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Film Festival Day 17, 10/08/2014

The final day.

At this point, both the ushers and my bank account start to look a bit more tattered than they were at the beginning of the festival.

I am looking forward to having things in my life other than films, food, and sleep.  The possibility of seeing my wife without having to rush off to another theater certainly sounds nice, and having some time to digest everything I’ve seen is something that I need.

And yet…

I think it’s definitely true that I end up with a lot more to talk about after the film festival than I would after a trip away for the same amount of time.  And I enjoy the chance to think about a wide range of subjects, and try to understand why some things work for me, and why some things fall flat.

I should book my time off for next year.

* * *

Print The Legend was another example of a film that’s not about what it’s about.  Ostensibly, the film is about the 3D printing revolution; but we learn just enough about 3D printing to get a hint of why people are excited by it.  But the film doesn’t care about the benefits of stereolithography vs. extrusion, or about why people are involved in the Maker movement — they are more interested in the personalities a new, disruptive technology attracts, and how the culture of small start-up companies as they grow bigger; and how the entrenched interests react to the new upstarts.

Technology stories don’t need heroes and villains, but people stories do.  Bre Pettis is the charismatic and affable face of MakerBot, claiming that the other founders pushed him to be Steve Jobs so they could be Woz; but as MakerBot moves from a fully open-source project to a closed-source model, and those who joined from the Maker movement get swamped by those for whom this is just another business, those other founders find themselves slowly elbowed out.  One of those who have left MakerBot claims that the problem with the Steve Jobs biography was that it gave tech CEOs permission to be assholes; whether this is true for Pettis depends, I suspect, on how much you believe those who are no longer with the company.

Cody Wilson, on the other hand, is simply a self-publicist who has latched on to something that forces people to pay attention to him — the sexy idea that you can print a gun.  Never mind that it would be easier and cheaper to make a safer gun in a moderately tooled workshop; getting the opportunity to say that everyone should have access to the same weapons the military and police have will make sure that he’ll get to be on TV or in magazines, where he can say something else controversial to keep himself in the news cycle.  Which is not to say that all his observations are wrong; just that he gives the impression that his advocacy for anarchy is less concerned about society, and more concerned about whether or not he can sell some books.

And then there’s the Formlabs guys, who come across as sincere but awkward, and bad at scheduling. 🙂

It made me think a lot about how the culture and processes of Weta Digital have changed over the time I’ve been there.  I don’t think I should publish my thoughts on that in a public forum, however – mostly because they’d be super-boring to people not interested in FX pipelines.  Oh, and professionalism and other nonsense like that.

I enjoyed it, and you certainly don’t have to be interested in 3D printing to be engaged by it.

* * *

The main problem that I had with notes to eternity was the length.  Specifically, it was considerably longer than the time advertised, so that I ended up having to leave before it was finished, which is quite a struggle in the close-set Film Archive seats.  And I actually left it a bit too late, having to run to the Paramount in three minutes, dropping into my seat wheezing seconds after the theater went fully dark.

Apparently, the film-maker had been tweaking the edit until the Friday before the first showing — a real hazard of the digital film age.  In the Q&A afterwards (as reported by my lovely wife), she said that she had been making the film for 10 years, and had been inspired while working for the British consulate in Jerusalem; I had wondered how she had gotten to know Robert Fisk and Noam Chomsky, and apparently she had managed this by dint of writing them letters.

This was a slightly different film from most of the documentaries on the Israeli occupation that I’ve seen.  For one, it was very interesting to see footage of Chomsky’s talks on the subject, and the repeated verbal attacks on him that this prompted — people demanding that he recite the pledge of allegiance to prove that he doesn’t hate America, saying that he is a hypocrite for not giving up his house to Native Americans, or calling him a liar about the text of U.N. resolutions; and then hearing about him being called out by Israel in the U.N.  It was also very affecting to hear Robert Fisk recounting some of the things he’d seen and people he’d talked to in his time in the Middle East; and to hear people like Sara Roy and Norman Finkelstein talk about being Jewish and opposing Israel’s approach.

There were so many little interesting bits — the fact that there were Americans calling for Moshe Dayan to take over the Vietnam war after the success of the Yom Kippur war (though who knows how serious they were).  Or the fact that Chomsky is still nervous around Catholics after the vicious antisemitism that he faced growing up, that he never talked to his parents about.  Or that survivors of the concentration camps were viewed as suspicious, since they must have done something shameful in order to have survived.

Even without the bit that I missed, this was a big movie, and a calmly measured one.  The shameful way that Israel has managed to conduct itself towards the Palestinians, and the knots they’ve managed to tie themselves in as a consequence, seem to offer no obvious solutions — and this is a Gordian knot where taking a sword to it may have nuclear consequences.

I thought it was good.  I just wish that the length had been correctly listed.

* * *

I was not in the best shape to concentrate at the beginning of We Come As Friends.  But it was an interesting transition, to plunge straight from one conflict to another — this time, in Sudan, where two Frenchmen flying a small prop-driven plane fly down through the country as the Christian, American-supported south votes to secede from the Muslim, Chinese-supported north; the former rebel leader in a cowboy hat given to him by George W. Bush, the northern leader Omar al-Bashir who has an outstanding arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for war crimes (an arrest warrant that has apparently increase his popularity).

There were numerous scenes that would be surreal if they weren’t so sad.  The Chinese, playing pool in their bullet-proof safe room after work, wishing for strange new worlds with no inhabitants where they could exploit mineral resources in peace; the Texans on a mission from God, giving solar-powered bibles to the chief of the local tribe and more concerned about making sure that the kids are forced to put on clothes and know that nudity is shameful than making sure they can read; the children bullied at school for wearing native clothes, and being told that only those who come in uniform are really people.

This seems like a situation that will get worse before it gets better, and a large part of that is the number of guns that have been pushed into the country.  But from the airplane, from high above, the line demarcating the old and new countries, the dotted borders between the different tribal groups, all of those things are invisible.  Sadly, invisible is not the same as not there.

A little slow, but good overall

* * *

After bolting my food as quickly as possible, it was back to the Paramount for the silent film Show People.

This 1928 comedy tells the story of Southern belle Peggy Pepper as she stumbles into the role of comedic sidekick, determinedly pulls her way into dramatic divahood (as “Patricia Pepoire”), and then manages to save herself from the wages of pretentiousness in time.  A number of big-name stars cameo, such as Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and (in a neat bit of in-camera trickery) Marion Davies, the actress playing Peggy Pepper — who fails to be impressed by her star power.

Sadly, the print was quite badly damaged in the middle in some sections, and I think a snippet near the beginning may have been lost, as we see Peggy enter with excessive make-up, get confusing directions, and then arrive sans makeup to her comedy debut.  The live orchestra was good, but their playing was not as strongly tied to the action as some other performances I’ve seen.

This was a fun movie to watch, with tonnes of gags that work just as well today as they did then.  It makes me think it would be good fun to try to soundtrack a good silent comedy, though I’m sure that it would be more challenging than I think. 🙂  I’m glad that most of this film has been saved.

* * *

My last film of the festival was the Argentinian Wild Tales, a compilation of six short films about love, revenge, and the injustice of people who tow cars when there’s no way to know that you’re parked in a tow-away zone.  One of the reasons that I enjoyed them is because I could not predict where the story would go, so I am loathe to spoil it for anyone reading.  There are some violent scenes, but nothing too gruesome; mostly, my experience was saying, “hah!” over and over again.

I think it might be easier to make a good short film than a good long one, in that you have to get to the heart of the story more quickly, which gives you permission to draw the characters in broad strokes, and just show the best, most interesting bits.  I wondered whether they’d use the same cast for each story, reassigning the roles in the way that a theater troupe does, but it was a bit more traditional than that, with new actors each time.

Not all of the shorts were as good as the others, but overall it was definitely a high point of the festival, and a great way to end it.

Film Festival Day 16, 09/08/2014

One of the things that the various doppelganger movies made me think about is the fact that my internal picture of myself is not very closely aligned with what I actually look like; if I saw my double, I might not recognize him.  I mean, in my mind’s eye, I’m the same shape I was in my mid-twenties… which was not in shape, you understand, but the silhouette was quite different.  On the other hand, I daresay I’d find myself annoying if I met myself — there are no flaws as annoying as our own flaws reflected in other people.

Okay, that’s not entirely true.  Someone with the with the flaw of “constantly trying to stab people in the face” would probably be more annoying than all of my current flaws.

I hope.

* * *

I am in sympathy with the general message behind Alphabet, that excessive testing and training tends to dull the love of learning, rather than increase it, and that any system that trades high performance for increased student suicides is doing something wrong. (Their example country was China; I am surprised, given their one-child policy, that there is not more of an outcry about this.)  Preschools giving out homework, kids envying parents because the parents got to watch TV and sleep in when weekends roll around… these are clear signals that something isn’t right.

On the other hand, I’m not sure that I am completely on board with some of the other messages of the film.  For example, I’m glad that the man who had no formal schooling (neither mainstream nor homeschooling) was able to get so much out of the experience, but when he talked about learning about electromagnets by taking about his electric train, and reading things in his mother’s encyclopedia, it caused me to wonder how this was meant to work for kids who don’t have trains or encyclopedias lying around the house.  How can basically artisanal learning/teaching techniques be scaled up to work for lots of people, rather than for one or two?

While I remember enjoying most tests, I think that those who decry the movement away from competition in schools (and some of the attempts to do so) are suffering from a fundamental paradigm mistake.  It’s not the case that you cheapen victory by giving everyone a “you tried” medal — it’s that sometimes, “victory” is the wrong model for what you’re trying to do.  You don’t “win” at painting, you paint, and you don’t have to paint with a goal in mind for painting to be fun and worthwhile.

So… plenty of stuff to think about, but I didn’t entirely agree with it.

* * *

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet wasn’t what I was expecting, in a good way.  From the style of the images, I was expecting something quirky and light, something aimed at a younger audience, along the lines of, say, Matilda.  It was certainly something quirky, but I found it a lot more textured than I expected, with a lot more going on — more Moonrise Kingdom than Fantastic Mr Fox, to pick two Wes Anderson movies at random.

I liked the way it used 3D; I liked its depiction of the parent’s relationship; and I liked all the little moments that weren’t over-used. For example, the use of quick scenes to externalize internal conflicts — at one point, we see T.S. imagining himself at a literal crossroads, with signs pointing to “The Prairie of Truth” and “The Mountains of Lies”.  The father is a cowboy, taciturn but not menacing; the mother is a entomologist, living in her head but still making sure everyone is at the table for dinner.  And there were all the little touches, like the talk-show host that brings out the perpetual motion machine for the studio audience to see, and then offhandedly signals someone to stop it.

It was fun, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it again.

* * *

When you realize that Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast was made in 1946, it’s quite astonishing; he makes excellent use of a whole toolbox of cinematic tricks to bring the magic of the Beast’s situation to life.  The acting is still more theatrical than cinematic, but that’s appropriate for the story they want to tell; and the arms strewn throughout the Beast’s castle, holding candlesticks that light themselves or drawing back curtains, give the setting an appropriately unsettling air.  And some neat teleportation, and flying off into the clouds, and… all sorts of neat stuff.

The brother of the three sisters is an odd addition, in that the dialogue sometimes seems to forget he exists.  I mean, he serves the role of heightening the stakes for their father (by having gambling debts), and allows the Gaston-a-like to have a reason to be hanging around the family, as well as being the way that the greedy sisters can be mocked; but he is more like a Greek chorus than a character.

But then you get Beauty saying to the Beast: “I don’t mind being afraid — if it’s with you.”  Aces!

Later that night, I got to have an interesting discussion with some smart people (Morgue and Jack, among others) about whether it was possible to have the Beauty and the Beast story done in a non-problematic way.  I mean, there is a valuable point in there about not taking others at face value; but how do you disentangle it from the whole Stockholm syndrome aspect?  Can you make sure there’s a strong “you don’t have to put up with his bullshit” message, but still keep the story?  I mean, there are some obvious things — it feels like the reason that Beauty has to stay has to be external to the Beast, otherwise that’s a piece of dickery that may be insurmountable.  It’s something I might pick away at.

I liked the film, but I think I’d have to be in a very particular mood to watch it again.

* * *

I have to learn that when the website calls a film “darkly funny”, they mean “there are some bits where you’ll laugh, but mostly it’s depressing”.

Leviathan was very, very Russian.  “You should drink less,” says one character solemnly; and then she refills his glass with vodka.  Or bringing portraits of former Russian leaders to a shooting party as targets — but no-one too recent, since they need time to “mature”.  Or the husband, when asked whether he’s sober enough to drive, declaring, “Of course!  I’m a traffic cop!”

But also because of the local politician with the police and judges in his pocket, sneering at the little people who he describes are weevils, furious that they have the temerity to temporarily frustrate his plans.  And the lawyers and judges, quick to rattle off chapter and verse of Russian law, even though it becomes apparent that it only has force when it is convenient for those in power.  And the ambiguous position of the Russian Orthodox church, counseling both sides… with the little person told to take comfort in the story of Job, while the politician is treated to a lavish meal and hand-held.  Or simply the run-down state of the village, from the rotting ships to the crumbling buildings.

The film-maker is angry at the state of Russia today, and reasonably so.  This does not make for a cheerful film.

I liked it, but I’m not sure I enjoyed it.

* * *

I didn’t see It Follows.  I went to a triple 40th birthday party instead. 🙂

Film Festival Day 15, 08/08/2014

I’m writing this just as I’m about to run out the door for my last day of the festival.  Happy 40th birthday, Blair, Paul & Dee!

* * *

The Wonders is about a family (mother, father, 4 girls, and a woman staying with them) who are running a small embattled family farm and apiary. The father is abrupt, authoritarian and suspicious; while he clearly loves his daughters (and relies on the eldest more than he realises), he is teased by his neighbours and friends about the fact that he has no sons, something that clearly preys on his mind, and almost certainly one of the factors in his decision to take in a boy who is heading to a juvenile home if he doesn’t shape up.

This boy is no wise-cracking teen; he shies away from any touch, and says as little as possible. The eldest daughter is frustrated by the way the other girls shirk work at any opportunity, and the fact that her father is trying to get this outsider to take her place, and that he refuses to consider entering into a competition that could win them money that they need to continue.  But even there, she is not some precocious spokesperson for the writer; she’s just a kid.

The obvious artifice of the TV show (with its faux-Etruscan costumed contestants) contrasts with the gritty reality of the farming life it is supposedly celebrating, where even in a medical emergency the real disaster is if no-one remembered to change the buckets that are catching the honey.

Ultimately, the story isn’t big.  But I’m not sure it needed to be.  I don’t have any need to rematch it, but I’m not sad I did.

* * *

Going out with rock stars seems like a losing proposition, especially in the sixties and seventies. Jimi: All Is By My Side does not present Jimi Hendrix as a saint or a villain; he seems smart, but not always able to make the smart choice. And charming and mellow, but with flashes of violence — and jealousy, even though he did not treat the women in his life as well as he appeared to expect to be treated.  It touches on the racism that he experienced in Britain, and the way that some of the science fiction of the time influenced his philosophy… I hadn’t realized that the “Star Child” idea was bubbling away in music well before the whole P-Funk mythology (as in, for example, “Mothership Connection (Star Child)”).

The film finishes with Hendrix getting on the plane back to the States, still not sure whether he’ll be able to translate his talent into long-term success. I don’t know enough about his actual story to know how closely they stuck to the facts, but it was a story that felt like a real life had at least been waved in its general direction.

It was good, and people were good in it. I enjoyed it.

* * *

In another movie about memory and loss of person, because I apparently enjoy being made sad, First Cousin Once Removed was a set of interviews carried out over many years with and about poet and translator Edwin Honig, who suffered from Alzheimer’s.  He doesn’t remember people, and requires some prompting to remember events and people from pictures (when he remembers them at all), but he still seems to be able to speak in epigrams and rhymes.

We get to know the people he’s forgotten, and there is an image of a man who is brilliant, but who does not seem to find it easy to be kind.  He remarried after his first wife died, and adopted two boys as babies; his wife left him with the kids, and one of the sons is still estranged, even though the man he disliked has all but disappeared.

The flashes of humour and insight make the man’s state even sadder.  But I guess that it also shows some hope — that there’s things going on inside, however sporadically. I think I’m going to want to mull this film over for a while before I decide how I feel.

* * *

Continuing this cheery theme, The Inheritance is a documentary about Huntington’s disease, made by someone who has inherited the disorder from her mother; she and her two brothers are positive and asymptomatic, but her mother has been suffering from symptoms for some time.

On the hierarchy of fears, loss/change of personality due to illness may rank even higher than loss of memory.  And while everyone knows that we’re all going to die eventually, and grow old if we’re lucky, I think it’s the knowledge that it will come earlier than normal, and that it will affect those who love you so much, and that you’ll become a distorted shadow of yourself and a burden that makes the idea of having such a diagnosis so overwhelming.

This documentary is certainly not the most polished that I’ve seen, but it is probably one of the most personal. And it manages to be informative as well as very human – the issues that the film-makers are dealing with get screen time, but not to the exclusion of actually useful information, or the stories of other people.

I thought that this film was not only good, but useful.  I hope it gets a small screen appearance at some point, since it’s something that it would be good for more people to see.

* * *

Snowpiercer is a lot more violent and dark than I expected. In some ways, it reminded me of The Fifth Element, in that you have to accept that some things are not going to make a lick of sense from an engineering point of view, because they are trying to present more of an emotional truth than a technical one.  And there are times where it looks like a comic book brought to life – in fact, I’m sure some shots were set up to replicate a frame of the comic it was based on (based on the way things were arranged in the frame).

The taciturn hero turns out to have good reasons to reject the hero-worship of one of his friends, and there were a number of excellent actors getting to have fun in this film — Tilda Swinton with fake teeth and a plummy accent berating the second-class passengers to know their place, and her obvious devotion to the weird semi-religion of the train was very enjoyable to watch.  And there’s a recurring theme of losing arms, and of hidden plans.

Even though I mention the “don’t get hung up about how the tracks are maintained” thing, I have to admit that there were times I couldn’t help but wince at the resources that they were needlessly wasting, given that there was nowhere to replace many of the things that they were destroying — this is especially true at the end.  But that’s just the resource management game-player in me.  And the disgust of some of the characters at the source of the protein in their protein bars made me think about how culturally specific food taboos are, and of Japanese kids roasting grasshoppers.  And when someone’s clairvoyance is introduced, I found it weird how it was treated at the level of “hey, you know kung fu!” rather than at the “hey, you’re an alien!” kind of surprise

It was full of action, fights, and cool looking shots.  And there were lots of nice details, like the translation discs so that those who only spoke Korean (or English) could communicate with each other.  But it is a lot darker than you might expect from the slightly stylized sets. I liked it, but I might need a while before I watch it again.

Film Festival Day 13, 07/08/2014

The top row of the “what bus is coming when” panel isn’t working at the Courtney Place bus-stop, which initially meant that I was pleasantly surprised by unexpected buses a couple of times, but now means I look at my phone rather than rely on the panel, which presumably isn’t what they intended.  It’s a fault that’s not entirely obvious when looking at the panel, which may be why it’s persisted for weeks.  I’m not sure who to tell, but it’s meant that I’ve been able to explain the situation to a few people who’ve looked worried, and occasionally have a chat; but I’d prefer working public infrastructure over the chance to be sociable, generally.

* * *

Is it worthwhile to try and commemorate people who are forgotten? If the only people who’ll hear the eulogy are the priest giving it, and the council officer who wrote it (based on the few clues he was able to glean from the deceased person’s flat), is there any point?  If no-one noticed that a person died apart from the landlord, how much effort should you put into trying to find someone to care?

In Still Life, council worker John May believes in making every effort, and has spent 22 years trying to find the next of kin who have passed away, and making sure those who have nobody are treated decently; judging from his neat but spare apartment and regular dinner of tinned tuna, toast, and an apple, that’s all he does.  But his younger, smarmier boss, who has been with the borough council for two months, has decided that John spends to much effort, takes too much time, and pays for too many funerals; so to save money, his position has been amalgamated with a similar role in a neighbouring council, where his peer is much happier to dump the ashes of the unknown in bulk, and to dispose of cases quickly.  John has a few days to complete his last assignment, and then he is “moving on to new challenges”, as his boss puts it.

This could have easily been a redemption story, a story of transformation where he meets a manic pixie dream girl and breaks out of his middle class, middle age shell while learning life is for the living, or some such self-involved rot. It is not that story, and I’m really glad that it’s not.

Instead, it’s a affirmation story — that doing your job as well as you can is worthwhile, that caring about people is the right thing to do, and that public service is a real thing, and a good one.  And that quiet people are still important, and don’t need to become loud people to be valuable.

I liked how they handled the ending, and I liked the movie.  I might see if I can persuade C to watch it.

* * *

At Berkley was a four hours and change documentary in the no-narration, no-interview style.

It felt too long.

I mean, it didn’t waste the time, exactly – it showed a wide cross-section of Berkley, from the classrooms to the staff meetings to the campus life, including a largely incoherent fee protest and the staff’s response. But there’s a reason you can’t just film a lecture and stick on the web if you want people to actually watch it – we’re much more tolerant of a slower pace in person.

I feel like I got some interesting insights into how Berkley differs from my university experience, and some of the snippets of lectures and behind-the-scenes minutiae were the sorts of things that I enjoy seeing. But this film, as these sort of documentaries tend to be, was too long.

* * *

Unnatural History, the short that played first, was a fairly well done unsettling-doco-with-found-footage.  I thought that the fragments in other formats worked well, with the typical photos-that-drift-across-the-screen-and-change-zoom giving it the appropriate feel, and the video artefacts and grain giving it the appropriate aged effect.  But I’m torn, since I’m not sure that what they were going for ever works.  What I mean is, you can either go full National Geographic/History Channel “something weird happened”, in which case the documentary makers will try to explain it properly; or you can have the fake doco be about something tangential, and imply that the makers don’t realize the horror that they’ve uncovered.  The latter allows you to do tricks like the beginning of Marble Hornets, where the viewer notices things that the editor/filmmaker apparently didn’t.   I don’t think either approach is easy to do well, but they found an excellent setting to do it — the Rangipo desert looks suitably ominous.  In conclusion, it didn’t quite work, but it was close.

Moving on, the second doppelgänger film that I saw, Enemy, was much more straightforward than The Double — no byzantine bureaucracy or zeerust.  However, there is a underlying feeling of unease,  and the suggestion of shared dreams between the minor actor and history professor, and occasional flashes of the super-weird that implies that something else may be going on.  There’s a strong suggestion that the actor is involved in some sort of weird club, and I’m not sure why having a double makes you freaked out and hostile… although that is part of the plot of one of the episodes of Welcome to Night Vale, so who knows.

I keep on wanting to say that the professor is nicer, but that is not true — from what we see, he’s merely the more diffident. I liked it well enough, but not enough that I can imagine recommending it to anyone.

* * *

The short Eloise was well acted, well dressed, had a cool location, and a mediocre script that set up something that seemed interesting, but failed to pay off.  It’s possible that it was too smart for me, or that I missed something vital, but I basically didn’t feel anything much at the end.

The Babadook gave me goosebumps several times.  Part of it was how easy it was to see the whole story as being a simple psychological tale — mother who loses her husband, finds lack of sleep and support coupled with a child with behavior issues driving her too far.  But they do a good job with the supernatural too, with a super-creepy children’s pop-up book, and while they’re not shy about showing the monster, they also do a good job of merely hinting at him when that’s more appropriate.  And a nice thing about the child is how determined he is to fight back, to the best of his abilities, while still wanting to save his mother.  And it’s still possible, even at the end, to read the movie as ambiguous.

The son is good for his age, though certainly not flawless; the mother is very good.  I enjoyed it a lot, and will never suggest that C watches it, since it was properly scary.

Film Festival Day 14, 06/08/2014

I saw a bunch of movies on this day that I find that I have a lot to say about; but I had no time to say it in on the day, and I started Thursday with a movie at 10:15am followed by a movie of more than four hours, so I didn’t have much following day to write in either.  Normally, I try to write everything once, and then read it over and correct the more egregious mistakes, repetitions, dangling sentences, repetitions, sections that are out of place, repetitions, and some of the strained, unfunny jokes.

And repetitions.

But I’m also trying not to fall too far behind, or to stay up late (because I don’t want to fall asleep during the day); so you might have noticed that some films might have less polished commentary than others. But I think that the time pressure, and the need to finish and move on, is helpful in actually getting stuff written; otherwise, obsessing about finding exactly the right word or phrase, or worrying too much about whether I’m sufficiently insightful, would probably mean nothing gets published at all.

However, I’m also aware that if you’re reading this, you’re doing me a courtesy — by writing, I have an obligation to repay your courtesy (both by making the text easy to absorb, with the minimum spelling mistakse, and by being interesting and/or truthful).  Where my need to finish has conflicted with that obligation, I apologise.

* * *

The opening shot of InRealLife was of a Victorian brickwork sewer. I believe that the filmmakers meant it to be a metaphor for social media (as well as illustrating where the internet’s supporting fibre cables are run); but I feel like it might also illustrate something more.  Sewers are super-important, and though you can live without them, your life would be much… well, crappier.

Moral panic, and people trying to exploit that panic, are nothing new.  Newspapers reporting how the population was panicked by an Orson Wells this newfangled, irresponsible radio nonsense, or the description of the spreading innovation of the motorcar as “brothels on wheels”, or Sousa’s fear that the music recording industry and radio would ruin family life and artistic development are just some of the examples of the excitable commentary that follows the spread of new technology.  But on the other hand — people can be panicked by irresponsible broadcasts, people do have sex in cars, and people don’t stand around the piano in the parlor singing any more (though people will still have a singalong with guitars at the marae).  So you certainly can’t say that these people were wrong — just that their concerns probably weren’t the most important problems with the things that they were worried about, that there were many upsides to their reported downsides, and that the things they worried about predated the thing they blamed.

I don’t want to give the impression that this was entirely a Daily Mail-style beat-up.  They interviewed a bunch of intelligent people, and touched lightly on a bunch of different topics — kid’s distraction and dependence on their phones, internet bullying, the reasons why various online services are offered online for free (and the privacy implications thereof), how parents increasing restrictions on kid’s freedoms of movement may be contributing to the increased use of social media.  But the worries about kids being less able to form personalities, that they can’t deal with loneliness and boredom — how do these people think we lived in agricultural societies, where two villages over was a foreign land, and time to yourself in the one room where your family and all the livestock slept wasn’t something imagined?

And there were a bunch of things that undermined the film’s creditability.  For example, talking about someone having 3 million subscribers — but then immediately revealing that he has three channels, which means that the number of actual people would probably be about a third of that. (Though they were successful in emphasising that he might have to think about the consequences of inviting lots of fans to one place, without organising some sort of crowd control or something.)  Or having a young man who watches porn with his mates talk about how he doesn’t feel like he can have a meaningful relationship with a girl, which felt less because of internet porn, and more because he was a 15 year-old lad.

I don’t want to downplay the kids who commit suicide because of internet bullying, or the girl raped because she was unwilling to let a bunch of boys walk away with her Blackberry, and so followed them into an abandoned house.  But I don’t think that these things will be the main problem with the internet going forward, any more than declining piano sales are the main issue with the music industry,  or teen pregnancy with cars.

A well-made documentary, but possibly not as useful as it could have been if it were more focused, and more rigourous.

* * *

Gerard Depardieu is a large man, and you see all of him in Welcome to New York. As in, there’s a lot of flesh on display, both in time and volume. There’s also a lot of men (and the occasional woman) pawing women on display, though admittedly there’s nothing on the level of Starlet.  It’s the story of an academic and a World Bank official who is being groomed as the future President of France by his ambitious (and super-rich) wife, and is a sex addict; though all that comes out in the recriminations and arguments in the second half.  All we know initially is that he is important, and surrounded by women willing to have sex with him; and then we see him come out of the shower in a hotel and surprise a maid, who he drags over and molests. (I dare say the details are available on the net, for those interested.)

He protests that he has done nothing wrong, and seems to believe it; but he also seems to think that his diagnosis absolves his behaviour, and that everyone is being unreasonable.  There’s scenes where we can see how charming he can be, and successful at seducing women; but there’s also a horrible scene of a near-rape.

At the beginning, before the title, Gerard Depardieu appears as himself, and says to a pack of reporters (who may be actors) that he despises the man he’s portraying, but he prefers that, as an actor.  Weirdly, I think one of he reporters later turns up in the movie proper, as the near-rape victim.

I think it’s well made, and an interesting subject, and a good depiction of an unpleasant man; but it’s much more grim than you might expect.

* * *

Maps to the Stars is David Cronenburg doing a Hollywood satire – a child star, a chauffeur driver who wants to be an actor and a writer, a girl from the sticks who has a bunch of crazy stories about all these famous people she knows, a show mom, a self-help guru, and an ageing actress obsessed with playing the part her mother played in a remake of a cult movie.  Stir to reveal the hidden, broken connections.

It’s more straightforward than other weird Hollywood satires, for example Mullholland Drive – by the end of the movie, there’s no question about what just happened.  And there are some really good actors doing good stuff in it, and I’ve no doubt that there will be details I missed on the first pass.

But I don’t imagine that I’ll make any great effort to see it again.

* * *

I remember watching My Kid Could Paint That, which brought up a bunch of questions about authenticity, and whether the person who painted the image should make a difference to the value of the art, how good and enjoyable it is.

I guess that forgery is the logical endpoint of that train of thought.  If what matters to you is the image, if the painting stands by itself, then doesn’t a copy that fools experts count as just as worthy as the original?  Of course, the point of My Kid Could Paint That was that provenance is super-important in the Art world, and  Art and Craft shows that experts are not super-happy about being fooled.

One thing that I thought about during the movie is that Mark Landis (the forger in question) obviously have some issues, being shy, awkward, and a seeming a little slow — how many of the curators thought that they were taking advantage of him, or at least were convinced because they were sure that he didn’t appear to be bright enough to think of tricking them?  And the obsession obviously isn’t on just one side, given that one of the people featured in the film had been fired over his pursuit of him.

I found a lot of the technical stuff interesting – how he prepared boards with coffee to make them look older, blowing up photos and painting over them to give the painting texture, using coloured pencils instead of chalk and charcoal, getting WalMart frames and going over them with craft supplies to make them look authentic enough.  His overall method of giving away forgeries was also intriguing — choosing works that were bought by anonymous bidders at auction, with stories of donations in honour of his dead mother, father, or non-existent sister.  But he prepared multiple copies of works, which makes it all the more surprising that he hadn’t been detected before.

His donations to museums, to me, is embarrassing to the curators, but a salutary lesson, and might lessen general fraud if it encourages a culture of due diligence.  However, it’s hinted at the end of the film that he may move onto making forgeries for people who have lost artworks (to theft or whatever); I’m less comfortable with that, since this has the potential to seriously emotionally hurt vulnerable people.

He regards himself as a craftsman, not an artist, and he does not seem too interested in producing original works.  It’s a film that I can imagine saying more about.  I am glad that I Kickstarted it (even if I’d forgotten that I had).

* * *

Cold in July starts off as a revenge film in reverse – a Texan homeowner shoots an intruder, and then the intruder’s father, newly released from jail, starts stalking the shooter and his family. The police are skeptical about the danger at first, but are convinced after a break-in; however, not everything is what it seems.

It’s a period movie, set in the time of video cassettes and enormous American cars; interestingly, it also uses a vintage soundtrack, relying on synthesisers more than orchestral arrangements to set the mood. I wonder whether that has an effect on how I perceived it – whether I mentally compared it to 80’s/90’s thrillers, rather than contemporary ones.

I’m not sure I could trust someone who threatened my child, though I hope I would save him from being killed. I also wonder how the main character is going to explain what has happened to his wife. But those are minor quibbles, rather than major concerns. And the concentration on the details — wanting to clean up the mess from the death of a home invader before your child wakes up, having to scrub the dirty bootmarks off your floor after the police have been ranging through the woods searching for the guy who threatened you, having to deal with people who want to congratulate you for being a tough guy when you’re trying to cope with the guilt of killing someone — all those things made the movie good for me.

I found it tense and engaging. I’m glad I saw it.

Film Festival Day 12, 05/08/2014

I remember when I started going to the Festival, every second film seemed to be presented in conjunction with Canal+. Nowadays, the pie-slap of Madman Entertainment seems to start more than half of what I see. Is it my changing tastes, the changing tastes of the programmers, or have they just gotten super-big?  Or maybe it’s a conspiracy…

* * *

Would you beg your colleagues to keep your job, even though that would mean that they’d lose a bonus that their family needs?  Would you vote to fire someone who you’ve worked with if a thousand euro bonus you’d been relying on was in jeopardy?

In Two Days, One Night a woman who has been on sick leave (for depression) has come back to work to find that management has decided that they can do without her, so they’ve told her workmates vote about whether her position should be kept.  But if she stays, they lose their end-of-year bonuses… and the team leader has hinted to enough people that someone else might get fired if she stays that the original vote was 14 to 2.  However, the boss is persuaded that this was unfair, and to have a secret ballot on Monday –so the woman has the weekend to find out whether she can persuade her workmates to let her stay.

I don’t know if I could do that: deal with depression and beg for other people to give up something that they need. I don’t know if I could be the husband supporting and pushing her to do that.  I don’t know if I could say that my family will struggle more so that this other person can have a job.

I hope I never have to find out.

I knew going in that it was going to be a hard film to watch, one of the ones I might not brave enough to try if I didn’t know I was going to watch a bunch of others.  I’m glad I did.

* * *

Does Boyhood benefit from being filmed over a long time, from watching the kids and adults age?  I think it does, but perhaps as much for the authentic ageing of the adults as the kids. It’s certainly true that the kids get better at acting as they get older.  There were times that it made me think about the process as much as the story, though. It’s hard to imagine (for example when dark stuff is happening in the middle of the picture) what the kids are thinking about what they’re seeing, and how this makes them perceive the adult world.

I’m not sure that the film was made more profound by the way it was made.  But I thought it was a good film.

* * *

Sacro GRA was a “film what is going on” documentary.  It was certainly interesting to see the different extremes of ostentation and poverty, urban apartments and herds of sheep, dancers swaying listlessly on the counter of a bar while a fisherman pulls in pots of eels, all off the same ring road.

Because there’s no narration, you get the fragments of story that the people there tell each other – the ambulance crew joking with the crash victim on the gurney, who says that the hospital is so close he should have walked.  Or the woman getting her makeup done in the car by another woman, complaining that when the police arrested her they said she had been completely naked, while she had been clothed, and that she’ll get a lawyer and he’ll write a letter to the mayor.

As is usual with these sort of films, it was a bit slow, and I’m not sure they managed to tie it together too well.  But there were enough interesting bits that I don’t feel disappointed I saw it.

* * *

The programme compared When Animals Dream to Let The Right One In; it’s a a fair guide to what you’re getting into, although I don’t think that When Animals Dream has the same impact or depth of myth.  It’s a werewolf story, and I thought it was interesting that the film is shaped for us to sympathize with the protagonist (a striking, shy young teen who looks after her wheelchair-bound mother and starts working at a fish processing plant), even though the fact tend to point to the antagonists having very reasonable (and, in the end, completely realized) fears.

I enjoyed it, but it was a bit slight.

* * *

Starred Up was a gritty prison movie, which meant there were sections where the unfamiliar patois was an obstacle to understanding what was going on.  But the basics of the story are that a young man is transferred to a high security prison (because of the danger he represents to other inmates and guards), which happens to be where his father is held.  His father tries to both protect and control him; he gets into repeated trouble, some of which is his own fault; and an outsider, who is trying to help some of the inmates manage their anger, tries to help him (which both his dad and the prison authorities have mixed feelings about).

One thing that I remember reading is that the problem with locking people up is that you are putting them in a situation where all they have to do all day is work out how to do stuff, while you’re only spending part of your time thinking about how to stop them.  Added to that would be the fact that any idea that works will be passed around like wildfire, and you’ve got another reason why prison guards would feel under siege.

And we see plenty of examples of prison lore – using lighter to set a plastic toothbrush on fire, and using the melted plastic to make both a shiv and a screwdriver (by pushing the hot plastic into the end of a screw), for example.  Or having two bottles of baby oil, so when you’re fighting the guards you’re slippery and difficult to get hold of… and the guards having buckets of sand at the ready, because they know of that tactic.

So, there’s the MacGyver-like thrill of seeing things from the normal world transformed, the ever-present threat of anger escalating to uncontrolled violence, and a father-son story.  The anger/anger-management felt real, and that made the film work for me.

I liked it, but it wouldn’t be for everyone.

Film Festival Day 11, 04/08/2014

Booking online for the Festival was great; the seats I was assigned are the very definition of the parson’s egg. Admittedly, some of this is due to the fact that I prefer the front row of the Paramount, which no algorithm can be expected to discern; but I booked pretty early, and in the first week was consistently being put in the seats above the entrance, which does no favors to the Paramount’s relatively small screen.  And there are weird things going on with the Te Papa seating, where they seem to fill up rows L and M, rather than clustering people in the middle of the theater.

Oh, woe is me.

But seriously, I hope they do something about the seating stuff next year.

* * *

What do you do when someone you love believes or does things that you think are terrible?  In Reaching for the MoonElizabeth Bishop, the American poet, faces this a number of times when she moves to 50’s Brazil after falling for her university friend’s lesbian lover, architect Lota de Macedo Soares.  From their different opinions on how to deal with the love triangle to their different attitudes to the 1964 coup d’etat, the two personalities are strong in different ways, and fragile in different ways — for example, Elizabeth’s alcoholism, and Lota’s later depression.

The poet’s great friend Robert Lowell (a noted poet in his own right) criticizes while he feels is a fragment of a poem at the beginning of the movie, saying that it is simply observations broken up into sentences.  This movie, like good poetry, is more than observations broken up into scenes.  That poem becomes One Art.

I enjoyed it. (Both the poem, and the movie.)

* * *

The lawyer is the bad guy, and that’s disappointing.

I hope that I am not a critic – I enjoy enjoying movies.  Unfortunately, I did not enjoy REALITi, because it was bad.  Not the grandiose The Room bad, or the somewhat cynical Sharknado bad — the type of bad where you can see the nugget of good trying to get out, but it is swamped by many little things that would be easy to fix, combined with bigger problems that do not have obvious solutions.  The kind of bad where you wish they had spent more time early on, so that they didn’t have these problems in the end.

The little things seem trivial when enumerated.  For example, if a company is drugging the water supply, they are involved in a “conspiracy”, not in a “conspiracy theory”; and if one character says that they are, then it’s a mistake the character makes, but when another character repeats it back to them, then it’s a mistake that the world is making.

Or if you’re showing us the Advertisement Of Evil for the first time, and the clip has music, you don’t have your soundtrack fighting with the diegetic music — you signal the character’s concentration by dropping away all sound except the click and whir of the machine, and the sudden noise of the clip acts as a “pay attention to this” cue.  Once we’ve started absorbing the ad, then you can decide to start to swamp it with the soundtrack, if you’re wanting to signal that the character is drawing back from what they’re watching to consider the larger implications or whatever.

The thing is, they also made some clever small choices — shining lights into the actors faces and keeping the displays off-screen instead of trying to make snazzy interface designs that will look dated in six months, for example.  And not trying too hard to future-up the cars and sets.  And the comment about the news and stock footage, it seemed like you could do something interesting with that.

But it felt like a 48-Hour Film writ large – chunks of unpolished, clunky, first pass writing and plotting married to chunks of unpolished, clunky, first pass acting and camera work.  And given the amount of slog and passion that any film takes, it is heartbreaking that it isn’t better.

It was interesting to watch, in that it made you think how to make it better.  But I wouldn’t suggest watching it for fun.

* * *

Fish and Cat is two and a quarter hour Iranian film done in one long tracking shot.  If that sounds like it could drag a little at times… I wouldn’t disagree with you. But it was very, very cleverly done; and they manage to present multiple points of view by simply tracking various people around the forest and campsite where the film is set, and letting the actors do the same scene again, filmed from a different angle, and focusing on a different person or part of the action. They also use voice-over to expand the scenes in time and importance, and start the film with the ominous mention of three restaurant workers arrested for serving human flesh, which gives an ominous edge to many periods that would otherwise simply be someone walking on a forest path.  It felt a little bit like a play, and I could imagine that you could stage something very interesting along the same lines.

Most of the characters are university students who have come to the campsite to participate in a kite-flying contest.  This is another smart move – the complicated relationships, weirdness and talky-ness of people that age works well in the movie.

I am not sure whether I can recommend it – it’s the first movie so far that has made me check my phone for the time – but I am glad I saw it.

* * *

One of the things that struck me about Jodorowsky’s Dune was how few people involved had read the book before signing up for it – the artists, the writer/filmmaker, the actors.  Jodorowsky said that the name came to him, and he could have just as easily have said Don Quixote, or something else.

I hadn’t realized how close the film was to being made… and what they could have actually accomplished at the budget that they were looking for.  What would Star Wars have been like if they were being compared to whatever this film actually looked like, rather than simply being able to steal from its filming bible?  Would it have had an impact in the mainstream, or would it have sat in the midnight arthouses?  Would I have enjoyed it?

In some ways, it gets to be as great as the director imagined it would be, because it never had to be nailed to celluloid.  I don’t see any way that it couldn’t have ultimately disappointed him if it had been filmed – if only because it wouldn’t have raised the world’s consciousness the way he wanted.  But… Dali as a mad space emperor, with a soundtrack by Pink Floyd and the director’s own son, who trained at martial arts for two years, in the main role!  With Giger and Moebius and Chris Foss designing, and Dan O’Bannon doing the effects!

It was a fun film about an interesting subject.

* * *

I like Stanislaw Lem, and I really liked The Congress.

On one level, it’s a straight science-fiction movie, more-or-less extrapolating a bunch of current trends to show a possible outcome.  At another, it’s a satire about how the movie industry treats actors (and everyone else that actually is involved with the making side, rather than the finance side), and what the public actually want.  But there’s other stuff going on, too.

Studios want to make crappy movies that their analysts and accountants think will sell, we’re starting to be able to digitally create realistic characters, actors won’t always do what the studios want them to do… so why wouldn’t the studios want to buy the acting rights off actors?  Scan them in, and then never have to worry about scandals or walk-outs or lavish trailers or… any of the challenges of working with a person, rather than with a technician you can fire and replace.

And if you can have a virtual world, why wouldn’t you live there?

(This has actually been postulated as an answer to the Fermi Paradox — we don’t see evidence for intelligent life in the universe because interstellar travel is a much, much harder problem than inventing enough fun so that we don’t feel the need to travel.  In other words, it’s possible that intelligence tends to invent reasons to turn inwards before it invents the means to go outwards.)

Casting Robin Wright as herself, referring to the other work that she’s done (and the way that many people in Holywood probably think of her) works really well.  And there’s the whole mixing of live-action and animation, and…

Look, it’s not a perfect film.  But it’s probably my favorite fiction film of the festival so far.

Film Festival Day 10, 03/08/2014

I have 549 messages in my inbox, and more than 900 things in my download folder (albums, articles, novels and non-fiction, role-playing games and computer games).  I keep on thinking that I should take a day to simply try to get things organized, tidying both my physical library and on-line one… though perhaps thinking that I can do it in a day is overly optimistic. 🙂

* * *

American criminal justice stories are almost always depressing; the same is true for American politics. Aaron Swartz: The Internet’s Own Boy manages to hit both.

Aaron Swartz was involved in writing the RSS specification when he was 14, he helped create the code behind Reddit, he was heavily involved in the opposition to the SOPA/PIPA legislation, and wrote a bunch of cool code.

And a federal prosecutor decided to make an example of him for downloading 4 million academic articles (which he hadn’t yet done anything with, and which he was legally allowed to download), with charges that (if successful) would land him in jail for 35 years, fine him over a million dollars, and in the end cost him more than a million dollars in legal fees.  This drove him to suicide.

It should be noted that they did offer him an alternative — plead guilty to a felony.  The jail time was much shorter, but he’ wouldn’t be able to use a computer for years, and the felony conviction would mean he’d lose the right to vote in a bunch of states, no longer be allowed to run for public office… and effectively say that what he had been doing was wrong and illegal.

So — we now know that the United States thinks that downloading 4 million academic articles is similar or worse than premeditated murder (since I don’t believe that you have to pay a million dollar fine for murder).  This is after JSTOR, the company that holds the copyright on the articles, decided to remove their support for the prosecution.

They wanted to make an example of him.  I suppose they have.

* * *

My suspicion is that the filmmaker of The Last of the Unjust wanted to make sure that he was properly respectful of the weight of the subject matter — the last remaining “Jewish Elder”, the people appointed by the Nazi regime to head the administration of the ghettos that the Nazis set up.  Two other “Elders” of the Theresienstadt ghetto had been killed prior to the appointment of Benjamin Murmelstein, a Viennese rabbi who had previously been drafted for work by Eichmann (of the Nuremberg Trials fame).  The film is constructed around an interview from 1975, with additional footage of the locations mentioned shot recently.

The film bought up a bunch of interesting points.  For example, the Nazis had traditionally told the Elder Council the number of people that were to be shipped off, and allowed them to draw up a list.  This lead to the sort of bribery and horror that you’d expect.  After accepting materials to improve the ghetto in order fool people like the Danish Red Cross about the general treatment of Jews under the Nazi regime, Murmelstein felt that the local commander would be unlikely to want to face embarrassing questions that might arise if the Elder they had met suddenly disappeared, and so was able to refuse to draw up the list — and he says that he told the members of his council that they could only remove a name from the list if they were prepared to put their own name in its place.

He also had a story about an outbreak of tuberculosis, where people were refusing to get vaccinated.  He ordered doctors to start reporting new cases as diarrhea, and decreed that any ration card that didn’t have a vaccination stamp would not be accepted.  He was accused of wanting to starve people, but the outbreak was suppressed over the next few weeks.

I found the pace quite slow — the film was more than 3 hours long — and I find that especially hard to deal with in the afternoon, when I’m apparently at my sleepiest.  And because the footage had sat for 40 years, anyone who could comment on it from first-hand experience will now probably be dead.

But it did bring up some interesting questions, about which I don’t have good answers.

* * *

Animation Now 2014 only had one jazz-and-draw-on-the-film short, 1000 Plateaus.  The thing that I did like about it was that it was made over ten years in a car, while the maker was waiting for other people during film shoots he was in. Many of the shorts are not particularly memorable, though there were some that I quite liked, such as 365 (a one-second vignette made every day for a year), Bendito Machine VI (something reminiscent of Balinese shadow puppets, which I think I looked at crowd-funding, but didn’t), and… oh, I guess Marilyn Miller was pretty fun (sculptor as God, gaining fame as destroyer), and The Butterfly Effect reminded me of the better end of machinima. As for the others, Rabbitland had some striking images but failed to say anything beyond it’s initial statement, Disappear was well done but didn’t seem worth the effort it must have taken to do, and Ex Animo reminded me of a Chris Knox short.

And as you can see, a lot of them can be viewed from the comfort of your own home.

* * *

It’s interesting what expectations can do to your perception of a film.

The Lady From Shanghai is a film directed by, and starring, Orson Wells; but for some reason, I had thought that it was a minor Hitchcock film.  This isn’t a fair thing to do with most non-Hitchcock films, and once I realised my mistake, the film became retroactively better.

To be fair to the film, I didn’t see it in ideal circumstances – I didn’t realise at the time, but the Film Archive must have added a short to Animation Now, which meant that I had -1 minutes to get from there to the Embassy. This means I missed however long it takes to quickly jog between the two venues, plus a minute, and I was trying hard not to cough and wheeze for a good half-hour into the film. (Luckily, there seemed to be a few coughers in the audience, so I believe I blended into the background.)

It was a typical noir people-with-hidden-agendas sort of thing, enjoyable but pretty slight, and with gaps in logic that didn’t bear too much scrutiny. The humour felt a bit vaudevillian, even taking into account the age of the film, and that felt out of place with the rest of the tone… apart from one of the roles, who seemed a lot more manic than the rest. But the femme was suitably fatale, the tough guy was tough, and I liked the fact that there were Asians playing Asian roles (even if they were all bit parts).

All in all, I’m not unhappy that I saw it, but I’m not sure how hard I’m going to struggle to see the first five minutes.

Film Festival Day 9, 02/08/2014

Weekends — I get to bring the car in, so I get home early, but I am much more likely to run into people I know, so I’m less likely to keep up with these entries.  Sorry, hypothetical readers!

* * *

I’m just going off memory, because I didn’t have any way to write it down, but when Sepideh and he mother argue with each other in Sepideh – Reaching For The Stars, Sepideh says something like:

I’m not afraid of the fence around the pond;
I’m afraid of being with the fishes who don’t believe the ocean exists.

Her mother says, “I know poems too, you know,” and replies along the lines of:

Even if people steal from the blind,
I still believe in love and hope.

I’m not sure that they’re disagreeing as much as they think they are.

Sepideh is a teenager in a world where her mother’s brother is quite happy to threaten to kill her if she embarrasses the family, in full view of the camera… but he also asks whether she loves the man she is thinking about getting engaged to. The head of the astronomy club is supportive of her study, but is selfishly annoyed when she proposes to leave to study physics.  The man she meets promises that she can go to university to study, even abroad… but who knows what he will do once they are married?

Her hero is the first Iranian in space, Anousheh Ansari, who she eventually gets to talk to; but there’s a contrast between her very traditional garb, and the very western style of Ansari.

One of the things used to stitch the film together is the letters she writes to Einstein, to clarify to herself what she thinks.  These are very eloquent, which makes me wonder how much of what we see is as it happens, and how much is scripted?  There are things like hearing the other end of a telephone call, where her response appears to be spontaneous — but how are we hearing the other side of the conversation?  Did the film-makers arrange it, or did the person on the other end record it for other reasons?  Or did they reenact the other side of the call, so that we could share it?

(It also made me realise that I’m not sure about the status of photos and video in the context of the ban of the depiction of people in Islam; Wikipedia suggests, “It’s complicated”.)

The documentary was hopeful, but not triumphant.

* * *

Aunty and the Star People is a documentary about a woman, Jean Watson, who more or less accidentally fell into the role of saving poor and orphaned children in India, organizing the funding of housing and schooling of hundreds of kids.  Actually, that’s not a fair assessment – if you go to India in your fifties, and then come back to Wellington and sell your house in Aro Valley in order to buy land and buildings to help children in Southern India, it’s not “falling into a role” — it’s seeing a need, and deciding to do something about it.

She had an interesting life up to that point – after a long-term relationship with Barry Crump, she’d written many novels, and was travelling with Joy Cowley in India when Joy was called back to New Zealand because of her husband’s failing health. And she’s obviously done a lot of good, judging from the way people treat her, though she was very dismissive of the importance of her role (in the best Kiwi tradition).

They were handing out postcards with the details of how to contribute to what she’s doing –

* * *

I got to see The Punk Singer with C.  She was a bit young to have listened to bands in the Riot Grrrl movement, but Kathleen Hanna’s story was plenty involving even without a background in the music. While I knew about the Punk mosh scene, I hadn’t known about how her first band, Bikini Kill, reacted to it (getting women to come to the front, and guys to move back, so that they didn’t have to worry about being trampled and punched just to see a gig).

I was more familiar with the stuff that she did with Le Tigre, but didn’t know she was married to one of the Beastie Boys.  I knew she’d stop playing, but didn’t know she had been diagnosed with late-stage Lyme disease.  And I’d known she was good, but I hadn’t known that she was so smart.

And the fact that some men felt so threatened by her that they felt compelled to send her death threats?  The same thing happened to Anita Sarkesian when she just proposed to examine sexism in computer games (disclosure – I was a backer), and I don’t understand it as a reaction — I mean, it demonstrates why these women have to speak out, but who is so threatened by someone talking that they feel like killing them?

A cool documentary about a cool woman.  I wish good things for her.

* * *

The first thing that you need to know about The Tale of Princess Kaguya is that it’s based on a Japanese folktale.  And that means that it has a sad ending, so people thinking about showing it to kids might want to watch it first.

(The second thing is that I bumped into a bunch of cool people there, so they probably have smart opinions, too.)

I found it very good looking, and enjoyed the painting-come-to-life style.  I liked the characters, and while it was sometimes quite slow, I enjoyed the songs.  I think I wouldn’t mind watching it again; though I might want to wait a little while, until the DVD is nice and cheap.

And it was funny watching it after The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, knowing how long it had taken to make decisions about the story, and knowing that various things could have easily gone differently.

* * *

If I hadn’t been told that Housebound had taken three years to make, and that it had been substantially rewritten and re-shot in that time, I wouldn’t have known it.  It is a horror comedy mystery — but the horror is generally in the character interactions and reactions, though it is not afraid to use environmental jump-scares.  I enjoyed the way that it messed around with expectations, and it’s quite gentle for a movie where someone gets stabbed in the stomach with hedge clippers.

I sometimes found Rima te Wiata a little broad in her acting, but the film looks way better than it’s budget.  It manages to ratchet up the tension without needing to ratchet up the body count, and there were a number of times that I laughed out loud.

It was certainly not perfect, but it was good enough that I am thinking about getting C to see it, and she’s not a horror genre fan.  They asked us to tell people to see it, and I’m happy to do so.

Film Festival Day 8, 01/08/2014

I have a horrible feeling that I sat next to someone I’ve met at Life After Beth, and completely failed to say, “Hello” or anything.  I did’t realize until a while after I’d sat down, and then it felt weird to swivel in my seat and try to stare at the person to confirm if I knew them.  And my special talent for names (i.e. my inability to remember them) meant that I couldn’t think of a good way to broach the subject.  So I hope that either I was mistaken, or that they didn’t recognize me either.

See, this sort of thing doesn’t happen if you stay safely home and never venture out.

* * *

My grandfather started wandering off a while ago; he’s faded a lot since that first started.  I sometimes think about what it will be like for me at his age.

The short, Home, was manipulative, and I didn’t like some of the sound mixing of the taxi driver. But because of its subject matter (mother with dementia leaves nursing home to try to return hat to daughter), it was effectively manipulative for me.

Similarly, Alive Inside did not tell us about the people that music therapy didn’t help, and while it referred to studies that show that it helps, they were only mentioned, rather than explained. But that wasn’t really the film’s intention – it wanted to show you the successes, and celebrate them, and encourage engagement. Not just engagement of the elderly with the world, you understand; engagement of the world with the elderly.

And the response to the snippet of the film posted on YouTube, on Reddit and elsewhere, was very touching.

Besides, I have to support any film that uses Fair Use so vigorously when presenting a film about music that touches people.

They mentioned the website – I link to it here in case it helps someone.

* * *

DNA Dreams was interesting, in the context of watching Mothers.  I can easily believe that wanting “the best baby a couple can have” has a lot more resonance in a country where there is a governmental policy for a single child per couple. I’ve got mixed feelings about embryo selection — I’m reminded of the film on urban planning from last year, The Human Scale, where they pointed out that you build for what you measure. In that context, it was pointing out that cities got designed for cars when they measured traffic flow, and not pedestrian flow; I suspect that testing for IQ-related traits may similarly miss important things that are not being measured.

I don’t think I’m a Luddite, nor dismissive of the idea of choosing to try to improve a child’s potential life. And I think that a lot of the science is very cool. But there’s something that causes me some disquiet about the idea of selecting between potential people.  But there’s plenty of neat possible uses of this research outside of that.

The filmmakers seemed less enthused than those they interviewed; given the balance of power, that would tend to put me on the side of those interviewed.  Put me down as deeply ambivalent.

* * *

Force Majure is about a man who fails his family, and then fails himself by trying to lie about it.  It also has comic elements, though it was not a comedy per se.  I find myself conflicted, since it was well made, and everyone was good; it took a very sardonically Scandinavian take on something that could be overly melodramatic.  But it is a hard question — who knows how you’d react in the split second of a crisis? Though in all honesty, I suspect I’d just be indecisive, rather than dramatically acting one way or another.

It was a good film that I liked, but didn’t warm to, and I don’t know why.

* * *

Diplomacy was the film that we had a lot of trouble with tickets over, but I’m really glad that we got to go to it.  There was a lot of tension, which was weird, given that we know how the story ends — Paris was not destroyed, so the diplomat must convince the general.  But when you’re watching, you’re drawn into the argument, and both of them are compelling.

And in the end… who you empathize with is interesting.

You can tell that it was originally a play, but that just gives scope for the actors to do their thing well.  I wonder how much of the story is actually factual; a bit of reading may be necessary.

I liked it.

* * *

My initial inclination is to describe The Double as Kafka-esque, but given what it’s based on, Dostoevsky-esque might be more appropriate.  And I’d be willing to put money on the fact that most reviews will mention Terry Gilliam’s Brazil at some point, or possibly Michel Gondry’s work — the same dream-logic sensibility is at play, though it feels more utilitarian, less fantastic.

I almost wish that I could have turned subtitles on, since the dialogue rattles on a rapid pace, and I didn’t always catch everything that was said.  It was pleasingly written; hardly ever surprising, but the point was how we got there.  It was very good at using the things that it set up, and I enjoyed the slightly stylised mood, once I got used to it.

The main female character was almost as much of a cipher as the boss, but that’s hardly something that this film is unique in doing.  On the whole, I enjoyed it.

* * *

I’ve seen the main actress in Life After Beth, Aubrey Plaza in a few things (Parks & Recreation, Scott Pilgrim), and she often seems to play a similar sort of character – head tilted down, sullenly staring at the world with heavy eyelids.  Though to be fair, the same can be said for John C. Riley’s hapless bumbler (also in the film), or a few of the other actors that made an appearance.

I enjoyed it.  It reminded me of Groundhog Day, but with zombies instead of a time loop – both in the whole theme of second chances, and because the film-makers realised that they didn’t have to explain why the situation is the way it is. (I’ve read that the time-loop in Groundhog Day was going to be explained as the result of a voodoo curse; when I read that, I realised that I had not even thought to question why it was happening when I watched it, and was super-glad that they hadn’t gone with that.)  There are zombies, here’s what they like and how they act, and then we watch people deal with that.

The film didn’t take itself too seriously, but it let the characters take themselves seriously, and I liked that.  It was fun to watch.