05 July, 2018

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

So here’s the thing,

Film festival tickets went on sale today and, as in the past two years, I decided to not stand in the cold for four hours waiting, instead trying to book my tickets online. After last year’s mess, I made the decision to book tickets ten at a time, in the hope that a ten-film order might be faster and easier to process, and in the knowledge that having the ticket system crash on you on your ninth film is less frustrating than having it crash on your thirtieth film.

It all seemed to start out well – I got through the initial screen cleanly, I selected my first ten films, went through, and got a Creating Order screen, which stayed cycling for 15 or 20 minutes. At that point I figured it wasn’t going to happen, tried again, and again, several times, each time getting stuck on that one screen. Then I discovered the tickets were down full-stop – the festival tweeted that they’d paused online bookings for the next 15 minutes to try to fix things. And then at noon, just over an hour after the “15 minute pause” started, they were finally back online. And from that point, it was smooth sailing – I was able to purchase all of my tickets pretty easily. (Hopefully the improvement wasn’t just because people just gave up trying, and that the fixes they put in place worked and can be implemented next year.)

But considering it took 2½ hours for me to make my purchases, the whole experience was weirdly stress-free. Unlike last year, where the system kept making me think I was getting somewhere in purchasing my tickets and then would drop out causing me to have wasted all that effort, this year because I kept finding myself stuck on the early screens before I could even get through to my seat selections I never had that all-that-time-wasted experience I had last year. And when they actually took ticketing down, that was even better – at least if no-one is able to buy tickets then I don’t need to stress about the good seats selling out. Plus I was able to actually do some work while I was waiting, which was satisfying. So unlike last year where I was just a bundle of nerves by the end of the process, this year I was pretty much fine.

So the films I’m seeing this year are:
* Birds of Passage
* American Animals
* The Cleaners
* Monterey Pop
* The Kindergarten Teacher
* You Were Never Really Here
* The Green Fog
* Mirai 
* Leave No Trace
* Piercing
* Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
* The Rider
* Woman at War 
* Angels Wear White 
* Searching
* Mandy
* Madeline’s Madeline
* Three Identical Strangers
* Beirut
* The King
* Transit
* Shoplifters 
* The Guilty 
* Lean on Pete
* Capharnaüm
* Arctic
* McKellen: Playing the Part
* Ash Is Purest White
* Brimstone & Glory
* First Reformed
* The Third Murder
* Border
* Filmworker
* The World Is Yours
* Science Fair
* Wings of Desire
* 3 Faces
* Burning
* Cold War

Until a couple of years ago, I kept having clashes that stopped me from seeing the Hirokazu Kore-eda films, until I finally saw Our Little Sister a few years ago and decided I need to never miss his film ever again. This year, the festival has two films from him; another one of his slice-of-life family dramas, the Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters, as well as the legal thriller The Third Murder. Shoplifters should be great – it seems perfectly in line with the type of film he makes so incredibly well – but I’m almost more curious about The Third Murder, since that’s a type of film that really demands a lot of tension and suspense and that’s not really something I’ve seen in any of the Kore-eda films I’ve seen to date.  I’m excited to see how he does.

The other film I’m most anticipating is the new film from Paul Schrader, First Reformed. Looking at his filmography, I realised that I’ve never actually seen any of his directorial efforts, although I am a fan of his work writing for Scorsese. He’s probably best known for writing Taxi Driver, so I’m intrigued by the fact that pretty much every time I hear the film referenced they always compare it to that film, suggesting it’s as though Travis Bickle were a Protestant minister. A lot of people I respect have rated the film very highly, so I’m anticipating something special.

I’m also really excited by You Were Never Really Here, the new film from Lynne Ramsey with Joaquin Phoenix as a veteran hired to rescue a kidnapped girl. I’d been extremely impressed by Ramsey’s previous film We Need To Talk About Kevin – that film demanded she navigate very delicately around a lot of sensitive and devastating issues, and she managed to explore that film’s central incident of violence while staying true to the horrific act that it was – and so I’m curious to see her exploring what seems to be the space occupied by films like Taken.

I’ve consciously chosen to avoid knowing anything about Leave No Trace, the new Debra Granik film. Winter’s Bone was my favourite film of 2010, an absolute masterpiece, and so I was just satisfied to hear that the response to her new work has been strongly positive as well. It’s been hard to avoid knowing anything about the film – especially since New Zealand actress Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie is one of the leads, which means every Kiwi media outlet is publishing articles announcing how she will break out in the same way Jennifer Lawrence did after Winter’s Bone – but I’ve achieved it. I’m excited to sit down and discover what the film actually is.

As someone whose favourite film is Vertigo, I’m curious about The Green Fog, the new film from Guy Madden (whose work is a real blind spot for me) that apparently uses footage from various movies shot in San Francisco to create what sounds almost like a constructed remake of Hitchcock's greatest film. I don’t know what that will be like, but I’m curious.

There are quite a few documentaries that I’ve heard very good things about. I’m particularly excited about Filmworker, the documentary about Leon Vitali. I’ve known about Vitali for years – he’s a former actor who, after working with Kubrick on Barry Lyndon, decided to leave acting and dedicate his life to being Kubrick’s assistant, doing everything from checking film prints to being acting coach to Danny Lloyd on The Shining, and he’s continued to represent Kubrick’s wishes long after the man died – but he’s someone I don’t really know much about, so that should be fascinating. Similarly, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story – telling the life story of one of the woman who, in addition to being one of the great beautifies of classic Hollywood, was a genius inventor whose work was vital as a precursor to technologies like wifi – is supposed to be excellent. I’ve heard good things about Three Identical Strangers, about three triplets separated at birth who learn of each other’s existence. Science Fair is supposed to be nicely heartwarming, with obvious comparisons to the spelling bee documentary Spellbound. Ian McKellan is an engaging and entertaining speaker, so his interview-documentary will hopefully be fun. And while it’s not a documentary, American Animals apparently does some interesting work incorporating the remembrances of the actual people involved in the true story into the dramatisation; reviews have been mixed, but I liked Bart Layton’s earlier documentary The Imposter, so I’m willing to be hopeful.

Weirdly there are a couple of horse films that feature prominently in my schedule. It’s not really something that would ordinarily appeal to me, but the reviews have been so overwhelmingly positive for both Lean On Pete (a boy-and-his-horse type of story) and The Rider (about a rodeo rider who suffers serious head injuries) that I decided I had to see them both. Indeed, there was a significant amount of effort juggling all of my screenings around to find a way to make a screening of The Rider fit.

I’m generally not a big music person, and wouldn’t ordinarily seek out concert documentaries, but I did really enjoy seeing Woodstock at the Embassy a couple of years ago – seeing a music film like that in the cinema, with not just the big screen but also the big sound, is the best way to experience those movies – so seeing Monterey Pop was an easy choice.

And then there are all the films that just seem interesting. Jafar Panahi continues to thumb his nose at the Iranian authorities that tried to ban him from making movies with his latest “this isn’t actual movie” movie 3 Faces. A documentary about a fireworks festival (Brimstone & Glory) should at least be a nice spectacle on the big screen. I probably would have overlooked Woman at War, but a few weeks ago the film society screened the director’s earlier film Of Horses and Men, which was so fantastic that the need to see his new film became pressing. And The Guilty sounds like it could be fun – a thriller that takes place entirely in an emergency call centre with our hero trying to help one of his callers.

Once again the classic film section is disappointing, with only one film that really holds any interest for me at all. But that one film is Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, which is fantastic. I’ve only seen it once, a number of years ago when it had a Saturday afternoon screening at the film archive. It’s a great film, but that was not the best environment to see the film, so I’m excited to see it at the Embassy. My big disappointment in the retro section was that Raise the Red Lantern, screening in Auckland, isn’t going to be shown down here; when I’d heard that Yimou’s film was screening in the festival I was thrilled as I’d never seen it, so was understandably disappointed to realise the screening was from a 35mm print, as we no longer have any 35mm projectors in Wellington to show the film.

I feel like it’s a pretty strong festival this year. I’m very happy with my film selections, although as always there are a few films I’m gutted I couldn’t make fit (most notably Lucky, the final film starring Harry Dean Stanton). The big thing to me is that pretty much every film I was hoping would be in the festival is in the festival – unlike past years where I’ve been disappointed by just how many films I’ve thought might make the festival but that never screened, this year there are really only two films I had thought might make it. I guess I knew The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was never going to screen – the middling reviews from Cannes and the legal action killed any hope of that happening – but it would have been nice to see the finalised film in the festival since Lost In La Mancha, the documentary about Gilliam’s earlier effort to film the story, was part of the festival 15 years ago. And I’d seen such a strong response to Anton Yelchin’s final film Thoroughbreds, the comedy about two teenage girls planning to murder one of their stepfathers, that I thought that had a good chance of making it as well. Oh well – hopefully I’ll get a chance to see these films on the big screen later.

But those few disappointments aside, it looks like it should be a good festival. Less than three weeks to go.

05 March, 2018

1043 minutes

So here's the thing.

Back in the years where there were five Best Picture nominees, there was almost always a significant amount of overlap between the Picture nominees and the Director nominees; while it was common for one of the Picture nominees to not have a Director nomination and vice versa, usually you could rely on those awards sharing four out of the five nominations. And that overlap is why, ever since the Academy increased the number of its Picture nominees, I’ve always internally thought of the Director nominees as the “actual” Picture nominees, and the other films are the also-rans. It doesn’t always hold – Argo won Picture without a Director nomination, and this year Three Billboards seems to have a real chance to win despite Martin McDonagh not having been recognised – but for the most part it holds.

Which is why I find the Director nominees so fascinating. I’ve seen a lot of attention focused on the nature of the Director nominees – two first-time directors in Gerwig and Peele and two long-time acclaimed directors who have never before been nominated in Del Toro and Nolan, as well as PT Anderson who is one of our great artists and who has never won. But what I found exciting was the level of involvement these filmmakers had with the film. Each of those films was written by their directors – The Shape of Water was co-written by Del Toro, while the other four films’ directors have sole writing credits. (You can also add Three Billboards in here as well – while the film doesn’t have a Director nomination, Martin McDonagh was the screenwriter on that Picture nominee.) In other words, none of these films are works for hire; these are all films that are intensely personal and shaped and moulded and made by their director into a unique expression of the person they are. Which is not to criticise directors like Spielberg or Guadagnino or Wright, who found scripts that spoke to them and worked hard to make those films theirs. But these five films particular feel specific and intimate and real.

[Comments on Lady Bird, The Shape of Water, Phantom Thread, Get Out, Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Post, and Call Me By Your Name after the jump]

06 July, 2017

The matryoshka doll and suspense, laughter, violence, hope, heart, nudity, sex, happy endings... mainly happy endings

So here's the thing,

Film Festival tickets went on sale today, so picture me in front of my computer waiting for tickets to become available. Promising start:  I was able to get from my wishlist through to the ticket select screen. But after selecting my tickets, I was confronted with a blank screen. And then when I reloaded, I found I had apparently been fully logged out of the website, and my wishlist was now 0. I tried repeatedly to log in, but it seemed to time out every time. Occasionally it would briefly appear on one screen as though I had been logged back in, but when I clicked through, I had been logged out again.

Eventually I was able to get through to my wishlist and then through the ticket select screen, at which point I encountered serious problems with the seat selection. After I’d selected seats for a few movies I would suddenly be confronted with a second pop-up inside the seat selection pop-up, like a Russian nesting doll of pop-ups, with no way to close it. In desperation I just tried waiting a few minutes, hoping that the pop-up would close when the five minute countdown ended, but instead the pop-up instead reverted back to the homepage. And so, as there was no obvious way to close the pop-up, I was forced to close the window and lose my already-booked seats, even though I could still see them on the screen underneath the pop-up. And this happened to me several times. On one occasion, the pop-up window reverted back to the screen that listed all of my films but that still gave me the option to change my seats. I found myself trying to select seats from a pop-up within a pop-up, hoping against hope that this would all work out. However, it eventually reverted back to the festival home page, and I had to start all over again.  Frustratingly, a couple of time I encountered these problems as I reached close to the end of my ticket buying process, so there was a lot of effort wasted where I had to start again. (I may have yelled and jumped up and down in frustration at one point, disturbing my work colleagues.) There was also one point, after close to 2 hours, where I actually completed the seat selection process, entered my contact details, clicked to go to the payment page, and then the site timed out on me and pushed me back to the main page. And so I had to start again.

In the end, I was able to get my tickets after 2½ hours. I decided to split my order in two, on the basis that if I encountered problems with my order I’d only wasted half the amount of time. Also, given the issues I had with seat selection, I eventually just tried to change my seats if I felt I really needed to find a different seat, and I was terrified every time I clicked “Change Seats”.

End lesson: next year, try to book my tickets in smaller batches, rather than getting all my films at once, simply to minimise the wasted effort if I encounter a problem later in the process.

Anyway, the films I'm seeing this year are:

- The Party
- The Square
- Top of the Lake: China Girl
- Blade of the Immortal
- The Farthest
- Belle de Jour
- That’s Not Me
- Super Dark Times
- Menashe
- I Am Not Your Negro
- In Times of Fading Light
- A Ghost Story
- My Life As a Courgette
- Wind River
- Lady Macbeth
- Hostages
- On Body and Soul
- Stalker
- Berlin Syndrome
- 20th Century Women
- Jasper Jones
- The Merciless
- Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
- It Comes at Night
- Hounds of Love
- 6 Days
- Dealt
- The Killing of a Sacred Deer
- Bad Genius
- Summer 1993
- A Monster Calls
- Happy End
- The Beguiled
- Loveless
- Good Time

If you'd asked me about my thoughts on this year's festival, just from the programme, I'd have said that it felt like a lesser year, although I'm not sure why. And then I look at my initial long list of films I was interested in and realised that list had 55 films on it, and after cutting out all of the films where screenings clashed I still wind up with 35 films, just one short of my record from last year (and since one of these films is a six-hour screening, that’s the equivalent of three films, so endurance-wise it’s as though I’m seeing 37 films). So hopefully it's a stronger programme than I'd realised.

A big disappointment in the programme is the general lack of classic films. There's no Live Cinema event this year (it appears the only city getting such an event is Christchurch, with a screening of Buster Keaton's Our Hospitality). And in the entire festival there are only two classic movies screening - one is Buñuel's Belle de Jour, which is a film I'm really not that interested in, but at the same time, Buñuel is a major film figure that I have no experience with, so I'll give that a go. The other classic screening is Tarkovsky's Stalker, which I have even less interest in: earlier in the year I watched Ivan's Childhood, Solaris, and The Mirror, and didn't connect with any of them; that said, Tarkovsky feels like a director who probably plays better on the big screen, allowing the viewer to get caught in the imagery without the easy distractions that come with watching a film at home. So I'm giving them a shot, but at the moment I'm not really looking forward to either of them.

The major event of the festival is the screening of the entirety of Top of the Lake: China Girl, the second season of the Jane Campion TV series. I was a bit uncertain whether I should go; with intermissions it's a seven-hour commitment, and that's a lot of time I could spend watching films that I might not be able to watch on TV in a month or two. But in the end thee were really only two films screening that day that I was particularly interested in and, as those screenings clashed with each other, skipping Top of the Lake would only allow me to add one extra film to my list. So I decided to just go for the event. The first season really was beautiful, and I expect the second season should be incredible on the big screen.

There are some films that I've heard good things about: I've been waiting to see A Monster Calls for six months; I've heard that A Ghost Story is beautiful and meditative; I've read a number of articles praising both It Comes at Night and Hounds of Love as really interesting horror films; Lady Macbeth and 20th Century Women have excellent reputations; I've wanted to see Berlin Syndrome ever since it was highly praised at Sundance; and I'm always excited by a new Sofia Coppola film, and her remake of The Beguiled is supposed to be pretty special. It will be interesting to see what first-time director Taylor Sheridan does with Wind River, having done such great work writing Sicario and Hell Or High Water. I’ve been wanting to see the stop-motion animated My Life As A Courgette for a while, although I am disappointed that scheduling clashes mean I can only see the dubbed version. I Am Not Your Negro is supposed to be a fascinating documentary about the history of the civil right movement as seen through one observer.  And I remember hearing one critic I follow really praising the (clumsily titled) Abacus: Small Enough to Jail.

There are some films I’m seeing based solely of the people behind them. I adored Force Majeure, so am definitely interested to see what Ruben Östlund does in The Square. The reaction to Happy End thus far has been mixed, and while I don’t always love Michael Haneke’s work (in fact some of his films I actively hate), I’m certainly always interested to see what he does and am open to being challenged by his films. I had problems with Yorgos Lanthimos’ previous film The Lobster, but he does create a unique cinematic world, so I’m looking forward to seeing The Killing of a Sacred Deer. And I was impressed by Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan, and his new film Loveless has similarly developed an excellent reputation.

And then there are just films that sound interesting. A documentary about a blind man who is one of the world’s top card magicians (Dealt). A Thai thriller about teens cheating in exams that becomes an elaborate heist film (Bad Genius). I’ve generally stayed away from Takashi Miike, having only seen his 13 Assassins, but his 100th film, Blade of the Immortal, a story about an immortal swordsman, sounds fun. There are some interesting sounding thrillers - Super Dark Times, a film that mixes coming-of-age and dark thriller; Hostages, about a plane hijacking; and 6 Days, about a hostage incident at the Iranian embassy in the 1980s. And The Farthest, about the Voyager programme, promises some incredible imagery of the deepest parts of our solar system.

There are a few titles I was hoping would be screening but are not, but all in all, thinking about it, it seems like a pretty good selection. Hoping for a good festival.

26 February, 2017

1117 minutes

So here’s the thing,

There was a lot of hand-wringing halfway through last year about the low quality of 2016’s movies. In hindsight, much of that commentary was coming out right in the middle of summer blockbuster season, and those films had an absolutely brutal year. After 2015, which at least offered a few summer films that aspired to be something more (the most obvious being Mad Max: Fury Road), it was depressing to see Hollywood revert back to its usual lazy blockbuster filmmaking; hell, even the new Jason Bourne film let us down, and that film should have been as close to a quality guarantee as you could get. And then we get to the end of the year, and we clear out all the noise of all the junk food movies, and stop and consider the quality of all the other movies that were released this year, you begin to realise that this was actually a pretty great movie year. That’s true particularly of this year’s Oscar picks. While none of them are perfect, they’re all really wonderful, engaging, interesting films. And there’s a significant number of also-ran films that I adored that were never nominated but could easily stand next to these titles; I’m happy to be writing about these films, but I also wish I could be writing about Silence, Jackie, Moana, Paterson, Nocturnal Animals, Love and Friendship, or Certain Women. And that’s before we get to the films that were great but would never be nominated, like The Neon Demon, The Nice Guys, Don’t Breathe, Green Room, or 10 Cloverfield Lane. Hell, even some of the late-year-release blockbusters like Doctor Strange or Rogue One were wonderful, showing the spark and inventiveness that the summer films lacked. Basically, there were a lot of genuinely great films this year that I was delighted to see. Of which these films are nine.

[Comments after the jump on La La Land, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Fences, Hell or High Water, Lion, and Hidden Figures]

04 July, 2016

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

So here’s the thing,

If you were driving by the Paramount Cinema early Thursday morning, you would have seen a small group of people queuing. And for about a decade, I’ve always been one of them; every year I’ve queued on the day that film festival tickets went on sale to buy my tickets in person. The only time I didn’t queue was in the year where I was out of the country on the day; otherwise, I was always out there before 6am, wrapped up warmly, waiting for that moment where, joy of joys, tickets would become available.

This year, I broke with tradition. A couple of years ago, the festival went with a new ticket provider that allowed you to select your seats when buying online. (Seat selection was always my main reason for wanting to buy tickets in person.) Unfortunately the ticketing that first year was a complete mess; the second year was also challenging (particularly when the system completely collapsed when I only had a couple of films left to book and I had to start from scratch), but still it showed real signs of improvement. So this year I decided to try to book online, in the hope that the ticket provider will have taken lessons from the first two years, and this year the system would work well.

So that didn’t work out.

Tickets went on sale at 10am (for some reason an hour later than in past years). I went to my pre-made wishlist, clicked Select All, then went through the tedious process of selecting the required number of tickets for each film, one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one. Went to purchase, wait a couple of minutes, not so silently willing the site to work come on come on come on come on please please please work come on work work work I was pacing around my desk as it tried to process my purchase and then – timed out. I tried again; no luck. I tried placing smaller orders, halving my number of tickets, then halving it again; no luck. And every time I had to select my ticket numbers one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one. I must have gone through that process close to 20 times before it finally let me proceed, some 70 minutes after tickets went on sale. By the time I had made my seat selections (and I really cannot understand the computer’s logic with some of its automatic assessments of “best available seat”) and made my purchase, it was 11:29am, and 89 minutes had passed. Which is why I decided that next year I’m just going to have to go back to queuing.
So these are the films I’ll be seeing this year:
* Weiner
* The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble
* After the Storm
* Under the Sun
* A Touch of Zen
* Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World
* A War
* Beware the Slenderman
* Family Film
* McCabe and Mrs Miller
* Life, Animated
* High-Rise
* Green Room
* Sunset Song
* Suburra
* Swiss Army Man
* Captain Fantastic
* Graduation
* Tokyo Story
* The Red Turtle
* Truman
* Toni Erdmann
* One-Eyed Jacks
* The Daughter
* Le Ride
* Personal Shopper
* The Innocents
* Certain Women
* Paterson
* The Salesman
* Midnight Special
* Chimes at Midnight
* Johnny Guitar
* Variety
* Perfect Strangers
* Elle

I was genuinely impressed with the selection this year, as you can tell by the number of films I’m attending (my most films in a single festival).I’m particularly excited about the selection of classic films this year, especially as they’re all films I’ve never seen. I’m most looking forward to Chimes at Midnight, the Orson Welles film where all of the scenes featuring the character of Falstaff from five different Shakespeare plays are compiled into a Falstaff-centric narrative; it’s supposed to be Welles’ favourite of his films. I’m also excited to see Robert Altman’s anti-western McCabe and Mrs Miller, as well as my first film from Yasujiro Ozu, the famed Tokyo Story. I don’t know much about Marlon Brando’s sole directorial effort One-Eyed Jacks, and I’ve never even heard of either wuxia film A Touch of Zen or Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar, but they all look fun.

There’s a really promising list of documentaries this year. I start the festival with Weiner, supposedly a fascinating inside look at Anthony Weiner’s campaign for New York mayor which was derailed by the second of his sexting scandals. I’ve heard good things about Life, Animated, the film about a young man with autism who learned to communicate and engage with the world through Disney movies. There’s an interesting-sounding documentary called Under the Sun, in which the filmmaker captures the efforts of the North Korean propaganda machine trying to manipulate his documentary about a young girl in the country. Beware the Slenderman also sounds intriguing, about two girls who murder their friend and then blame it on the Slenderman, a recent urban legend whose creation took place entirely on the internet. And there’s a fun-seeming Werner Herzog documentary, Lo and Behold, about the development and potential of the internet. In an effort to reduce the burden of all my films I very seriously considered cutting The Music of Strangers (a documentary about an ensemble of international musicians brought together by acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma), but I just couldn’t bring myself to miss a film that just looks joyous.

Last year I finally saw my first Hirokazu Kore-eda film, Our Little Sister, and was just utterly charmed by its simple beauty; I’ve since seen his earlier film I Wish, which was just as great as I had been led to believe. At least on the basis of those two films, he seems to have a real talent for carefully observed family drama, where the joy of his work is in just spending time with his characters. So I’m excited about his new film, After the Storm, about a divorced father trying to connect with his ex-wife and son. I’m also thrilled to see The Salesman, the new film from Ashgar Farhadi. A Separation was my favourite film from that year, while The Past was similarly a powerful experience, and I can’t wait to see what emotional knots he ties me in this time.

I’m a bit uncertain about going to see Swiss Army Man, as the film really does not appeal to me. As with most film fans I first heard of the film when people reporting from Sundance described it as the “film where Daniel Radcliffe plays a talking, farting corpse”; I simply cannot imagine enjoying a film about a corpse with so much flatulence that it apparently allows him to be used as a jet-ski. But while many people seem to really hate the film, many other people seem to really be passionate about the film, and feel that there’s a lot more depth to the film. That kind of divisiveness of response can often be a sign of a film that’s doing something interesting. So I’ve decided to be open to the experience, and we’ll see how I feel coming out of the film.

I’m excited about the Live Cinema event this year, a German film about trapeze artists called Variety. I'd never even heard of the film, but these events are always a highlight of the yea. In addition, a work colleague is one of the musicians providing the accompaniment to the silent film, and he really enjoyed the film; apparently the trapeze sequences are particularly intense. So that should be fun.

And there are three films that I’ve been waiting for for quite a while, hoping for a festival screening. I’ve enjoyed several of Jeff Nichols’ films in the past; Take Shelter and Mud were both beautiful intimate character films, and so while I never would have picked him to make a science-fiction chase film like Midnight Special, he’s a strong director and I’m interested to see what he can do with the genre. On the other hand, I’ve never seen any previous works by Jeremy Saulnier (although I really want to see Blue Ruin), but I’ve heard so much great word about Green Room (about a punk band under siege from neo-nazis) that I feel I need to see the film. I’ve also never seen any of Ben Wheatley’s films, and his new film High-Rise seems to be incredibly divisive (indeed my friend eT saw the film and did not seem particularly enthused), but the positive reviews I have seen make the film sound rather fascinating; it should be fun to see how I respond to the film.

Adding it all up, this is the first year where my schedule involves me seeing an average of over two films a day. That makes me quite scared; five years ago I tried to do 34 films (which is an average of two films a day), and it damn near killed me; by the end I was not enjoying myself and wanted the festival to just be over. And this year I’m going to try and squeeze a few more films into my schedule. But I’ve thought this through, and am taking a couple of days off work at the end of the festival; not to fit in extra film screenings, just to sleep, and rest, and relax, and try to prepare for the final festival push without completely exhausting myself. Hopefully that will allow me to make it to the end of the festival. But for now, I’m just waiting for the festival to start. Waiting..., waiting..., waiting..., waiting..., waiting...,

19 June, 2016

Power Redux

So here's the thing,

Once again, during the most recent film festival I wrote a bunch of comments on Facebook about each film as I saw them. These are not reviews; they're more an attempt to try to capture my thoughts and my immediate response to each film. There are things that I wrote below that I don't necessarily agree with now, where I've let a film sit in my mind and my thoughts have developed and changed. But this post isn't about how do I feel about these films now; it's just about what I thought shortly after seeing them. And other than fixing a few typos, I haven't really reworked my comments, and they were all written in a rush, so the writing is a little rough. That said, here are my comments about the films I saw in the 2015 film festival.

28 February, 2016

1,047 minutes

So here’s the thing,

I was a little startled late last week to realise that the Oscars were coming up this Monday. Time had completely slipped by me, and I had barely written any of my usual post commenting on the Best Picture nominees. I’d given a decent first-draft write-up on a couple of films, but for most of them all I had were a few scraps and the odd half-formed paragraph here and there. (This was particularly annoying, since I had seen all of the films a couple of weeks ago so, unlike most years where there’s usually a film released just before the ceremony, I really have had plenty of time to prepare my post.) So, after a lot of effort, here is my last-minute post on this year’s eight nominees. I feel less satisfied than usual with this post, with many films I feel there is a lot more that I could have said but didn’t have the time to articulate my thoughts, and I certainly feel that my transitions between ideas could use a lot more work, but sadly I don’t have time for it. Nevertheless, here it is.

[After the jump, comments on The Revenant, Spotlight, Mad Max: Fury Road, Room, The Big Short, Brooklyn, The Martian, and Bridge of Spies.]

23 July, 2015

Dawn Redux

So here's the thing,

This year's film festival starts tomorrow, so I really should get around to posting my comments on the films I saw during the 2014 film festival. These comments were all originally posted on Facebook within a couple of days of seeing each film, so they reflect my initial thoughts and responses while each film was still fresh in my mind. They were also all written in something of a rush, so are not the most eloquent pieces of writing. Looking at the list of films, it's astonishing how so many of these screenings feel like they took place just a couple of months ago, while there are other films that feel like they occurred years and years ago.

[Comments on 29 films follow after the jump] 

05 July, 2015

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

So here's the thing,

If you had gone past the Paramount Cinema at 5.30 on Wednesday morning, you would have seen a solitary figure standing outside in the cold. After the disaster that the film festival online ticket bookings had been last year, I was concerned that a lot of people might revert back to booking in person, just in case, and I was determined to get in front. I needn’t have worried. It was over an hour before a second person turned up, and another 30 minutes before the next person arrived. Eventually, we were let in at 9am and tickets went on sale. And things seemed to go well with the system. Until...

We were booking my last day of films, just four films remaining to process. And suddenly the ticket agent’s screen froze. And remained frozen. I had to wait 15 or 20 minutes until the system reconnected, at which point my entire order had been lost. So we had to start again from scratch. It was now 9.40am. Unfortunately, for a few of the busiest screenings, I’d lost the very good seats I’d initially secured, but I still don’t have any bad seats by any means. On the whole, it worked.

But I’m thinking about taking a chance with not queueing next year. While they still seem to have some issues with the booking system not coping with the demand, it seems that things are much improved from last year, and (one would hope) should be even better next year. And now that the online system allows the user to make seat selections, that’s the last advantage of in-person booking gone. And so much of the in-person booking time was occupied with searching for the films I’d selected, before we even got to picking seats, that it would have been faster had I been able to just use my pre-compiled wishlist of film; I could have just selected them all and been choosing my seats within a minute. I might have been able to complete the transaction before the system went down. (And not having to get up at 4.30 in the morning would be nice.)

So I return to my car to drive to work. Except that there’s a car parked next to me. The problem is that the space next to me is nowhere near wide enough to fit a car; it’s usually used by motorcycles. So, in order for this car to squeeze into the park, they had left about 20cm space between their passenger side and my driver’s side. Obviously there’s no possible way anyone, no matter how small, could get into my car. After a moment of panic, I realise my church is just down the road. So I wander down to the office to ask whether anyone there can help me; I was imagining us trying to push the car into the road so that I could get in. Fortunately one of the people who came to help realised that he could climb into the driver’s seat from the passenger side, and was therefore able to drive it out.

So here are the films I’m seeing this year:

* The Lobster
* '71
* Dope

I’m most excited about Inherent Vice. I’ve loved Paul Thomas Anderson’s films ever since I saw Magnolia at the 2000 film festival, and was bitterly disappointed when the release of his new film was cancelled two weeks before its scheduled release date. I know that the Paramount had tried to negotiate with the distributor for a limited release to that cinema, but that also fell through. Fortunately, the festival will offer an opportunity to see the film, and at the Embassy, which is a great relief. Everything I'd seen of the film looked remarkable and visually distinctive, so I was not looking forward to only ever experiencing the film on my TV screen.

I’ve heard excellent things about the shot-in-California Iranian black-and-white vampire film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and while it has been sitting in my Netflix streaming queue for a couple of months, I’m held off on watching it in the hope it would get a festival screening. So I’m excited to see that.

I’m also really looking forward to Victoria, which is supposed to be great. A crime thriller about a girl who falls in with some guys planning to rob a bank, it’s apparently an intense and thrilling experience, and that’s before you take into account the technical feat of filming the entire 140 minute movie as a genuine single take. (None of the Birdman-style fakery piecing separate takes together to create the illusion of a single take; they apparently really did shoot it with one camera over a 2 hour 20 time period.) Consider Russian Ark, which is probably the most famous single-take film. That film was a brilliant film and technically an impressive achievement, but it took place in a single (admittedly large) location that could be controlled, and while it was enjoyable and had memorable sequences, it was also a bit impregnable if you don’t have a strong grasp on Russian history (which I don’t). By contrast, Victoria takes place over 22 separate locations, wandering the streets between each location, plus it’s almost twice as long as Russian Ark, and it should have the easy audience accessibility and pure entertainment value that comes with working in the defined crime genre. If they really have managed to pull this off, the film could be something quite special.

There’s a small selection of classic films this year. I saw The Colour of Pomegranates at the film society a few years ago, and did not care for it, so I’m not seeing that. However, I’ve never seen either of the other classic films; The Misfits (the final film of both Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable), or Kiss Me Kate (a musical adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, in Technicolor 3D). Both of those should be fun.

There’s one film I’m seeing about which I’m deliberately trying to stay ignorant. I heard the festival director, Bill Gosden, on Radio NZ’s “At the Movies” show mention The Tribe, a film apparently about a gang of teenage delinquents. What Gosden said was that the characters are all hearing-impaired, the dialogue is therefore all in Ukrainian Sign Language, and that the director believes that the sign language is so expressive that you don't need subtitles. So there are no subtitles in the film. Frankly, that intrigues me as an experience and an experiment; can I follow the film if I have no idea what anyone is saying? So I’ve decided to not know anything else about the film until I sit down in the cinema, and try to experience the film in as pure a way as possible.

There’s also a couple of documentaries that I fully expect to be difficult and challenging to watch, but that are also supposed to be excellent. The first, The Look of Silence, is a companion piece to The Act of Killing, an incredible and disturbing documentary that I saw in the 2013 festival. That film looked at the Indonesian killings in the mid-60s, when a million alleged-communists were murdered, and was strongly focused on the killers, showing them recreating the techniques they would use to murder their victims. The new film is apparently more focussed on the victims, with the central character being an optomistrist offering free eye checks to members of these death squads as an opening to discuss their crimes, including the murder of his own brother. There’s also a film called Dreamcatcher about a woman called Brenda Myers-Powell, who spent 25 years as a prostitute (starting when she was just 14), but who is now working to help sex workers leave the life. (There’s a really interesting (albeit disturbing) interview with Myers-Powell here)

I’ve decided to trust the decisions of the festival programmers where it comes to the “big night” films. I’ve had too many times where I’ve decided not to see an opening night, centerpiece, or closing night film because it didn’t interest me, only to discover later on that I really loved those films. So even though they don’t immediately interest me, I’m still going to see The Lobster (about a society where people who are turned into animals if they remain single for too long?) or Tale of Tales (about, umm, I genuinely don’t know) just because. (On the other hand, the centrepiece film, a Taiwanese movie called The Assassin, actually does seem pretty interesting.)

A couple of years ago, the festival show the Koreeda Hirokazu film I Wish, about two brothers wanting to be reunited, which everyone I heard from really loved. Unfortunately it just kept clashing for me with other priorities, so I never got to see it. (And still haven’t.) Then there was the swapped-at-birth film Like Father, Like Son. Which I also wanted to see, but which kept clashing. So this year, I decided to make his new film, Our Little Sister (about girls meeting their half-sister) an absolute priority. And I’ve managed to fit it in; I am risking a rather short turn-around between two films and different cinemas, but it should be achievable.

One thing I always find a little disappointing is the way Wellington has often been shortchanged with the Live Cinema events, where classic silent films are accompanied by live musical performances. Auckland always seems to get the big films, while we get the lesser-known films. So this year, both Auckland and Wellington are getting a film I’ve never heard of called Lonesome. I’m sure it’s a great film, and it’s nice to be able to see a film I might otherwise never get to see, and the music will be great. But then I look at my wall, and see the big picture of Charlie Chaplin with “the kid”, and I realise that Auckland is also getting a Live Cinema screening of The Kid, and I wind up feeling like I’m missing out. And that’s disappointing. Sure, it’s not exactly hard for me to find a copy of The Kid to watch at home, but it still feels like a lost opportunity.

There’s a ton of films I’ve just heard good things about and am excited to see – Ex Machina, While We’re Young, Dope, Girlhood, The End of the Tour, or The Wolfpack. As an animation fan, it will be sad to see When Marnie Was There, which (following the retirement of Miyazaki and the likely retirement of Takahata) could very well be the final film of the great Japanese animation Studio Ghibli. And the rest of the films I’m seeing are just movies that leapt out at me for one reason or another, and often I don’t really even know why I feel compelled to see some of these films. But I’m optimistic; there could be some real gems in there.

We’re now less than three weeks from the start of the festival, and I find myself getting impatient, looking over the programme again and again, wanting the festival to have started already.  And in five weeks’ time, it will all be over for another year. And so to next year...

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.]