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thomas mccarthy

RN 1/3: Launched

By Audio and Rancho Notorious

Special guests Darren Bevan, Dominic Corry, Graeme Tuckett and Chris Hormann on the just-launched NZIFF pro­gramme, 11-year-old Sebastian Macaulay on Disney’s Million Dollar Arm (star­ring Jon Hamm and writ­ten by Thomas McCarthy) and with Kailey’s help Dan reviews The Two Faces of January which fea­tures Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac.

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Review: Reel Brazil festival, Win Win, Shark Night 3D, The Help, The Holy Roller, Friends With Benefits & Upside Down- the Creation Records Story

By Cinema and Reviews

To really under­stand a coun­try you have to go and live there – embed your­self with the people, soak up the cul­ture. If you don’t have the time or inclin­a­tion for that then the next best thing to is to get stuck in to their com­mer­cial cinema. Not the stuff that makes it into major inter­na­tion­al film fest­ivals like Berlin and Venice, not the stuff that gets nom­in­ated for for­eign lan­guage Academy Awards, but the films that are made to excite and please a loc­al audi­ence. That’s what fest­ivals like Reel Brazil are all about – a week-long por­trait of a coun­try via its cinema.

In the late 60s Brazil had a kind of Brazilian Idol tele­vi­sion pop com­pet­i­tion where brave young artists per­formed their top song in front of a live audi­ence bay­ing for blood as if they were watch­ing Christians versus lions. But in A Night in 67 we see that year’s com­pet­i­tion rise above the boos and jeers to open a new chapter in Brazilian pop music – legendary names like Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso com­pete to win over the tough crowd and in the pro­cess launch massive inter­na­tion­al careers.

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Review: 2012, The Vintner’s Luck, Away We Go and [REC]2

By Cinema and Reviews

After nearly three and a half years of pro­du­cing this cinem­a­goers’ con­sumer guide, per­haps its time for a state­ment of intent. A mani­festo, if you will. Something to place these mus­ings in per­spect­ive as you skim through them over Morning Tea.

I try and find some­thing good and inter­est­ing in everything I see, and I see pretty much everything. Most films have an audi­ence of some descrip­tion wait­ing for them some­where, and that audi­ence may be you, so I try and out­line what might appeal (along with what might not) so that you can make an informed choice.

Plus, I have some sym­pathy for the little bat­tler and will often try and draw your atten­tion in that dir­ec­tion (Don’t for­get Two Lovers, folks) and I try and watch films not meant for me (kids flicks, etc) with half an eye on how the rest of the audi­ence is reacting.

It is extremely rare, as reg­u­lar read­ers will know, for me to warn you off a film entirely, or indeed (in the case of our first film this week) sug­gest that its cre­at­ors should be harshly pun­ished for its per­pet­ra­tion. The films that are really sand under my fore­skin are those that only exist to pad a resumé and a bank bal­ance, cyn­ic­al attempts to sep­ar­ate us from our money, mar­ket­ing cam­paigns crudely dis­guised as art.

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Interview: Richard Jenkins

By Cinema and Interview

It isn’t online at the Cap Times, so I thought I would archive my inter­view with The Visitor star, Richard Jenkins here. I spoke with Richard by phone last Sunday morning.

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"My drumming sucks!" - Richard Jenkins in The Visitor

My drum­ming sucks” – Richard Jenkins in The Visitor

Best known to New Zealand audi­ences as the deceased pat­ri­arch of the Fisher fam­ily in television’s “Six Feet Under”, Richard Jenkins has had a steady career in movies over the last 25 years, often in unsung sup­port­ing roles, but this year he has really left a mark.

Speaking to the Capital Times from his home in Rhode Island, Jenkins gave thanks to Thomas McCarthy, cre­at­or of 2004’s sleep­er hit The Station Agent, for hav­ing faith in him des­pite his lack of mar­quee pres­ence. “He asked me to read the script and I hadn’t read any­thing I liked more. But I told him, nobody’s going to give you the money with me in it!” But McCarthy per­severed, even when one exec­ut­ive pro­du­cer sug­ges­ted just weeks before shoot­ing that Morgan Freeman might be a more com­mer­cial choice.

2008 has been a great year for Jenkins.  In the sopho­mor­ic buddy com­edy Step Brothers he got to impro­vise scenes about dino­saurs with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly; he was reunited with The Coen Brothers for Burn After Reading (in a part that was writ­ten for him); and in the sens­it­ive indie he shines as a wid­owed aca­dem­ic brought back from a bound­less depres­sion by a chance New York con­nec­tion with two illeg­al immigrants.

But car­ry­ing a film on his shoulders was a new exper­i­ence.  “I always wondered what it would be like, you know? Could I do it? But most of all, I didn’t want to let Tom down.” He needn’t have wor­ried, as his per­form­ance anchors a typ­ic­ally humane McCarthy film about strangers thrown togeth­er and learn­ing to appre­ci­ate and then love each other.

Jenkins con­tin­ues to live in tiny Rhode Island where he moved after suc­cess­fully audi­tion­ing for the Trinity Rep theatre com­pany in Providence in 1970. He hap­pily per­formed and dir­ec­ted there for 14 years, even spend­ing four years as act­ing Artistic Director just as his film career was tak­ing off.

The movie work has been so reg­u­lar he hasn’t been on a stage since 1985 but he nev­er anti­cip­ated a film career. ”I’d always loved film but frankly, it was easi­er to go the the moon,” he laughs. “A career is some­thing you look back on rather than some­thing you plan”.

Now he says he enjoys watch­ing theatre more than he ever did (when he was act­ing in it) and tries to catch whatever he can, wherever he may be filming.

At the rate that Jenkins makes films (there are anoth­er four in the can for release next year), the law of aver­ages sug­gests he will be shoot­ing in Wellington before too long and he knows the tal­ent we have to offer, describ­ing work­ing with Niki (Whale Rider) Caro on North Country as his best movie-making exper­i­ence ever.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 3 December, 2008.

Review: The Visitor and American Teen

By Cinema and Reviews

While the Bond 22 jug­ger­naut threatens to crush everything in it’s path, a couple of plucky little indies try and offer a whole­some altern­at­ive (and stay out of harm’s way in the pro­cess). Thomas McCarthy’s The Visitor occu­pies sim­il­ar them­at­ic ground to his debut The Station Agent in 2004, but unfurls in alto­geth­er less whim­sic­al fashion.

Richard Jenkins plays Walter Vale, a depressed eco­nom­ics pro­fess­or, fum­bling around for some remain­ing con­nec­tion to his recently deceased wife (he’s learn­ing to play her piano which is a strik­ingly futile pur­suit for a man in his 50s). Against his wishes he is sent to New York to present a paper he hasn’t writ­ten to a con­fer­ence he has no interest in and he reluct­antly has to return to the old apart­ment he and his wife used to share. Only now it’s occu­pied by a young illeg­al immig­rant couple who are as sur­prised to see him as he is to see them – they’ve been conned into think­ing it was vacant.

With much apo­logy they pack up and leave but when Vale real­ises they have nowhere else to go he calls them back to let them stay. And so begins a lovely rela­tion­ship and a hugely reward­ing film, a film that nev­er settles for cliché when (with just a little bit of extra dig­ging) it can find some truth. When laid back drum­mer Tarek (win­ningly played by Haaz Sleiman) is arres­ted and slapped in deten­tion pending deport­a­tion, The Visitor effort­lessly changes tone and Vale finds someone to care for (and about) once again. One of the films of the year.

American Teen is nom­in­ally a doc­u­ment­ary but could just as eas­ily be filed in the hor­ror sec­tion. An insin­cere little film about a cross-section of mid-Western American youth in the town of Warsaw, Indiana (a town which appears to have a value sys­tem as shal­low as the gene pool that’s pro­duced its next gen­er­a­tion) American Teen ini­tially pro­vokes noth­ing so much as des­pair but even­tu­ally wrestles you into submission.

The five cent­ral char­ac­ters are arche­types (the Geek, the Prom Queen, the Jock, the Heartthrob and the Rebel) that slowly emerge as real people des­pite endur­ing some tack­ily manip­u­lat­ive storytelling (not to men­tion some colossally bad parenting).

Of course, the pres­sures on these kids are all real – the pres­sure to be pop­u­lar or suc­cess­ful, rather than simply be happy – but life wouldn’t have been nearly so com­plic­ated if they weren’t all wan­der­ing around with radio mics shar­ing every whispered secret with the world. Someone should have had a word with these kids about boundaries.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 3 December, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: American Teen was screened at the Paramount, in the big aud­it­or­i­um, and was pin sharp at the cor­rect aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It looks like the Paramount’s prob­lems with focus and bright­ness relate to ‘scope only (and pos­sibly only one of the two projectors).

Review: Amazing Grace, Knocked Up and Year of the Dog

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

While the Film Festival takes up a jus­ti­fi­ably huge chunk of time and mind­space dur­ing these two weeks the world of com­mer­cial cinema has hit back hard with two of the best films of the year.

Amazing Grace is a hand­some peri­od piece about the cam­paign­ing life of William Wilberforce, tire­less toil­er for social justice and what we now call human rights in the 19th cen­tury. The film focusses on his lead­er­ship of the move­ment to ban the transat­lantic slave trade in the teeth of entrenched com­mer­cial and polit­ic­al oppos­i­tion. 11 mil­lion African men, women and chil­dren were dragged from their homes, clapped in chains and forced to work in the plant­a­tions and refiner­ies that fuelled the British Empire.

Wilberforce is played by Mr Fantastic (or Captain Hornblower, if you prefer) Ioan Gruffudd and, des­pite his lack of heavy­weight cre­den­tials, he holds up nicely in com­pet­i­tion with some of British cinema’s finest. The Great Gambon (most recently Dumbledore in Harry Potter), Rufus Sewell (The Illusionist), Toby Jones (Infamous), Stephen Campbell Moore (The History Boys) and the mar­vel­lous Albert Finney all get moments to rise above the occa­sion­ally clunky, exposition-heavy, script.

Finney, in par­tic­u­lar, as the former slave-ship cap­tain John Newton who actu­ally wrote the hymn Amazing Grace (and the line “who saved a wretch like me” comes from deep inside a tor­tured con­science) is splendid.

Even bet­ter is Knocked Up, Judd Apatow’s bril­liant follow-up to The 40 Year Old Virgin. Supporting act­or in the earli­er film, Seth Rogen, gets pro­moted to the lead as Ben Stone, a fun-loving lay­about who gets his one night stand preg­nant and then learns the hard way about respons­ib­il­ity, adult­hood and love. Or you could say it’s about Katherine Heigl’s char­ac­ter Alison Scott, an ambi­tious report­er for the E! Channel who gets preg­nant to a one night stand and then learns the hard way about fam­ily, sac­ri­fice and pain.

Either way you choose it, Knocked Up is a won­der­ful film that shows a deep-seated love for life in all it’s gooey glory. The sup­port­ing cast are per­fect, includ­ing (the some­times patchy) Paul Rudd and Mrs Apatow, Leslie Mann, as the scary mar­ried couple our her­oes use to altern­ately inspire or repel each other.

Judd Apatow made his name in tele­vi­sion, writ­ing and pro­du­cing shows like “The Ben Stiller Show” and the great “Freaks and Geeks”. Another “Freaks and Geeks” alumni, Mike White, also has a fea­ture out this week: Year of the Dog star­ring Molly Shannon. Shannon plays dowdy sec­ret­ary Peggy whose beloved dog Pencil dies in some­what mys­ter­i­ous cir­cum­stances leav­ing her alone to face the world.

In her attempts to replace Pencil with some­thing (anoth­er dog, a man) she learns a little bit about the world and an awful lot about her­self. Like Knocked Up there’s a contrast-couple, there to show our her­oes what life might be like if only they gave up being them­selves, in this case played by Laura Dern and Thomas McCarthy; and like Knocked Up there’s a lot of epis­od­ic com­edy moments though with a much dark­er edge.

Year of the Dog is White’s first fea­ture as dir­ect­or (after writ­ing films like Chuck and Buck, The Good Girl and The School of Rock) and it seems as if he has­n’t dir­ec­ted this film so much as writ­ten and pho­to­graphed it. That’s not to say that it isn’t enjoy­able – it is. It’s just not ter­ribly cinematic.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 25 July, 2007.

Nature of con­flict: Year of the Dog opens at the Academy Cinema in Auckland on Weds 1 Aug. I do con­tract work for them design­ing and main­tain­ing their website.