Kailey is in Toronto, Dan is in rainy Wellington and between them they review Kelly Reichardt’s “thriller” Night Moves and the dystopian nightmare of The Giver starring Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges and some kids, plus Robin Wright playing several versions of herself in Ari Folman’s The Congress.
With this year’s festival now a rapidly diminishing memory — and my recovery from that event (plus another magazine published, some “live” podcast recordings, a few Q&A’s, some director interviews and a Big Screen Symposium) almost complete — I return to the commercial cinema and what do I find? Twenty-three new films have been released since my last set of reviews. Twenty-three! I only turned my back for a second. So, bear with me while I try and do some catching up. Some of these films deserve more space than they are going to get here (and some of them don’t) but you can’t have everything, am I right?
[pullquote]R‑rated these days appears to mean lots of unnecessary cursing and comic male nudity.[/pullquote]Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 was a surprise smash-hit in 2009 and his follow-up, Elysium, is what we call ‘eagerly awaited’. Watching it I was reminded of the great strengths of that first film: a vividly created future society, dysfunctional yet plausible; a great plot setup with a genuine dilemma for the central character. Then I remembered the third act of District 9 — one long fight/chase/fight. And so it proves with Elysium. Wasted potential as — like so many films this year — the film is resolved by who can punch harder rather than who can think better. I have lots of other problems with it but that’s the main one.
Wellington’s first Roxy Cinema was either notorious or legendary depending on your point of view. Originally the Britannia on Manners Street, it was renamed the Roxy in 1935 and ran as an idiosyncratic independent until demolition in 1974. Old school projectionists would tell you that the Roxy was a genuine fleapit, running continuous sessions (no cleaning) and providing a central city hideout for people skipping work or school.
According to “The Celluloid Circus”, Wayne Brittenden’s wonderful history of cinemas in New Zealand, owner Harry Griffith was once asked by a cashier if she should call the truant officer to apprehend some young miscreant. “Let him buy his ticket first,” snapped Griffith, “then report him.”
Griffith took a showman’s approach to programming, once risking the wrath of 20th Century Fox by scheduling an impromptu double feature of Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra and Kenneth Williams in Carry On Cleo. That’s the kind of spirited whimsy we tried to encourage at the Paramount in my day and I do miss it.
Is it too early to suggest that we might be living in a golden age of cinema? Think of the filmmakers working in the commercial realm these days who have distinctive voices, thrilling visual sensibilities, solid intellectual (and often moral) foundations, a passion for combining entertainment with something more — along with an abiding love of cinema in all its strange and wonderful forms.
I’m thinking of the Coens, obviously, but also Peter Jackson (and protégé Neill Blomkamp), Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz and the forthcoming Scott Pilgrim), Jason Reitman (Juno and January’s Up in the Air), Guillermo Del Toro (working hard on The Hobbit in Miramar), and even Tarantino is still producing the goods. This week we are lucky enough to get new work from two others who should be in that list: Spike Jonze and Steven Soderbergh.
Jonze made his name with oddball stories like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation and the first thing you notice about his interpretation of the beloved Maurice Sendak children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, is that it simply doesn’t resemble anything else you’ve ever seen. With the help of writer Dave Eggers (the novel “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”, Away We Go) he has used the book as a starting point for a beautiful and sensitive meditation on what it is like to be a child (a boy child specifically).