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]

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.]

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.