He’ll be back: The Terminator returns… again

Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

This is how Michael Biehn’s Kyle Reese describes Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in the 1984 film The Terminator. He didn’t know how right he was. The Terminator just keeps coming back. The perfect pop culture metaphor for a franchise that can’t be killed.

In 1991 a sequel followed. At that time the $100 milion budget of Terminator 2: Judgment Day made it the most expensive film ever produced and it was a cinematic juggernaut (I did my bit by spending my pocket money to go and see it two weekends in a row).

And from there the Terminator just kept rising from the ashes (or still burning wreckage of crashed truck/plane/HK). A trilogy of novels set after the events of T2 follows Sarah and John Connor who have fled to South America.

A television series followed. Before Lena Headey was the ruthless Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones she was the equally determined Sarah Connor in the The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

There were a further three movie sequels (with varying degrees of coherence), the most recent being an alternate timeline Terminator: Genisys which brought back a lot of the attitude of the first film (but positively tied itself in time-travel knots).

Cover of Total recall: My unbelievably true life storyJames Cameron announced earlier this that he will produce the sixth installment of the Terminator franchise, with shooting due to start next year. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the 90s action star who never really went away, will reprise his role.

Last year to celebrate the 25th anniversary of T2 a 3D version was released and this will hit New Zealand screens briefly next week. I’d say get your tickets booked lest you miss out but… he’ll be back.

Producer Christine Dann talks about No ordinary Sheila, a documentary about an inspiring woman and the power of wonder

“I’ve got books instead of babies” — these were the words of Sheila Natusch, whose cinematic portrayal is coming to the big screens in Christchurch today and tomorrow (Friday 11 and Saturday 12 August).

As the movie proves, it isn’t just books that inhabit Sheila’s world. It’s also wonder and passion for the natural world — plants, animals and rocks. This translates into writing and beautiful illustrations.  The documentary shows so much — her love for the sea and sailing, honeymoon spent in the hut under Mt. Aoraki, the fun of learning Icelandic and swimming with seals, her close and dear friendship with Janet Frame in their formative days as young writers. Got the feeling? Who needs a TV and a car if you can enjoy a night camping under the stars and a bicycle tour from Picton to Bluff?

Sheila
Sheila Natusch. Image supplied.

Sheila Natusch greatly contributed to the understanding of nature by writing and illustrating Animals of New Zealand, the first comprehensive reference guide on this subject. She carried on writing all her life, on nature and history. Sheila has her artistic talent (inherited from her mother and grandmother) to accompany her words with convincing yet soft illustrations. In 2007 she was awarded New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to writing and illustration.

Watching the movie, it is not hard to see what compelled producer Christine Dann and filmmaker Hugh MacDonald (Sheila’s cousin) to capture Sheila on film. With premieres rolling out in cinemas from Auckland all the way to Gore, they are both fully occupied these days, but Christine still found some time to reveal the backstory of this inspiring project.

When did the idea to make a documentary about Sheila become obvious and where did it come from?

Director Hugh Macdonald has known Sheila all his life and always wanted to make a film about her, as she is such a fascinating character, as well as a woman of great achievements. I knew about her achievements before Hugh introduced me to Sheila, and as soon as I met her knew she’d be a great film subject.

Sheila is such a cinematic character, her enthusiasm and love for life in all its forms is beaming from the screen. Her story and persona are perfect for a form of a film storytelling. What was your intention in making this documentary, besides portraying Sheila and telling her story (because it also is a film about nature, New Zealand, wonder, curiosity and passion)?

Hugh and I share Sheila’s love of nature and the wild places of New Zealand. We agree with her that they are a source of much joy and inspiration. In making a film about her we wanted to share some of that joy and inspiration via someone who embodies it.

sheila2
Love for the nature shines through the warmth of Sheila’s illustrations.

You produced the documentary but also contributed as a researcher and writer. How long did your research take, what were the main resources you used?

The research for the film took about nine months, but that was spread over 18 months in time as it involved going to Dunedin twice, down the West Coast, and to Southland  and Stewart Island. My written sources included Sheila’s letters to her parents in the 1940s, and to Professor Ramsey in the 1950s and 60s, plus all her published work, both books and articles. Of course I talked to Sheila a lot to check things out as needed.

Is there a funny story from behind the scenes, something that happened during filming that you could share with our readers?

There always seemed to be lots of surprises happening, mostly good ones – such as the completely unexpected delivery of a box of chilled mutton birds to Sheila’s place when we just happened to be there with the camera for other reasons  – and that enabled us to shoot the scene in the Bach Cafe where Sheila takes them to her friend Maraea to cook up for them all.

The visit of the Ecuadorian navy sailing ship the Guayas to Wellington in January 2016 was another such good surprise, even though we had to scramble hard to get the filming organised

Sheila made nature and science accessible to New Zealanders in a user-friendly and encouraging way, especially with the Animals of New Zealand. However, she was to an extent criticized by scientists due to a lack of scientific language in her works. Why do you think that happened?

She was writing at a time when the scientific community (especially the Royal Society) was trying to raise the status of science as a profession of experts who communicated largely with each other, rather than the general public. Sheila has always believed that knowledge about nature needs to be shared as widely as possible, and that means writing in non-technical, jargon-free and also lyrical ways.

Sheila is extraordinarily talented in so many different ways: she is an amazing self-taught illustrator as well as a writer, she has a great passion, understanding and an eye for the natural world, she is a researcher and an “outdoor pioneer-ess”. And she managed – it seems like all throughout her life – to nurture and develop all those talents, which must have been quite hard in those days.

Sheila is not only very intelligent, she’s also very determined, so although she was certainly knocked back and excluded from some things she wanted to do, or ways she wanted to do them, she just kept on pushing until she found a way around the obstacle.

sheila3
The film focuses on creation of two integral works: Animals of New Zealand and The Cruise of the Acheron.

Which is your favourite motto or a thought from Sheila’s wise yet witty repertoire of thoughts?

Too hard to choose! But in the film you’ll hear her say several times that you have to ‘keep on keeping on’ when challenges arise, and that’s a good advice.

I was very delighted, when I realised that Sheila quotes Walt Whitman in her introduction to Animals of New Zealand (his poem The beasts, which talks about the animals). I wonder if she ever in your conversations revealed her fondness for any other authors and who were they?

She has a big library of books on ships and sailing, and likes novels and poems about the sea and life on it. She can remember a lot of songs and poems from her early years with a sea theme, such as John Masefield’s Cargoes. She’s pretty good on Shakespeare as well.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about Sheila and your movie?

It has been very rewarding for Hugh and me to share our enjoyment of Sheila, and her enjoyment of life, through this film, and find that is (as we hoped) resonating deeply with other people.

Sheila’s story told through the camera lens is full of curiosity and wonder for nature and great outdoors that surround us. It proves that those who observe and see, will be rewarded greatly – with life-long beauty and content. Make sure you see it!

Find out more

Cool stuff from the Selectors: Fiction news

Who isn’t writing crime and mystery novels these days? If Dickens, Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope were around now, they’d be making sure that murder and detection was the place to be.

Cover97805713266319781509815524CoverCoverCover

Interesting authors in this field doing the murder route include Jessica Fellowes, (niece of the man who gave the world Downton Abbey), with The Mitford murders,  John Gordon Sinclair (the actor from the much loved comedy Gregory’s girl), has a mystery coming up called Walk in silence and Lottie Moggach, daughter of Deborah, has Under the sun.

Aside from promising crime there is a new novel by Salman Rushdie, The golden house, which deals with Obama and Trump America.

A former Booker winner Roddy Doyle has a new novel called Smile.

And don’t forget the Film Festival coming up. One of the most interesting films is an adaptation of the Thomas Cullinan novel The beguiled. Originally made as a vehicle for Clint Eastwood, the novel now gets a feminist makeover by Sofia Coppola with Nicole Kidman leading the cast. We have the reprint of the novel on order.

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

Laura Chant lives with her Mum and beloved little brother Jacko and she has ‘warnings’. Odd sensations overcome her. She’s had them before, when their Dad left the family home and when she met Sorry (Sorenson) a prefect at her high school. And now she’s had another one.

Cover of The Changeover

Warily she continues through her day at school, picks up Jacko and walks home, everything as normal. Except on the way they pass a shop that was never there before and the strange, rather sinister old bloke inside bothers her enormously…

Jacko’s health starts to deteriorate, his life hanging in the balance, and Laura is convinced it’s because of the man in the shop. Her Mum is struggling to make ends meet, keep her job and be a loving Mum, there for her children. It’s tough going and Laura’s mad ideas are just not going anywhere. Laura feels herself to be alone.

So she turns to Sorry for help, knowing, believing he is a witch.

The Changeover is classed as a teenage story with supernatural elements. I first heard it as an adult, as it was read on a children’s holiday programme. I missed the last few episodes and headed to the library. I had to know what happened. There appears to be more going on with Sorry and Laura than meets the eye and what happened to Jacko? Are Laura’s bizarre theories correct? I was so pleased I tracked the book down.

Whilst I have read sci-fi and Fantasy, The Changeover avoids both genres. It’s a darn good story with witches and a bit of magic thrown in and it works. I was caught up in a great story and characters. Jacko is a small boy I wanted to live, not die and I found myself driven to read on, to urge Laura to put some of her thoughts into action, to save him if she could.

As a young woman New Zealand author Elizabeth Knox met Margaret Mahy and got to know her well. In her introduction to the latest edition she writes of the her hero Margaret Mahy:

“I’m thinking of her laugh, her hats, her dogs and cats, her winter coughs, her knitted coats, her rainbow wig, and very imposing penguin suit. I’m thinking of her long sentences and pithy quips; of the rose window of the top bedroom of her flat in Cranmer Square; of her empty refrigerator, of her very model of a modern Major General and, in the same vein, her virtuoso “Bubble Trouble”, and the loving rapture in her grandson Harry’s eyes when he watched her perform it at the launch of Tessa Duder’s book”.

A recent reread of The Changeover as a middle aged adult and I still loved every minute of it AND there’s a movie coming in September AND its filmed in Christchurch, New Zealand, Margaret Mahy’s home town. Will watching a favoured book turned into a movie be iffy? Possibly (watch the trailer below and judge for yourself). But I will go and pay homage to a wonderful writer.

The Changeover
by Margaret Mahy
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781869713553

New Zealand International Film Festival 2017

Today the Christchurch programme for the New Zealand International Film Festival was launched.

Every year the New Zealand International Film Festival screens a range of films. It’s Christchurch’s turn from 3 August to 20 August.

Literary films at the Festival

If you like movies based on books — or want to read the book before you see the movie — there are plenty of films for you at the 2017 Christchurch leg of the NZ International Film Festival. Thanks to the Film Festival organisers for providing us with some of the following information:

CoverA Monster Calls
A story-telling monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) helps a sleeping boy with his waking-life nightmares in this adaptation of Patrick Ness’ novel, spectacularly realised with lavish CGI and painterly animations.
Based on the novel A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.

A Woman’s Life (Une Vie)
A literary adaptation of a story by Guy de Maupassant styled with striking immediacy, Stéphane Brizé relates the tragedy of an adventurous young 19th-century noblewoman harshly judged for an unfortunate marriage.

Bill Direen: A Memory of Others
A documentary about New Zealand musician Bill Direen.
Find books and music by Bill Direen in our collection.

Call Me By Your Name
This gorgeous and moving adaptation of André Aciman’s acclaimed novel, directed by Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love), stars Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet as lovers in sun-kissed northern Italy.
Based on the book Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

CoverCitizen Jane
A documentary capturing the showdown in the 1950s between the activist Jane Jacobs and the trumpian urban planner Robert Moses: as she fights preserve urban communities in the face of destructive development projects.
Based on The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

CoverEthel and Ernest
This animated adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ graphic memoir of his parents’ lives is both humble and profound, with gorgeous renderings of Briggs’ justly famous lines. Featuring the voices of Jim Broadbent and Brenda Blethyn.
Based on the graphic novel memoir Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs

Heal the Living
A catastrophic accident leaves one family in ruins and bestows another with precious hope in a hospital drama immeasurably enhanced by the delicate sensitivity of Katell Quillévéré’s script and the poetic force of her direction.
Based on Mend the living by Maylis de Kerangal

I Am Not Your Negro
A documentary based on James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, exploring the history of racism in the United States through Baldwin’s reminiscences of civil rights leaders.

Lady MacBeth
Florence Pugh is mesmerising as she transmutes from nervous bride to femme fatale in this bracing British period drama based on the 19th-century Russian classic by Nikolai Leskov – Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.

CoverThe Lost City of Z
Charlie Hunnam makes a commanding flawed hero as British Amazon explorer Percy Fawcett in a sweeping giant screen epic, filmed with rare intelligence by writer/director James Gray. With Sienna Miller and Robert Pattinson.
Based on the novel by David Grann, The Lost City of Z

No Ordinary Sheila
A documentary exploring the life of New Zealand writer Sheila Natusch who has written over 30 books including Animals of New Zealand, The Cruise of Acheron, Hell and High Water and Wild Fare for Wilderness Forager. No Ordinary Sheila is a documentary about her life, times – and places.

CoverStalker
Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 masterpiece, like his earlier Solaris, is a free and allegorical adaptation of a sci-fi novel, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic.
See also the book about the movie Stalker – Zona: A book about a film about a journey to a room by Geoff Dyer.

Swallows and Amazons
Four children (the Swallows) on holiday in the Lake District (UK) sail on their own to an island and start a war with rival children (the Amazons).
Based on the book Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

To Stay Alive: A Method
This Dutch documentary film is based on Michel Houellebecq’s 1991 essay To Stay Alive, about struggling artists, the role of the poet, and mental health problems. It features marginal artists as well as Houellebecq and the rock singer Iggy Pop.
Read books in our collection by Michel Houellebecq

Una
A young woman arrives unexpectedly at an older man’s workplace looking for answers as to their shared past in an abusive sexual relationship.
Based on the play Blackbird by David Harrower

More information

Coincidental chess…

Sometimes life just throws unexpected coincidences at you.

I finally got around to watching the fabulous 2014 New Zealand film The Dark Horse (better late than never right?), featuring Cliff Curtis as Genesis Potini, former chess champion and battler with mental health issues. The film follows his attempt to coach the local kids’ chess club The Eastern Knights, and get them to the national chess championships in Auckland.

No sooner had I watched this movie, then the very next day when working at Linwood Library, a young Māori boy invited me to play a game of chess with him. Having never played, I sat down with him and got a super fast education in what can move where and which piece beats all others.

Unsurprisingly I was beaten in no time flat. Perhaps I might need to nab a one of the many chess books we have for a crash course in how to play, or better yet try learning by doing, at one of the Chess clubs in Canterbury.

However, given the length of time it took me to see a movie about chess, I’m not holding my breath about learning to play anytime soon! Have you tried playing chess?

Cover of Chess and The Art of War Ancient Wisdom to Make You A Better Player Cover of The Batford book of chess from beginner to winner Cover of The chess player's bible Cover of Test your chess

Further information

40 years ago in a galaxy not far away…

On a Wednesday in 1977 a phenomenon began. That phenomenon was Star Wars.

Cover of The making of Star WarsReleased in only 32 cinemas in the US on 25 May of that year the sci-fi space opera broke all box-office records and changed the movie making business. Star Wars was one of the first films to generate “round the block queues” for screenings (the literal definition of a “blockbuster”).

George Lucas famously popped out for lunch with his wife on opening day, saw lines of people queuing outside Mann’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles, and only then realised he had a hit on his hands. He’d expected a flop. So much so that he had a bet with friend Steven Spielberg that Close Encounters of the Third Kind would beat Star Wars at the box office. And that’s why Spielberg still receives 2.5% of profits on the film.

At least some of Star Wars’ initial success was as a result of the canny work of marketing director Charles Lippincoat who, ahead of the film’s release, shopped the novelisation (ghost written by sci-fi author Alan Dean Foster) and Marvel tie-in comics at events like San Diego Comic-Con. This generated a buzz amongst sci-fi fans who were already primed by release date. This is now standard practice with genre films and franchises who put a lot of effort into creating hype ahead of release, but back in 1977 it was a “thinking outside the box” strategy.

Cover of The Ultimate Guide to Vintage Star Wars Action Figures 1977-1985Star Wars also invented movie merchandising. As you walk the aisles of your local toy store, the proliferation of movie tie-in toys and action figures is down to the phenomenal success of Star Wars in this area.

Merchandising was such a small part of the movie industry prior to Star Wars that, in 1973, before the film was made George Lucas exchanged $350,000 worth of directing salary for the merchandising rights and the rights to the sequels. Conventional wisdom at the time was that this was a good deal for 20th Century Fox. It eventually cost them billions.

Star Wars display - X-wing fighter
Just some of the sweet merchandising $$$ that Fox never got. Star Wars display at South Library, 15 May 2017. File reference: 2017-05-15-IMG_5174

And of the movie itself? Well, I’m a fan and have been for as long as I can remember. I cannot recall the first time I saw the film. In the late 70s and early 80s you simply absorbed Star Wars from the atmosphere. You fenced with lightsabers of rolled up Christmas gift wrap, you hummed the theme music, you played with your cousin’s X-wing fighter toy.

I love the film, even despite its many flaws – a not exactly diverse cast, sometimes creaky acting, the occasional alien proboscis that looked like it was made out of cardboard, plot holes that you could fly a Corellian freighter through – but to me it’s still a vastly enjoyable tale.

Cover of Flash GordonGeorge Lucas was inspired by the Flash Gordon type serials of his youth, the films of Akira Kurosawa, the special effects of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the “heroes journey” mythology of Frazer’s The golden bough. Star Wars is a cinematic melting pot of references and homages that distills them down to a classic “good vs evil” story. The kind that’s timeless in its appeal. Or at least I hope it is… because I’m planning on watching it for another 40 years.

Further information

James Gleick at WORD Christchurch: No spoilers for Time Travellers

James Gleick does not want to offend anyone.

The author of numerous books of a scientific bent is careful with his words and keen not to ruffle any feathers. It’s speculation on my part, but I wonder if his experience is that, on the topic of Time Travel, passions might sometimes become inflamed?

A curious full house gather at the Piano for this WORD Christchurch session featuring Gleick and fellow New Yorker Daniel Bernardi (erskine fellow, film and media studies scholar, science fiction expert and documentary filmmaker). They discuss the ins and outs, twists, turns and paradoxes of Time Travel. Before long there is, as is the new tradition when two educated Americans speak in the presence of non-Americans… a jocular swipe at the current US president.

James Gleick and Professor Daniel Bernardi
James Gleick and Professor Daniel Bernardi, Flickr File Reference: 2017-05-16-IMG_0194

Fortunately this science-loving audience is not in the least offended by the joke.

Cover of Time Travel by James GleickGleick’s book Time Travel: A history is an exploration of the literature, science and zeitgeist of Time Travel. It’s far-ranging, smart and brain-expanding.

But what made him want to write on that topic in the first place?

I discovered this weird fact – that Time Travel is a new idea. That didn’t make any sense to me.

Why did it take until H. G. Wells’s novel The Time Machine for people to explore that as an idea? It seems a few things came together: photography and cinema were showing people a slice of the past in the present; instantaneous communication was suddenly possible making the lack of temporal alignment in different places more obvious; and time standards became a thing for the first time. As Gleick puts it, “the way people thought about Time was up for grabs”.

Then Einstein came along and things got really interesting.

Though Einstein’s theories allowed for the possibility of a sort of Time Travel, Gleick is quick to point out that it’s not the punching-a-date-on-a-machine or opening-a-portal-to-another-era kind. It’s really just the acknowledgement that there is no universal time. Everyone’s experience of time is personal and given the right set of circumstances (speedlight travel, for instance) your version of time can slow down relative to everyone else’s. This means that the Time Travel stories of the “Rip Van Winkle” (or Futurama) kind become technically possible. But Gleick doesn’t believe the imaginary, sci-fi type Time Travel that continues to excite our imaginations exists, or that it will. Though he seems apologetic about it, as if he’s mindful of deflating the aspirations of wannabe Time Travellers in the audience.

On the enduring appeal of Time Travel in literature and popular culture, Gleick feels that it lets people explore many things about families and relationships – it gives you the ability for “a do-over”. Like the movie Groundhog Day. He points out that a lot of Time Travel stories are about fathers and mothers, families and parents.

Take Back to the Future – isn’t this really just a movie about looking at your parents and realising they were once young like me, and wondering “what was that like?”

This is far from the only reference to Time Travel in popular culture, and many in the audience probably come away from this talk with a reading/watching list that includes:

  • A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – indicative of pessimism about the future of “our benighted country”.
  • Doomsday book – H. G. Wells never wrote about going into the past but Connie Willis does.
  • “All you zombies” by Robert Heinlein – An early short story that became the movie Predestination and is an interesting example of The Grandfather Paradox.
  • Looper – Movie that nicely skirts over the paradoxical plot difficulties by having Bruce Willis tell his younger self “If we’re going to talk about Time Travel sh*t we’re gonna be sitting here making diagrams with straws all day”.
  • Interstellar – Bernardi’s pick as the film that best visualises the science of Time Travel.
  • The Planet of the Apes series – Bernardi’s favourite for its use of Time Travel to address issues of gender and race.
  • Arrival – A film that Gleick feels works very well in performing a “subtle trick” on the audience. All Time Travel stories have to do this but in this film you barely notice it happening.
  • Twelve Monkeys – Another Bruce Willis film that deals with a Time Travel loop and deals with a death.
  • “Blink” – Gleick’s favourite episode of Doctor Who, in particular a scene set in a spooky old house, “old houses are great time travel machines”. It’s also the first episode in which the phrase “timey-wimey” is used.
James Gleick
James Gleick: a man in want of some straws. Flickr File Reference: 2017-05-16-IMG_0198

Gleick is at great pains to try and describe these stories in a way that does not reveal any important plot twists. In the case of Planet of the Apes this is… is adorable the right word? The movie came out in 1968. But no spoilers!

Another appealing aspect to Time Travel is that it’s a way of escaping death. After all, (spoiler alert!) Time will kill us all in the end.

When we hear Time’s winged chariot it’s not delivering good news.

But what is Time (other than universally deadly)? Scientists may tell you that Time is the 4th dimension and that it’s similar to the other physical dimensions in that we inhabit one spot and the rest stretches out away from us, both backward and forward. This rather flies in the face of what Gleick says we know “in our guts” about Time i.e. that the past has happened and the future hasn’t.

It seems an oddly obvious statement to have to make, and Gleick says it’s not a scientific one but a religious one.

Some of the audience questions delve into this idea of religious thought versus Time Travel and at this point I get lost, draw a spiral in my notebook and label it “loop of confusion”. Questions like “is God in Time with us?” and “doesn’t an interventionist God imply that the future isn’t set?” do somewhat “screw my noodle”. Given the heady topic, it seems inevitable that I lose the thread of the discussion at some point in proceedings. Perhaps it always has, and always did happen?

Other questions posed include one from my colleague Fee (who wrote her own post about James Gleick) and wonders if the future is set, then what about premonition? Which Gleick says (gently) that he does not believe in, though it’s a powerful idea.

Another question asks how it is that Gleick can explain such scientifically complex stuff in ways that non-scientist folk can understand. He says simply that he’s a journalist so he asks lots of questions and that a big part of it is just getting scientists to talk you as they sometimes “live in their own abstruse world”.

I am lucky enough to get the last mic grab of the night and ask my own question (which if I could have a Time Travel do-over for, I would make slightly less waffley). It’s with reference to the way we think about Time in terms of spatial metaphor. In the Western world we conceive of the past as being behind us and the future in front of us but in Māori culture this is flipped around – the past is known and therefore visible before you and it’s the future that approaches you from behind. In the course of researching had he found any other cultures that view Time this way? Gleick replies that the language we use, the words that we use to describe Time really shape how we think about it and that in some Asian languages Time travels on an “up and down” axis or “right to left”.

And if I thought my noodle was screwed before it definitely is now. As I exit the theatre along with the rest of the audience I concentrate on travelling forward through space and backwards/forwards/vertically through time.

More information

The Dark Tower: A Constant Reader worries

Last week’s release of the trailer for Stephen King’s The Dark Tower movie just about broke the internet, with fevered and passionate discussion about just how right or wrong the director had got things. Widely recognised as the most important of King’s works, The Dark Tower series is a ridiculously huge tale, with nearly 4300 words in eight novels, written over the course of 30 years. Simply put, it’s the story of Roland, the last gunslinger, who is working his way to the Dark Tower to take down the Crimson King. He is pursued by the man in black.

As a longtime Constant Reader, I have spent much of my grown-up life reading and rereading Stephen King novels.  My bookshelves are full of scary clowns, weird alien invasions, alcoholic hotel caretakers and needful things. I own all the books, have seen all the movies, and have definite thoughts on best and worst novels. I’ve downloaded the reading maps, sought out the editorials, and even fallen in love with the works of his son Joe.

Every reader who has a favourite author can feel nervous when books are turned into movies.  And it must be said that King’s movie adaptations can vary wildly in success, from the heady heights of The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me, through the disturbing Misery, to the adorable but kind of dorky 1408, and the downright embarrassing Langoliers.

So you will understand when I say that I am not alone right now in feeling VERY nervous about the upcoming release of two of King’s most well-loved works. The trailer for It was released a few weeks ago, and in less than 3 minutes managed to scare the pants off most of the western world.  I have yet to watch it without covering my eyes every few seconds. And the Dark Tower trailer is mesmerising for different reasons. How can one movie even begin to show us a world that is described not only in the eight Tower books, but also appears in countless other of his tales, from The Talisman, to Insomnia, to Black House, The Stand and The Shining and more.

Cover of Black house Cover of The Stand Cover of The Talisman Cover of The Shining

There’s totally no time to go back and reread the whole series before the movie is out, and King has already told us that this particular story is not one of the original ones from the novels, but another of Roland’s journeys. So all I have to do now is sit, and wait, and like countless other Constant Readers, hope that this movie is at least good, and hopefully great, that Roland Deschain is a true gunslinger and that the man in black is every bit as dreadful and mesmerising as he is in the books.

And try to figure out if I will EVER be brave enough to watch IT.

Further reading

Warm up your winter with Cinema Italiano Festival NZ

Many dread winter — the cold, the wet, the short days. Me, I love it! To bandy around the latest fashionable word, winter brings us the opportunity for hygge writ large: cosying up indoors enjoying the simple pleasures of a hot drink and a good book or film.

And this year there is an additional reason to welcome June because, together with the icy tendrils of winter, it brings us the warmth and conviviality of the second edition of the Cinema Italiano Festival NZ.

Cinema Italiano logoThe brainchild of Kiwi-Italian actor, director and playwright Paolo Rotondo, the Festival redoubles the successes of its inaugural year with a fantastic selection of 20 features, ranging from traditional to comtemporary masterpieces.

So much so that, when I started selecting my top 3 picks, they somehow multiplied on me. I present you then (in random order because ranking them further is just too hard!) my top 9 suggestions.

Roman Holiday
The Spanish Steps, the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain! Breathtaking, stunning Rome is as much a star of this classic 1953 romantic comedy as Audrey Hepburn and the iconic Vespa scooter. Not coincidentally, Roman Holiday has been selected as the Opening Night film for the Festival.

Image of Rocco and His Brothers
Rocco e i Suoi Fratelli

Rocco e i Suoi Fratelli / Rocco and His Brothers
The epic tale of five brothers who migrate from the poverty of post-war Southern Italy to the wealthier industrial North, this is the other classic masterpiece of the Festival. Directed by Luchino Visconti and featuring Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale, Rocco and His Brothers promises to be a glorious experience in the new digital restoration by Martin Scorsese.

Non Essere Cattivo / Don’t Be Bad
Italy’s entry in the Foreign Language Oscars for 2015 is the perfect flip-side to Roman Holiday: an R-18 drama featuring two twenty-something “losers” living on the outskirts of Rome in the late 1980s. As the Festival booklet describes it, Don’t Be Bad is a “gritty, visceral, rollercoaster ride, but at its core […] a clever and deep exploration of friendship, hope and life”.

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Quo Vado?

Quo Vado? / Where Am I Going?
Quo Vado? delivers 90 minutes of laughs while skewering the Italian obsession of pursuing a cushy public service job-for-life. As the highest-grossing film in Italian cinema history, it’s a cultural phenomenon not to be missed.

Perfetti Sconosciuti / Perfect Strangers
Another huge hit in Italy. A group of friends get together one evening and agree for fun to let the others read and hear all the messages and phone calls they receive on their smartphones. What could possibly go wrong?

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Belli di Papà

Belli di Papà / Daddy’s Girl
As an Italian, I have to admit that there is some truth to the stereotype that many Italians are rather spoiled by their parents, at least by NZ standards. In fact I have known a fair few molly-coddled Italian men (I may even have one or two in my extended family, who I trust won’t be reading this…). So how could I resist watching “three ‘bamboccioni’ (big babies) […having…] to experience something they have never done before, work”?

Veloce come il Vento / Italian Race
This comedy drama won a swag of David di Donatello, the Italian Oscars. It tells the story of 17-year-old Giulia, who is trying to win the GT Championship, while dealing with the death of her father and the reappearance in her life of her drug addict brother Loris.

Image of La Stoffa dei Sogni
La Stoffa dei Sogni

La Stoffa dei Sogni / The Stuff of Dreams
A tale loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest which sees Camorra criminals and a theatrical company end up shipwrecked on a Mediterranean prison island. I was sold as soon as I spotted the setting: Asinara, an island off the north-western tip of Sardinia, which is now a nature reserve and home to albino donkeys.

Fuocoammare / Fire at Sea
The setting is another starkly beautiful Mediterranean island, but the tale this time is true and much grimmer. Fire at Sea documents the tragedies which take place day in and day out in Lampedusa, the southermost Italian island and the first port of arrival for thousands of refugees escaping conflict in North Africa and the Middle East. If that is not enough to convince you that you should watch Fire at Sea, it won Best Film at the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival and Best Documentary at the 2017 Academy Awards.

Image of Cinema Italiano

The Christchurch leg of the Festival runs from 14 to 25 June at the Academy Gold Cinema at The Colombo. We are very lucky to have a double pass to the opening night of the Festival to give away to our readers. This not only includes the screening of Roman Holiday but also a complimentary aperitif and appetizers.

To enter the competition email your contact details to competition@ccc.govt.nz with the subject line “Cinema Italiano Festival competition” by 5pm on Monday 5 June. (Sorry, staff of Christchurch City Libraries and Christchurch City Council are not eligible to enter). Good luck!

P.S. Want to attend several screenings? Members of the Società Dante Alighieri di Christchurch get discounted tickets.