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Under The Radar: A Kiwi Western And A Jazz Doc

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
April 23, 2012 3:21 PM
4 Comments
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Some movies open “wide,” on thousands of screens; others play in just a handful of theaters. And some films, lacking promotion or advertising budgets, simply materialize, with the hope that people will discover them On Demand, or cable, or DVD, like a sleeper from New Zealand I was lucky enough to see on the big screen at the 2011 Santa Barbara Film Festival.

Good for Nothing finally got a brief theatrical opening in March, which was barely covered by critics; fortunately, it is now available on DVD from Screen Media Films. The film is a spin on, and an homage to, spaghetti westerns, beautifully shot on stunning locations in New Zealand, though the setting is ostensibly the Old West, and the time period is never specified. It’s the story of a proper young woman from England who, having lost her father, travels by train to a distant outpost where she plans to join her uncle at his ranch. Instead, she is kidnaped by a taciturn but randy outlaw who seeks to have his way with her. Things don’t go as planned for either of them, to put it mildly.

When I chanced to see this cheerfully eccentric, well-made widescreen Western last year, I wrote, “Essentially a two-character piece, a big part of its impact comes from the contrast of two lone figures against a vast Western landscape."

At a q&a following the Sunday morning show, director Mike Wallis joined his leading man, Cohen Holloway, and leading lady Inge Rademeyer, who is also his fiancée and the film’s co-producer. They told a sold-out crowd how they pieced together this labor-of-love over the past three years, gathering props and costumes off the Internet and calling in favors right and left. Having worked as a runner at Peter Jackson’s WETA Digital around the time of The Lord of the Rings, Wallis was able to show his rough edit to a colleague who arranged for them to use Jackson’s post-production facilities. Another lucky break earned them the offer of an original score by renowned composer John Psathas, who recorded it with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Their can-do spirit put a smile on everyone’s face, all the more so having just encountered Rademeyer in character onscreen, quite different from the ebullient young kiwi happily discussing her adventure in getting the movie made. (She discouraged anyone from doing double duty as producer and actor---too distracting to the actor!)

Good for Nothing is the very definition of a sleeper, a film well worth discovering.

If you’ve ever listened to Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz on NPR you know what a versatile and talented musician she is, and you’ve witnessed her uncanny ability to bring out the best in her guests, and magically adapt to their musical styles when accompanying them or playing piano duets. A filmmaker named Huey set out to tell Marian’s life story, and chronicle the honors that have come her way in her 90s, in his entertaining and empathetic documentary In Good Time: The Piano Jazz of Marian McPartland. The DIY filmmaker has accomplished his goal and given us all a vivid portrait of this most unusual woman. The documentary has played a number of regional film festivals and Huey, who continues to tour with it, tells me the next scheduled screening is on May 12 "at the Kennedy Center as part of the Mary Lou Williams Women In Jazz Festival." That's followed by a showing on June 30 during the Rochester (N.Y.) Jazz Festival, where I’m sure it will find an appreciative audience.

British-born, classically-trained McPartland found her true calling in America, where she married trumpeter Jimmy McPartland, became steeped in his “Chicago school” of jazz, and earned a reputation during a lengthy stay at the Hickory House on Manhattan’s fabled jazz row, 52nd Street. Huey has found vintage footage of Jimmy and Marian together, along with other precious film and video clips to supplement his newly-shot footage of Marian in concert with such contemporaries as Dave Brubeck and Billy Taylor. Diana Krall, Elvis Costello, and other talented people who have come into her orbit appear in interviews and behind-the-scenes footage of the NPR radio show in production. If you’d like to learn more about In Good Time, or order a DVD, simply click HERE.

On a personal note, I feel lucky to have met Marian on several occasions. Back in the 1980s I covered several recording sessions of her radio show for Entertainment Tonight with such illustrious guests as Dudley Moore, Diane Schurr, and Ray Charles. I even summoned up the courage to play (briefly) with Marian, though I’m a rank amateur; this cemented my opinion that when she joins in she can make anybody sound good!

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4 Comments

  • Trevor | April 28, 2012 11:26 PMReply

    " Good For Nothing " opens here in New Zealand next week, I will probably go and see it :)

  • Barney's Frank | April 25, 2012 8:07 PMReply

    "On a personal note, I feel lucky to have met Marian on several occasions....." Always necessary to add the "personal note", eh, Leo? The primary focus of the "critic" is to let us know how "insider" he is, isn't it, and not just some flake who spent his whole life enamored by movies.

  • Brian | April 28, 2012 5:00 PM

    Which is probably a lot more than you've ever done in your life, Barney.

  • Tim Davis | April 23, 2012 5:42 PMReply

    I'm definitely going to check out "Good For Nothing". I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of weeks in New Zealand two years ago and took a "Lord of the Rings" site tour. If the scenery is comparable, then it would be worth the while for the background alone.
    Thanks for the tip, Leonard!

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