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Film Festival Day 7, 30/07/2014

Getting up today, the radio was talking about the increasing Ebola death toll.  When I got out of the shower, the news had moved on to talk about doctors working when they’re sick, so as not to put pressure on their colleagues.

If this is foreshadowing, they’re being pretty heavy-handed about it.

* * *

Oli Missen was a short about a NZ youth ambassador for World Vision. He’s grown through the work, his family is proud, people need our help, wealth is distributed unequally, done.  I’m not sure that I learned anything much.

On the other hand, the film about Human Rights Watch, E-Team, felt much more informative and interesting.  People going into incredibly dangerous areas while the crimes they’re investigating are still going on, gathering documentation and witness statements, trying to be very cautious about how much they claim and what actions they call for — but still prepared to go to Russia to have a press conference about the Syria situation, and point out that Putin’s op-ed in the New York Times (that the rebels used sarin on their own people to gain sympathy) was rubbish, unless he had a way for those rebels to have stolen the shells and launchers used from the army, and then somehow acquire the hundred tonne of gas that was used. (That’s setting aside the number of people who would have to act in concert to make that work, and convincing all those people that killing their own mothers and children on that scale was a better idea than trying to kill the soldiers trying to kill them.)

I mean, I don’t doubt that the KGB could do something like that, which is why Putin keeps saying that people are doing it (like his pointing at the Ukranians when the Russian-backed rebels shooting down the Malaysian Airlines plane).  If you are a crook, you expect other people to believe people are crooks.

The investigators are brave in ways that I am not, and I hope that they continue to do this important work.  I kinda wish, in addition, that the International Criminal Court had investigators; and I hope that organisations like BellingCat can help to keep governments slightly more honest.

The film ended with a plea for one of the cinematographers to be freed from Syria.

* * *

When you make something into a policy, and put a bureaucracy around it, weird things happen. Mothers is about the way villages are required to find a quota of women to sterilize, a quota set by the local town.  If the village falls below quota, there’s a fine; if a woman with a child doesn’t agree to the surgery, that family must pay a fine each year they’re of childbearing age.  Perverse incentives, indeed.

We saw a number of the sort of cult-of-personality ceremonies that Chairman Mao apparently still gets — you get the impression that the Communist party is still strong out in the country, though how sincere the devotion is, who knows.  What is sincere, though, is how strongly people want to keep their job, and how willing they are to browbeat people into obeying rules that they don’t necessarily believe in.

The one-child policy dates from the 80’s.  Coupled with urban flight, who knows what will happen to China’s rural population?  Or their aged population, come to that?

* * *

Person in seat K-14 for the 4:15pm showing of Locke – you are an unpleasant man-child.  I do not need your vapid commentary during the movie, and if anyone else hadn’t picked up on the fact that, for example, a wife telling off a husband is annoyed with him, they’re not going to follow the rest of the movie either.  I enjoyed the movie far more once I moved far, far away from you.  I hope someone accidentally cuts your power in the middle of a game that you’re enjoying, or someone puts a poo in your letterbox.  And/or, in fact.

Ironically, Locke is a film all about taking responsibility for the consequences of your actions, even if it’s disastrous for you personally.  It all takes place in a car, with one character on the phone (or occasionally monologuing to the empty seat behind him as if it was his dead father, and isn’t it symbolic that he wasn’t imagined in the passenger seat).  Something has happened, and the Ivan Locke of the title has to try and deal with it, along with everything that was already happening in his life.  He’s passionate about his job, and loves his wife and kids, but he has to do the right thing; ideally, all the right things.

I wish that it hadn’t been spoiled by the guy who thought that his mates definitely needed all his thoughts on the movie right that second.  But even with that, it was a good movie.

* * *

I enjoyed The Green Prince immensely, even though I’m not sure whether I believed it.   The documentary was about the son of a founder of Hamas, how he was persuaded to work for Israel, and his relationship with his handler.

The film itself was very well made, and the footage they used was compelling; but it was extremely unclear how much was real, and how much recreation. And the interviews were well done, well shot and well edited… but it was just the guy and his handler, so smoothly put together that I wondered whether they’d got actors in to replace them.

I liked the film, and I enjoyed the film; but I don’t think I trust the film.

* * *

There are some actors that tell you nothing about the quality of the film that you’re about to watch, but you can depend on to take what they’re doing seriously.  Nicholas Cage is one of those actors — he’ll bring an intense energy to the role, and whether or not that works will depend on the script or the director.

For Joe, it works.  Joe is running a work gang poisoning trees (so that the land owner can cut them down and replace them with pine). He drinks too much, tries to avoid fights because he enjoys them to much, has trouble accepting the law’s authority (though he seems to get on fine with the ones who aren’t telling him what to do), and we see him try to do what he thinks is right most of the time. He meets a boy with a drunk father, and the boy works hard; Joe befriends him, and tries to help him.

(There is a sequence at the beginning that I assumed was a flash-forward, but I now assume I simply didn’t understand.)

I quite liked it.  One of the villains is almost pantomimish, with his scars and posturing, but that works in the context of the film.  I wouldn’t call it the deepest film I’ve seen at the festival, but I enjoyed watching it.

Film Festival Day 6, 30/07/2014

This was my first tight-squeeze day — five minutes to get from the Embassy to City Gallery.  In the end, I caved and caught a taxi — even if I’d made it between the venues in something comparable to five minutes, I wouldn’t have been in a state to watch the movie.

* * *

In Love is Strange, a loving couple decides, after living together for forty years, to finally get married. Unfortunately, they’re a gay couple, and the Catholic school that one of them teaches at is forced by the bishop to fire him – “don’t ask, don’t tell” not being restricted to the military, apparently.

One thing that I liked was that they were shown as ordinary people, and although the crisis was caused by prejudice, everything else that happened was just the sort of consequences that happen to an older couple when the main breadwinner unexpectedly loses his job. (Well, the sorts of things that happen in America, like scrambling to find health insurance.) The priest running the school was sympathetic, there was no random vileness directed at the couple (though one teen did call something that he didn’t like “gay”), and the crises were mostly about family, and how hard it is to be away from your partner.

Indeed, the stereotype I objected to most was the gamers that were ahown – I don’t know of anyone who wears a dopey helmet to run a game.  On the other hand, they were also a gay cop couple that had regular parties, so it’s not like roleplaying was completely othered.

It was not a film full of shocking swerves, but it kept faking me out about the way it was going to go.  I liked it.

* * *

Gagarin’s village was occupied by the Nazis, and he initially trained as a metalworker; the first man to walk in space grew up in a place where horse was the main way of getting around; the engineer who worked on the launch of Sputnik said that the advantage that the Soviets had in the space race was that their nuclear weapons were heavy, so they needed big rockets for their missiles, which meant that they didn’t need to faff about with multistage nonsense to get the first satellite into space, they just bunged it on their giant rocket and went.

An Invincible Defeat interviewed members of the Soviet space race that I assume would still be feted and inaccessible if they had been in comparable the U.S. programme.  They did such a lot, some of it by brute force, that it’s amazing to think how much was simply left to rot when the Soviet Union fell.

I’m certainly not sad that the Soviet Union fell; but I’m sad about the good and impressive things that fell away with it.

* * *

What are you hoping for?
Do you believe in God?
If it was your birthday, what would you want for breakfast?

These were three questions that a reporter colleague of Jane Brown apparently asked everyone he interviewed.  (Has anynoe made it into one of those daft Facebook memes yet?)  When the makers of Looking For Light: Jane Brown asked her these same questions, she said that she wished she knew more about her origins, but that she fancied that she had left it too late.

You will have seen a Jane Brown portrait photo at some point.  The iconically craggy, melancholic portrait of Beckett; pictures of Churchill and Mick Jagger, Bjork and the Queen.  All in black and white, almost all with natural light, and all with an eye for shape and texture.  And most of the early ones for the newspaper The Observer.

Many people in the film said that she was so good at getting portraits because she was unthreatening — a small, unassuming woman who was polite, but whose “elbows were as sharp as anyone else’s”.  The filmmakers certainly invited you to believe that part of the reason for her gift with people was how she was handed around from house to house, and had to learn to ingratiate herself into different families.

But however she did it, she made beautiful pictures.  And she came across as really nice, to boot.

* * *

Under The Skin was a film that I wish I could have watched cold – that someone I trusted could have said, “Hey, you’ll enjoy this, just go.”  If I could have started as confused as Upstream Colour, and gone on from there, I wouldn’t have been busy fitting what I saw into the narrative as I’d already had it told to me, or trying to work out who was an actor and who was simply a bystander.

Scarlett Johansen is really good; there’s more full-frontal male nudity than female nudity; there’s plenty of implied larger world built with the most minimal of hints.  And while they depict the hunt well, they also show how confusing and dangerous the world is all by itself.

I liked it, but I don’t saw it the best way you could.  And that’s why I disagree with the Idea Channel’s stance on spoilers.

* * *

I’m always a bit leery of collections of NZ shorts, like NZ’s Best 2014.  Perhaps it’s being burnt by the 48 Film Festival collections, but I will often go to feature films over short collections.

I’m glad I went to this one.

Eleven worked really well with its child actors, but you could see the rest of the story from about half-way through.  U.F.O. also had a good young actor, and good make-up/effects, but felt a little static.  I liked the way that School Night captured the whole, “I’m not old yet!” thing. Over the Moon was very well done, with good effects and a fun story that didn’t make a lick of sense.  Cold Snap had another good child actor, and a nice complete story.

But I think my favorite was Ross & Beth, a quiet story about a old dairy-farming couple.  The events weren’t hugely surprising, but the characters were satisfying.  While they were all good in different ways, this was the one I gave my “1” for the audience rating sheet.

* * *

Did Human Capital have a happy ending?  I guess the answer to that depends on whether you think people you don’t know are real or not. I think many of the people in the movie would say yes to the first, and not understand what you’re asking in regards to the second. Even minor characters clearly show that they are seeing other people in terms of their function for that character – girlfriend, muse, opportunity.

The film shows the same sequence of events from different characters’ points of view, and is moderately successful in shifting your sympathy around. Most of the time, I found myself hoping for something good to happen to a character not because of sympathy for them, but because of the likely fallout for those around them.

It was good, but felt a little slow.

Film Festival Day 5, 29/07/2014

I’m going to Diplomacy on the 1st with C.  Unfortunately, the automatic seating did not seat us together. Fortunately, someone noticed, and put us together.  Unfortunately, they put us together for Dior and I at the Roxy on the same day, instead of Diplomacy at the Paramount.

Fortunately, I was able to come into the box-office, and got the new tickets.  Unfortunately, they weren’t that great.  Fortunately, someone in the back office also noticed that we were originally not seated together, and sent me an email saying that they’d fixed it.  Unfortunately, that meant that it wasn’t clear which tickets were the valid ones — the ones they “fixed”, or the ones I organized.  Fortunately, the ones in the email (which are much better seats) turn out to be the valid ones, and I was able to collect them yesterday.

And I hope that this is the end of that particular story.

* * *

The universe may
Be as great as they say;
But it wouldn’t be missed
If it didn’t exist.

That is a poem called “Nothing Is Indispensable : Grook to warn the universe against megalomania” by Piet Hein, and is one of the most pithy summaries I’ve ever seen of the Anthropic Principle — basically, the idea that if you’re examining the universe, then you must be in a universe that has settings that mean that you can exist to examine it, otherwise you wouldn’t be there examining it.

The worry in physics, of course, is that asking, “Why are the fundamental constants set up the way they are?” is the same kind of question as asking a lottery winner, “What did you do to win the lottery?”  If there are innumerable universes that don’t support intelligent life, then they’re like the millions who don’t win the lottery — and we won’t see any deep reason for why things are set up the way they are, because there is no deep reason.

This is the story of Particle Fever — CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, and the experiments designed to find some of the properties of the Higgs boson, to see whether there’s likely to be a deep underlying reason for the  fundamental constants (like supersymetry) or there’s no actual pattern (like the multiverse interpretations).

The film makes the very sensible decision to focus on the people, and the things they are looking for, and the consequences for those people, rather than the underlying reasons why the different theories expect the different values.  It was also good at showing how much the Large Hadron Collider is a feat of engineering, and a feat of human organization, as well as a physics experiment.

I liked it, even the bit where it went “full Peggle” at the end. (Thanks to the Crate & Crowbar podcast for that particular term.)

As an aside — in case you thought the “physics rap” was a new thing, according to this article the first photo ever put on the World Wide Web was of an all-girl doo-wop band called “Les Horribles Cernettes” that sang songs inspired by particle physics.  It’s good to know that the web started as they meant to go on.

* * *

I don’t know why the central conceit of Patema Inverted worked for me, where The Light Harvester didn’t.  Maybe being animated grants a certain amount of poetic license to a depicted world’s reality for me?

There’s not much to say — it’s a good, but not overly surprising, anime.  It didn’t pass the Bechel test, but it didn’t have gratuitous panty shots.  It sort of reminded me of 50s sci-fi, in the way that the world felt, and the belief in the inherent decency of people (and the cartoonish-ness of the villain), though you probably wouldn’t get such a complex female character in a 50s film. I enjoyed it.

* * *

“Cinema of Unease” is how some people describe that thread of NZ film that often stars Sam Neil or Bruno Lawrence – the sort of thing where you can see that things are going to go horribly wrong, but (if the film is working) you don’t want to look away.

Once it is obvious what is going on in Everything We Loved, it is also obvious that things are going to end badly. The question is only how badly, and in what ways.

I liked the details of the main characters’ lives that are revealing in passing (like the tape of old Dutch pop), and a bunch of little touches. But if I had been randomly watching it on television, I’m not sure I would have made it to the end; and I can’t imagine watching it again for fun.  It was good, but hard.

* * *

How do you fix corruption?

I mean, NZ is consistently rated as relatively free of corruption — but as an example, when my neighbor organized the fence to be put up between our two properties, the builder he found insisted on being paid in cash, and did not want to give an invoice.

Big Men examined two different situations — the maneuvering between Kosmos, the American company who financed the discovery of off-shore oil deposits in Ghana, and the government of Ghana; and the situation in Nigeria.  This was made more interesting by the fact that filming started during the bull market, went through the global financial crisis, and ended up around last year.

(I suspect Ghana is much better off dealing with Kosmos than with a large conglomerate, if they’re going to deal with an American company, since Kosmos probably doesn’t have enough clout to influence the American government; I would not be super-shocked to discover that the U.S. legal miasma that hung around Kosmos during the middle of the film was in part encouraged by Exxon-Mobile to drive the price down, for example.)

Many of the people in Nigeria that the documentary maker interviewed said, “Of course I want lots of money!  Everyone does!  You do too, don’t you?”  (Which makes me suspect that they don’t know the typical ROI for a independent documentary film.)

I was very surprised at the level of access that the documentary had with various people; the film-makers didn’t narrate, but sometimes made their attitude towards various speakers clear by what they chose to focus on (the flashy gold and diamond rings of the Nigerian energy minister, for example).  And how they got the Nigerian rebels to talk to them, I do not know.  And the Ghanian governmental officials said all the right things, but… let the money come in, and then let’s see how things go.

I thought it was a really good documentary, and I wish Ghana well, and I also wish there was an easy way to fix corruption.

* * *

There’s a saying about secrets: “Three people can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”

In Night Moves, we see a eco-activist cell making gestures at the sort of compartmentalization that you need for a successful conspiracy, but they don’t seem as serious about it as they need to be — they cut corners, and reveal things about themselves to to each other, and generally show that the kind of discipline that you’d need to be properly invisible is very, very hard.

We see them conspire; but that’s just the first part.  The main meat of the film is not the act, but the consequences of the act — how do you deal with unintended side-effects of your actions, how do you act in a way that’s not suspicious, can you trust the people that you thought you could trust?

The film isn’t dismissive of the ecological concerns, but it is dismissive of “eco-terror as theater”, which agrees with my already existing prejudices.  I enjoyed it, but it was tense.

Film Festival Day 4, 28/07/2014

Kiwibank called yesterday, during my first movie, wanting to know whether I knew of a vendor called “Kickstarter”, and if I was likely to have paid them anything.  Since I have backed 660 projects on Kickstarter, many of them since I joined Kiwibank, and some of them for larger amounts than the one they are querying, I don’t really understand their logic.

I guess it’s good to know they’re watching, even if it’s obvious they’re not really paying attention?

* * *

Queenie was the short that preceded Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy; it was not as good as it, though impressively made (animated with cardboard).  An uncomfortable story of pseudo-academic rationalization and mysticism being used to deal with a breakup; I can see that other people might find it funnier than I did, but I don’t particularly like comedy that feels like it’s punching down.

Michel Gondry’s animated film of his conversations with Noam Chomsky, on the other hand, made me miss university — or at least, my idealized memory of university.  Though it also reminded me of the dangers of talking with academics, or at least the subset that appear not to be arguing with you, but the echoes of their colleagues that they hear in your questions.  There were a number of times that Gondry tries to ask a question or make a statement, and Chomsky runs over him… and sometimes Gondry shows how he feels about this in his animations, or by inter-cutting a longer explanation of what he was trying to ask, after which he agrees that the point that Chomsky raises is interesting, so he’ll leave it in, even though it makes him seem stupid.

One thing that came up among the linguistics and personal history, and it’s a thing that I had never considered, is that those liberated from the concentration camps had to wait many months for transport and supplies, and had to choose between wearing their old uniforms, or the uniforms of their captors; and it was hard to know which was worse.  This was during a discussion about how France is treating the Roma.

I might see if C wants to watch this at some point.

* * *

The Noble Family is a Spanish “father realizes his rich kids are spoiled, concocts a plan to fool them into working, and then everyone grows as people” sort of film.  Also, sponsored by Whiskas for some unfathomable reason.

Fun and inoffensive, apart from an unfortunate implied prison-rape-played-as-joke fate for the main bad guy in a short scene in the end credits.  So, if you’re watching at home, I’d suggest stopping as the credit starts, you won’t miss much.

* * *

Tycho Brahe, when asked by the new king what he had been doing with royal funds from the previous administration for the last 25 years, said he had been watching the sky, charting the movements of stars.  When asked what practical use that was, he said something along the lines of, “I had hoped to learn the meaning of the universe. I have failed, but I hope that I have saved the person who discovers it 25 years of work.”

This was a story told by Ben Ferencz, a former US Army prosecutor who was at the Nuremberg trials, to explain why he feels what he’s doing is important, even though he knows that he won’t reach his goal within his lifetime.

But the main focus of Watchers of the Sky was Raphael Lemkin, Polish Jew, lawyer, coiner of the word “genocide” after failing to convince a collection of lawyers that the slaughter of the Armenians by the Turks should be a crime.  Once the Nuremberg trials refused to make genocide (as opposed to killing innocent civilians during wartime) a crime, he was a prime mover behind the U.N. resolution classifying genocide as a crime against humanity.  He was nominated seven times for the Nobel Peace Prize, never won, died penniless and alone of a heart attack at a bus stop while travelling to the U.N.; he had less than a dozen people at his funeral.

And as far as the resolution goes, the U.N. proceeded to be mostly unable to agree to use or act on, since there’s very little national self-interest in intervening in the quagmire of other people’s internal massacres.

(I feel I should point out the weird conflict between this thread of thought, the “the law should do something to punish people who perform atrocities” thing, and the whole “stop characterizing Africa as a victim” narrative.  I wonder what Emmanuel Uwurukundo, a guy who survived the Rwandan massacres and now works for the U.N. helping refugees, would think about it?  And there’s the oil thing, and Sudan’s subsequent relationship with China muddying the waters.)

I guess I feel that the U.N. is a young institution, ham-strung by the conflicting interests of it’s internal power-blocs.  But it feels like it’s better than the League of Nations, and the vacuum that preceded that.  I mean… as a programmer, I understand the feeling that something would be better if it was rewritten from scratch.  On the other hand, I know how wrong that almost always is, since you’re not just throwing away buggy code, you’re also throwing away all the time that was spent getting the right bits right, and committing to spending the time remaking mistakes that were already made, and fixed, in the old code.

Um, I’m not sure that’s a coherent metaphor.

But it was ultimately a hopeful film about a depressing subject, and I’m glad I saw it; I might try to read Samantha Power’s book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, which inspired the movie.

* * *

As a great philosopher once said, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

Well, that’s actually from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension, a film that I’ve sadly never seen. Nevertheless, the point is that you don’t escape your problems by travelling to paradise, if the problem is inside you.

The Galapogos Affair: Satan Came to Eden is almost certainly a true crime film, probably a murder mystery, set on a deserted island with three groups — a Nietzian doctor and his female disciple, both of whom deserted their partners; a fairly conventional husband, wife, and two sons; and an almost certainly self-styled French Baroness, with two lovers in tow and grand ambitions for a hotel for millionaires.

There were various details that seem outlandish: the Baroness had a keepsake that she took with her always, the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.  The doctor and his partner were vegetarians.  The husband and wife were installed them in old pirate caves near the other side of the island when they first arrived by the doctor, who was infuriated that they assumed that he would help them with the wife’s pregnancy. And this is all happening in the 1930s, and most of those on the island are Germans, who had lived through one war, and believe another war is coming.

Now, add a drought, and leave to simmer.

There was a fair amount of 16mm footage, taken by a scientific expedition sponsored by an American millionaire, who visited the island five times in a row; there was even a small short film that the Baroness had persuaded them to make, with herself as a fierce piratess, that the documentary makers had discovered and assembled for the project.  And they interviewed many of the people who lived on the other islands around the time (or children of the same), and some of the kids of the couple.  But apart from two books, one written by the doctor’s partner, the other by the wife, we have no documentation about what really happened.  Which, I guess means that we have no documentation of what really happened.

I liked the film, and might check out the DVD for the special features, since I’d like to hear a bit more about the people living on the other islands.

* * *

Finally, there was a short, The Light Harvester — NZ-made sci-fi that felt a little steampunk inspired, and made me wish that there was a Twilight Zone-esque compilation show for filmmakers to make a bunch of these.  I thought it was well made, but not especially compelling; but let someone make 30 or 40 of these, and you’d get some real gems, I suspect.

The Rover was much more self-assured. Set 10 years after a never-explained “collapse” we watch an unnamed man implacably pursue a group that casually did him wrong across a blasted landscape.  The film very carefully avoids telling you anything more than you need to know, while explaining just enough to make it feel like the writers know the answers.  The violence is shocking, and the shadow of violence makes even trivial things tense.

Of course, one problem with post-apocalyptic films is that it triggers the RPG pack-rat in me. “Look at all the guns lying around, you’ve got a vehicle, gather them up! Search those bodies! If you really can’t carry away all those resources, at least cache them so you can come back later!” Unfortunately, what would make sense in a resource-management centred game or actually surviving a resource-poor environment probably wouldn’t make good cinema.

A grimly serious, good film.  I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure it would be to C’s taste.

Film Festival Day 3, 27/07/2014

I don’t really like Courtney Place after midnight on a Saturday, but worse is bumping into herds of young people on the outskirts — without other mobs to moo at and posture towards, they try and amuse each other with whatever’s about, which generally means you. I mean, I’m sure most of them mean no harm — but how can you tell the difference between the group that tried shouting out random men’s names at me to get a reaction, and the one that beat up that couple some time ago near the Basin Reserve?

I don’t begrudge the young and drunk taking over the town at night on the weekend; but I kind of wish that I didn’t have to run the gauntlet that they pose, either.

* * *

As expected, Animation For Kids was much better than Toons For Tots — in fact, I’d say that the worst of them was nearly on par with the best of the latter.  It started with the music video Apache, which I think I’d seen before, but was still pretty great.  Prince Ki-Ki-Do and the One Hundred Unhappy Mushrooms was about a small yellow chick with a crown, a spear, and two guardsmen tiger mosquitos (who we meet fencing each other) — they fly about righting wrongs.  It looks like a series, but I can’t find it online, which is a pity, since he had a great action pose. Ki-Ki-Do!

Snapshot was an excellent short about not seeing animals when you’re more intent on hunting them out than patiently waiting and looking (another one that I wish I could link to), and The Numberlys actually thanked Fritz Lang for inspiring their visual style (link is just a promo, sadly).

There were some moments that were odd because I am an adult watching, not a child — for example, my previous narrative experience meant that I immediately assumed Borrowed Light was about an impending catastrophe, rather than a desire to share something beautiful.  And Sausage (link to trailer) had the weird disconnect for me with linking “pure/genuine” and “sausage”, where sausages are the meat products most likely to contain… just about anything other than meat, actually.   And I was sad that the scientist in The New Species (Facebook page, best I could do) was dismissive, rather than, “I dunno, try this stuff.”

Anyway, don’t bother with PohyperPortlandia: Zero Rats was funny enough but didn’t feel complete in itself, and 5 Meters 80 was okay, but felt more like an animation demo than a story.  Snowflake reminded me of Charlie and Lola’s Snow Is My Favorite And My Best, except wordless and in Africa (these are all good things), and I wonder whether kids will pick up on the tics that the titular Mr Hublot exhibits (another good one).

So, a satisfying showing.  Maybe nibblings should go to this one next year.

* * *

Someone pointed out that the message of FEMEN, who are the subject of Ukraine Is Not A Brothel, is better summed up in the title of the film than by the film itself.  That’s kind of true, but the film isn’t trying to promote the organization; it is trying to understand it (or at least, how it was when the film was made).  How can you promote feminism and female empowerment by pushing out members not prepared to go topless, or who are not pretty enough; what does it mean when all your photographers are men, when the person running the organization is a man?  How do you reconcile protesting the exploitation of women with working in a nightclub as an “exotic dancer” to put bread on the table?

The women are serious, and committed, and took risks (sometimes foolish risks); but that doesn’t mean that people weren’t exploiting them.  There appeared to be a bunch of weird things going on in the Ukraine with attitudes to women, some of which were simply shown, rather than commented on.  For example, there was some old home-movie footage of the women in the movement, showing them as little girls; one clip was obviously of the family moving into a new house, with the father saying, “there’s the tv, there’s the wardrobe”.  And while his daughter is clamouring for him to film her box of toys, he casually pans over the pin-ups of bare-breasted women in cheesecake poses on the walls of their new home.

The filmmaker was asked what the people in the film thought of it.  She said that it wasn’t their favorite — that they preferred some of the more propaganda-oriented films — but that they understood that it was more of a history than a promotion tool.

I don’t know how I feel about organizations that are primarily about protest, about “getting the message out” over getting stuff done.  I mean, I see how it is important, but it feels like they are likely to attract people who are more interested in the noise than the solution… but how do you convince people of the need for a solution without noise?

The organization has since kicked out the Svengali-like “Victor”, and is mainly based in Paris.  I wish them luck, but I don’t think I’ll be donating money to them any time soon.

* * *

Apparently the booklet compares In Order of Disappearance to Fargo.  That seems a fair comparison — both are set in cold, polite, slightly parochial communities.  And there’s quite a bit of humour, and quite a bit of blood.

Basically, it’s a revenge thriller, and while it has some minor problems (why does the wife shut him out so quickly and irrevocably?  Why are the only three speaking female roles all wives?), it’s grim but good.  And I think I now know the symbol that you’d put on your gravestone if you were Norwegian and an atheist.

I might see if C wants to watch it.

* * *

Then it was back to Te Papa for Faith Connections, a documentary on the Hindu festival Kumbh Mela.  Children featured in a number of different contexts – for one, the film is made because the film-maker’s dad asks him to go to the festival to get him some water from the confluence of the three holy rivers during this festival.  But also, younger kids — a Hindu holy man raising an abandoned baby, a family desperately searching for their three year-old boy who may have been abducted for adoption, or for organ harvesting, and a runaway boy who swans about the festival charming policemen and sadhu (and the film-maker) with his cheeky daring.  There were Sashu showing their dedication and holiness by wandering around naked and covered in chalk, and by… er… suspending bricks from things not designed to hang bricks from.  And there was a guy wandering around in street clothes, who felt that was the way that he could best serve the community.

There were people working to get people who had lost each other back together, and give rides home to people who couldn’t get home, and distributing food and money to those in need (and marijuana to those wanting to empty their minds); but it was strongly hinted that soldiers on duty might have been at least complicit in the kidnapping of the young boy (given how he was eventually found).

This was a documentary where the filmmaker didn’t hide his presence, while never appearing on-screen; he says at the beginning of the film that the is going to the festival to get water for his father, and we occasionally hear him asking questions. But that just makes it feel like we are are travelling with him, rather than having it be his story.

It was an interesting glimpse into a world very different from mine.  I enjoyed it.

* * *

And then finally, Black Coal, Thin Ice, a Chinese detective noir.  I don’t know whether it’s differences in culture, but this didn’t work for me particularly well.  I mean, I followed it, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would — there were a number of parts that felt like they were meant to be symbolic, but just felt lumpen.  And that’s a shame, since I liked some of the plot (revolving, classically, around a sad young widow with secrets, and a down-on-his-luck ex-cop with a drinking problem).  Some sequences worked really well, like the confrontation with the initial suspects, back when the main protagonist was a cop; but some didn’t.

I like liking movies, and I’m sad that I didn’t like this one.

Film Festival Day 2, 26/07/2014

Coordinating groups of people is always a bit fraught — especially when some of them are very young people. Nevertheless, we managed to collect three of my nibblings, get most of their ice creams inside them rather than on them, and sit down for Toons For Tots in a timely manner.

This year wasn’t as good as last year, sadly. Part of that may be because some of these nibblings are growing up – but I felt there wasn’t anything at the level of The Goatherd And His Lots And Lots And Lots Of Goats or Ormie the Pig.  For example, the animated version of I Want My Hat Back was fine, but I didn’t feel like it added anything significant to the picturebook. Then again, it is a very good picturebook. Trampoline was more of a good idea than a fun execution (telling the story from the shapes made while watching from underneath a trampoline). Big Box Singsong: Hair was fine, My Mom Is An Airplane was pretty good, and The Smortlybacks was okay… just not, “Huh, I should hunt up a link and send it to the other nibblings.”

Maybe I need to start taking them to Animation For Kids.

* * *

The Great Museum reminded me a lot of House of Radio from last year — though this focused on the restoration and expansion of the main museum in Vienna, rather than French public radio. But it played the same trick of showing events as they happened, with the only dialogue being people talking to each other, though this film was more focused about what was changing than being a “day in the life” (though that got a good showing too).

It seems like a lot of the work for the majority of people involves walking long distances, carrying things, and holding things in place. One memorable sequence had a guy on a scooter gliding through hallways and past desks for 90 seconds or so, parking, and then picking up his printout.

There were plenty of scenes that will be familiar to anyone who is involved in a bureaucracy (which means that the film should play well in Wellington); for example, the executive who gets hung up in the minutiae of font design. Or there’s the meeting with the greeters where one points out that she’s been there for ten years, and no-one has introduced her to the other departments.

But what I love is knowledgable people being passionate and enthused about stuff. The head of the British Museum being impressed and gushing about an elaborate toy ship that used to have a working band on its deck and firing cannons, for example — that was neat to see. This is one of the reasons that I like the Antique’s Roadshow, I think.

I enjoyed it, but as before, I think I like to be told more than I like to be shown, as a rule.

* * *

Regarding Susan Sontag was a definite change of pace. A much more traditional doco, it did what seemed to be (to someone coming in almost totally ignorant) a fairly good attempt at giving a taste of what this complicated woman was like and about. I liked that they managed to interview so many people in her life, and that they managed to talk to both sides of some of the stories.

Like many intense people, I suspect that she would have been a painful person to love; and I’m not sure I agree with her approach to literary interpretation, though I’m not reading in the same context she was. But I’m kind of curious about what she had to say about pop culture, and I think that it’s good that she’s there as an example of how full a life you can lead. Though her impact wasn’t over-romanticised — one writer, talking about her time in Sarajevo during the war, said something like, “You stop atrocities with armed troops, you don’t stop them by putting on Waiting For Godot.”

I don’t know what this would have been like to watch if I’d gone in having read her books and knowing a bit about her life — but coming as a blank page, I enjoyed it.

* * *

The Film Archive have reorganized their seating, so instead of an aisle down the middle, you walk up the sides. This makes plenty of sense.

Unfortunately, I can’t be so complimentary about the showing of The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, the documentary about Studio Ghibli which shows Miyazaki making what is meant to be his last film, and skirts around the edges of his studiomate and long-time collaborator Takahata not managing to finish his.

Wow, that was a longer initial summary than I meant to do.

Anyway, the lights went down… and then came up. Then they went down again, and the film played for a couple of minutes… and then the narration kicked in, and it became apparent that they had forgotten to turn the subtitles on. So they restarted, after a bit of faffing about, and the wordless intro played again, with many shots of dappled light and picturesque settings… and then the subtitles failed to appear again. So up the lights came, for even longer this time, and we sat through the dappling and picturesque-ness again, which was slightly less evocative the third time through… but finally, success!

Once we eventually got to see it, I enjoyed the documentary very much. I mean, I don’t think I’d like to work under either man, and I don’t think I share Miyazaki’s inherent distrust of technology or the future. And everyone smokes so much! But I did enjoy seeing him work, and make decisions, and because he seemed happy to talk to the camera we got to see much more of him. And his assistant seemed cool.

And I hope I’m that spry, smart ad opinionated when I’m 72.

I wouldn’t mind watching it again. Though maybe not that first two minutes.

* * *

Another complete contrast was 52 Tuesdays. Filmed with non-actors on 52 consecutive Tuesdays, the team played their scenes, then got their scripts for the next shoot the following day, with rehersals on Friday and Monday. They started shooting with six weeks of script written, and the idea they had was that they would maintain that buffer… and anyone who has worked on a film can guess how long that plan survived contact with the enemy. This was the director’s first drama, and you could see some of her background in documentary coming through.

But I’ve been talking about the process, rather than the film itself, which is a bit of a disservice to a very good film. The story starts when the main character, a 16 year-old called Billie (or “Bill”), is asked to move in with her father while her mother goes through the process of gender reassignment. The film explores how Billie’s relationship with her mother changes, and how Billie tries to understand herself.

I enjoyed it, and I think that the odd filming schedule works for it. They do lightly touch on some of the prejudices that someone changing gender faces, but because the film was focused squarely on the family, what we mainly saw was the mum’s internal crises, and the way that her (mostly supportive) immediate family interacted with her. In contrast to many films, it is the women and trans man who gets the most attention; there are a number of men, but they are mostly sketches and cyphers. Though to be fair, most of them get more character development than any woman in your typical summer blockbuster gets.

I liked it, but it won’t be to everyone’s taste.

(There’s also an app where the actress who played the main character asks you a question every Tuesday for a year, and you are meant to take a photo of yourself with your answer.  I’ve go no interest in posting my opinions about random things for the world to see.)

(Yes, I’m aware of the irony.  Shut up.)

* * *

I can’t believe I’m going to make this segue, but — watching The Mule has made me realise that, when it comes to things that I will look away from the screen rather than watch, a man reswallowing baggies of heroin that he’s just… er… “expelled” is pretty high up on the list.

But first, the preceding short. Coconut was basically two mates in a car, being idiots. Not, happily, in a way that hurts anyone else. Well, okay, that’s not exactly true, but close enough. It was relatively innofensive, but I’m not going to bother to try to find a copy to link to.

Then the main feature — in the Aussie film tradition of “amiable drongo gets into a situation over his head, with poo jokes”, it’s the eighties, and a scumbag mate, evil criminal kingpin, and father with a gambling problem conspire to land said drongo in the hands of the Australian federal police with a kilo of heroin in his stomach. All he has to do is avoid pooing for seven days.

It’s a better film than I may have pitched it, with plenty of good turns from various prominent Aussie actors, and some Chekov’s Guns so are so elegantly laid in place that you don’t notice them until they’re shot. Defintely not something I’d necessarily recommend to everyone, but well done.

Film Festival Day 1, 25/07/2014

I cut it very fine indeed this morning, running across the road to the Embassy and sliding into my seat seconds before the lights went down. That’s not the fault of Wellington’s public transport; it’s just because I underestimated how long it takes to do the dishes. We should really get around to getting a dishwasher…

* * *

The Lunchbox was billed as a comedy, as I recall, which is… um… not exactly true. I mean, it certainly had funny moments, and I enjoyed it a lot, but the tone as a whole was more… wistful? Hopeful? In many ways, it was people who think that they’re trapped in situations, finding hope by communicating to other people.

The eponymous lunchbox is part of an enormous network that transports the hot meals that wives and small restaurants cook every day to the appropriate worker, via scooter, train and trolley, which hardly ever delivers the wrong meal to the wrong person… but, as a number of the characters say, “Sometimes the wrong train can take you to the right station.” The main characters, quite by accident, are given someone to hear them when they need it; and that makes them better, braver people. And it finished in the right place.

It was a good film, with excellent actors, and I might watch it again if it was on television; but I don’t think I will get it out of the video store just so that C can watch it.

* * *

It certainly wasn’t a deliberate plan on my part for my first couple of movies to have strong themes about older men who are valued at work, but haven’t quite found their place. I don’t think it’s an especially resonant theme for me — I’m annoyingly comfortable with my life, and am unlikely to feel the need to sneak away from my job to meet an idol. Actually, I don’t really like the idea of meeting famous people – what are you going to get out of it, beyond making someone you theoretically like vaguely uncomfortable? Actually, that’s also my attitude to meeting the good looking… or people in general, more or less.

But that’s at least part of the plot of Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed — the older main character, an English teacher who uses the Beatles lyrics for lessons, is driving to ask John Lennon (filming How I Won The War nearby) to include lyrics in the liner notes, as well as wanting to just talk to him for a bit. While on the road, he picks up a girl who is escaping the home for pregnant teens, and a boy who runs away, ostensibly because he doesn’t want to cut his hair, but more because he’s reacting to a controlling father.

Unlike the first movie, where the world seemed largely benign-to-indifferent to the protagonists, Franco’s Spain is, if not hostile, grumpily spiteful — lots of slapping, ear pulling, and instances of the strong bullying the weak. But although there’s plenty of darkness, and it’s sprinkled with hopes you know are likely to be dashed some time in the limbo of after-the-movie, there are also glimpses of freedoms, and it was basically a hopeful film.

Again, I liked it, would probably watch it again, but wouldn’t seek it out.

* * *

Okay, now that I have seen Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, maybe the theme that I’ve actually got is, “Being a woman often sucks.” The wife in The Lunchbox, the pregnant teen in Living is Easy With Eyes Closed, and now the main character Kumiko, all have their lives constrained by the choices those around them make for them..

Kumiko is an Office Lady, and 29. There’s a cruel Japanese term, “christmas cake”, which refers to women over a certain (ridiculously young) age — I will let TVTropes explain it. In the movie, this manifests as her mother constantly harassing her on the phone to either get a boyfriend or move home, and her boss basically telling her to quit so he can hire someone younger and prettier. But she’s convinced that she has discovered a way out – the money buried at the end of the movie Fargo.

The film is very good at communicating how disorienting the world is for Kumiko – she is often the only thing in focus, and the soundtrack grows overwhelming and dissonant. And she is brave, though often in ways that are self-destructive; and people are helpful, even when it would have probably been better for her in the end if they hadn’t.

This was not a hopeful film, and it was quite slow. I liked it, but I probably wouldn’t watch it again.

* * *

Considerably more upbeat is We Are The Best, about a couple of tweens who decide to start a band, more on a whim than anything… and then befriend a lonely girl who can actually play, so that she can teach them. It is a period film, and they are passionate about punk in a world that’s more interested in disco or the New Romantics. In fact, “passionate” is what they’re all about — why are their teachers making them play basketball when there are starving people in Africa? And obviously, their parents are terrible embarrassments, even though their friends think they’re pretty cool.

I’ve never been a teenage girl, and I’m sure that a lot of their antics would be a lot less endearing if I had to clean up after them. But the self-confidence and loyalty is plenty endearing, and It was nice to go to an upbeat film. (Though if they had the same attitudes and were in their early twenties, on the other hand, they’d be insufferable.) I’m tempted to watch it with C, just to get her take on it.

* * *

Finally, Why Don’t You Play In Hell was fun, but it felt like it didn’t cohere — like there were two different ideas for a film competing.

I would have happily watched a film where a film crew willing to die recruits a street punk and transforms him into an action star, then have the street punk be disillusioned by their lack of success, and then have him face a crisis, get the band back together, and have some sort of huge fight scene where they resolve the crisis.

I would also have enjoyed a film where a Yakuza boss decides to honour his wife’s sacrifice and support his daughter’s desire to be an action film start by filming his assault on a rival gang.

The two plotlines together… well, they work okay, but I just feel like they would have worked better separately.

That said, there’s plenty to like in the film, if you like this sort of film. It certainly doesn’t take itself seriously, and there’s plenty of blood and body parts scattered around. There’s some film meta-humour, including the yakuza crews, and a budgeting discussion between the Yakuza boss and the ostensible “director”, and I liked that the “queen of the hand-held shots” (one of the film crew) wasn’t sexed up.

But… I can’t help but feel that it would have been better if the film just focused on one storyline.

So, all in all — fun, but could have been better.

Glorious return for 2014 — the schedule!

It’s that time of year again, and here’s the schedule.

Short aside — booking in person was even more terrible than usual this year. On the plus side, booking online was much, much better; in fact, I ended up booking online while waiting for two hours the queue to move any faster than 1 person/40 minutes. Using the web tool wasn’t seamless, admittedly, since I had to split my bookings in order to get their system to accept my money; but I didn’t have to pay extra for the privilege of working around their system.

Friday 25 July
Em 11:00am - 12:45pm The Lunchbox (105)
Em 1:30pm - 3:20pm Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed (108)
Em 3:45pm - 5:30pm Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (104)
Em 6:15pm - 8:00pm We Are the Best! (102)
Pa 9:15pm - 11:25pm Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (129)

Saturday 26 July
Em 10:00am - 11:05am Toons for Tots (63) x 5
Em 11:45am - 1:20pm The Great Museum (94) x 2
FA 2:00pm - 3:40pm Regarding Susan Sontag (100)
FA 4:00pm - 6:00pm The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (118) x 2
Pa 7:45pm - 9:35pm* 52 Tuesdays (110)
Pa 10:45pm - 12:35am The Mule (97) + Coconut (10)

Sunday 27 July
Em 10:00am - 11:10am Animation for Kids 2014 (67)
TP 12:45pm - 2:05pm* Ukraine Is Not a Brothel (80)
Pa 3:30pm - 5:30pm In Order of Disappearance (116)
TP 5:45pm - 7:50pm Faith Connections (122)
Pa 8:15pm - 10:05pm Black Coal, Thin Ice (106)

Monday 28 July
Pa 11:00am - 12:40pm Is the Man Who is Tall Happy? (88) + Queenie (11)
Em 1:15pm - 3:05pm The Noble Family (108)
TP 3:45pm - 5:50pm Watchers of the Sky (121)
Em 6:15pm - 8:15pm* The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden (120)
Em 9:30pm - 11:35pm The Rover (105) + The Light Harvester (18)

Tuesday 29 July
Em 10:00am - 11:40am Particle Fever (99)
Pa 1:15pm - 2:55pm Patema Inverted (99)
Pa 3:30pm - 5:10pm* Everything We Loved (100)
TP 6:15pm - 7:55pm Big Men (99)
Pa 9:00pm - 10:55pm Night Moves (112)

Wednesday 30 July
Em 10:30am – 12:10pm! Love is Strange (98)
CG 12:15pm - 1:10pm An Invincible Defeat (55)
TP 2:00pm - 3:30pm Looking for Light: Jane Bown (90)
Em 3:45pm - 5:35pm Under the Skin (108)
Pa 6:30pm - 7:45pm* New Zealand’s Best 2014 (75)
Em 8:45pm - 10:35pm Human Capital (109)

Thursday 31 July
TP 11:45am - 1:20pm E-Team (88) + Oli Missen (5)
CG 1:45pm - 2:55pm Mothers (68)
Pa 4:15pm - 5:40pm Locke (85)
ED 6:30pm - 8:15pm! The Green Prince (105)
PB 8:15pm - 10:15pm Joe (117)

Friday 1 August
Pa 11:45am - 1:15pm Alive Inside (74) + Home (15)
CG 1:30pm - 2:25pm DNA Dreams (53)
Em 3:45pm - 5:45pm Force Majeure (118)
Pa 6:45pm - 8:10pm Diplomacy (84) x 2
Pa 8:45pm - 10:20pm The Double (93)
Pa 10:45pm - 12:20am Life After Beth (91)

Saturday 2 August
Pa 10:30am - 12:00pm Sepideh - Reaching for the Stars (88)
Pa 2:30pm - 3:55pm* Aunty and the Star People (82)
PB 4:30pm - 5:55pm The Punk Singer (82) x 2
Em 6:30pm - 8:50pm The Tale of The Princess Kaguya (137)
Em 9:30pm - 11:20pm* Housebound (107)

Sunday 3 August
Pa 11:15am - 1:00pm Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (105) x 2
ED 2:15pm - 5:55pm The Last of the Unjust (218) x 2
FA 7:30pm - 8:50pm! Animation Now 2014 (76)
Em 9:00pm - 10:30pm The Lady from Shanghai (87)

Monday 4 August
Em 11:00am - 1:00pm Reaching for the Moon (118)
Pa 1:15pm - 2:50pm* REALITi (95)
TP 3:30pm - 5:45pm Fish & Cat (134)
ED 6:15pm - 7:45pm Jodorowsky’s Dune (90)
Pa 8:45pm - 10:50pm The Congress (122)

Tuesday 5 August
Em 10:30am - 12:05pm Two Days, One Night (95)
Em 12:45pm - 3:30pm Boyhood (164)
TP 4:15pm - 5:50pm Sacro GRA (93)
Pa 6:15pm - 7:40pm When Animals Dream (84)
Pa 8:45pm - 10:30pm Starred Up (105)

Wednesday 6 August
TP 12:00pm - 1:30pm! InRealLife (90)
Pa 1:30pm - 3:35pm Welcome to New York (125)
Em 4:00pm - 5:55pm Maps to the Stars (111)
TP 6:15pm - 7:45pm Art and Craft (87)
Pa 8:30pm - 10:20pm Cold In July (109)

Thursday 7 August
Em 10:15am - 12:00pm Still Life (92) + The Handkerchief (13)
PB 1:45pm - 5:50pm At Berkeley (244) x 2
Pa 6:30pm - 8:20pm Enemy (91) + Unnatural History (16)
Em 9:00pm - 10:50pm The Babadook (96) + Eloise (11)

Friday 8 August
Em 11:00am - 12:50pm The Wonders (110)
Pa 2:15pm - 4:15pm Jimi: All Is By My Side (118)
FA 4:30pm - 5:50pm First Cousin Once Removed (79)
FA 6:30pm - 7:40pm* The Inheritance (70)
Em 8:45pm - 10:55pm Snowpiercer (126)

Saturday 9 August
Pa 11:00am - 12:50pm Alphabet (107) x 2
Em 2:30pm - 4:15pm The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet 3D (105)
Em 5:00pm - 6:35pm Beauty and the Beast (94)
Em 7:15pm - 9:40pm Leviathan (141)
Em 10:15pm - 11:55pm It Follows (100)

Sunday 10 August
Em 11:00am - 12:40pm Print the Legend (100) x 2
FA 1:00pm - 3:30pm* notes to eternity (150) x 2
Pa 3:45pm - 5:30pm We Come As Friends (105)
Pa 6:00pm - 7:25pm Show People (83)
Em 8:00pm - 10:05pm Wild Tales (122)

An aside on my codes — a “*” after the film name means that the director will be there for Q&A, so everything will run late; a “!” is a tight transition, which means I need to leave as soon as the credits start and run to the other venue, and “x 2” after the film means I get to see my wife for the brief period before the lights go down. 😉

So, other than not getting my favourite Paramount seats, online booking was pretty good, and I’ll have to weigh up doing that from now on. I’ll probably go in and get the tickets printed off, though, since I don’t really want to print a page per ticket. 🙂

See some of you at the movies!

Film Festival Day 16, 10/08/2013

This is it — the write-up of my final day of the Film Festival..  I saw 88 films, which is about one under par for me.

(I went to Pacific Rim last night, which is why I’m still lagging behind with my write-ups.)

Something that I forgot to mention in my write-up of Computer Chess was how annoyed I was at the programmer who, when asked how many squares there are on a chess-board, answered “64”.  No wonder you’re having problems with your program if you can’t answer a simple question like that correctly; “squares” and “places a piece can occupy” are not synonymous.  “204” is a slightly better answer, since the whole board is a square, as is each of the four seven by seven squares, the nine six-by-six squares, etc.  But the best answer, in my opinion, would be to explain the ambiguity of the question, and ask what kind of answer is most useful to the person asking.

These are the things I think about when watching movies.  Sorry, guys.

Film #84: Cutie & the Boxer (and Butterflies)

The stop-motion short was about how much artists suffer, and how evil the people who give them jobs are.  Okay, no, that’s not fair at all — there’s a certainly a risk that doing a stifling version of something you are passionate about can end up killing that passion.  But… I don’t know.  There was something about this story that rubbed me the wrong way a little.

The feature did not hide where its sympathies lay; or perhaps it’s more fair to say that they the facts of the matter speak for themselves.  The “boxer”, Ushio Shinohara (I think they used the anglicized name order?) and the “cutie”, his wife Noriko, are two struggling  New York artists — in fact, Ushio has been a struggling artist since he arrived there from Japan in the 60s.  He specializes in giant cardboard sculptures of motorbikes, and canvases that he punches with paint-filled sponges tied to his boxing gloves.  She is 20 years younger than him, and also came to New York to become an artist; he charmed her, knocked her up, and then she stopped doing art for a while to raise their son… who, it is implied, has a drinking problem, like his father before him.

We see Ushio making new art for an exhibition — and their rent and utilities bills are such that they really need to make a sale.  The Guggenheim is interested in purchasing one of his paintings, in particular one that had been featured in journals… but it turned out that he’d given that away to a friend while drunk.  But someone in Japan is interested in buying a sculpture, so off he flies  to Japan…

Noriko, on the other hand, has started painting again — a semi-autobiographical series of pictures, almost comics, telling the story of her life since she came to New York through the characters “Cutie” and “Bully”.

But that stark description simplfies the relationship in a way the movie doesn’t.  It’s clear that they both still have strong feelings for each other, and Noriko credits Ushio for mentoring her, and pushing her in her art.

I have no real interest in this sort of art — I’m not offended that it exists, I’m just not moved by it.  But I’m glad that they are still going, and don’t seem likely to starve; and I enjoyed the film.

Film #85: Twenty Feet From Stardom

What’s the main thing that this film reminded me about?  It would have to be the douchebaggery of Phil Spector — taking the recording of “He’s a Rebel” sung by Darlene Love, and attributing it to The Crystals, for example.

This was a film about backup singers, and how some of them want to be stars in their own right.  All of the women (and handful of men) shown sounded amazing… but you also heard some of their solo work, and that was much more varied in quality.  It showed, sadly, that just having a good voice (and being pretty) isn’t enough — getting good songs is important too.

But it made a bunch of interesting points — for example, that the backup often get the hook of the song, so when people sing along to a pop song, it is often the backup singers they’re singing along with.  And people also talked about how that sound has gone out of vogue, and that many artists just get cheaper people in and tune them electronically, rather than paying for expensive professionals.  On the other hand, there were no shortage of stars willing to sing the praises of some of these singers.

I enjoyed the film, and there were plenty of good tunes; I’ll probably look up some of the artists (like Lisa Fischer) to see what their independent stuff is like.  But I’m not sure I feel that bad for people who never become as famous as they wanted to be.

Film #86: The Crowd

This was the silent film with an orchestra.  A young man comes to New York city, meets a girl, marries, has kids… but his life never quite gets the breaks that he’s sure are coming, and he never has quite the amount of elbow-room for bad choices that he thinks he has.

This was quite a sad film, for all that it ended on an upbeat note.  I was impressed by some of the effects that they managed to do at the time (for example, showing his internal state by superimposing images on his forehead).  And a live orchestra is always fun… some people play The Dark Side of the Moon over the top of The Wizard of Oz, so maybe it would be possible to write a score to be played over something like The Room?

It was an interesting film, but I don’t think I’ll seek it out to watch again.

Film #87: Museum Hours

A slow film that I quite enjoyed.  He is an older Viennese museum guard with a varied past; she is a relatively skint middle-aged Canadian pulled to the city by a relative in a coma.  Sadly, they do not fight crime.  Instead, we hear him commenting on his job, and on the people he watches, and about the art that he sees; and we see her talking to a cousin, a woman that she’s not seen since she was young, but for whom she has flown half-way around the world on borrowed money.  The two protagonists meet by chance, and he helps her, because… why not?

This is not an action-packed film.  It is not romantic, or sexy.  But… there’s an art historian that the man overhears, who talks about how the the Bruegel’s painting The Procession to Calvary might not be about Christ’s carrying of the cross; it might be about the little boy in blue running about in the background.  There’s a texture to the world, detail all around us, and it can as beautiful and meaningful as any carefully posed piece of art.

And it made me want to see more of Bruegel’s art, so there’s that, too.

So… definitely not for everyone, and maybe not something I need to rewatch, but I liked it.

Film #88: The Only Lovers Left Alive

This was my last movie of the festival.  A Jim Jarmusch film about vampires, starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston sounded like my idea of a good time, and I wasn’t wrong.

Tilda Swinton is always intense, but she also gets to be playful here as Eve; Hiddleston is brooding and dark as her lover Adam.  They get to be the kind of cool that people around them want to be like, and we get to see the tension between making art that you want others to respond to, and the need for anonymity.

It looks gorgeous, and is frequently funny without making fun of itself.  It is sad about the wastefulness of people, and makes good use of decaying Detroit to make its points and set its mood.  The vampiric powers are there, but they’re more evident in how much Adam and Eve know and have seen than anything particularly flashy; but that makes the small glimpses of supernatural power we see all the more effective.

Random things from the screening: when one of the cool old guitars was broken, I heard a couple of people in the audience make an involuntary sad noise.  And when the two leads talked about Eve’s “sister” turning up, I thought we were going to get a Lilith reference, but it went in a different direction instead.

I liked it.

Film Festival Day 16, 10/08/2013

I’m going to do my best not to lose momentum, and actually finish writing up all the films I saw. 🙂

One of the things I like best about the Festival is bumping into people I don’t see at any other time — like various members of the illustrious Davie clan, who are always a pleasure to see.

Film #79: Toons For Tots

I was very pleased to be able to take a nephew and niece along to this, as well as C.  Some of the shorts didn’t quite come off, I think — A Girl Named Elastica seemed to be aimed at a slightly different audience, for example, and Ballpit veers dangerously close to the ever-present danger of free-jazz and abstract shapes that haunts all collections of animation.  But Macropolis (defective toys that escape the factory, which my nephew correctly guessed the end of), The Goat Herder and his Lots and Lots and Lots of Goats (whose theme you may be able to discern) and Room on the Broom (adapted in the same way The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child have been in the past) were all good fun.

There were also a few foxes in these shorts — The Little Bird and the Leaf had a lurking fox menace, while in Metro the fox steals a girl’s ticket, and leads her away on an adventure.

Anyway, I think the kids enjoyed themselves, and I’d given myself a two-hour gap, which gave plenty of time to take them to Te Papa and meet up with their parents; then I left C behind and hurried off to my next movie.

Film #80: From the Bottom of the Lake

This film looks at the writing/directing process that Jane Campion goes through for a new TV series for the BBC, Top of the Lake.  I have not seen the series, but that wasn’t my primary interest in the film; I was more interested in process.

Campion writes with a partner, who is not there while she is directing.  The writing process was shown to be the usual slog; there was a very nice bit where Campion said something nice about her partner, and he, embarrassed, exclaimed something about the film-maker, and then said, “There, you’ll have to cut that bit out now.”

From a roleplaying perspective, I found it interesting that Campion had the actors rehearse by talking back and forth in character, improvising in order to get a feel for the sort of person they were playing.  I think it would be odd to slip from that mode to follow-the-script mode, since you’d be so much more constrained; but then again, if you’re an actor, I guess you’re getting paid to follow the script.

I think I’ll try and hunt down a copy of the series; for some reason, the vibe of what I saw reminded me of a game I was in called Phoenix, and I’d like to see whether I still think that after watching the show.

Film #81: The House of Radio

This documentary made French public radio look pretty cool.  There were a few instances where people addressed the camera, talking about what they do; but for most of the film, we are just watching them do it.  What “it” is varies considerably — recording radio dramas or pieces of music, interviewing Umberto Eco or reporting on a bicycle race from the pillion of a motorbike.  Possibly the bits that were most fun were listening to the newsroom gleefully discuss what should make the cut, and what could be pushed.

This was a “day in the life” style documentary, with no commentary, explanation or exposition; I think my preference runs more to the other end of the spectrum.  However, there were many neat scenes, such as the newsroom mentioned previously, or the many musical performances.

(I might have fallen a tiny bit asleep during this, but luckily C was there to stop me from snoring.   I think that this may have been the only film where I nodded off this Festival, which is a much better track record than last year.)

Anyway, I enjoyed it, but I can’t imagine seeing it again.

Film #82: Dial M for Murder

Hitchcock with the lovely Grace Kelly in 3D.  I’d never seen this film, and enjoyed it immensely; there is a lot to be said for a nice convoluted Hitchcockian murder.  However; since I am trying my best not to spoil the movies I talk about, I’m a little constrained as to what I can say.  The main villain is quick-witted as well as clever, and there’s a nice tension between wanting to see justice prevail, and wanting to see how he’ll wriggle out of a tight spot.

The 3D worked fine, though I’m not sure how much of an impact it had.

I’d happily watch this again, in 2D or in stereo.

Film #83: Computer Chess (& Destination Pioneer City)

The issue that I had with the short, Destination Pioneer City (apart from the fact that I didn’t think much of the city design) was that there wasn’t very much to it — I mean, yes, it looked like the kind of glossy promotional thing that you might see if Mars colonization was commonplace, but that was about it.  It wasn’t funny, it didn’t hint at anything, it didn’t echo the kinds of promotional material that brought people to New Zealand, it just… was.  And that was kind of disappointing.

Computer Chess, on the other hand, had plenty of things going on in its early 80s competition between chess programs.  I was pleased and impressed that they weren’t content to just throw in some technobabble and fake machines, but instead drew upon some of the interesting stuff happening at the time, like messing with compilers to optimize a program.  And while the performances were stylised and intentionally stilted, they didn’t feel false, and it captured the feeling at the time that true artificial intelligence must be just around the corner. (And I can only assume that the weird swinging self-discovery group also meeting at the hotel is at least moderately true to the time.)

Artificial intelligence is a tricky thing — one of the lecturers that I had at university claimed that the reason that it was always just out of reach was because every time a goal was reached, it was removed from what was considered artificial intelligence.  Once computers became good at pattern recognition, pattern recognition wasn’t AI any more; the same with natural language parsing, or anything else we actually worked out how to do.

This was a slow film, and very weird — it definitely wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste, and I’m not sure that I’d want to watch it again any time soon.  But I think I liked it.