Doug Dillaman joins Kailey and Dan to do three things — tell us about his feature film Jake which is screening in Auckland at the moment and arrives in Wellington next week; he helps us review the new Transformers: Age of Extinction which may or may not have made it to US$100m in box office on opening weekend; and we chat about the delightful animated French film Ernest and Celestine which finally opens around the country today.
Is Gravity the first really new film of the 21st Century? I hazard it may be. It is certainly the first to harness the bleeding edge of the current technologies (performance capture, 3D, sophisticated robotic camera rigs) to serve a story that could only really exist in this form. Sure, once his ears had stopped bleeding Georges Meliés would totally recognise what director Alfonso Cuarón and his screenwriter partner (and son) Jonás are doing here, but he would be the first to put his hand up to say that he wouldn’t have been able to do it. Same for Kubrick, I suspect.
During a routine shuttle mission high above the Earth, astronauts Sandy Bullock and George Clooney are struggling to make some adjustments to the Hubble telescope when Houston (a nicely cast Ed Harris) warns them of some incoming debris. A Russian spy satellite has been destroyed by its owners causing a chain reaction as the little buggers kick-off all over the place. Tiny fragments of satellite travel at lethal speeds on roughly the same orbit and our heroes have to get to safety before they risk being vaporised.
Still hovering around some local cinemas – and the longest-delayed of all my outstanding reviews – Still Mine is a surprisingly effective Canadian drama about an elderly man (James Cromwell, 73 but playing a fit 89) determined to build a new house for his wife (Geneviéve Bujold) before her memory deserts her completely. Cromwell gives his character a softness which belies the usual ornery old dude clichés, even if his stubborn refusal to submit to the building code is the device on which the story hinges. Contains lots of shots of Cromwell’s heroic profile staring off into the New Brunswick distance.
Older people are, paradoxically, the only growing segment of the film audience in New Zealand so there’s often high quality fare around the tempt them. One of the best is the documentary Ping Pong, about competitors (genuine competitors at that) in the World Over 80s Table Tennis Championship in Inner Mongolia. Like any good documentary it assembles a great cast of characters and like all good sports movies it makes full use of the built-in drama of a knock-out tournament. Not just about the restorative power of exercise, it’s also about friendship and adventure. Inspiring, so help me.
Today, at the Virginia Theater in Urbana Ill., a few thousand cinephiles and Ebert-olytes are gathering for the first day of the 15th Ebertfest, formerly known as Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival. I should be with them – I even bought a pass back in November last year – but a change of job meant no annual leave and no money for the flight. Normally, I would just say, “there’ll always be next year” but with Mr. Ebert’s recent passing I don’t know if that will be true.
Instead, we turn our attention to local events and there’s plenty to keep us entertained on top of all the new commercial releases. For a start, the new NZFF Autumn Events initiative – replacing the much-loved (by me) World Cinema Showcase – gets under way today and the festival organisation were good enough to slip me a few screeners so I could tip you off about some of the less-heralded titles. So, I’m going to presume you are already familiar with Lawrence of Arabia and will be camping out overnight to see the the only two screenings of the – reportedly – magnificent 4k restoration and instead I’ll take a look at a couple of docos and a couple of other features.
I was a little snarky towards the NZFF on Twitter when they announced that Baltasar Kormákur’s The Deep was going to play. After all, the last film of his that local audiences got to see was the woeful Contraband starring Mark Wahlberg. It turns out that was a Hollywood remake of an already successful Icelandic thriller that Mr. Kormákur produced and very likely his director’s fee made The Deep possible. So, snark withdrawn.