The Rugby World Cup was supposed to be a boon for the whole economy, the thousands of excited guests soaking up our food, wine, culture and hospitality. Ask any cinema (or theatre) owner what’s really happening and you’ll get the inconvenient truth — the Rugby World Cup itself is soaking up all the attention and most of the dollars. For at least one cinema owner numbers are down 30–40% on this time last year. This shouldn’t be news — even in my day running the Paramount we knew that a Saturday night All Black game meant it was hardly worth opening — a 7.30 kick-off killed your two best two sessions.
Night rugby has been a disaster for everybody except Sky TV and the bars that show it. At least in the days of afternoon games people could watch their team and go out for dinner and a movie afterwards — the interests of whole families could be accommodated. Those days appear to be long gone.
This week we see that New Zealand’s film distributors have thrown in the towel and dumped the year’s worst product in a week no one was going to the pictures anyway. For my sins I sat (mostly) alone in picture theatres all over the city to help you decide how best to (cinematically) escape Dan Carter’s groin.
To be fair to Zookeeper, I was far from alone at the Saturday matinée screening — it seems portly comedian Kevin James (Paul Blart: Mall Cop) is a popular figure here in New Zealand. In The Dilemma he showed that there’s some nascent dramatic talent lurking beneath the lazy choices he’s been making but there’s no sign of it here. James plays a lonely but caring Boston zookeeper who thinks that his smelly occupation is holding him back, romantically-speaking.
This year the summer holidays seemed to have been owned by the unlikely figure of T.J. Miller, deadpan comedian, supporting actor and eerily familiar background figure. In Yogi Bear he was the ambitious but dim deputy park ranger easily duped by Andrew Daly’s smarmy Mayor into helping him sell out Jellystone to corporate logging interests, in Gulliver’s Travels he was the ambitious but as it turns out dim mail room supervisor who provokes Jack Black into plagiarising his way into a fateful travel writing gig and in Unstoppable he’s the slightly less dim (and certainly less ambitious) mate of the doofus who leaves the handbrake on and then watches his enormous freight train full of toxic waste roll away.
So, a good summer for T.J. Miller then, what about the rest of us?
When the Film Festival screening of Animal Kingdom finished, my companion and I turned to each other and realised that neither of us had breathed for the last five minutes. The tension that had been slowly building throughout the film had become almost unbearable and director David Michôd’s Shakespearean climax was no less than the rest of the film deserved.
Seventeen-year-old “J” (extraordinary newcomer James Frecheville) goes to live with his Gran and his Uncles when his Mum overdoses. The family are more than petty criminals but less than gangland royalty — bank robbers and thugs rather than black economy businessmen. Gran (Jacki Weaver) seems like a nice enough sort, though, and the family pulls together despite the constant pressure from the local fuzz.
It’s a little known fact in the movie industry that most cinema releases serve no greater purpose than to provide some advance publicity for an inevitable DVD release. This week seven new films were released into the Wellington market and barely more than a couple of them justified taking up space and time on a big movie screen.
First up, I Love You, Man — another in the endless parade of cash-ins on the formula literally coined by Judd Apatow with 40-year-old Virgin and Knocked Up. In this version usual side-kick Paul Rudd takes centre-stage as mild-mannered real estate agent Peter Klaven, engaged to be married but with no Best Man. All his friends are women, you see, and hijinks ensue as he attempts to generate some heterosexual male friendships and get some bro-mance in his life.
The key thing to point out here is that I love You, Man isn’t very funny and is very slow, but it will trot out the door of the video shop when the time comes, thanks to people like me giving it the oxygen of publicity. Dash it, sucked in again.
Eagle vs Shark carries a great burden of expectation: Taika Waititi’s Oscar nomination, invitations to Sundance, international Miramax support, pointless comparisons with Napoleon Dynamite. A film with less heart than this one could easily collapse under all that weight but this Eagle soars.
Loren Horsley is Lily, a hopeless romantic with her heart set on Jarrod (Jemaine Clement) from the video game shop a few doors down. Unfortunately, Jarrod’s a dick but she sees something in him and, over the course of a lovely and sad little film, teases it out despite all good sense telling her to run a mile. EVS is full of great (mostly small) comic moments and observations and on the rare occasions when something doesn’t quite work it’s easy to ride with it. A wonderful, unusual, soundtrack from The Phoenix Foundation, too.
Also not-to-be-missed is Ten Canoes, the first genuinely indigenous film ever to come out of Australia. The Yolngu people of Arnhem Land in Northern Territory collaborated with Rolf de Heer (The Tracker) to tell one of their own stories — and tell it their own way — and the result is beautiful and human and scatalogically funny. A reminder of what cinema can achieve when it is set free.
After a 12 year layoff Bruce Willis finally returns to the role that catapulted him to superstardom (and off the top of several exploding buildings) in Die Hard 4.0 (also known as Live Free or Die Hard in countries that still care about freedom). The technology-terrorism premise might as well be flower-arranging for all the sense it makes, but it gets us to the meat which is John McClane being an ass, taking a beating and blowing stuff up. It pushes most of the right Die Hard buttons, but in the end that’s all it manages to do — push buttons.
Michael Moore has been getting a hard time recently for all sorts of reasons (not making “proper” balanced documentaries, not fronting up to those who would turn his tactics back on him) but the criticism is misguided. Moore isn’t really a documentarian — he’s a polemicist. In his eyes he’s fighting a war for the ordinary citizen against an entrenched and corrupt capitalist super-state. Why should he ever have to fight fair? There is enormous wickedness and injustice in this world and if it takes Moore and a few low-blows to help turn that around then I’m all for it. As it turns out, Sicko is the best of his films to date with fewer of the cheap stunts that arm his critics and a finale in Cuba with some 9/11 rescue workers that I found quite moving.
Of course, there are no greater heroes in our modern age than New York fire-fighters which is why it was a smart move by Adam Sandler’s team to set their (ahem) sensitive plea for tolerance, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, among them. Larry (Kevin James) is a widower and the City bureaucracy won’t let him make his kids beneficiaries of his insurance. But if he goes to Canada and marries his best friend Chuck (Sandler) he can somehow sort it all out. This is, of course, fraud and when they are investigated the duo learn a lot about intolerance as well as the, er, gay lifestyle choice. My favourite moment in a movie sprinkled with a handful was the cameo appearance by closeted gay icon (and the first Jason Bourne) Richard Chamberlain as the judge at the hearing.
Finally, Te Radar is a micro-budget (and micro-scale) Michael Moore in Destiny in Motion, a thin documentary about the birth of the Destiny New Zealand political party and the connections (fairly obvious) with Bishop Brian Tamaki’s Destiny Church. The irony of this exposé of pentecostal political manipulation playing at the Paramount (a venue that now turns into a happy-clappy Church every Sunday) was not lost on me.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday, 15 August, 2007.
Full disclosure: Like many people in Wellington, and the motion picture industry, I count Loren and Taika as mates; I used to co-own the Paramount; Ten Canoes is distributed by Richard Dalton at Palace/Fresh Films who is also a mate.