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By Cinema, meta, 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, 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.

Review: “Two Little Boys” by Duncan Sarkies

By Audio, Literature, Music, Wellington

Two Little Boys cover This morn­ing I hustled across town to Radio NZ House on The Terrace to review Duncan Sarkies’ new nov­el “Two Little Boys” for Nine to Noon. You can click here (for a week at least) to listen to what Kathryn and I had to say. As is often the case when I’m doing some­thing for the first time (or for the first time in a long time) it was not a 100% sat­is­fact­ory per­form­ance but I’ll let you be the judge. It is a good book, though, and I recom­mend it to you.

And when you’ve listened to the review (only 6 minutes and 23 seconds, although it felt a lot less…) you can listen here to the song that inspired the title of the book. This ver­sion fea­tures not only the legendary Rolf Harris (who made it fam­ous) but also Liam O’Maonlai from Hothouse Flowers. This ver­sion is from a 1993 ‘Stop the Killing in Northern Ireland’ charity/protest album called Peace Together:
[audio:|titles=Rolf Harris & Liam O’Maonlai – Two Little Boys (mp3)]

Review: Second Hand Wedding and What Happens in Vegas...

By Cinema, Reviews, Wellington

Ah, the per­ils of review­ing New Zealand cinema in New Zealand – or even tough­er – Wellington cinema in Wellington. How does one approach a film that was exec­ut­ive pro­duced by a former ment­or, stars former work­mates and drink­ing bud­dies, was writ­ten by a pal, and fea­tures famil­i­ar faces in almost every scene (and that this review­er in a moment of flu-addled weak­ness even audi­tioned for)?

Luckily for me, Paul Murphy’s Second Hand Wedding makes it easy to avoid tres­passing across the sens­ib­il­it­ies of chums and col­leagues by being an ador­able con­fec­tion, easy to praise and a pleas­ure to recom­mend. The moment you see a little yel­low mini scream­ing around the Kapiti coast (dir­ect­or Paul Murphy’s fath­er Geoff was respons­ible for Goodbye Pork Pie with Exec Kerry Robins back in 1981) you know you are in good hands and so it proves.

Geraldine Brophy plays Jill Rose, Kapiti’s top gar­age sale expert. Every Saturday morn­ing you’ll find her (and best mate Muffy broadly played by Tina Regtien) trawl­ing the nick-nacks look­ing for bar­gains. Long-suffering hubby Brian (a lovely and under­stated per­form­ance by Patrick Wilson) puts up with all the new paraphernalia because he has his own col­lec­tion to main­tain: all the pieces of a Model T Ford that will one day become a com­plete car again.

Local mech­an­ic Stew (a per­form­ance by Ryan O’Kane that is, per­haps, lack­ing in detail) has pro­posed to the Rose’s daugh­ter Cheryl (Holly Shanahan) but, afraid of the bar­gain base­ment wed­ding she fears her moth­er will provide, she keeps it a secret. When the news breaks, poor Jill is dev­ast­ated but anoth­er tragedy forces the fam­ily (and the com­munity) to pull togeth­er once again. There’s lots to love about Second Hand Wedding: music by Plan 9 and some songs I would­n’t mind own­ing; classy edit­ing par­tic­u­larly in the mont­ages; per­fect, witty pro­duc­tion design by Brad Mill; but the heart and soul of the film is Brophy’s beau­ti­ful and meas­ured per­form­ance. If she’s not at the front of the queue when the act­ing awards are handed out for this year I will be very sur­prised. Indeed, in this review­er­’s opin­ion it may be one the five best New Zealand screen per­form­ances ever.

It’s slightly depress­ing to report that a no-budget kiwi com­edy con­tains more sub­tlety and sub­text in any giv­en scene than a multi-million dol­lar Hollywood block­buster wrangles in its entirety but it’s true. In What Happens in Vegas… Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz play a couple who meet in Las Vegas on their own indi­vidu­al rebound tours, get hope­lessly drunk and hope­lessly mar­ried on the same night, win $3m on the slots and then try and (with the help of schem­ing best friends Rob Corddry and Lake Bell) cheat the oth­er out of the booty. Forced by grim Judge Whopper (Dennis Miller) to co-habit for 6 months to prove their mar­riage is real before he will grant them a divorce, our couple do everything in their power to make each oth­er miser­able and much (poten­tial but for the most part unreal­ised) hil­ar­ity ensues.

The prob­lem isn’t with the fit­fully amus­ing leads (though Kutcher in par­tic­u­lar appears incap­able of play­ing the deep­er notes that fath­er Treat Williams’ paternal dis­ap­prov­al offers him), the film suf­fers hugely because the script insists on treat­ing us like retards and loudly declaim­ing everything that it has to say. At one point Kutcher spikes Diaz’s smoothy with ecstacy to the sound of “I Want a New Drug”. Oh, please. Everything is just so flip­pin’ obvi­ous. Characters say exactly what is in their heads, or exactly what they need to say to move the plot for­ward, usu­ally both at the same time.

And finally, What Happens in Vegas… should be cursed for indul­ging in yet anoth­er example of Hollywood racism: the only char­ac­ter of col­our in the film is a ter­rible, tight-ass Asian ste­reo­type who is ridiculed relent­lessly and mean-ly.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 14 May, 2008.

Update: I have added a link to The Cattlestops web site. They were respons­ible for the songs I would­n’t mind owning.


By The Net, Wellington

Now that this year’s ‘V’ 48 Hours Furious Filmmaking Challenge is under way and 160 Wellington teams are out enjoy­ing the sun­shine, I have had a chance to resolve a few domest­ic issues that have been bug­ging me.

Firstly, broad­band. I have been a Woosh Wireless cus­tom­er since I star­ted Miracle Pictures in 2005. I wanted a Telecom free home/office (and, in all fair­ness, I think Telecom also wanted a Dan-free net­work) and there was no such thing as naked dsl in those days. Woosh were the only game in town and I hap­pily signed up for broad­band and a phone. Apart from one speed-bump due to improved firm­ware back in late 2006, the ser­vice from Woosh has stead­ily deteri­or­ated as it’s cus­tom­er num­bers have ris­en, to the extent that since Christmas I have been get­ting poorer than dial-up band­width at all times (oth­er than the very middle of the night).

The first-level sup­port email that I received from Woosh told me to point my aer­i­al towards Unitec, which was chal­len­ging as Unitec is in Auckland and I am in Wellington. Then they told me that my prob­lem would be escal­ated to second-level sup­port and I got to wait for a couple more weeks. Last Monday I finally got a call from them (plus marks for not drop­ping me off their list entirely) and we went through the re-booting, mov­ing the aer­i­al, re-booting again, dance and we dis­covered the fol­low­ing: Despite the fact that I have no south facing win­dows and the aer­i­al points north, I am con­nect­ing to the Wakefield Hospital cell-site which is due south. I can­’t reach the Government House cell-site as Wellington Hospital and Mt Victoria are in the way. In fact, I am get­ting the Wakefield Hospital sig­nal reflec­ted off the Wellington Hospital and hillside.

And the Wakefield Hospital cell site is the busiest and most con­ges­ted in the city.

So, we reached an agree­ment that we would part com­pany. I did­n’t quite have the heart to tell the young man that I’d already booked an impressive-seeming naked DSL with IP phone ser­vice with Xnet (a com­pany that does­n’t appear to need to advert­ise). They have a sane approach to volume char­ging whereby you don’t have to com­mit to a plan, so I only pay for what I use and the per MB rate is about what I have been pay­ing at Woosh (but not always using).

This after­noon, I noticed that the DSL light on the new Linksys DSL modem was flash­ing, indic­at­ing that the line was live. A quick call to Xnet sup­port got me the details they had inex­plic­ably failed to email me and I was up and run­ning. And boy was I run­ning: My unscientif­ic approach to meas­ure­ment is basic­ally keep­ing an eye on the through­put using iStatMenus. Before the change I was limp­ing along with 1KB/s to 5KB/s down­load speed (sub dial-up) and after the change I was get­ting – get this – upwards of 350 to 700 and even over 1MB/s on a couple of occa­sions. That’s like a (thinks) 1000% increase in speed!

Now, after shift­ing the Airport I can really get some work done.