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.]

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.

29 June, 2013

Shadow Redux

So here's the thing,

As happened last year, it's taken me almost a year to post my thoughts on last year's film festival. I originally posted these comments on Facebook to record my immediate response to each film, and the effort in putting all of this into words is apparently nothing compared to the toil involved in motivating myself to paste these comments into my blog and formatting them. But the upcoming sale of tickets for the 2013 festival has finally prompted me to put in the effort. And so...

[Thoughts on my 2012 film festival after the break].

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.)