06 July, 2017

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

So here's the thing,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26 February, 2017

1117 minutes

So here’s the thing,

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

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