Dominic Corry 's Opinion

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

Dominic Corry: Cheap Thrills and Computer Chess at the film festival

Add a comment
Dominic Corry takes in some highlights from the film festival.

The film festival is now four days in, and while I haven't been going totally mental with the screenings this year, I've managed to enjoy a nice variety of cinematic pleasures.

On Friday afternoon I took in Alfred Hitchcock's legendary 1959 thriller North By Northwest, in which Cary Grant plays a dapper ad man who gets mistaken for a fictional spy and must go on the run.

Featuring such legendary movie moments as the crop duster scene and the Mt. Rushmore-set finalé, North By Northwest's entertainment value has barely diminished in five decades since it was first released.

It's one of my favourite parts of the film festival to see classics like this on the big screen, but I wish there were more than just two Alfred Hitchocks playing this year.

Later that evening it was back to the Civic for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see '70s prog-rockers play their phenomenal score to Dario Argento's 1977 horror masterpiece Suspiria.

The superlatively creepy music felt only more chilling played live, and you could tell the packed house was loving every minute of it. It's one of Argento's more coherent films, but dream logic still dominates Suspiria, which follows wide-eyed American student Suzy (the radiant Jessica Harper) as she discovers the ballet school she's just joined is run by witches.

Next up was Cheap Thrills, an often discomforting but always deeply enjoyable black comedy.

Journeyman character actor Pat Healy, who made an impression last year in Ti West's The Innkeepers, plays Craig, a failed writer and young father facing eviction who's drowning his sorrows in a bar after being laid off.

After bumping into his reckless old pal Vince (Ethan Embry from Can't Hardly Wait), the pair accept drinks from a married couple played by comedy stalwart David Koechner (Anchorman) and Healy's Innkeepers co-star Sara Paxton.

There's something a little off about the couple, but that doesn't stop Craig and Vince responding to a series of minor challenges for which they offer cash rewards.

Things escalate quickly as violence enters the dynamic, and by the time the two friends are back at the couple's house, traditional notions of dignity have become challenged.

Cheap Thrills could easily have just been a Very Bad Things-esque exercise is escalating insanity, but it digs a littler deeper than that, and has nuanced observations to make about friendship; class conflict and dog-eating.

It's definitely uncomfortable at times, but there's an absence of glibness to the film - the high concept is embraced with a combination of realism; seriousness and macabre joy. It's not entirely clear who we're supposed to be rooting for, if anyone.

I really enjoyed Cheap Thrills, and if it sounds like your bag you should definitely check out the second screening this Friday at 9.30pm - director Evan Katz will be in attendance to do a Q & A.

On Monday afternoon I attended Ginger and Rosa, the coming-of-age tale from celebrated writer/director Sally Potter, who made the enduring 1992 art-house classic Orlando.

This isn't the first film to use the Cuban missile crisis as a metaphor for the explosive emotions of puberty, but it does so with a low-key tenderness that wholly won me over.

Elle Fanning (Super 8) and Alice Englert (Beautiful Creatures) play the titular duo, inseparable teenage best friends in 1962 London. While Ginger frets about a nuclear apocalypse, Rosa is busy cultivating her sexuality.

When the father-less Rosa begins attracting inappropriate attention from Ginger's insufferable 'radical' dad Roland (Alessandro Nivola), things start unravelling between the pair.

Ginger & Rosa isn't a groundbreaking film, but it is beautifully put together and very watchable. Fanning is impressively affecting as the sensitive but resiliant Ginger, while Englert (who incidentally is the daughter of Kiwi director Jane Campion) displays much more depth here than she did in this year's Twilight-derived fantasy romance, Beautiful Creatures.

There's some mild overlap with 2010 festival favourite An Education, but Ginger & Rosa is a more impressionistic and lyrical film in which Potter displays a delicate grasp of the throws of teenagedom.

The heavyweight supporting cast also adds considerable value - Mad Men's Christina Hendricks does a lot with a small role as Ginger's mother, while Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt are great fun as Ginger's godfather and his American partner: Mark and Mark II, respectively. Annette Bening also turns up briefly to add authority to the political angle.

Ginger & Rosa is playing twice more in the festival, on Friday at the Lido and Wednesday of next week at the Bridgeway.

As I write this I've just came from a screening of Computer Chess and I'm still not sure what I experienced. But I know that I liked it. A lot.

I went in with no prior knowledge of the film and initially thought I was watching a documentary about a computer chess tournament held at a hotel at some point in the early '80s. The blandness of the camerawork; the pallid black and white video footage and the flat articulations of the subjects were so utterly convincing, I was sure it was all actual found footage.

Then some plot eventually kicks in, and it slowly dawned on me that I was watching a fictional film, and a very weird fictional film at that. There can be no overstating how impressive the period details are - there is always some kind of giveaway when filmmakers attempt to recreate the recent past in the found footage style - but everything here is spot-on, from the haircuts to the clothes to the soft-spoken manner in which the characters interact. Not a single actor lets the side down. This is almost time travel via cinema.

Many modern films trade in real world ambiguities and naturalistic environments, but I can't think of any other recent work that feels so effectively immersive in this regard. I kept having to remind myself that Computer Chess was a work of constructed cinema, and even then I wasn't sure.

There is a final screening of Computer Chess TONIGHT at the Academy at 6.30pm, and I can't recommend it highly enough. Landing somewhere between Pi and The King of Kong, this is the most surprised I've been by a movie in years.

* What have you seen so far? Any of these? Will you attend Computer Chess? Comment Below!

Follow @nzherald_ent on Twitter for up-to-the-minute entertainment news, videos and reviews.

Dominic Corry

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

One of New Zealand's most vocal and enthusiastic film critics for over ten years, Dominic's cinematic opinions can also be heard on radio and seen on television. His list of favourite movies is always evolving, but is generally likely to feature The Lady Vanishes (1938); Vertigo (1958); The Parallax View (1972); Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978); Aliens (1986); Midnight Run (1989); Metropolitan (1990) and Primer (2002). He also reviews snack food.

Read more by Dominic Corry

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf01 at 26 Nov 2014 14:31:27 Processing Time: 474ms