filmsandmore

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Argo

Although I created the draft for this post after we saw Argo, I find myself writing most of it three years later. Unusually, my recall of the film is good, and I remember how it made me feel, which seems like the hallmark of a good film or at least a memorable one

Argo tells a story based on actual events. In November 1979 the US Embassy is over-run and occupied by revolutionaries and the embassy staff is taken hostage. Six of the staff manage to escape, and are given refuge at the Canadian Ambassador's residence. The American Government and the CIA come up with an elaborate plan to rescue them, and the execution of the plan takes  up the rest of the movie.

Ben Affleck plays Tony Mendez, (the hero), the CIA exfiltration (isn't that a great word?) specialist who comes up with idea of giving the the six escapees a new identity - Canadian film makers who are scouting for locations for a science fiction film. Given the go ahead ("of the bad ideas we've had for this mission this is the best bad idea") he recruits some help in Hollywood to give the fake film some substance, including a script.John Goodman and Alan Arkin feature is this part of Argo, and it's pretty funny.

Armed with the script, Tony sets of for Iran and meets the six Americans and explains his plan Understandably, they're a bit dubious but realising their options are limited they agree to participate. They go out into the city, ostensibly as film crew which is a pretty tense outing but not as tense as the day they attempt to leave the country on a commercial flight. My knowledge of the original incident was sketchy but I was pretty.sure the hostages made it out of Iran. This didn't stop the edge-of-seat-tension watching the scenes at  the airport, particularly when the immigration officials attempt to ring the film's headquarters in Los Angeles.

Argo is a great watch - absorbing, exciting and very, very tense.  It did a very good job of illustrating what it would be like to be in a building that was being besieged. It also illustrates why you should have a shredder that shredder that shreds into short bits and not long reconstruct-able strands.It seems like the kind of film that should win a best picture award, and it it did.

Anne's rating 4/5

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Tanna

Our last film of the 2016 film festival, Tanna was one of the best. It's a Romeo and Juliet style love story filmed on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu. Tanna is famous for its live volcano, Mount Yasur, and for still having some villages where the traditional lifestyle is practised. The inhabitants are self-sufficient, live in huts and  women still wear grass skirts and the men just penis sheaths.


In the village of Yakel, our Juliet is an attractive teenager named Wawa. Dain is our Romeo. Their romance is mostly in secret, although it doesn't escape the notice of Wawa's little sister Selin  Wawa is just coming of age, and is expected to marry someone of her parent's choosing, although she maintains she wats to marry someone she loves. The villagers have a long-running feud with a neighbouring tribe,the Imedin. Dain's parents were killed by Imedin many years before. In the film, Dain's grandfather (the vlllage shaman) is attacked by the Imedin because they think he made their crops fail. Dain itches for for revenge.


Since inter-tribal relations are at an all-time low and killing and violence are making everyone's life difficult, a council meeting is scheduled  Pigs are exchanged and dialogue takes place. Imagine Dain's dismay when Wawa is offered as a bride to the Imedin and they accept. The Imedin leave the meeting, to return tomorrow to collect the bride.

Unable to contemplate a separate future, Dain and Wawa escape overnight. Like Romeo and Juliet, they enjoy a brief period together while they are pursued both by Wawa's family (who eventually catch up with them) and the Imedin,. Seemingly persuaded to comply with the tribes' wishes they commit mutual suicide by eating poisonous mushrooms while camped out on Mount Yasur,

Despite the tragic ending, this film is so worth watching A convincing romance is always heart-warming and Wawa and Dain's enthusiasm for each other's company is endearing. A glimpse into a lifestyle completely different to our own is fascinating - it seems a very physical existence and the characters raced through the forest and up the volcano at the  drop of a hat, seemingly without raising a sweat. The children were a  particular pleasure to watch as they  played games in the forest and in the waterhole and they seemed happy, carefree and cute.

Selin
Selin is a delight and her parents struggle to get her to do what she's told, The scenery is lovely and was nostalgic for us since we've been to Tanna, climbed Mount Yasur and been to a kastom village. Take a break from your life and experience what it's like to be on Tanna - we recommend it.

Anne's rating 4.5/5 Ian's rating 3.5/5

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The Lure

The band that hunts mermaids together, stays together.
Or perhaps not. The link between pop music, mermaids and Warsaw is not fully explained by Disney, but The Lure fills in those gaps in your knowledge, plus it goes into their eating habits.

The Lure is very much a musical film. It is centred around the two mermaids and the pop band they join. Not only are there musical performances at the night club (of which they are a permanent feature) but also any of the main characters may burst into a song and dance routine in any scene, rather like a 1940's musical or Bollywood film. I don't know if the songs are typical of Polish music but the lyrics invoke some crazy imagery e.g.
Holy moly, bitter tastes can be delicious as hell
Picking at love’s cracked-up shells

The story line is dream like, with scenes that don't make sense, sudden jumps and characters that don't serve any plot purpose. It feels like a bunch of amazing ideas thrown together around the basic concept of two mermaids leaving the Vistula to work in a Warsaw night club. But given that the action is centred around a nightclub it is not unreasonable that things make as much sense as you would expect from that sleep deprived, addled world. It is also a horror film with a bit of gore and some radical surgery in the second half. It is hard to pigeon hole this crazy musical horror. It is better to just let its madness wash over you and go with the tide.

Ian's rating 4/5 Anne's rating 3/5

The Clan

The Dirty War in Argentina started in the late 1960s or mid 1970s and lasted until 1983 when the military lost power in Argentina. Thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of people were killed / "disappeared" during the period. There were also 340 concentration camps. Such an operation required lots of people. So what do those people do when the new government no longer requires their services? Arquímedes Puccio was one of those people. He and a couple of ex-colleagues decided to continue kidnapping people, this time for ransom. They kept their victims in the Puccio family home in a middle class suburb of Buenos Aires and two of Arquímedes's sons were part of the gang. To avoid the victims giving information to the police the Puccio gang routinely killed their victims once the ransom had been paid.


The Clan is a fictionalised story of the Puccio family and their kidnappings. It centres on the relationship between Arquímedes and his rugby star son Alejandro. Each needs the other. The son is a vital part of the gang and also knows too much to be allowed too much freedom away from dad, while Alejandro's life style and rugby career is facilitated by his dad's money and connections. The film contrasts family life, Alejandro's rugby career and his love life with the kidnappings and killings. The effect is to show that evil people can seem normal and live normal lives.

Guillermo Francella's impassive face and his pale blue eyes fixed on the world make an obvious villain and domineering father. His self confidence in what he is doing as father and criminal is convincing. Contrasting with him is curly haired Peter Lanzani with his lopsided grin playing Alejandro as the obviously popular rugby star son.


Arquímedes's wife and daughters seem oblivious to what is going on around them, and it would have been interesting if the film had explored their side of the story to some extent.

Arquímedes Puccio died in 2013 at age 83, having been released from jail a few years earlier.  Alejandro died at 2008.

Ian's rating 4/5

Perfect Strangers

Perfect Strangers is a dinner party movie. In case you haven't seen one, the idea is that at the dinner party some slightly outrageous thing happens, everyone gets stirred up and some dramatic revelations are made about the attendees. What's in a name (which we saw at the film festival in 2012) is a classic example. In that movie, the outrageous thing was a couple announcing that they were going to call their unborn baby Adolphe .

So, in Perfect Strangers we have a group of 30- 40-somethings ( 3 couples and a single guy) meeting for for dinner at the apartment of one of the couples.The men have known each other since they were teenagers so they're old friends. In this case, the outrageous suggestion is that everyone has to disclose to the group any activity on their mobile phone. Texts must be read out, photos must be displayed and calls must be on speaker phone. And to complicate matters slightly, two of the guys swap phones (since they have the same model) so that the unmarried one gets the nude photo on What's App at 10 pm rather than the married one.

There are some laugh-out-loud moments, but probably not enough for what should have been light entertainment. We get to know the characters slightly too well, and they are a little bit too likeable so we can't just rejoice in them getting their come-uppances, we wince at their potential suffering instead. Ultimately, the revelation of too many secrets just made me sad.

Anne's rating 2.5/5

Monday, August 08, 2016

The Daughter


Ibsen is the world's second most performed playwright (after Shakespeare). Such is the NZ education system, that he could have been a tennis player or Harry Potter character for all I knew, until I was researching for this review. The Daughter is based on the Henrik Ibsen play: The Wild Duck.

Henry Neilson (Geoffrey Rush) owns the sawmill that is a small Australian town's main employer. He lives in a huge, country house, shoots duck, has servants and is aloof. He looks out of place in modern Australia, clearly a character from an old story. Despite his failing business (he is being forced into closing the sawmill) he is planning a grand wedding to Anna (Anna Torv) his beautiful and much younger fiancee (and ex-housekeeper). His son, Christian, arrives back from USA with an American accent on a rare trip home. He has a huge chip on his shoulder and an aim to cause trouble and get up almost everyone's nose. After an initial swipe at Anna he runs into Oliver, a school chum and from then on the two of them are almost inseparable. A parallel story line involves Oliver's teenage daughter Hedvig (Odessa Young - who also starred in Looking for Grace) and Oliver's dad (Sam Neill). Eventually Christian's destructive urge goes completely nuclear.

While some characters (especially Henry Neilson) don't fit in the 21st century and Christian seems almost unbelievably vindictive, the film is still effective. The acting is superb and the plot (particularly in the second half) is like watching a train wreck looking for somewhere to happen. I couldn't tell you how closely the film sticks to the original play but while it still looks like a film of a play it is a much better adaption than most play-to-film adaptions I've seen.

I've never seen Australia looking so wet and cold.

Ian's rating 4.5/5 Anne's rating 3/5

Thithi

Century Gowda's death is the first event in Thithi and is preceded by a brief snippet of his life. This seems to consist of haranguing and insulting everyone he comes across. Century Gowda is described as a cantankerous centenarian but I'd call him a miserable old git. I think I was supposed to find him (and many of the characters) endearing, but I didn't. Century's main relevance to the plot is the five acres of farm land that he owned.

Century is survived by three generations - his son Gadappa, his grandson Thamanna and his great-grandson Abhi. The five acres technically belong to Gadappa but he's a bit of a free spirit whose favourite hobbies are drinking, smoking and playing games and he's not interested in the land. Nor is he interested in signing the land over to his son, who is chiefly interested in selling it. Abhi  leans more towards the free spirit side of the family - his hobbies appear to be playing cards and pursuing the girl of his dreams.

A thithi is a kind of post-funeral ceremomy which takes place 11 days after the death and cremation. The local astrologer says five hundred people must be invited. and and it's expected that they are fed very well. The film covers the eleven days leading up to the thithi and the family machinations that take place. Thamanna decides to fake Gadappa's death so he can sell the land. He borrows money in anticipation of the sale and pays Gadappa to disappear. He gives Abhi some of the money to buy three sheep for the thithi feast. Gadappa does a poor job of disappearing and Abhi loses the sheep money gambling on cards. I struggled to care. In the right circumstances this would be a comedy of errors but it just seemed like a bunch of mean-spirited people (nearly all the characters spent the whole movie complaining) got what they deserved. Avoid.

Anne's rating 1.5/5 Ian's rating 3/5

Sunday, August 07, 2016

The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden is a film featuring deception, betrayal and control amid opulent elegance and plenty of sex. Set in 1930s Korea and concentrating on high production values, most of the action is set in the country mansion of a Korean mine owner, who is an old man pretending to be Japanese to further his social climbing (Korea was a Japanese colony at the time).


The Handmaiden starts with a plot by a young con-man to swindle Lady Hideko, the niece of the old man's dead Japanese wife, who is the heiress to a fortune in Japan (confused yet?). This con job requires an accomplice (a Korean pick pocket called Sook-Hee) to take up the job as maid to the heiress at the mansion. The first part of the film is told from Sook-Hee's point of view. This deception is not the only one operating in the film and all four leads are striving for control over one or more of the others. Sex also plays a big part in the film. The old man's hobby is collecting old Japanese pornography and holding readings for fellow fans followed by an auction of the relevant book. The young man is trying to seduce the heiress. The women also have sex. In fact the relationship between heiress and her new maid is the core of the film with the men hovering around and trying to control them.

Director Park Chan-wook enjoys playing with the audience, leading us up the garden path, undermining our expectations and drawing out the sex scenes longer than some audience members will be comfortable with. Despite the abundance of sex, Park Chan-wook also includes some of the violence and gore that he is famous for.

Trailer

Ian's rating 4/5

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Chronesthesia

The urge to support the underdog and the home product can lend a rose tint to reviewing a Wellington zero budget film. Hayden Weal worked with a small cast (taking the lead role himself) and smaller crew; and makes his audience work a little harder than most directors to follow half a dozen story threads and some time travelling. But it is worth the effort as he brings all the story threads together and binds them into a satisfactory conclusion.

Initially the story feels like a directionless mess, rather like its slacker protagonist's life. But gradually the various story elements come together as Dan starts to take control. The supporting cast is divided into those that act like they exist to further the plot and those that act like bystanders that Dan has some how irritated. This adds a degree of realism often missing from other films.

Dan lives a quiet life. He works making coffee in a cafe and spends the rest of the day alone at home or running the streets of Wellington while listening to music on his headphones. Then one morning he wakes to find a confusing message written on the inside of his bedroom window. This leads him out of the rut his life has become and he discovers other people who are living lives that resemble his in one way or another. He sets out on a mission of sorts and he learns that messing with other people's lives has good and bad consequences.

Chronesthesia is, more or less, the idea that some people can remember the future (a sort of mental time travel).

Compared with other Wellington made films this one is well acted, tells a slightly unusual but simple story in an interesting way with (mostly) believable characters.  Wellingtonians can try to identify all the locations in this almost entirely outdoor film.  I hope to see it come back after the Film Festival as it deserves a similar audience to What We Do In the Shadows.

Ian's rating 4/5 Anne's rating 4/5

A Perfect Day

A slice-of-life drama, a Perfect Day is just what its title suggests - a day in the life of some aid workers in the Balkans in 1995, a day when a lot of the things that could go wrong, do.  The story centres around the search for rope to remove a body from the local well. Benicio del Toro and Tim Robbins star as the hardened long-time aid workers with Melanie Thierry playing a recent recruit. Olga Kurylenko plays a conflict evaluator. They have assorted adventures together including getting lost and having to spend the night in their utility trucks.

The film's not especially deep but does give realistic insights into potential hazards of that kind of work - lack of equipment, bureaucracy getting in the way of progress, weapons doing the talking and unexpectedly gruesome sights. The characters are likeable, the scenery is excellent, the dialogue (and indeed the film) is darkly comic. I enjoyed the recurring cow theme, the soundtrack and the journey the film took me on.

Anne's rating 3/5 Ian's rating 5/5

Les Innocentes

Like Land of Mine, Les Innocentes deals with another little-known slice of the aftermath of World War 2 but takes place in a convent in Poland rather than on the Danish Coast. It's also set in 1945, but towards the end of the year. Around nine months earlier, the retreating Russian army had paid repeated unwelcome visits to the convent and as a result a number of the nuns were pregnant As the film opens, a second nun is in labour.

Pregnancy in the convent was problematic on many levels. The Mother Superior was particularly worried about the convent being publicly disgraced so she was all for dealing with issue in-house and, for the most part, pretending it wasn't happening. Some of the other nuns were worried about their sisters dying in childbirth and, the babies being homeless. The film didn't really feature the perspective of any of the pregnant nuns, but they certainly weren't talking about their plight, and were mortified by their condition. An environment where you're discouraged from looking at or nurturing your own body would hardly make for an easy pregnancy, and there was certainly no ante-natal care.

The film opens with one of the nuns taking the initiative. Upset by distress of  her sister in labour, (the screaming echoes round the  building) she leaves the convent through a hole in the fence and walks through the forest in the snow to the nearest town to seek help from the French Red Cross. They're reluctant to help (it seems they're there to assist injured French soldiers) and want her to ask the Poles which she refuses to do since the possibility of the aforementioned public disgrace is so much greater. She manages to persuade a woman doctor (Mathilde) to come to the convent, and Mathilde ends up performing a C-section to deliver the baby

Keen to provide some post-natal care (and puzzled by the reluctance of the Mother Superior to allow it), Mathilde becomes aware of the existence of the other pregnant nuns and gets involved in trying to provide ante-natal care and of course assisting with the deliveries. She conscripts one of her male medical colleagues to assist.

Other reviews of Les Innocentes criticise the film appearing to be a docudrama about the unusual   circumstances that Mathilde finds herself working in and not presenting a viewpoint on the situation.to shape the film. I don't really agree with that - I felt that it was examining the contrasting attitudes of the Mother Superior and  her right hand woman Maria, They featured partly because they were the ones who could speak good enough french to communicate with Mathilde, and partly because they represented authority. The Mother superior was more concerned about the convent's reputation and about upholding its routine and Maria was more concerned about the welfare of the sisters and their babies. One of the film's defining moments is the Mother superior leaving one of the new babies out in the snow (leaving it to "providence" to decide the child's fate) while telling the sisters she had taken it to the mother's family. I can't really reconcile what seems like pre-meditated murder with being a bride of  Christ but I'm prepared to cut her a little slack since she had contracted syphilis from the Russian soldiers and probably wasn't on top of her game. Ditto for the decision to turn down Mathilde's offer of antibiotics to treat the syphilis. Certainly the routine life of the convent doesn't lend itself to  dealing with unforeseen circumstances like pregnant nuns, and the Mother superior has found herself in a situation she has had no experience with.

Whether or not you feel the film has a viewpoint, there's plenty of room for forming your own, particularly if you have a working knowledge of Christian doctrine and there's lot to think about afterwards. Equally you may just appreciate having your attention drawn to another group of people who suffered as a result of the war despite not fighting in it and to the people who helped alleviate that suffering. The ending is unexpectedly positive which I appreciated but some critics have felt was contrived.

Anne's rating 3.5/5 Ian's rating 3.5/5




Captain Fantastic

An unorthodox family that lives in the forest of Washington State and to some extent lives off the land with home schooled kids, who are brought up to be self reliant then has to cope with suburban America, is a good premise for humour and drama. Dad supervises their education, takes them on adventures, encourages critical thinking and leads the entertainment around the camp fire. The kids love it. Well the four girls do. Both the boys have their private doubts. The shadow over their life is that mom is in hospital in Arizona. The plot kicks off once mom dies and her father and husband argue over the funeral arrangements. This leads to a road trip and an exposure of the kids to how the rest of America lives (in particular the white middle class).


This film most strongly reminded me of Little Miss Sunshine, which is another film about an orthodox family on a road trip.

Captain Fantastic could have shown Ben leading his family on the road trip to do battle on behalf of his dead wife in the same indomitable way as he brings them up in the forest, but actually the story is more nuanced. It felt like it was pulling its punches in this department as Ben blunders and fails in his battle with his rich father in law.

The movie is part commentary on middle class suburban America from an outsider perspective and also a commentary on alternative lifestyle home schooling types. How shallow, wasteful and lazy the mainstream is and how much the alternative lifestylers depends on the rest of us. It is also a story on how the perfect dad is still fallible.

Ian's rating 3/5

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Toni Erdmann

The Germans are not famous for their sense of humour or, as far as I'm aware their comedy films. Go for Zucker is the only German Comedy I can remember seeing so I didn't know what I was going to get with Toni Erdmann. There was also the slight concern that it was two hours and forty-two minutes long which is a pretty long time if it wasn't funny.

I think you'd call Toni Erdmann a father-daughter comedy, or perhaps an embarrassing parent comedy. Winfried (the embarrassing parent) decides his only daughter Ines is too career-oriented to be a satisfactory child and that he will go to Romania ( where she lives and works)  to sort her out. Winfried is a practical joker from way back and never goes anywhere without his joke false teeth and so a visit from him should be viewed with trepidation. He dons a wig and the aforementioned false teeth and gatecrashes a number of Ines' work functions pretending to be a life coach. Not all her colleagues are convinced , but they do play along.

Gradually Winfried does get Ines to loosen up and the film's best comedic moments ensue. Watching Ines' nude birthday brunch is a thing I will always treasure and it's worth waiting for. The delivery was mostly deadpan (unlike your average French comedy) and as its length suggests, it wasn't fast-paced. There was plenty of silliness and plenty of physical comedy to make up for the lack of speed and the film has more heart than many comedies. There are fart cushions and fake handcuffs and silly outfits and Ines' and Winfried's relationship is cemented as a result. My second German comedy was definitely a rewarding watch

Anne's rating 3.5/5

Monday, August 01, 2016

Land of Mine

Land of Mine dramatises a little-known slice of post-World War 2 history -  German POWs were assigned to clearing mines from the Danish Coast in 1945. This has a sort of poetic justice since it was the German Army that laid the mines if the first place, but if Land of Mine has anything to teach us, it's that war is generally unjust and that it brutalises both sides.

The small group of POWs in Land of Mine are only teenagers and they are scared of their job, and scared of their Danish sergeant. They're billeted on a farm on an achingly beautiful stretch of coast with white sand and turquoise water. The woman farmer is being paid by the Danish Army to feed the troops, but she just pockets the money. So the boys are hungry and the work is dangerous but on the other hand they're outdoors,the weather is ok and they're not being shot at.

 It's hard to explain why a film about clearing mines from Danish beaches is my favourite of the festival so far and why you should see it, especially since a significant number of people do get blown up. I think it's the contrast of youth and and beauty (both the landscape and the soldiers) and age and brutality. And the paradox of the sergeant bawling his charges out for minor misdemeanors (such as apologising) one minute and playing football with them on the beach in another. I can't promise you a happy ending exactly but let's say there are enough acts of human kindness to leave you with a sense of hope.

Anne's rating 4.5/5, Ian's rating 4.5/5

Friday, July 29, 2016

High-Rise

Dr Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moves into his 25th floor apartment as a successful man on the way up in life. Three months later he is barbecuing a dog on the balcony. High-Rise attempts to explain this by telling us that our physical environment (the apartment building in this case) affects our behaviour, which in turn determines the structure of our society. This doesn't quite ring true as everyone has arrived in the building with a clearly recognisable place in the British class system, and the building just amplifies that class system to a ridiculous extent. It is like an adult version of Lord of the Flies. As one of the characters puts it: "What has happened when someone can fall from the 39th floor and not a single policeman turns up. Where are the sirens?" ABBA's SOS plays a prominent part in the sound track.


High-Rise is a visual riot of a film, with the apartment building in question surrounded by a sea of 1970s British cars. The building in question is post-war brutalist in and out, though some apartment dwellers have managed to recreate other interiors to try and disguise where they are living.

High-Rise has enough components (interesting premise and characters, amazing visuals, good actors, a risk taking director and a political message) to deliver a great film but it doesn't achieve its potential. Instead of an overarching plot there is an overarching idea and bunch of little sub-plots. Instead we get a surreal mishmash with recognisable bits of the 1970s presented in a (bad) dream like fashion.

Ian's rating 2.5/5