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Film Festival Day 13: Wednesday, 08/08/2012

I think the key predictor for whether a daytime film is going to generate long lines is it’s appeal to retirees. I’d expect a new Miyazaki to bring out the crowds, but while there was a respectable turnout, it was not the crush that Farewell My Queen generated. This is an important factor for how long a lie-in I can have, which is obviously the most important part of the Festival.

Film #62: From Up On Poppy Hill

This was a typically mild Miyazaki film, with no real villains (except, perhaps, the never-seen Board who wants to tear down the student’s dilapidated clubhouse), beautifully painted backdrops, and good natured, dutiful people. There’s no situations that could really be called “tense”, but I enjoyed it, and could easily watch it again.

Film #63: Song of the Kauri

This was a good documentary – it had a message without being preachy, showed what has been done and what can be done, and had a lot of interesting and engaging information and characters. It sounds like there’s a lot of cool material there, and I hope that more footage comes out of it.

I should mention that I wouldn’t be able to pick a good instrument from an excellent one (any more than I’m interested in super-high fidelity sound systems); good enough is enough for me. But the enthusiasm of the musicians, that’s something I’m interested in. I guess there’s something similar to my enthusiasm for dance documentaries, despite my lack of interest in dance.

I hope that this is seen by a bunch of important people, and that sustainable, well-managed kauri plantations spring up.

Film #64: V/H/S

This anthology had plenty of gore, which I find gross but not frightening, and jump-scares, which I’m certainly susceptible to. But it also had a fair number of unexpected twists, which I appreciated; and I liked that they did digital stuff (in the form of a series of skype-like chats) as well as VHS. The framing story was probably the weakest, which is a shame, because it had to carry so much.

I don’t think I’ll watch it again, but thought it was pretty good.

Film #65: The Red House

I’m not sure how to talk about this film. I approached it as a documentary, and it wasn’t, although it had elements of it. As a feature film it was oddly structured, with weird bits poking out – the fact it featured the film-maker’s parents as a couple, and used bits of dialogue that they’ve said at one time or another probably contributes to the sense of reality, and oddness. It wasn’t a film that I intend to buy, but I’m not sorry that I saw it.

* * *

I was going to see Photographic Memory, but I stayed for the Q&A for The Red House (which was a little disappointing, actually), not realising how late it was – and then I had missed the first quarter-hour of the film, and decided that I’d just go home. And since I met C on the bus, and got to have dinner with her at home, I feel like I made the right decision.

Film Festival Day 12: Tuesday, 07/08/2012

Perhaps it’s just my expectations about how much a small pot/takeaway cup of tea should cost that is out of step with current realities – Te Papa charges $3.80, so maybe $4 at Embassy isn’t as out-of-line as I thought. But how can it only be 20c more than a coffee, which requires all that faff? It certainly makes me appreciate the work kitchen more.

Film #57: Death Row: Portrait of Joseph Garcia & George Rivas

One of the interesting differences between this film and the others in the series is that one of the people interviewed seemed remorseful, even though he was still making excuses for himself. The situation that he describes is a bit ridiculous – Texas apparently counts each seperate person in the store as a separate robbery, and anyone who is moved once they’re taken hostage counts as a kidnapping charge. So for a single robbery (with a firearm, but no injuries), George Rivas was charged with 18 consecutive life sentences, meaning that he would be elegible for parole in 270 years. While I’m not sure that he understood how much trauma there is for people who are robbed, this does seem out of proportion to the offence. He claimed that it was this lack of hope that led him to organize a prison break with a group of inmates that he felt were similar.

Unfortunately, they followed this escape with a string of robberies, and shot a policeman to death in the aftermath of robbing a sporting-goods store. This was the crime that Rivas and his accomplices were on death row for. Rivas seemed resigned to his fate – he had been given additional life sentences for every person tied up in the course of his escape, and thought that the fact that he had embarassed state authorities meant that a pardon was impossible.

The other prisoner, Joseph Garcia, seemed unable to understand that you can’t claim “self defence” if you’ve had to chase after the other person to stab them to death, even if they’ve beaten you up and stolen your car keys. But he wasn’t on death row for that; he was there for being in the store, tying people up when the policeman was shot. He didn’t seem to be a nice, responsible citizen; but this doesn’t seem like a case where the punishment fits the crime, either.

Take-home message – avoid Texas as well as Memphis.

Film #58: Karen Blixen – Behind Her Mask

I felt a bit adrift in this film, like the film-maker expected me to know many things that I didn’t know, and have various beliefs that I neither had nor fully understood. I gathered from the film that Blixen was a big deal in literature, but I had no idea why, nor what sort of things she wrote about (Out of Africa & Babette’s Feast being two that I had heard of, though I wouldn’t be able to tell you anything about them beyond what’s on her Wikipedia page). There was a strong sense of both cult and occult, with various figures acting as spiritual advisors, along with the virulent antipathy that seems to spring up between self-styled adepts. It felt like there might be material here for an interesting game – Esoterrorists, perhaps, though the first one I thought of was Nephilim. I think the theatre might have been a bit too warm, as I found myself drifting off a bit.

If I were going to use it as source material, or if I read up about Karen Blixen and got interested, then I might watch it again – though there’s little connection between her wikipedia entry and the person depicted in the film. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to someone coming in cold.

(There were interesting things happening between the interviewer and subject, who were father and son; but I’m not sure that’s a good enough reason to see the film.)

Film #59: 5 Broken Cameras

Another take on the Israeli colonization of the Occupied Territories, this time by one of the villagers whose lands have been annexed by the Israeli army. There is lots of non-violent protest (though there seems to be a lot of thrown rocks, particularly against vehicles), and there are a number of times when they show that there are different standards for settlers from Palestinians – the settlers can put down prefabs and claim land, while the Palestinian prefabs get trucked away. The courts even ruled that the confiscation and construction was illegal… but it continued anyway, and settlers moved in. The five cameras refer to cameras destroyed while documenting the occupation – Israelis seem to like to shoot them.

Where are all these settlers coming from, anyway? It’s not like they’re building suburban housing – it’s all fairly intensive, medium-rise apartments. And what are all these people doing once they’re out there? I didn’t see any evidence of industry – are they just hunkering down, trying to normalize the land confiscation by sitting in their rooms and selling each other services? And who is paying for all this construction?

While Israelis who live in the Occupied Territories are allowed to vote in Israeli elections, I can’t see how the situation will be resolved; unless the global recession dries up the money supporting the settlers (since I very much doubt that they’re profitable). But it should be noted that this film was edited together with the help of an experienced Israeli film-maker, and funded in part by various Israeli film funding institutions. That he is still willing to work with Israelis is, I think, a good sign.

Film #60: Lore

Set while the Allies tanks are carving Germany into administrative chunks, a group of children of a mid-level Nazi official must travel through the countryside and across the new borders, to get to their grandmother’s house.

There’s a good sense of danger, and we get the feeling that Lore slowly grows to suspect that her comfortable certainties might be wrong. The adults, on the other hand, are in full-on denial mode, claiming that the pictures of the concentration camps must be actors, or the same pit of bodies photographed from different angles, complaining about having to look at these pictures in order to get food.

I’m not sure that saying I “enjoyed” it is quite right, but I did think that it was a good film.

Film #61: Stopped On Track

Continuing my depressing German movie streak was this film about a father diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour who has two or three months to live. He has a son who’s something like eight, and a daughter in her early teens; everyone reacts realistically, with the kids being sulky when they’re pulled away from a treat by the father’s illness, and the wife finding it hard to cope with a progressively less capable husband. I thought it was good.

An inevitable consequence of watching this kind of film is thinking about how you’d handle it if it happened to you. Personally, I find the idea of your mental powers degrading much scarier than just dying; and it makes me realise that it’s probably harder to be the one who isn’t dying, since you’re meant to hold things together, and have to deal with the aftermath of things as well. I’d like to think I’d deal with it gracefully, but on the whole, I think I’d prefer not to find out.

Film Festival Day 11: Monday, 06/08/2012

Does it make sense to buy a chaise lounge? Does it make sense to consider buying a larger home so that I would have a big enough library that a chaise lounge would be a sensible piece of furniture? Is it possible to build a library that big? (I may have availed myself of the Embassy’s chaise lounge at some point.)

Film #52: Monsieur Lazhar

The short before, Lambs, was well shot, and had plenty of good performances; but the story, “teen has to decide whether to continue to stick around and protect his siblings from the gang life that surrounds them, or head off to stay with his mate in the promised land of Auckland”, didn’t feel like it told me anything new, if you know what I mean.

On the other hand, I enjoyed Monsieur Lazhar immensely. The kids were really good, and the teachers seemed likeable and real. I wanted things to end up better than they did, emotionally, but it’s probably a better film because they didn’t. There’s a little hint of “the old ways of teaching were better”, with the main character using the old terms for grammar, using Balzac for dictation and changing the desks from a comradely semi-circle to regimented rows; but he also seems to listen to them, and is genuinely concerned. There’s also some remarks made about the strict rules banning teachers from touching students – the gym teacher talks about having to handle them like toxic waste. It makes me wonder what weird things we might be setting up by making “no touching” so important.

Anyway, the kids were cute, the performances good, and I enjoyed it.

Film #53: Existence


I am really glad that this got made, and thought that they worked around their budget constraints really creatively, and that it looked really good.


I don’t think that I agree with how they hose to write the dialogue. It was quite formal, and didn’t feel like it fitted with the situation that the people were in. In fact, I think it would have worked a lot better, at least for me, if they had swapped things around – if they had made the main group of actors speak in dialect, and the antagonists speak (just as formally) in English. They wouldn’t have had to change a word, in essence – the dialect/translation would have distanced things enough that the formality wouldn’t have seemed as odd as it did, and would have played up the immigrant status of the people outside the fence.

It also felt a little slow; I think that this was a deliberate choice, but again, it distanced me from the film.

There was a lot to like about this film, and I hope more get made. But I wish I liked it more.

Film #54: Dreams of a Life

The short, Long Distance, was excellent; a young man rings home for Christmas, and… hmm. I’ll see if I can find a copy top point you at.

The feature was sad; very sad, as you’d expect from the story of the life of a woman who died in her flat, and was found three years later by the council, the TV still going. (The part of me that whistles past the graveyard wonders about the brand of the television.)

One of the reasons that the film is interesting, of course, is that the woman who died wasn’t a recluse – she was relatively young, with many boyfriends and an active social life. She had aspirations as a singer (though there are conflicting stories about how realistic those were), and met various famous people, including Nelson Mandela.

But she apparently lived her life in a way that let her slip away whenever she felt she had to – she didn’t keep in contact with her sisters, and her friends were whoever her boyfriends’ friends were; and she’d been changing jobs for a while, falling from financial/office work to cleaning (while trying to maintain her image to those who knew her). I guess I usually think of downward mobility as being something that happens to families, but that’s a bit daft of me – of course it can just as easily happen to individuals.

It also seems like there were weird race things going on, including a weird “acting posh” == “acting white”, which is all kinds of weird when you think about it.

Anyway, while some of the re-enactments were a bit manipulative for my tastes, I thought it was good.

Film #55: Animation Now 2012

I was delighted when there were almost no “swirling painted colours to the sound of free jazz” pieces this year. Indeed, there were some quite impressive shorts, such as the NZ-made Abiogenesis. I enjoyed Mulvar is the Correct Candidate, though it was fairly light; Swarming, though well done, was a bit too body horror for me. Yonalure: Moment to Moment made me think of animism, and Nobilis; En Parties made me worried for a woman rendered in primary colours and broad cubist strokes. Belly was weird and nifty, Moxiewas the sort of thing that would have turned up in the old Sick & Twisted compilations, Wild Life onwas a neat historically-inspired short about an Englishman on the Canadian prairie at the time of Haley’s comet, and The Lumberjack was a sad tale of madness. Lots of things worth seeing.

Film #56: Sleepless Night

Well, I didn’t have to worry about caffeine to keep me awake for this one. It started with a car chase through Paris (using the trick of keeping the camera low to the ground, as seen in this famous footage), and went on from there. The way that they dealt with injury reminded me of Die Hard – you were in no doubt that people were in pain, even as they kept on going. A very enjoyable action crime film.

Film Festival Day 10: Sunday, 05/08/2012

There’s a point where, if you happen to be eating a chocolate bar in a movie, and you feel a bit fall off, you’ve just got to resign yourself to the consequences, since they’re going to be bad, no matter how thoroughly you try to surreptitiously try to brush yourself off. Just, you know, something that occurred to me for no reason. 😉

Film #47: Side By Side

It was interesting and weird to see stuff that I’ve lived through in a documentary. We’re still in the process of trying to work out how to deal with the huge volume of data that film-makers can generate, now that they aren’t restricted to working in 10 minute bursts, and now that they’re generating twice as many frames that are more than twice as big (for 4k/5k shot in stereo).

But I’m a little annoyed that the film didn’t challenge some of the more ridiculous statements – that the explosion of film-making is somehow a bad thing, which arguments that sound as if society would somehow have been better off if that pesky printing press hadn’t democratized words. Why, the monks worked on vellum, not cheap paper – think of the archival consequences! And without the abbots as taste-makers, no-one will ever be able to find anything worth reading ever again! No, the magic of being able to envision how the page will look after it is written and the difficulty in fixing any mistakes force you to really think about what you’re copying, and result in occasional happy accidents that are much more important than being able to print off a test sheet and check for errors!

Having a fetish for celluloid is all very well, but some of the justifications are a bit ridiculous. On the other hand, we might end up in a similar situation to winemakers – everyone is used to the taste from the wood that you used to have to make & store wine in, so people add wood chips to the stainless-steel vats that they use. In a similar way, we may see people continuing to add grain, just because it’s always been there. Of course, we might also see film grain go the way of the cork-made-of-cork – in other words, with an initial stigma, followed by widespread acceptance by the general public.

Anyway, an interesting film – shot, incidentally, digitally.

Film #48: Step Up To The Plate

A son is taking over an important French restaurant from his father. They are both focused perfectionists, and are occasionally a little prickly towards each other, but seem to have mutual respect; to me, the father’s affection for his son only really came out when he was talking to the mother. The scenes where they are cooking or working out new dishes were really interesting; the lingering landscapes put me to sleep. Basically, it was okay, but towards the end, I found it too slow.

Film #49: The Ambassador

This was a little crazy. Financed by the Danish Film Institute, a reporter constructed a businessman persona, and went about buying the position of honorary consul from Liberia, and pretend to be setting up a match-making factory in the Central African Republic, while organizing to buy blood diamonds (which he would be able to transport in his diplomatic luggage). It was not smooth sailing, exactly, but it showed that anyone with a bit of a bankroll and doggedness could quite easily buy their way into trading on diplomatic privileges. I knew that the film-maker was present to speak, but from some of the things he said in the film, I thought that he was going way too far.

I was surprised at how many people he got to talk to him, but I guess that they thought that a reporter wouldn’t have the money to spend on bribes in the same way, and in the Q&A he mentioned (a little sadly) that they had drawn up a business plan for the fake match factory, and it would have been very profitable… if it wasn’t for the corruption. He mentioned that he sold the diamonds that he got as part of his investigation within the CAR, and gave the money to the pygmies he’d hired as workers; they’d bought the gear to make matches by hand, but he didn’t think it would go anywhere.

He also talked about how involved the French government is (still!) in making sure that the country stays weak, corrupt, and haemorrhaging resources that are easily transformed into cash into various clandestine French organisations. It’s kind of crazy to think of that stuff still going on, but it’s certainly true that there’s still a 400-strong Foreign Legion force, well equipped with modern weaponry, encamped near the airport; they would almost certainly eliminate the 2000-strong CAR army (who are poorly trained and armed with Kalashnikovs).

A scary film, but good.

Film #50: Pictures of Susan

This was a good film of a sad story. One of the things I found weird, though, was that I didn’t get a strong feeling of story happening during the film, even though it was filmed over four years. Instead, it felt more like we were seeing how things are now, and how they happened. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it, and wished that I didn’t have to scoot out and charge across town to Te Papa.

Film #51: In Another Country

The audience was happy to laugh at this, and having the actors communicate cross-culturally in English was, I think, a good idea; but bits of it felt clumsy (including the cinematography), and the subtitles were plain white, which meant they often disappeared against light backgrounds. Having the girl running the guest house writing in her journal to quickly set up each of the three scenarios was an acceptable device, but they didn’t do anything interesting with it, and she seemed to know some details that she was not present for. If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve probably blown off this film, and stayed for the previous Q&A session instead.

Film Festival Day 9: Saturday, 04/08/2012

Because I had a couple of big breaks yesterday, I managed to spend some money at Arty Bees – a slim volume of Devonshire folklore, “Monstrous Regiment” (on the male impersonator and army officer who shocked people after WWI), a Victorian murder mystery and one or two other bits and pieces. Frustratingly, there seemed to be a lot of cases with their new stock where they didn’t have the first book in various series; I prefer not to jump into the middle, if I can avoid it.

Film #41: Toons For Tots

It was a real pleasure to watch this with my niece; however, I don’t think that the films in this collection were as strong as the ones in Animation For Kids. I still want to re-watch a few of the shorts from the later, whereas none of the shorts in this compilation really caught my eye. I mean, they were fine – the wee cloud who went around trying to help people, the orange who wants to dance with the pineapples, the farm where everything is swelling up like balloons – but none of them were neat like the lightbulb or teeth ones.

My niece was very well behaved, and seemed to enjoy herself; I’d happily take her to something again.

Film #42: Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present

I don’t think I would have enjoyed her previous performance art – while I can see that it’s art, and I think it’s probably worthwhile, I’m not sure I’d volunteer to witness it. This is an artist who has slammed herself into walls, cut herself with razorblades, and stood unreacting while people interacted using a selection of objects provided (which included roses, whips, and a gun). I think I found the performances where she involved the audience to be the most interesting, as well as the most frightening – one of the interviewees claimed that veneer of civilization is very thin, but I’d argue that there’s a social expectation being set up in a performance space that makes it more dangerous. What I mean is – when you are in a kitchen with someone, there are knives; but when you’re in a performance space, told that you can interact with the artist, and have a knife in an array of things in front of you, this implies how you’re expected to interact with the knife, I think.

Anyway, the actual show was kind of neat – people sit opposite the artist, and they look at each other. Some people seemed to want to use it as a way to get attention for themselves, but others seemed genuinely excited about the idea: apparently, there were more than 750k visitors during the three months it ran. I’m not sure that I would have gone to this exhibition if I’d been around when it was running, and there was a certain hysteria or hero-worship in the crowd; but I’m glad that it happened, and I quite enjoyed the film.

Film #43: Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey

This was a documentary on a Northern Irish politician who entered Parliament as an MP for Central Ulster when she was 21 during the 1970s, went to jail for inciting a riot at the beginning of her second term, and punched the Home Secretary for claiming in the House that all the killings during Bloody Sunday were in self-defence. A strong character, and she came across as an uncompromising one, though she also seemed to have retained a sense of humour. She seemed a worthwhile person, and I’m glad I went to the film.

Film #44: Call Me Kuchu

This documentary showed the situation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people in Uganda, talking about the law that was proposed to put them to death, and the sustained campaign in popular papers and from churches (backed by evangelical preachers from the main front of the Culture Wars, the US). What boggles the mind is how violent the opposition is – why is this group scarier than, say, different creeds? After all, there’s a lot more evidence that those recruit people, especially young people – why not go after Baptists, or Quakers,or Muslims with equal fervour? Actually, to be fair, I don’t know that they don’t. Er, if “fair” is the right word.

I don’t know how this could be resolved. Almost all the points they make (that it’s unnatural, that they rape children, that they will bring the punishment of Sodom, whatever) can be countered (it happens in nature, raping children is already a crime, San Francisco seems to be doing okay, etc); but you can’t reason a person out of a position that they haven’t reached by reason, and, “God says so, because the translation I picked of the bit I picked says so,” isn’t very susceptible to argument either.

I hope that the situation in Africa gets a happy ending; but I very much doubt it.

Film #45: Neighbouring Sounds

This is a weird one to review. It was disjointed, with lots of different threads, things happening that were never explained and didn’t go anywhere (like a car crash, or a woman who was having a TV delivered demanding that the box be put on it’s side), and a few vivid dream sequences. But nothing felt like it didn’t make sense, and it didn’t feel unsatisfying; on the contrary, I enjoyed it.

Film #46: Killer Joe

The short, Hitch-Hike, wasn’t bad – kid hitch-hikes from Wellington into the country to find his Mum, gets a ride from a Maori guy with various racist tattoos, Mum refuses to deal with him, he nearly gets run over by the Maori guy, gets a ride to the bus stop. The only thing that rang slightly false was the driver explaining why he got the tattoos – it seemed a little too self-aware, or direct, or something? Like, the explanation was fine, but it felt a little too on the nose. But it was more a “huh” than a “oh no” moment, if that makes sense?

Anyway, as to the main feature – you know the manic pixie dream girl? Well, slather on a generous helping of small-town Texas, replace the sad hipster loser with a cold-blooded cop that murders people for money, and make it so no-one is essentially changed or redeemed… oh, and add plenty of vicious violence, betrayal, and sex, along with a leavening of dark humour, and you’ll have something like Killer Joe. Some horrible things happen, but some clever things, too. I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it to many people.

Film Festival Day 8: Friday, 03/08/2012

Yesterday was the day that the only enemy vessel ever to be seized by New Zealand was captured – the Pamir. This is important to me because it was the ship my father’s father was on – if it hadn’t been captured, who knows whether my grandfather would have settled in Wellington?

Film #37: Barbara

One of the major things I noticed? It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between the Communist past, and somewhere that’s simply run-down. It took me a while before realising/remembering that this film was set in East Germany, which made some things make a lot more sense. They conveyed the sense of everyone watching everyone well, and how invasive the state was allowed to be; but the pace was very measured, which meant I drifted a bit towards the end, despite being fortified by a strong cup of tea. I enjoyed it, but didn’t think it was outstanding.

Film #38: Searching For Sugarman

This was a fun, interesting, and generally uplifting film. I enjoyed the music, and enjoyed the personalities that were shown – and a happy ending doesn’t hurt. Watch it without Googling for maximum enjoyment.

But it touched on a pet peeve of mine, so that’s what I’m going to rant about now. Copyright law has been extended to a ridiculous number of years after the artist’s death, giving them an artificial monopoly in order to support them while they create more music. (How much new work even the most talented artists create after their death is not entirely clear, but that’s a different rant.) But whoever it was that got the money for 25 years of album sales, it definitely wasn’t the artist. And unless he’s willing to pour the money that he’s gotten from touring into the pockets of lawyers, there’s not much chance that he’ll ever see it, either.

I guess that’s less an argument against copyright law, and more a complaint about copyright law enforcement, and that the people arguing for copyright extension seem more interested in collecting money than disbursing it.

Film #39: The Taste of Money

This film doesn’t just want to chew the scenery, it wants to attack it with an axe. It is very melodramatic, a greed and lust for power salad with a light garnish of regular lust… er… croutons? I’m afraid my metaphor might have gotten away from me. Anyway, the main European actor was a bit poor, which was weird, given how much money it looked like had been poured into the rest of the film. It was satisfyingly bombastic, but I’m not sure it would be worth a second viewing.

Film #40: The Sunlit Path

A Mongolian man does something that he feels is unforgivable, and starts walking through the Mongolian desert; an old man joins him, and gets him to open up. I learned that you’re meant to tie a bit of wool to your milk tooth, and throw it over your tent, shouting, “Mr Sun! Mr Sun! Take this brown dog-tooth, and give me a conch-white tooth!”

I was worried – it was my last film, it was at the Film Archive, and I hadn’t had enough caffeine to guarantee that I would stay awake. As it turned out, it wasn’t too bad; but as I suspected, there were a lot of shots where we lingered a lot longer than would be traditional in a Western film. I wonder how much of this is deliberate stylistic choice, how much is a different film tradition, and how much is simply not knowing? I also noticed a few places where I realised that I was expecting foley-work – for example, a fight in the distance where I could see the punches, but they looked fake because we could hear the dialogue but not the impacts.

The film was all right, but the story was not that compelling, and I have no desire to watch it again.

Film Festival Day 7: Thursday, 02/08/2012

Would it be more expensive to be such a regular at a pub that the staff know you, than becoming a familiar sight to the Film Festival people? A bunch of the ushers don’t bother to direct me to my seat any more, they just wave me through. It’s a little sad that you can’t have the same relationship with on-line retailers – there’s not going to be anyone at SmokeCDs going, “Huh, I guess he’s listening to northern soul now.” Actually, never mind, that would be a bit creepy..

Film #31: First Position

I feel about ballet the same way I feel about rap batles – I recognise that it takes talent and dedication, I sometimes enjoy it (especially when it’s used in other contexts), but I’m not particularly invested in it.

But this was a fun movie to watch, in exactly the same way that Spellbound was fun… though perhaps the kids were not quite as varied as the Spellbound crowd. This might be because ballet demands a certain kind of focus, and the stakes are higher (since no-one in a spelling contest has dreams of “going pro”), and demands more “performance”; you’re not going to have kids being awkward and talking with robot voices. Regardless, I’ll certainly be recommending it to the people I know who like dance, and I wouldn’t mind sitting through it again.

Film #32: Nana

The little girl is incredibly cute, and the daily details of life are interesting; whether the girl’s cuteness can carry the film through long shots where nothing happens is… well, for me, yes, it does, but only just. Someone mentioned that it had been described as feeling longer than it was; I would certainly agree with that.

Film #33: Angel’s Share

Because of the violence in the beginning of the film, I kept on waiting for the caper to go horribly wrong, and the bodies to start piling up. However, it turned out that this wasn’t that sort of movie; instead, it was more of a comedy. But it was a palpable relief when the credits rolled without any Guy Ritchie hyperviolence being perpetrated. I suppose that this is one of the risks of trying to avoid over-studying films before seeing them.

It had some fine gross-out comedy, and some elements that are sadly unusual (such as a female member of the “gang” who was not a romantic interest of any sort). I enjoyed it.

Film #34: Rampart

A deconstruction of the myth of the righteous cop who uses justifiable violence outside the law, and the alpha male who sleeps with lots of women, protects his ex-wives and daughters, and knows all the answers. Some of it was a little heavy-handed – the fall-out from the killing that gave him his nickname, for example. But I still found it an enjoyable film.

As an aside – though there’s nothing wrong with her performance, the cameos that she’s done makes it hard for me to see Sigourney Weaver as anyone other than herself playing a role, if that makes any sense? Sort of like William Shatner.

Film #35: Death Row Portraits: James Barnes & Linda Anita Carty

This focused n admitted serial killer (who seemed like a reasonable person to have a chat with, until you listened to some of the things he was admitting to), and a woman alleged to have organized the kidnapping of a woman in order to steal her baby.

The serial killer admitted to two more killings to the documentary-maker; Herzog wonders whether it is an attempt to delay his death sentence with extra litigation. One of the reasons he was scary was how reasonable he sounded.

The woman was scary in a different way. Judging a person’s guilt or innocence based on a documentary is a mug’s game, but calling yourself a DEA agent when you’re actually an informant (according to her own lawyer) is certainly indicative of a person who’s willing to bend the truth to suit her agenda; and telling a story which fits with what she wants to be true, rather than what is true, is basically what she’s accused of. I also don’t understand how the frame that she claims took place was meant to have worked, though I also don’t understand why the thugs she’s meant to have tricked would have kidnapped the woman when it turned out the half-ton of cannabis that she said was in the house wasn’t there.

Film #36: On The Road

I’m starting to realise that my exposure to the Great American Novel has primarily been through the medium of film. I’m not sure whether I’ll get around to correcting that any time soon, since if I have to work at a book, I tend to prefer non-fiction.

Since it’s late, I’ll just say that I thought it was good, and I enjoyed it, though I can’t say that it inspired me in the slightest. 🙂

Film Festival Day 6: Wednesday, 01/08/2012

I am trying to decide whether I just started the festival with a lot of slow films, or if my policy of caffeine in every break between films is paying off. This is harder than it sounds, since there is something in me that rebels at paying $4 for boiling water, a teabag, and a wee skerrick of milk at the Embassy, when I can have the same thing for $3.10 at the Paramount. I’m not quite at the stage of bringing in a Thermos from home, though it has crossed my mind… before being dismissed as the thoughts of a crazy person.

Film #26: I Wish

One noticeable difference between Asian horror and American flavour is that kids are fair game in Asian films, and I’ve seen plenty of films from Japan where kids have had a rough time of it (from Grave of Fireflies to a previous film by this director, Nobody Knows). Fortunately, this film is set in the Japan where kids can roam unattended, and will be taken in by random old people. The story starts with an urban legend that a wish made when two bullet-trains pass will come true, and a pair of boys (played by real-life siblings) whose parents have split up.

There’s a lot that I found interesting in this film, and a lot to like, The kid actors were good, and I liked the brother’s interactions, and the child-logic of wishing that the volcano erupt so that the family will have to move back to Osaka, and his parents will then have to get back together. But it was how the bullet-trains were treated as totems or natural phenomena that I found really nifty – the trains that the brothers caught were slow, provincial trains, and there was never any hint that they would think of riding the bullet-trains themselves.

I enjoyed it, and can imagine watching it again.

Film #27: Marley

This was a good documentary, with a fair sampling of excellent music, and it didn’t shy away from some of the less stellar aspects of Bob Marley’s history (his womanising, his poor choices about who to support in Africa); the only really annoying thing was that they presented all interviews without subtitles – which was okay for the patois, but quite hard going when trying to understand the French and German that turned up.

I learned a lot of things that I hadn’t known (for example, that they opened for The Commodores in an attempt to break into the black music market in the US), and unlearned the occasional myth (that he refused surgery on the cancer in his toe because his Rastafarian beliefs said that he had to be unmutilated, and that killed him; in fact, he had part of the toe removed). It is a real shame he died so young – if he had lived, I doubt that I would have agreed with everything he did, but I bet there would have been some glorious music.

Film #28: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Another child-centred film, but this time about a six year-old motherless girl called Hushpuppy through whose eyes we get to see life on the islands beyond the levees of New Orleans. Something is wrong with her hard-drinking father, though he won’t tell her what; and then most of the people flee as the river rises and the islands flood. We see the world as Hushpuppy imagines it to be, with water spontaneously boiling as her mother walks past (from her father’s description), and giant prehistoric horned boar, thawed from the melting ice, marauding across the countryside. It was pretty neat; I think I’d need a while before I’d want to watch it again, though.

Film #29: The Boy Who Was King

The thing about popular movements, I suspect, is that they’ll always seem a bit picayune when examined close up, since they’re made up of people, normal people, who will express themselves in ways that seem reasonable to them, and I doubt any movement in New Zealand would look any better under such a lens. But looking at the faded glory of a Communist party cell, as well as the woman who made her returned king a coat of many pockets, you get a feeling for how much the returned former monarch was made to stand in for people’s hopes and fears, rather than being seen for himself. This was why he was doomed as a politician, of course – people voted for him in order to bring back the old days of prosperity that they remembered, but that never existed, and would always be angry when he failed to deliver their dream.

He seemed a decent enough fellow – a Nazi collaborator, to be sure, but since he was six at the time, it’s hard to assign too much blame. I’m glad that I saw the documentary, but it felt too slow to want to see it again.

Film #30: The Minister

This wasn’t the film I expected to see. It was a character study about a politician, and did that well; the acting was good, and I never felt confused about what was going on. But it didn’t feel structured to me; it felt like I was watching a series of events, rather than a narrative. I mean, I wanted the main character to make good choices, and felt bad when he was making bad ones, so I certainly felt some connection; but I didn’t feel like there was a story that I was watching unfold. It might be my expectations about a political story should feel like that is leading me astray here.

Film Festival Day 5: Tuesday, 30/07/2012

Last night, I forgot the crucial rule of pub quizzes – if there are four choices, and you can easily rule one out (while the others seem plausible), always choose the one that seems impossible. After all, you’ve only got one chance in three otherwise, and you’ll get to have the ineffable sense of smugness normally reserved for the knowledgeable if you’re right. (The question was about where Ridley Scott had a cameo; the correct answer was Alien.)

I also, humblingly, discovered another universal – a certain class of geek is annoyed that the five-pronged weapon in Krull is called the Glaive, and will tell you exactly what a glaive actually is, should the subject come up. This probably comes from the same place where eight year-olds are faintly contemptuous of someone calling a velociraptor a tyrannosaur, or rugby fans being annoyed when asked how many goals were scored. It’s not because it’s not sword-like in the least, so the derivation from gladius makes no sense; it’s because the people it offends have memorized the “real” meaning, and in some way using the word wrong is dismissing the importance of that knowledge. I may never need to know what a naginata, ranseur, pike or halberd is outside of a cheap knock-off of the Monty Python cheese-shop sketch, but I do, and that… somehow makes me better than someone who managed to get a pretty decent fantasy film made? I don’t know.

Film #20: Le Tableau

Beautiful French animated film about the inhabitants of a picture, where the Allduns lord it over the Halfies and Sketchies. The art style worked well, it was prettily animated, and overall fun to watch. In some ways, it reminded me of U, though the vibe was hopeful rather than melancholic. I’d happily watch it again.

Film #21: Gentlement Prefer Blondes

I didn’t mean to go to this film – I thought I’d be sitting, having a Devonshire tea and battling poor wi-fi access. But it was recommended to me by a stranger in the queue waiting to go in, so I decided to take a punt; and I’m glad I did. There was a lot that surprised me about this film – for example, how rough some of the choreography was (though perhaps that’s only in comparison to the slightly mad perfectionism of Fred Astaire, or the slightly soulless robotic perfection of today’s dance numbers); or how much like a female impersonator the otherwise superb Jane Russell looked when she went from brunette to bottle blonde. 🙂 It doesn’t have Louis Armstrong, so it can’t compete with High Society, but there was a lot that was charming and fun about the film, and I’m glad I watched it.

Film #22: Your Sister’s Sister

There was a lot that I liked about this film – the overlapping, naturalistic dialogue, and the sister’s interactions, and it’s funny in a natural way. But I’ve got to say that I was surprised to see that it was written by a woman, since I would have assumed that the guy was the self-insertion character (in that he seemed a bit too self-involved to be worth the attention, at least in the beginning). Don’t let me saying that put you off, by the way; it’s a good film, and I enjoyed it.

Film #23: The Law In These Parts

This is a documentary about how the law works in the Palestinian occupied territories (basically, there’s martial law for the Arab population, and the option of Israeli law for the settlers, which gives you a nasty mix of bad things). The documentary was admirably up-front in its manipulativeness, talking about how much power the documentary-maker has to present their own point of view; and was a mix of to-the-camera interviews with former military judges and prosecutors (all sat behind a desk provided by the film-maker, and what does that imply?), and historical documentary footage with voice-over commentary.

(There was a bit where one of the interviewees asks, “How will I know when we’ve started?” and the film-maker answers reassuringly, “I’ll tell you; I’ll ask questions, and you’ll answer.” At first, I thought it was dishonest; on reflection, it’s seems an excellent way for the documentary-maker to say, “Look, don’t trust me – try to watch critically.”)

One thing that I didn’t really like was some of the audience. It felt very partisan, and I found myself having sympathy for the Israeli side of the equation, even though they were obviously making major, horrible mistakes; and being the ones in power, they need to be the ones choosing to do right. I remember feeling the same way about Jesus Camp; I don’t like sneering at people, and it felt like some of the audience were doing that there as well. I don’t doubt that there are people on the Israeli side that are poisonous – but something felt off, and I’m not sure I can articulate why.

Film #24: The Imposter


That was… crazy. A Frenchman, with a pronounced accent, an Algerian father, dark hair and brown eyes, and a penchant for pretending to be a teen (to gain access to shelters), manages to get taken into a Texas household as their missing 16 year-old son – who was blond-haired, blue-eyed, and wasn’t likely to be getting a dark five-o’clock shadow. And when he came up with a weird story about being kidnapped by the American military, and used as some sort of sex slave all over the world… well, it’s not surprising that some people had doubts. But not the family… or did they? And if they did, why would they embrace him like that?

Unsettling. I mean, I know about change blindness, and people are very good at seeing what they want to see; and if you’re not sure of something, that can make you more stubborn about sticking to your guns. But… huh. My preference is to not believe a proven con-man, especially in a “truth” that makes him look less guilty, and only comes up when he’s being caught. On the other hand, it makes a sensible story, unlike his other cobbled-together affairs. So… I don’t know.

As far as the film goes – well done, slickly put together. It must have cost a fair amount to make, even if you’re only thinking about the music clearance fees, let alone all the actors for the re-enactments. It was very easy to watch – except, of course, for the subject-matter.

Film #25: My Brother The Devil

I was worried that this was going to be very, very dark, and very, very depressing. It wasn’t a sparkling musical comedy, but it was at least slightly hopeful, and the protagonists were people that I could actually like. The housing estate patois came on thick and fast at times, but I never felt unable to follow what was going on, and they managed to make things feel suitably dangerous without losing the British vibe. I enjoyed it.

(Nothing much to say about the short, Suni-Man — a competent “young Polynesian guy dealing with the temptation of and peer pressure towards a life of crime” film, with the optional younger brother hero worship and dead father elements.  It did what it set out to do, basically.)

Film Festival Day 4: Monday, 29/07/2012

I’m duly thankful that the weather has turned – it is a lot easier to be stuck in a theatre when you know it’s raining outside, and today, at least, was a simple commute back and forth between the Paramount and the Embassy. (With a brief detour to discover that the National Bank is a bit useless – sorry to friends and family who formerly worked there, but it was like they actively didn’t want to take money.)

But before we return to our regularly scheduled reviews, I’d like to mention In Safe Hands, a short that played before Shock Haired Soul. It was a NZ short, and it touched on the harvesting of children’s organs without the family’s knowledge or consent, which went on for some time (though that wasn’t the focus of the movie). I just wanted to mention it because, unlike most of the shorts I’ve seen, I felt it was done well, and I wanted to point people at it.

Film #15: Farewell My Queen

A film that was exactly what it said on the tin – a gorgeous period drama set in Versailles just before the revolution, full of heaving bosoms and unconscious privilege. I’ve visited the gardens at Versailles, and it was interesting to see them “working”. I enjoyed the movie, and thought that it was an interestingly female-centred view of things.

Film #16: Return To Burma

In some ways, I guess you could say that the director succeeded in conveying the oppressive sense of decay and lack of opportunity in Burma, and it’s impressive that this film was made at all. But… even though I’ve been fortifying myself with caffine, I’m afraid the stasis of this movie overwhelmed me. I think I was hoping for something more, and should have been warned by the phrases “first-time director” and “lingering shots”. Not, I’m afraid, recommended.

Film #17: Wish You Were Here

This film was preceded by the short Ten Thousand Days; if anything, I think it was let down by not being stylized enough. For example, you saw the edge of the greenscreen behind the car in one driving scene – but it wasn’t shown quite enough to make the transition from “mistake” to “stylistic choice”. Or when going over the men of the family who previously died – they could have given this a lot more “oomph” with very little effort. Indeed, with a deft edit, this film could be improved considerably, which is kind of frustrating; as it is, it felt a bit let down.

The main feature more than made up for it, however – a gritty thriller about a suburban couple, the wife’s sister, and the sister’s new man (who has gone missing during a holiday in Cambodia). We cut back and forth between the holiday, and the increasing tension at home as the couple and sister deal with the consequences and fallout of the trip. I found it gripping and involving, though I’m not sure how it would work on a second watching.

Just as an aside, I was recently reading a book on Victorian housing, (the very readable The Victorian House: Domestic Life From Childbirth To Deathbed by Judith Flanders), and she refers to a character from a Victorian novel saying, “What is the point of a home if you are never in it?” This very much reflects my point of view – when one of the characters in the movie asks, “If you had to stay somewhere for the rest of your life, where would you go?” Apart from the smart-arse answer of “Earth”, I think I would choose home.

As long as I could order things on the internet, anyway. 🙂

Film #18: The Last Dogs of Winter

This was a Costa Botes documentary; and like all Costa Botes documentaries I’ve watched, it’s made me care about something that I previously knew nothing about. In this case, it was about a breed of dogs called Qimmiq, which were also known as Eskimo sled dogs, and the breeder who lives in Churchill, Manitoba, which is a 48-hour train-ride away from the nearest major city (and bills itself as the polar-bear capital of the world). The breeder’s brusque nature is clearly communicated, as is the polarising effect that he’s had on the community. There was lots of footage of the very photogenic dogs, as well as plenty of shots of polar-bears. I hope that they manage to keep the breed going.

(Actually, I hope that we find a way to colonize other planets, and end up finding some iceball which makes this breed essential for exploration and settlement. That would be awesome. Er, sorry, slight tangent there.)

Anyway, I couldn’t stay for the Q&A, as I was under instructions to turn up briefly for a movie quiz, for which I was very little help at all. And then I had to rush off to my next film…

Film #19: In Darkness

Nazis are in Poland, rounding up the Jews, and a couple of sewer-workers discover a break-out attempt from the ghetto before this happens. They decide to start extorting money out of them in return for keeping them safe; after all, they’ll be able to turn them in later, once they’ve milked them for a bit…

I saw this with C, and I’m glad. It was based on a true story, which was why it had so much sadness in it. There was quite a bittersweet coda at the end, too.