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.

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