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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.