water­marked and time­coded. Standard Operating Procedure was pre­viewed in the Para­mount’s Bergman cinema.