A roundup of the current best and rest in film and DVD. In this installment: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Get Smart, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Second-Hand Wedding, Charlie Bartlett (Film); Outrageous Fortune: Series Three (DVD).

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The Chronicles of Narnia:
Prince Caspian
(Andrew Adamson/2008)
The first film in Disney’s latest mega-series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, was a listless affair, where too much was attempted to be crammed in, and Adamson’s direction particularly flat. Adamson clearly has learnt a bit from the experience, and his follow-up, Prince Caspian – the fourth book in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series chronologically, and the second published – is a much leaner, and tauter film. The newest edition has toned down the religious overtones (perhaps explaining its poor box office returns), but it works better as a narrative – Adamson’s vision is darker, more morally relative, and he takes time with his story, even having the chutzpah to add an extra narrative element that adds a welcome boost of adrenaline. The Pevensie children are dragged back into Narnia, over a millennia since their previous extended visit. They find Narnia as they knew it in ruins, and Narnians forced to go into hiding following the invasion by the Telmarines. In-fighting by the Telmarines leads to despotic Miraz wresting power, and the rightful heir Caspian being forced into hiding and into the Pevensie’s path. Certain annoyances exist (the muzak score, a forced romance, a dull Caspian, and bad guys stereotyped as foreign Others) and audiences might miss Lewis’ memorable cast of secondary characters too (though it was clear Reepicheep was going to be a crowd-pleaser). However, Caspian is a big step up from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and a much better adaptation of Lewis’ beloved books. In Theatres Now.—Brannavan Gnanalingam

Get Smart (Peter Segal/2008)
It shouldn’t work – a retooled version of a 60s hit show swamped in nostalgia – but somehow, against the odds, Get Smart is a very funny, very amusing remake of an occasionally funny TV show. Steve Carell is Maxwell Smart, aka Agent 86, a wannabe spy whose desires to make it to the outside spyworld from his desk bound job as an intelligence gatherer. He’s good at his job and is really the office stooge, who spends all hours listening to Kaos spies and analyzing their every word. However, as it becomes clear that America and the US president (played by James Caan) are under threat after the theft of numerous nuclear war heads, Smart’s ascent to field work sees him catapulted into espionage as partner to Agent 99 (played with suitable panache and style by Anne Hathaway). The pair manage to channel both Don Adams and Barbara Feldon from the original series but at the same time put their own spin on a post 9/11 Max Smart and Agent 99. The plot may be wafer thin, but I simply couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear at Carell’s inspired deadpan lunacy, and the key to his success is how he underplays the character. I vaguely remember a pre-publicity interview where he discussed how director Segal (The Longest Yard, 50 First Dates, Anger Management) told him the best way to play the role would be to play it straight. Even so, he can’t do it on his own, and his supporting cast (with perhaps the exception of The Rock), which includes a brief cameo from Bill Murray, also shine on screen. One scene even pokes fun at George Bush’s pronunciation of ‘nuclear’. It’s a brief jab, but the script is peppered with such moments that even the obvious gags (Smart hangs off a plane banner which advertises a suicide helpline) manage to leave a goofy grin on your face. They say nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, but quite frankly, if it’s as funny as this remake, I don’t care. In Theatres Now.—Darren Bevan

Before the Devil
Knows You’re Dead
(Sidney Lumet/2007)
Sidney Lumet briefly rekindles the spark of the seventies in this vicious, if flagrantly overacted melodrama, an implosive crime sidebar on morality and greed. Whiny Ethan Hawke, and the always-temperamental Philip Seymour Hoffman – who lately, has become a model of self-parody – play brothers with a means to an end. Plotting to rob their parent’s suburban jewellery store – which invariably goes awry – their predicament quickly tailspins into histrionics, with only the quiet rage of Albert Finney to moderate the excessive volume. Deafening performances aside, the film’s series of unfortunate events are inescapably laid out, with Lumet reshuffling the dealt hand to drive home the raw fatalism. Less effective though is the shrill lighting and improbable denouement, two illustrations of Lumet’s tendency to overstate the case. Network’s satire is one such (forgivable) example, but unlike that film, and close relative Dog Day Afternoon, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead lacks the crisp, confrontational dialogue and devastating wit to consider itself of the same vintage. From the moment Hoffman makes rough love to Marisa Tomei, and declares his impossible South American dream, this Greek tragedy is a foregone conclusion. Out of habit, Lumet spends the rest of the film rubbing our face in it. In Theatres Now.—Tim Wong

Second-Hand Wedding (Paul Murphy/2008)
Second-Hand Wedding is a charming little film which puts a smile on your face and keeps it there. New Zealand filmmakers pride themselves on portraying a kiwi slice of life, utilising the beautiful landscape and employing a uniquely kiwi sense of humour. This style of filmmaking distinguishes our films from the rest of world and installs a sense of national pride and belonging within the audience. Second-Hand Wedding accomplishes all this and more with a refreshingly fun, up-beat story and honest characters that most audiences could relate to. Directed by Paul Murphy, there is a definite sense of nostalgia, the moment that Jill Rose’s little yellow mini races through the suburban streets and along the Kapiti coast, kiwi audiences everywhere will smile at the reference to Paul’s father, Geoff Murphy’s seminal Goodbye Pork Pie. By the end of the film there is no doubt that Paul Murphy has inherited his father’s ability to entertain an audience. Jill, played with great warmth and humor by Geraldine Brophy, is well known in Kapiti as the top garage sale expert. With best friend Muffy (Tina Regtien), she paws through nick-nacks in search for the bargains and gleefully haggles with the rather bewildered sellers. After spending her morning trawling, Jill goes home to her husband Brian, played by Patrick Wilson who gives a touching and understated performance as the stable influence within the family. Meanwhile Stew, a local mechanic, has just proposed to Cheryl but, afraid that her mother Jill is going to turn her wedding into a bargain basement display, Cheryl holds off on telling her. When Jill finally finds out about the engagement through a rival colleague at work, she is devastated and refuses to take part in the wedding. Second-Hand Wedding is an incredibly positive film, whilst at times it risks the danger of becoming sappy and cliché, it manages to pull through due to the excellent performances, particularly that of Geraldine Brophy who puts her heart and soul into the role. Although it may have the more cynical cinema goer rolling their eyes at times, it’s a refreshing change of pace to the onslaught of big budget Hollywood fare. In Theatres Now.—Maddie Grady

Charlie Bartlett (Jon Poll/2007)
Robert Downey Jr is the man of the moment – his laconic turn in Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang sent him back into the stratosphere of acting and confirmed that despite his battles with his own demons, he’s still a talent to watch. Indeed, his role in Iron Man cemented his stature, and in Charlie Bartlett, while he’s only one of the supporting players, he simply blows everyone off the screen. Anton Yelchin plays Charlie Bartlett. When we first meet him, he’s being expelled from school for producing fake IDs. His mum (Hope Davis) simply sighs and signs up immediately for another school, run by Downey’s Principal Gardner. Singled out as a target of the bully brigade, it’s at this point you feel you’ve seen it all before. Director Poll though quickly pulls the rug from under us and changes all expectations. Bartlett can’t survive in the new school, being anonymous and definitely not the centre of attention. So he cleverly works out how to score prescription drugs for fake illnesses and begins a lavatory-based psychiatrist’s office, distributing drugs to students who need them, and playing up to the American ideal that the only way to survive high school is to get high. Sardonic humour is rife, and despite occasionally playing to the usual high school routines – Bartlett begins dating the principal’s daughter against his wishes – the film feels fresh, funny and darkly comic. One scene involving a drunk Downey Jr, Yelchin, and a loaded gun can’t help but make you feel nervous for both characters whom you’ve come to know and love. Charlie Bartlett covers every adolescent concern – parents, peer pressure, popularity, drugs, sex, college and self-esteem – but the sense of glee you leave with is an alien feeling, and will have you wishing you’d spent your formative years with both Bartlett and co. In Theatres July 24.—Darren Bevan

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Outrageous Fortune: Series Three (Roadshow, $39.95)
The third season of this instant Kiwi classic keeps the momentum going, as the ragamuffin West family continues to eke out a simple working class existence whilst dodging and courting strife, as necessary. Cheryl, the matriarch, is straining to keep everyone on the straight and narrow, now that disaster-zone Wolf is tucked safely away in Paremoremo and she’s given the opportunity to turn over a new leaf. She’s shacked up with Wayne, the perennially decent Cop who put Wolf away, until he becomes the victim of his Detective ex-wife’s malicious vendetta – she’s fuming about being jilted for the women responsible for the spawning biggest family of crims west of Hobsonville. The season also traces the various highs and at times crippling lows of the kids’ respective love lives, most notably Van and Aurora’s engagement, which tragically falters at the last hurdle. The series is unique in the canon of New Zealand television, in terms of the fact that it’s become instantly successful both here and overseas (so successful that it’s rumoured that the concept’s about to be franchised in Ireland and elsewhere), but also in terms of the fact that it’s good. While at times some of the stories feel slightly contrived, and some of the dramatic and comedic conventions applied seem a bit hackneyed, you can put that aside on the basis that most of us are probably willing to accept a smidgen of melodrama, it’s just more obvious, and difficult to do so, when a show is handicapped by the cultural cringe that any New Zilind production is inherently encumbered with. The biggest criticism you could make would involve a comparison to Shortland Street, and there are broad similarities, except for the fact that this show has good acting, better writing, and higher production values; in other words it’s the Shortland Street that you can and should legitimately enjoy. New to DVD. (22 episodes; Series Three Promo, Loretta’s blog, Photo Gallery).—Adrian Wilson