There are some things which are assumed false memories or are just too plain weird or bizarre to acknowledge as being based in reality however I’ve started to really rack the old noggin to find some of the more strange creations which were present during my childhood and teen years. These things can be anything from old bands which slowly faded into obscurity, video games which you remember fondly however friends never had heard of them or even TV shows which seemingly never existed basically RAM.
Well I’ve landed back in New Zealand.. Godzone if you will and it’s funny because since being back here I’ve found myself trying to rehash old memories and relive the glory years by jostling through old photo albums with polaroids barely hanging on, images slowly blurring to the point of no return under the piles of yearbook photos, scorecards and other tidbits. Amongst all this I came across a photo of my parents in your typical Christchurch dive bar complete with carpets stained by a brown / yellowy hue because old butter fingers Baz couldn’t seem to keep the contents of his beer within his glass and in the background I saw the all to familiar pool table.
Now for the general public a pool table probably holds absolutely no significance within the general scheme of their life (it’s just a game isn’t it) however in mine those tables and that game was something more.. It was the staple weekend activity in which little old me and my brother would be parked up on a stool gazing through the boozey tobacco smoke fog with a bag of chips and raspberry cokes at whatever pub we were carted to as we watched this game of wits take place and we watched the masters at work. This is the part where I mention my old man was a semi-pro pool player and was regionally recognised as a man with great finesse as soon as he got hold of a cue, even now you can’t take the guy on without the threat of being forced to pull down your pants in the middle of a busy bar because you failed to sink in any balls, that’s the way rules went and there was never any arguments over that.
So why the back story well after seeing these photos it once again got the cogs turning in my head and I vividly remember watching a movie produced in New Zealand about pool which I was definitely way too young to be seeing with my parents and the reason why I remember this particular film so well was because my old man seemingly felt a greater connection to it than anyone else that film being ‘Stickmen’ which was released in 2001.
A film which I could only seemingly find in full on Youtube surprisingly with any other trace of it having disappeared or in the case of Amazon I found one DVD copy of it being sold for 68nzd which seemed bizarre considering this film did reasonably well overseas so what is the Kiwi movie all about?
The film opens with our three protagonists Thomas (Paolo Rotondo) , Wayne (Scott Wills) and Jack (Robbie Magasiva) within seconds already establishing each of their characteristics with Thomas being either amazing or absolutely terrible, Wayne fumbling through as best as he can and Jack being the set-up man which in its own right being able to achieve such character establishment so soon is masterful and this goes not only for their personalities but also the way they play pool. Soon we’re swiftly introduced to the narrator of this tale Holden (Kirk Torrance) or Detective Sgt Judd for anyone who watched Outrageous Fortune as he methodically gives the lowdown of New Zealand pub style rules being something not to be trifled with and as we move into the scene he spots our leads playing and exclaims to the local barman that these men are good enough to enter ‘Daddy’s Game’ an underground pool tournament run by a local crime boss featuring the best players in the Wellington area who are all eyeing up the grand prize of $20,000 nzd which is almost a laugh in this day and age but probably big money back in the day.
Promptly without question Thomas, Wayne and Jack enter under the name ‘The Stickmen’ and are embroiled into a tournament of epic proportions with colourful characters and even more colourful gameplay. The film is very reminiscent of the UK underground swindler Guy Ritchie esque films like Lock Stock and Snatch however with a unique Kiwi twist which seems to play off well within this style and adds to the general aesthetic of the story. The dialogue is sharp and the acting is superb with the leads really dominating the screen with their general charisma, it’s worth noting that it’s definitely a product of its time with some pretty questionable jabs but for the most part it’s a generally fun film with a lot of passion. Interestingly this was the one and still is the only feature length film that was produced by director Hamish Rothwell which even in that respect deserves a tip of the hat. All that being said if you’re a fan of Guy Ritchie and consider yourself a bit of a pool shark on the tables it’s definitely well worth checking out this hidden gem before it disappears into the ether.