22 July, 2012

Attack Redux

So here's the thing,

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

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

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

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

03 July, 2012

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

So here's the thing.

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

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

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

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

I was fifth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26 February, 2012

64 percent

So here's the thing.

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

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

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

03 January, 2012

Willy silly nilly all stuffed with fluff

So here's the thing.

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

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

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

...with a link through to this article.


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

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

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

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

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

Here's another bit I love:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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