Adventures In Celluloid

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things film.

Dominic Corry: Gentlemen murderers, intrepid scouts at the Film Fest

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Jack Black appears in a scene from Bernie.  Photo / Supplied
Jack Black appears in a scene from Bernie. Photo / Supplied

It's one week into the New Zealand International Film Festival and I'm settling into a groove with my viewings, even if a mild sense of film fatigue is occasionally making itself known.

But the unlimited potential of the film festival ensures every screening is a fresh chance to access one's enthusiasm, and this year has no shortage of notable discoveries.

One of my all-time favourite film festival experiences was seeing Richard Linklater's now seminal Dazed & Confused in 1994. Linklater's oeuvre has taken some interesting turns since then, but I've always made a point of checking out anything he has playing at the festival.

His contribution this year represents a reunion with Jack Black, the star of one of his most successful movies - The School of Rock. I loved that movie and I have a lot of goodwill for Black, so I was very excited to see Bernie, which I took in at The Civic on Monday afternoon.

Black plays the titular mortician, a real-life figure who charmed a small Texan town with his Southern manners and dedicated approach to funereal services. But after he became close with a hated widow played by Shirley Maclaine, things took a turn for the homicidal.

Bernie projects ample amounts of the lackadaisical charm that buoys most Linklater films, and Black restrains his natural mania to give a highly entertaining performance, but the film felt a little undercooked. Every comedy dynamic is hammered home with the subtlety of a sledge hammer and the story treads a lot of water. Not a complete waste of time, but I was disappointed.

I kicked off Tuesday by taking in one of the few classic films to screen at this year's festival - the 1953 Marilyn Monroe/Jane Russell vehicle Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

I relish any opportunity to see old movies on the big screen, and I simply couldn't pass up the chance to witness Monroe and Russell doing high kicks up on The Civic's gargantuan canvas. The film features several classic numbers (most famously Monroe's Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend) and lots of cheesy jokes about marrying men for their money. It was a breezy watch and the two leads ensure the pulchritudinous splendour never stopped flowing from the screen.

Romantic affairs of a much more contemporary nature rared their head in the film I went straight into afterwards - Lynn Shelton's affecting triple-hander Your Sister's Sister.

The heavily improvised movie stars mumblecore icon Mark Duplass (a writer/director in his own right) as a depressed young man who is sent by his platonic friend Iris (Emily Blunt) to spend some downtime at her family's isolated island cabin.

There he unexpectedly encounters Iris' lesbian sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt - whom some might recognise as Don Draper's beatnik booty call Midge from season one of Mad Men), and the pair stumble into a drunken entanglement. Then Iris shows up the next day, and various truths and deceptions begin to bubble their way to the surface.

Your Sister's Sister is a perfectly balanced dramedy with an appealingly gentle pace and three beautifully understated lead performances. It stops to engage in the kind of moments that films often skip over, and mines superlative amounts of drama out of the characters without resorting to histrionics.

All three leads are faultless, but DeWitt (who replaced Rachel Weisz at the last minute) is simply wonderful, and I'm pretty sure I fell in love with her throughout the course of the film. Your Sister's Sister screens one more time: Saturday August 4 at Broadway Event Cinemas.

That evening came the film I was probably most anticipating in this year's festival - Room 237: Being An Inquiry into The Shining In 9 Parts.

Having encountered a lot of the online content exploring possible hidden meanings in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film The Shining, I was looking forward to see how this documentary presented these ideas and the people who espouse them.

The filmmakers behind Room 237 employ some very nifty techniques to illustrate the testimonials of its interview subjects (whom we never actually see) - much of what is said is backed up by craftily re-edited scenes from earlier Kubrick films, as well as clips from The Shining of course.

It made for entertaining viewing for the first hour or so, but the film was ultimately content to principally ridicule its subjects, and inexplicably spent far too much time on the most boring contributor.

So while Room 237 is a reasonably captivating watch, I was looking for something a little more analytical, and which wasn't so concerned with pointing and laughing at its interview subjects. Plus it barely scratched the surface of the innumerable interpretations of The Shining that litter the internet. Maybe this sort of stuff is simply better suited to websites than movies.

Still, it's gotten me really excited to see The Shining itself at The Civic this weekend, which is where I just saw cinematic darling Wes Anderson's new film, Moonrise Kingdom.

Anderson has gathered together a typically hefty cast (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton and an unexpectedly great Bruce Willis) but placed in the centre of them are two unknown child actors: Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. They play, respectively, a tenacious boy scout and a troubled soul who run away together while he is on a camping trip to the island she lives on.

As with all Anderson films, Moonrise Kingdom is an aesthetic wonder, full of artful compositions and '60s mood palettes. It was a pleasure to behold and I got caught up in the youthful romance (both child actors were excellent), but the extreme precision with which the film was constructed had something of an emotionally distancing affect.

I have no problem with a film that places style over substance, but Moonrise Kingdom appeared to expect a degree of emotional involvement from the view that it didn't organically earn. Or maybe I'm still processing it.

* How's your film festival going? Seen any of the above? Thoughts? Comment below!

Follow Dominic Corry on Twitter.

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