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Preview: Festivals Far and Near

By Cinema

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.

The Deep posterI 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 So, snark withdrawn.

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Review: Super 8, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, Soul Surfer, Biutiful, The Tempest and Brighton Rock

By Cinema and Reviews

I’ve been busy over the last few weeks working on New Zealand’s biggest participatory film event, the V 48 Hours which reaches its local climax tonight at the Embassy Theatre. It’s a wonderful celebration of Wellington film talent and there may be door sales so check with the venue.

Super 8 posterOne of the inspirations for 48 Hours is the true story of a group of Mississippi kids who spent six years of weekends and holidays in the 1980s remaking Raiders of the Lost Ark — shot for shot — on home video. The project went from notorious to legendary in 2003 when the kids (now adults) were invited to meet Lucas and Spielberg and their story was even optioned by Paramount. I can’t see that picture getting made now as Spielberg (and J.J. “Star Trek” Abrams) have come up with something that, though partially inspired by the boys’ VHS efforts, goes in a different direction entirely, honouring not just their homemade Raiders but Spielberg’s own E.T. and Close Encounters .

In a small Ohio town in 1979 a bunch of kids are making a zombie flick so they can enter the local Super 8 film competition. During an unauthorised night shoot at the railway station they witness a devastating train crash which unleashes mysterious forces that the Government is desperate to cover up. As the freaked-out citizenry are evacuated so the Air Force can hunt down the whatever-it-is that’s escaped, our heroic kids head back in to the danger zone armed only with curiosity and that child-like sense of right and wrong that Mr. Spielberg used to specialise in.

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Review: Another Year, Sarah’s Key, Arthur, Heartbreakers, Mars Needs Moms and Queen of the Sun

By Cinema and Reviews

Another Year posterGenius filmmaker Mike Leigh has been on a bit of an up and down streak in recent years. 2002’s All or Nothing was wonderful, Vera Drake (2004) I found frustratingly unwatchable and, most recently, Happy-Go-Lucky seemed too thin — beneath his significant talents — and yet, despite not liking it very much, I find myself thinking about Happy-Go-Lucky quite often. And that’s Leigh’s skill — he gets under your skin even when you resist.

Another Year is his latest film and it’s terribly good. It’s Secrets and Lies good, that good, despite having no plot to speak of. Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen (Leigh regulars) play Tom and Gerri, a happily married couple who seem to be surrounded by people who simply aren’t as good at coping with life — Lesley Manville’s Mary, a highly strung, alcoholic, work colleague of Sheen’s who turns up to embarrass herself in their kitchen periodically; Tom’s old university buddy Ken played by Peter Wight (overweight, depressed, lonely, also alcoholic); Tom’s taciturn widower brother Ronnie (David Bradley). They all drift into and out of Tom and Gerri’s welcoming suburban kitchen while tea is made and drunk and banalities are spoken.

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Review: Rio, Hop, Oceans, Sucker Punch and some meditations on the Roxy

By Cinema and Reviews

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.

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Review: Get Him to the Greek, The Last Station and Amreeka

By Cinema and Reviews

Get Him to the Greek posterForgetting Sarah Marshall was one of the surprise pleasures of 2008. An Apatow comedy that was relatively modest about it’s ambitions it featured a break-out performance from English comedian Russell Brand, playing a version of his own louche stage persona.

As it so often goes with surprise hits, a spinoff was rushed into production and we now get to see whether Mr Brand’s brand of humour can carry an entire film. Get Him to the Greek sees Brand’s English rock star Aldous Snow on the comeback trail after a failed seven year attempt at sobriety. Unlikely LA A&R man Jonah Hill (Knocked Up, Funny People) sells his record label boss, Sean “P Diddy” Combs, on a 10th anniversary concert featuring Snow and his band Infant Sorrow at the Greek Theatre of the title.

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Review: Animal Kingdom, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Despicable Me, Grown Ups, Mother and Child and Gordonia

By Cinema and Reviews

Animal Kingdom posterWhen 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.

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