22 February, 2015

988 minutes

So here's the thing,

The Oscars are always a weird mix of joy and frustration, where you're excited by the acknowledgement given to one film that you love, and baffled by the focus on another film that just didn't work for you. As part of that experience, it's always interesting watching all of the Best Picture nominees, and seeing what the Academy regards as the best that filmmaking had to offer in the year. This year, there are a number of absolutely incredible films that would top the list in any year, a few more that in being nominated have been a bit overrated but are still pretty good, and one film that is so blandly generic and that so completely fails to distinguish itself in any way at all that I simply cannot image how it ever gained the support to be nominated.

[My thoughts on Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, American Sniper, Selma, and Whiplash, after the break.]

12 January, 2015

I have something to say

So here’s the thing.

I tend not to post very often, and certainly never about anything that actually matters, but sometimes there’s just things you need to say. And apparently I’m angry enough to feel like I need to say this.

I first heard about the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo when checking Twitter that morning. In the flurry of tweets on the issue, I saw someone had retweeted an old article from The Onion, called “No One Murdered Because Of This Image”. The article features a rather explicit image of Jesus, Moses, Buddha, and Ganesha involved in a four-way. The article noted that, after the image was published, “... no one was murdered, beaten, or had their lives threatened... not a single bomb threat was made against the organization responsible, nor did the person who created the cartoon go home fearing for his life in any way.” The article also states that “Though some members of the Jewish, Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist faiths were reportedly offended by the image, sources confirmed that upon seeing it, they simply shook their heads, rolled their eyes, and continued on with their day.

I’d seen the article before, back when it was first published in 2012. I was offended by the image then, and I still am now, for multiple reasons. One of those is just for taste reasons; I really did not need to see Ganesha forcing his fist into Buddha’s rear. But also, I am a sincere, Bible-believing, conservative Christian, and the image of my Lord and Saviour portrayed in that manner is offensive.

And yet, on Friday morning, I posted a link to that Onion article to my Facebook page. (Admittedly I did remove the preview of the actual image from my page; when your Facebook friends include multiple church pastors, you tend to avoid posting explicit sexual images straight onto your Facebook feed, even if they are just cartoons.) I posted that article on my Facebook page because, as much as I may be offended by that type of content, I also whole-heartedly believe that living in a free society means recognising that other people have different views to my own, that those views may occasionally be expressed in ways that I may find offensive, and that part of being a mature adult in a modern society means that we accept this risk of offence as a fact of life. And I thought The Onion article was a nicely humorous way of making that point. (Leaving the image itself aside, the supporting article is very funny, and the image has to be deeply offensive for the joke to work.)

This morning I was listening to Radio New Zealand, and heard a piece about a multi-faith prayer vigil that was held at the Wellington Islamic Centre. Leaving aside the interesting issue of holding the vigil at a centre representing the faith that the perpetrators purported to represent while committing the attack, I was particularly troubled by some of the reportedcomments from one of the vigil’s participants.

The Kilbirnie mosque's imam, Sheikh Mohammed Zewada, condemned the terror attacks, but



You do not get to condemn the terror attacks, and then follow up with a “but”. Let’s be precise about language here: the word “but” is used to introduce a phrase or clause contrasting with what has already been mentioned. In other words, using the word “but” lessens, diminishes, takes away from what you’ve already said. And when what you’ve already said is a condemnation of the murder of over a dozen people, you should not in any way be seeking to diminish that. And yes, I realise this particular sentence is the reporter’s summary of what you were saying, but the fact that you expressed anything that could be reasonably presented in this manner is a problem.

Anyway, back to the article:

The Kilbirnie mosque's imam, Sheikh Mohammed Zewada, condemned the terror attacks, but called on people to show more respect for Islam.

He said people should stop creating images of the prophet Muhammad, which is disrespectful.

Read these two sentences together, and it’s pretty clear what is being said here. And it’s not something I think we want to be said in New Zealand. Sure, the killings were bad. But then, what the victims did that led to their deaths was also bad.

And here we come to the actual quote from the imam. “‘I totally disagree with what has happened in Paris. [But] freedom of expression does not mean I have the right to abuse other people or ridicule their faith,’ he said.

See, here’s the thing. YES, IT FUCKING WELL DOES! It is inherent in “freedom of expression” that we do have the right to offend and to ridicule. Because if a person’s view is that someone else’s faith is ridiculous or offensive, and yet that person is constrained from expressing that view, their freedom of expression is absolutely constrained.

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.” And sure, this right is not unconstrained. You can’t use your freedom of expression to bring actual harm to another person, you can’t yell Fire in a crowded room, you can’t issue death threats, you can’t access harmful images (such as those of children being abused). But beyond these constraints which are deemed reasonable in a free and democratic society, the State has no right to impose limits on how we exercise our freedom of expression. But that is what is being called for – where there is a clash between freedom of expression and freedom of religion, freedom of religion should take precedence.

(In the piece aired on the radio, it’s even clearer what the imam is calling for: “...we need to agree to set up some kind of law to put an end, or put some kind of regulation if I can say this word, to the freedom of expression to guarantee that this world shall live in peace and harmony.” That is unambiguous. He is expressly calling for a law change to prevent people from exercising their freedom of expression if it would offend another’s (more specifically, his) religion.)

Here’s the thing: in our society, it doesn’t just stop with the person saying the offensive thing. The person who is offended also has freedom of expression. They have the right to complain, to express their views. They can even organise a protest to peacefully (I emphasise the word “peacefully” – and placards calling for death do not count as peaceful protest) express en masse how offended they are. That’s something that the Christian community has been very good at in the past (although admittedly, I do think that the Christian community has got it wrong at times; I genuinely believe we were wrong to be so offended by Monty Python’s Life of Brian or The Last Temptation of Christ, the former being one of the great film comedies, and the latter being a film that I found deeply moving and thought-provoking as an exploration of the person of Christ and His sacrifice).

And after the expression of offence, who knows? Perhaps the person causing offence will see the strength of the community view, will understand better what they have done and will think better of it. Or perhaps they’ll just be delighted by the extra attention brought to the offence. (Admittedly, that’s usually what happens in this situation; things that might have been ignored draw crowds keen to understand the controversy – after all, how many people have now seen the Charlie Hebdo cartoons because of the attack? or saw The Interview to understand why North Korea was so offended?) But really, it doesn’t matter what the outcome is. Because the important thing is that EVERYONE has freedom of expression, and was able to choose to exercise it or not.

If you’re not happy with the fact that we have freedom of expression in New Zealand, well, I’m sure there are places you can go where the prophet Muhammad is respected, and perhaps these are places that are more to your liking. But it is absolutely unacceptable for you to try to change our society and restrict our freedoms to suit your worldview.

13 July, 2014

Dawn of Suspense, laughter, violence, hope, heart, nudity, sex, happy endings... mainly happy endings

So here's the thing,

If you were passing by the Michael Fowler Centre Tuesday of last week at 6.00 in the morning, you'd have seen... well, I don't know what you would have seen, because I wasn't there. The film festival changed ticket providers this year, which meant I had to queue outside the Paramount. Now, I don’t know whether there were people queuing at the MFC having not noticed the change in providers, but I certainly know that there was no-one else at the Paramount. I was standing in the cold for over an hour alone – there’s usually a bunch of people queuing at that time, but for some reason none of the usual suspects turned up. (One of those usual suspects did eventually turn up after 8am, which does make me wonder he may have been waiting at the MFC until he realised he made a mistake.)

I had a real concern about the change in ticket providers. The new provider was a company I was unfamiliar with, and I was concerned that as a new entrant into the market they might not be prepared for the sheer volume of purchases when tickets went on sale. Sure enough, when tickets went on sale, the person at the ticket counter had to tell me that they couldn’t let me choose my seats, because the system was overloaded, and all they could do was give me what the computer chose as the “best available” seat. Never mind that the computer is unable to make the kind of assessment that I as a human would make. I can decide that it’s better to be one row back if your seat is perfectly centred; the computer is going to just regard the closer row as being better regardless of the other seats available. (Sigh.)

The overloading was evidently a real problem.  I know that one friend of mine took half an hour or more to get her tickets, and another took even longer. We just have to hope that they analyse the problems this year and ensure that they’re set up for next year’s festival.

Still, I got my tickets, and that's the important thing. The films I’m seeing this year are:
- The Skeleton Twins
- The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness
- Jodorowsky’s Dune
- Under the Skin
- In Order of Disappearance
- Black Coal, Thin Ice
- Locke
- The Rover
- Jimmy’s Hall
- Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
- The Green Prince
- Diplomacy
- The Double
- The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden
- The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
- Housebound
- Boyhood
- The Wonders
- The Lady from Shanghai
- Joe
- When Animals Dream
- Force Majeure
- Enemy
- The Babadook
- Two Days, One Night
- Snowpiercer
- The Young and Prodigious T. S. Spivet
- Beauty and the Beast
- Show People
- Wild Tales

The film I’m easily most excited about is Snowpiercer. I’m a massive fan of Bong Joon-Ho’s previous films, and while the premise of the film (in which the Earth is a frozen wasteland, and the entire world’s population lives in a massive train that travels around the globe) sounds absurd, the reviews have been stellar. It’s also exciting to know that we’re seeing the complete uncut film – for a long time it looked like the Weinstein Company were going to edit the film down from the version that had already screened elsewhere, and it was a massive relief when the Weinsteins  (who had already earned much ire with their recent editing of Wong Kar Wai’s remarkable The Grandmaster) relented and allowed the film to be released in its intended form. I’ve been excited for this film for years, and am looking forward to finally seeing it.

Snowpiercer sits in the Thrill section that the festival has included this year. As a massive fan of the thriller genre, it’s exciting to me to see a block of films in the programme focused on the genre in all its variations, be it a Southern Gothic thriller from David Gordon Green (Joe), a Danish werewolf film that is compared to Let the Right One In (When Animals Dream), a post-apocalyptic road movie from the director of Animal Kingdom (The Rover), or a snow-covered Norwegian revenge saga (In Order of Disappearance). I’m also seeing Under the Skin, partly because I just want to work out what exactly that film is. As best as I can tell, it’s an erotic thriller starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien looking for men, except it’s only rated R13 which seems like a very low rating for that kind of film. And while it’s based on an existing novel, apparently much of the film is shot with a hidden camera and Johansson interacting with everyday people who don’t know they’re being filmed, which suggests something more experimental than you typically get with a film based on existing source material. So I have no idea what this film is, which is the main reason for my seeing the film.

There’s some exciting classic films. Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast is a truly remarkable take on the fairy tale that I’m excited to see on the big screen, while Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai is a classic film noir that I’ve never seen. There’s also an interesting-sounding silent Hollywood-satire by King Vidor called Show People for the Live Cinema event this year – I’ve not heard of the film, but it’s always fun to see a silent film with live accompaniment.

One of my big problems this year was the sheer number of clashes I had to navigate this year, with eight different films that I just couldn’t see because of other film priorities. One of the films I was most excited to see was Frank, which has received phenomenal reviews. Unfortunately when I came to schedule it, it clashed with The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, an animated film which I’d never heard of, but which is from Takahata Isao, who directed Grave of the Fireflies, one of the most heart-breaking films I’ve ever seen. His new film is apparently designed to look like traditional Japanese paintings come to life, and if the image in the programme is any guide this should be incredible on the big screen. So I had to abandon seeing Frank, which after all will almost certainly return later in the year, in favour of seeing Kaguya, which even in the unlikely event that it does come back later will not be screening at the Embassy. (There’s a companion documentary that I’m also looking forward to, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, about the legendary Studio Ghibli. It was made while Isao was working on Kaguya and Hayao Miyazaki was working on his final film, the flawed-but-interesting The Wind Rises.)

Back in the 90s, there were rumours about Stanley Kubrick working on a film called AI. At the time we didn’t know anything about the project, and in that absence of information there were all sorts of rumours about the project, rumours that were proven to be untrue when we saw the film Spielberg made following Kubrick’s death. (Similarly absurd-in-hindsight rumours surrounded Eyes Wide Shut.) One of the big rumours was that he had been filming footage every year for ten years, capturing the life of a child from birth to ten years. Richard Linklater’s new film Boyhood reminds me of that rumour - he gathered his cast together to film for a few days every year for twelve years, telling the story of a boy from six years old until he turns 18. Linklater is a fascinating filmmaker, and between the Before films and Boyhood he seems to be fascinated with capturing the passage of time cinematically. The obvious point of difference between the projects is that each of the Before films capture the central relationship at a single moment in time, and the passage of time is less important to each individual film than in how they work as a series of films, reflecting how the characters and relationships have changed and progressed in the years between each film that is significant. As a contrast, in Boyhood that passage of time is intrinsic to the film as it exists onscreen.

Then there’s Jodorowsky’s Dune, which I was particularly excited to see in the programme. Movie history is filled with stories of legendary projects that people worked on for years but that never eventuated, and one of those famed projects was Alejandro Jodorowsky’s adaptation of the novel Dune from the mid-70s. (Rather famously, H R Giger worked on the project, and supposedly some of his work in Dune was carried over into his design for the movie Alien.) And now they’ve made a documentary telling the story of this famed adaptation and why it was never made. That to me sounds like a fascinating film and one I’m excited to see.

Plus there’s just a bunch of other films that sound interesting to me.
* Locke is supposed to be great, and consists entirely of Tom Hardy by himself driving his car while having a bunch of phone conversations that reveal how his life is collapsing around him. That sounds like a challenging film to make, and I’m excited to see how well it works.
* Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is a fictional film inspired by the urban legend about the Japanese girl who died trying to find the money that was lost at the end of the movie Fargo. (Also, it turns out that in the actual case the girl, Takako Konishi, wasn’t trying to find the treasure; that was just a misunderstanding, as she actually went to Minnesota  for the purpose of committing suicide following a failed love affair with someone from the area. A sad story.)
* There’s two different films about people meeting their doppelgangers – The Double stars Jesse Eisenberg ad was directed by Richard Ayoade, while Enemy stars Jake Gyllenhaal. Should be interesting to see how these film doppelgangers are similar and differ from each other.
* And then there are the films selected by the festival for their big nights. Last year I wasn’t interested in seeing The Great Beauty, and it wasn’t until earlier this year that I saw the film and regretted not seeing it at the Embassy. I’m not making that mistake again. Which is why I’m seeing The Wonders and Wild Tales, less because I’m interested in them and more because the festival decided to give them prominent placing. (I’m not seeing The Dark Horse, which has the Opening Night, because the trailers haven't impressed me, New Zealand film premiering as the opening night have a variable success rate, and because it’s going on general release at the same time, so if it’s well-received then I should be able to catch a screening elsewhere.)

At this point we’ve got less than two weeks until the festival starts. Very excited.

02 March, 2014

1133 minutes

So here's the thing,

Tomorrow we have the 86th Academy Awards, rewarding the "best in film" for the 2013 film year. Which means that, once again and for no readily apparent reason, I have an almost-wearyingly overlong post discussing my reactions to the nine Best Picture nominees.

[Spoilers for 12 Years A Slave, Gravity, American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, Nebraska, Her, Philomena, Dallas Buyers Club, and Captain Phillips coming up after the break]

08 July, 2013

Rise of Suspense, laughter, violence, hope, heart, nudity, sex, happy endings... mainly happy endings

So here's the thing.

If you were passing by the Michael Fowler Centre last Tuesday at 5.45 in the morning, you'd have seen me, a lone figure, standing, waiting in anticipation of film festival tickets going on sale. By 6am, there were three people there. By 6.30am, five people.

And then a sixth person arrived. And this person was unusual. Firstly, each year you see the same people queuing for festival tickets, but I'd never seen this person before. Plus, the film festival attracts a certain type of person, and queuing for festival tickets attracts an even more specific type of person. This guy, I'm not wanting to judge him, but he did not look like a film festival type. But that's okay.

What did bother me was that this guy, rather than waiting at the end of the queue, decided to hang around by the front the queue, over by me. I've expressed my views in the past about the importance of following proper queue etiquette, so I was very disapproving of this, although I didn’t say anything at the time. But I did count the number of people that were there, working out his place in the queue, just in case it came to be an issue.

A bit of time passed, and then a conversation started to take place between those of us at the front of the queue with this guy. At one point, he himself commented that he was number six. (I am not a number! I am a free man!) So I was pleased by that comment, since it indicated he did not intend to queue-jump, he knew his position in the queue. But shortly after, as the conversation progressed, it became clear everyone was talking at cross-purposes. Where we all assumed he was waiting for film festival tickets, he had assumed we queuing three hours in advance for rugby tickets - tickets which had apparently gone on sale the day before, and which he apparently knew had gone on sale the day before. (I don’t understand why he would think that many people would queue so early for tickets that were already available, but never mind.)

The thing is, as soon as we discovered he was there for rugby tickets, everyone was saying “come in front of me”. Including me. Because the problem with people buying film festival tickets, especially those of us that queue on opening day, is that we’re not buying tickets to one event. We’re buying tickets to 20, 30, or more individual events, each of which has to be identified, searched for, seat selections made, and so on. (This year it took 25 minutes for me to get all my tickets.) It’s a long process, so when we discovered this guy needed tickets for one event, we were fine with him going ahead of us – he’ll be gone in two minutes, and there’s no reason to make him wait for 30 minutes to get to the front of the queue.

So, 9am comes, all five ticketing stations were open, and I start to get my tickets. So this year, I’ve bought tickets for:

- Blancanieves
- Utu Redux
- Wadjda
- Like Someone In Love
- Behind the Candelabra
- Stories We Tell
- Oh Boy
- The East
- Upstream Color
- The Spectacular Now
- Frances Ha
- The Past
- In the House
- The Selfish Giant
- The Bling Ring
- Ernest and CĂ©lestine
- North by Northwest
- Mud
- 2 Autumns, 3 Winters
- The Summit
- Mood Indigo
- To the Wonder
- Much Ado About Nothing
- Dial M For Murder (3D)
- Giselle
- The Act of Killing
- The Crowd
- Museum Hours
- You're Next

Plus I’m planning to hopefully leave work early one day to see Only Lovers Left Alive at a late afternoon screening.

There's a lot of films I'm excited about this year. For a start, there's Behind the Candelabra. Normally a biopic about Liberace wouldn't hold much interest for me, but since Steven Soderbergh has announced that he is retiring as a film director and this will be his last film, it immediately becomes a significant film that should be seen.

Earlier this year I watched all four of Sofia Coppola's previous film  over a week or two, and was really blown away at just how good she really is. (Her first film, The Virgin Suicides, in particular is just remarkable.) So I'm excited to see The Bling Ring, her adaptation of this fascinating Vanity Fair article about a group of kids who commit robberies of celebrities' houses. (I also need to point to this incredibly awful clip from an E! reality TV show following one of the real thieves, where she phones the writer of the VF article to complain about key inaccuracies in the article.)

Even if I weren't a Joss Whedon fan, I think I'd be interested in his Much Ado About Nothing, just because of the story behind the film. Whedon famously holds Shakespeare parties, where he gets together with his friends, actors he's worked with, and stages Shakespeare readings. He was planning a visit to Europe for his 20th wedding anniversary, in between the finish of filming of The Avengers and the start of editing. But his wife apparently visited him on set, saw how stressed he was, and suggested they cancel the holiday so that the famously workaholic Whedon could do something to relax. Which meant grabbing all his friends and filming an entire film adaptation of Much Ado in under a fortnight at his house.That's just an amusing story. The fact that reviews indicate it's a good film is almost an bonus.

Upstream Color was one of the first festival films to be announced this year, which made me very happy. It's the second film from Shane Carruth, a director whose brilliant low-budget first film, Primer, is an attempt to make a time travel film that treats the consequences of time travel seriously. (By which I mean that it requires diagrams to even begin to figure out what was going on in that film. Even so, I don't know what was going on.) I know nothing about what happens in Upstream Color, but based on Primer, I'm thrilled to find out.

Alfred Hitchcock is my favourite film director, so I'm excited to see two of his films at the Embassy. North By Northwest is obviously one of his best movies, but I was very pleased by the announcement that they are showing Dial M For Murder in 3D. I saw the 3D version a few years ago, when the Paramount had a mini-3D-festival that consisted of Dial M and the 50s House of Wax. Dial M For Murder doesn't have a lot of showy 3D moments (certainly not when compared to House of Wax with the famous paddle-ball scene), but he does use it to create an atmosphere very well, and the one big showy 3D moment comes at the suspense high-point in the film, in a way that amplifies the effect but doesn't make it feel gratuitous. It's easily my favourite 3D moment ever, and I'm looking forward to seeing that hand reach out of the Embassy screen.

Then there are the new films from Asghar Farhadi and Brit Marling. Both directors have really blown me away over the last couple of festivals - Farhadi's A Separation was my favourite film two years ago, while writer-actor Marling gave us some great low-budget thoughtful science fiction films in Another Earth and Sound Of My Voice in 2011 and 2012. I'm excited to see both of their new works. Rather irritatingly, the titles of the films differ only one letter - Farhadi has The Past, while Marling has The East. I can just see that I'm going to be getting those two films confused for the foreseeable future.

Everyone who has seen it seems to love (if that's the right word for it) The Act Of Killing, a rather horrific-sounding documentary in which a filmmaker interview members of Indonesian death squads about the people they murdered, and even gets them to stage reenactments of their killings in a manner that is interpreted by the killers through Hollywood films. It's a fascinating concept, with the potential to explore some interesting ideas not just about these particular deaths but also possibly the impact of cinema in the real world and the way it influences perceptions. I don't know that I'm looking forward to it, but since every review praises the film unreservedly, it will be an interesting watch.

I'm also glad to see the return of the Live Cinema event for the first time in a couple of years. Watching silent films with live accompaniment is a great experience, so I'm looking forward to The Crowd.

And then there are new films from Michel Gondry (Mood Indigo), and the suddenly prolific Terence Malick (To the Wonder). And there are a few films I've heard good things about: Mud, The Spectacular NowThe Selfish Giant, or Sarah Polley's documentary Stories We Tell that explores her family history.

I had an unusual experience this year trying to book tickets for the new cut of Utu (the official opening night film). Usually I can get very very good seats, close to the best in the cinema - after all, that's why I queue up. So I was shocked when the best seats I could get for Utu were in the second-to-last row of the Embassy - I've never had that before. That was two minutes after tickets went on sale. It turns out that there was a big block booking for filmmakers that took up a huge amount of the seats in the cinema. (I assume there's a similar explanation for my almost-as-poor seats for the screening of Giselle.) And that's all very well. But if so much of the cinema is going to be booked out (and something like that they MUST have known about well in advance), they really should have a extra screening of the film - and no, the off-peak screenings don't count.

I'm also disappointed by the absence of The Grandmaster. I've just started working my way through the films of Wong Kar Wai - I'm only two films in, but so far I'm enjoying it. I'd have loved to see his new film at the Embassy - it looks like a beautiful film that would have been remarkable on that screen- but it doesn't look like that's going to happen.

But beyond that, I found it a bit of a disappointing festival, at least at first glance. A couple of years ago, just reading the programme gave me a long-list of 50 films I wanted to see, and I was disappointed to have to cut it down to the 34 I eventually saw. This year, my initial pass through the programme left me with a list numbering in the teens. After a few more passes, borrowing from the lists of other people, and so on, I'm managed to pull together a list that makes me feel like I'm sufficiently taking advantage of the opportunity the festival offers. But I'm not as excited overall by this year as I have been in the past. Hopefully my excitement will amplify as I see all these films. We'll see.

25 February, 2013

1219 minutes

So here’s the thing.

Firstly, a disclaimer: I have been busy this past couple of months. Very busy. So busy that I haven’t really had the time to work on my Oscar post that I would normally do. Instead, I found myself throwing the odd paragraph together where I could find the time. So with ten minutes here and ten minutes there I've managed to cobble together this post – which is still surprisingly long for something so hurriedly written – but I haven’t really had much time to rework my writing, in the way that I normally would. (There are also other things I wanted to say but haven’t had the time to write them.) I would just try to find the time to fix this up, but the Oscars are on tomorrow, and I want to get this posted before then. So, what you'll find here is basically a first very-rough draft. Be prepared for some pretty clumsy and inelegant writing. Apologies for that.

[Spoilers for Les Misérables, Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Amour, Lincoln, and Django Unchained, after the break.]

22 July, 2012

Attack Redux

So here's the thing,

It's been over eleven months since the end of the 2011 film festival, and for that entire time I've had a post sitting here on the festival, effectively fully written, and I never quite got around to posting it because I couldn't be bothered with the effort involved in formatting it. But, with less than a week to go until this start of this year's festival, I really should get around to posting this.

In the past, I've written full posts about certain films, but I never got around to writing about all of the films I wanted to, and the time it took me to write them stretched out so long that, at times, by the time I was writing about them the films were already on DVD. So for the last year's festival, I wrote about all of the films on Facebook as I saw them. This post is those short comments, effectively my first impression shortly after seeing the films. I've tidied a few things things up, and have tried to clarify a few points that on reflection aren't clear, but mostly this is straight from my Facebook feed.

I should emphasise that these were written in haste, usually at midnight after a long day (or, by the end, two weeks of long days). I was usually exhausted when I sat down at my laptop to put these together. These comments are therefore by no means my best writing. While I've tried to fix the worst offences against the English language, it would involve a total rewrite to actually get these into a shape I'm totally happy with. Instead, here is a record of the year I saw an average of two films a day during the festival; my initial reaction, expressed only slighty less incoherently than they were when first written.

(Comments on 34 films, plus one short film, after the jump.)

03 July, 2012

Shadow of suspense, laughter, violence, hope, heart, nudity, sex, happy endings... mainly happy endings

So here's the thing.

I went away for the weekend, rather foolishly leaving my cellphone on my desk at work. Realising my mistake about twenty minutes out of Wellington, I considered returning to get it, but decided not to. If I went back I'd hit the bad Friday traffic on my way back out; besides, I can cope without a cellphone for a few days, and I can pick it up when I get back. So, on returning to the city on Monday, I made a special trip in to work, retireved my phone, and then put my keys in the ignition, and turned.

This one action will cost me hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

You see, the key became stuck, neither fully turning to start the ignition, nor turning back to allow me to retrieve the key. I eventually had to have the car towed to my mechanic's, leaving the key in the ignition of the unlocked car, safe in the knowledge that no-one will ever be able to actually steal the vehicle, but also aware that I was now facing a repair job that in all likelihood will not be cheap. I keep thinking "I knew I should have come back to pick up my phone. If I had done that, I wouldn't have had to do so on Monday night, and then my car would be fine." Which is absurd - the damage would have just occured some other time. And really, I was lucky it happened when I was in Wellington - had it happened earlier that day, I would have been stranded hours and hours away from home, But still, you can't help thinking "it might not have happened."

The other annoying thing about this is that today tickets went on sale for the film festival. Which meant I needed my car today to drive in to queue for film festival tickets. Instead, I had to catch the train at 4.30 in the morning. After dropping my gear off at work, and grabbing some breakfast from McDonalds, I arrived at the MFC Ticketek at 6.10am, wrapped in jersey, jacket, hat, gloves, and scarf, expecting to be first or second in the queue.

I was fifth.

And it was close to an hour before the sixth person arrived. I could have slept for an extra half hour or more, and it would not have affected my position in the queue in the slightest.

All this meant that, when it reached 9am, tickets went on sale, and they opened four tills for service, I was still waiting. The thing is, waiting in line for film festival tickets is awful. If you have a long line of people queueing for the rugby, those transactions can be over very quickly, because however many tickets are being bought, they're only being bought for one event. But the film festival? People buy tickets for 20, 30, 40 or more movies, each needing to be named, searched for, and seat allocation discussed and agreed. It takes a long time. Fortunately one woman was apparently buying lots of tickets to only a few films, so she was over quickly and I was able to start buying my tickets by 9.10am. But it was astonishing how quickly tickets went in those ten minutes. By the time I came to book my tickets, the really-good seats for the most popular films were already gone, and I had to make do with just good seats. (Sigh.) My life sucks.

I'm not seeing as many films as I did last year, which is probably wise (last year was brutal). I'm aiming for 28 films, rather than 34. Today I bought tickets for:

Beasts of the Southern Wild
* The Cabin In The Woods
* Moonrise Kingdom
* The Minister
* West of Memphis
* Room 237: Being an Inquiry into The Shining in 9 Parts
* The Imposter
* Bernie
* The Taste of Money
* Rebellion
* Your Sister's Sister
* Bonjour Tristesse
* Amour
* Side By Side
* From Up On Poppy Hill
* Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
* The Angels' Share
* Lore
* The Shining
* What's In A Name
* No
* Photographic Memory
* Searching for Sugar Man
* Sound Of My Voice
* Shadow Dancer

Plus I'm planning to try and catch late-afternoon off-peak screenings of The HuntDreams of a Life, and Holy Motors.

The most exciting part of this year's programme was the screening of The Shining, and the screening of the related documentary Room 237. I'm not normally a horror film fan, but there are a small number of horror films that I love, and Kubrick's film is at the top of that list. It's probably the horror film that I return to over and over and over again. The opportunity to see that film on the big screen is therefore a real thrill. I was also intrigued by the idea of the Room 237 documentary as soon as I heard about it - the film explores various theories that certain people have about the film, from the idea that the film is about the white man subjugating the native American population (a common theory, and one that probably has some justification), to the outlandish idea that the film contains Kubrick's confession to having been involved in faking the moon landing. Apparently the film also touches on the idea that the architecture of the Overlook Hotel is impossible; an idea I've been intrigued by ever since I heard about it in these two videos. I think this sounds like a fascinating documentary, and given the amount of footage from many many movies (not just The Shining), it's probably one that will be difficult to see outside of the festival.

I've got about four or five podcasts sitting on my iPod at the moment containing spoiler-filled discussions of the deconstructed horror film The Cabin In The Woods. It had been announced that that film was going straight to DVD in NZ, which genuinely astonished me (a film written by the writer/director of The Avengers, starring one of the Avengers, and starring someone else who is apparently a popular NZ TV star - do you really think there is no interest in this film in this country?). The festival at least offers a chance to see the film in a full house. I do know opinion on the film among critics that I follow has been divided, so it will be interesting to see where my opinion lies. Plus I can finally stop avoiding spoilers and listen to those podcasts.

I've loved Wes Anderson's films ever since Rushmore, but the problem with his films is that he has such a distinctive cinematic voice that his films really can feel the same. By the time of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited, it would be fair to say he was losing some of his spark. But working in stop-motion animation for Fantastic Mr Fox was perfect for him, since he works mainly in small details, and stop-motion is ALL small details. The resulting film was both recognisably Wes Anderson, and something very different. Now he returns to live-action with Moonrise Kingdom, and is getting some of his best reviews in years, including from critics that don't really like him. So I'm excited about that.

I'd not heard about the West Memphis Three until they were released, at which point I sought out the original Paradise Lost documentaries (I've not seen the third film yet, although I want to). But even by the end of the second film, it did feel like those filmmakers had covered as much ground as they could, so it will be interesting to watch West of Memphis, and see what a new documentary filmmaker brings to this story of a miscarriage of justice.

I've heard great things about Bernie, a true story about the most popular guy in town and how, when he murdered the most unpopular person in town, the entire town rose up to support him. It's apparently played as comedy, which seems awkward for a real event that resulted in a real death, but the reviews (including this video review from the great Battleship Pretension) seem to suggest that the humour is inherent in the story and the people themselves, rather than being an artificial element introduced by the filmmakers. Also, Jack Black is apparently very good and very un-Jack-Black, which will be interesting - Black is an appealing screen presence, and I look forward to seeing him exercise his acting ability in a different direction.

I am seriously conflicted about the rise of digital projection. On the one hand, the technology has advanced to the point that it gives a very good, clean image that doesn't degrade over repeated viewings like film. I've recently enjoyed a run of classic films digitally projected at the Embassy, and at the same time there was a short run of Humphrey Bogart films at the Paramount. It was striking to leave a perfect pristine digital projection of It Happened One Night or Gone With The Wind, and walk into a musty damaged 35mm print of The Big Sleep, at times jumping a few seconds as we passed by frames that had been spliced out. So digital offers a real improvement to the cinema experience, and it's exciting. But, as I discussed when writing about the film Hugo, there are real risks around moving digitally. In 50 years time a physical piece of film will still be able to be run through a projector, but a hard drive containing a movie will have degraded, and file formats will be out of date. The only reason we cannot reconstruct the complete cut of The Magnificent Ambersons is because a deliberate decision was made to burn the negatives of the extra scenes. In the future, important films (which are often not recognised in their own times) may be lost, not be deliberate choice, but just through inactivity. All of which are issues I hope to see explored in Side By Side, a documentary about the transition of the movie industry into digital production and projection.

There are plenty of films praised by people I respect: The Angels' Share, Your Sister's Sister, The Imposter, and Searching for Sugar Man. If a critic you trust really likes a film, give it a chance.

And then there are the films by people whose work I've liked in the past.
I found last year's Another Earth to be an intriguing low-budget science-fiction film, so am interested in Brit Marling's new film Sound Of My Voice, about a cult surrounding a woman who may be from the future.
I run very hot-and-cold on Michael Haneke's films (I've discussed my intense hatred of both versions of Funny Games, and didn't care for Time Of The Wolf, but loved films like Code Unknown, Cache, and The White Ribbon), but he is a master filmmaker, and even in a film I hate like Funny Games he displays an incredible talent for compelling filmmaking, so his new film Amour was essential.
The film society several years ago showed a series of documentary films by Ross McElwee, and his films should be incredibly self-indulgent (his best-known film, Sherman's March, started out as a film about the impact of Sherman's March through the South during the Civil War, but ultimately was a film about McElwee's love life), but they still somehow work. I'm therefore curious to see his new film, Photographic Memory, in which he deals with issues around his 21 year old son by revisiting the location of a key event from his youth.
Plus there's a new Studio Ghibli film. While I didn't particularly care for Goro Miyazaki's first film (Tales from Earthsea), it was mostly because I didn't engage with that fantasy world. Perhaps the realistic setting of From Up On Poppy Hill could be different.

And then there are the films that just sound interesting. A drama about the person running the No vote in a referendum on whether Pinochet should remain as dictator of Chile (No)? A story about children heavily indoctrinated in Nazi ideology making a long journey immediately after WWII (Lore)? A dinner party that collapses into chaos after one of the guests announces his soon-to-be-born child's name (What's In A Name)? I'm curious to see these films.

Now I just have to wait a few weeks for the festival to start. And hope the car repairs don't cost too much.

26 February, 2012

64 percent

So here's the thing.

For the last few years I’ve made sure to see all of the Best Picture Oscar nominees prior to the ceremony. This year, for the first time since 2007, I failed. In the time between the nomination announcement and the ceremony, I’ve had to move house, plus I’ve had heavy work commitments, and the various time pressures involved in these made it simply impossible to find the time to see all those other films. As a result, I’ve had to focus my attention on the five nominees that also had a directing nomination, on the basis that those are the ‘real’ nominees, and abandon the notion of seeing the "also-rans".

And so, as I have the last few years, here are my thoughts on the films I've seen. A bit of a disclaimer though: this post is a bit rough - it was written in a bit of a rush, for pretty much the same reasons that I didn't manage to see all the films, and I didn't have time to rework my thoughts. But in any case, here it is.

(Comments on The Artist, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, The Tree of Life, The Descendants, plus War Horse follow after the jump.)

03 January, 2012

Willy silly nilly all stuffed with fluff

So here's the thing.

I've complained about the Stuff website in the past, criticising their awful advertising campaign about the timeliness of their news coverage, as well as pointing out when they fell short of that target by publishing an article some ten months after it was even vaguely newsworthy.

So imagine how I felt when I loaded up the website yesterday, Monday 3 January 2012, to find this on the front page...

Zooey Deschanel's Disney challenge
Zooey Deschanel has taken on the daunting task to write a song for a Winnie the Pooh movie.

...with a link through to this article.


So, when you talk about "a Winnie the Pooh" film, is there any possibility you could be talking about this "Winnie the Pooh" film with a song from Zooey Deschanel's musical group She and Him? Surely not. Surely this news article from a news website that prides itself on getting the story first is not going to be about a movie that was released in the UK some nine months ago and the US six months ago, right? I mean, for a start, where is the news value in a story about a nine-month old film. You know who also knows about how Zooey Deschanel has taken on the daunting task of writing a song for the film? My three-year old niece, because she's heard the song, because I bought the film for her as a Christmas present.

I mean, really, Stuff. When is the statute of limitations on front page news? What's the next front-page story? George Lucas has taken on the task of making prequels to his hit Star Wars trilogy? Pixar has taken on the task of making an animated film entirely using computer-generate animation? Al Jolson is going to be starring in a film that will miraculously have both pictures and synchronised sound?

So I open up the article, and I read the opening paragraph:

Writing a song for a Disney animated film puts a songwriter into a long and legendary line that has produced 30 nominations and 10 wins going back to When You Wish Upon a Star in 1940.

Really? 30 nominations and 10 wins? Wow... umm... errr... nominations and wins for what, exactly? I mean, I assume you're talking about the Oscars, since there is a reference in the fourth paragraph to her writing "So Long, one of the film's two Oscar entries", and When You Wish Upon A Star did win the Oscar. But you need to actually define what you're talking about. After all, there are a lot of other award shows you could be talking about: indeed, the article could be talking about the Grammys (for which the song in question has actually been nominated, which could would have been newsworthy back when it was announced a month ago). But I don't think that is what they are talking about, since the word "Grammy" is never used in the article. It could be the Golden Globes, but I doubt it since those nominations were already announced and the song wasn't nominated (plus, you know, it's the Golden Globes, and they're entirely worthless). So it must be the Oscars. So why not just say "30 Oscar nominations and 10 wins"? Does adding that one word make the paragraph too unwieldy?

Here's another bit I love:

...actress and singer-songwriter Zooey Deschanel ... couldn't exactly ignore that history when she was drafted to contribute to this year's Disney version of the A.A. Milne stories.

This year's version? Here's a suggestion, Stuff. Take down the "Cute Cats of 2011" calender you still have on your wall, and go out and buy the "Cute Cats of 2012" calender.

I just don't see what's newsworthy about this article that makes it worthy of the front page of your website. I mean, the film is nine months old right now, the article isn't timed to a local release (since the DVD has been available here for a month or two), and while that opening paragraph seems to hint at a connection to the Oscars, it's not a subject that's really revisited in the article, and besides, the actual nominations don't come out for another three weeks (24 January 2012). And who knows, the song she wrote may not even be nominated - after all, there were 39 songs able to be nominated this year. So this is an article that exists solely as a speculative thing - something that they published on the off-chance that it might become relevant at some point in the future.

(Alternatively, and frankly this is the most likely explanation, it's probably a article that Disney had written for the LA press to try and increase the likelihood of getting an Oscar nomination. But again, that makes it promotional, not news, so why is it worthy of space on the front page of your news website?)

Here's another thing. You see that line of three photos I have lining the right side of this post. That is taken exactly as it appeared on the Stuff website. Yes, the Stuff website felt the need to publish three versions of the exact same photo, one above another above another, each with different cropping, complete with captions that involve (a) a repetition of the annoying "daunting task" phrase, (b) an awful Winnie-the-Pooh/Jungle-Book crossover joke, and (c) just a identification of the photo's subject, in case you couldn't work out that it's Zooey Deschanel from the other two identical photos that also identify her. I enjoy looking at Zooey Deschanel as much as the next guy, but even a picture of Zooey gets boring after the third time I look at it. (The Stuff people clearly also realised this - they changed it this morning, so now only one photograph appears.)

Look, I love Zooey Deschanel. She always comes across as having a very winning and sweet personality, managing to somehow be a non-annoying version of a manic pixie dream girl. I own and enjoy the first two She and Him albums (although not even Zooey could get me to buy their Christmas album). And frankly, if I were to ever meet her and somehow retained the power of speech, I suspect the first thing I said to her really would be "When did you first know you were adorable?" So it's not unenjoyable reading about her.

And it's not an awful article - at least, not when compared to that incompetent Chloe Moretz article. Sure, as I have pointed out it has its flaws, but it generally stays on topic, is clear, makes good use of quotations, and is enjoyable to read as far as "vote for us" Oscar puff pieces go.

And I love the 2011 "Winnie the Pooh" film, which is sweet and funny and innocent and faithful to the books, not just in their events but in their tone. (The only thing I didn't like about the film is the character design, which deviates wildly from the idea that these are 1920s-era toys - but that's actually a problem I have with the original 60s-era Disney design decisions, not with this specific film.) I am genuinely sad that the film flopped, and am actually happy with anything that leads people to discover that there is this really good film out there.

But this isn't news. And I don't see what is so unreasonable about expecting a news website to highlight actual news on its front page. Hell, put the story about Russell Brand and Katy Perry getting divorced on the front page. That may be pure gossip, but at least it involves something that actually happened in the past week or so, and can therefore be defensibly described as "current events." But this? As far as "news" goes, this is just a waste of everyone's time.

And yes, I'm aware that as much time as I wasted reading that article looking for news, I've wasted a hundred times as much time writing this post complaining about the article. But what's the point of having an infrequently updated blog if you can't waste time writing about whatever random things I want to write about. That's the point of a blog. Just don't call your blog a news website.