Sunday, July 31, 2005

Howl's Moving Castle

Steam trams, airships, Victorian fashion, Flemish architecture, English street signs, colourful uniforms, witches, wizards and everyone speaking Japanese. Obviously we are in the world of Miyazaki Hayao animation.
It is actually more about Sophie the hat-maker than Howl the wizard. Sophie falls foul of the Witch of the Waste, and as is traditional is put under a nasty spell. Howl is a powerful wizard, gradually falling under side-effects of the magic he is using. You can probably guess where this plot is heading, though the knowing doesn’t spoil the ride. There is a rich array of side-kicks, baddies and others to entertain and frighten you along the way, in particular the witch’s gloopious minions and Calcifer the loquacious fire demon and the moving castle itself. Magic is mixed seamlessly with technology, human good and evil contrasted with magical good and evil. A visual feast for both kids and adults coupled with both adult and child messages.
If you want a movie for your kids, that you won’t find boring yourself, or you are an adult who wants something different, or are a closet Walt Disney or Finding Nemo fan or a Japanese anime cultist this is your movie. I think this is the best film of the festival.
We both rate it 5/5

Paradise Now

We went to see Paradise Now on Tuesday night (26th July), and we had seats in our favourite row, row L. Topically, this was a film about suicide bombers but it didn't seem to be a topic Wellingtonians were keen to explore as there were only about 200 people there (the Embassy holds about 700).

Those who stayed away missed a great film! It was shot in Nablus on the West Bank. Two young motor mechanics, Said and Khaled, are chosen to be the heroes on a suicide mission to Tel Aviv and it follows them for the couple of days leading up to the event. It is well-acted and superbly tense and the plot didn't follow the path I was expecting. There are all sorts of great touches - the bomb-maker with no hands; some of the team helpfully eating Khaled's pita bread sandwiches while he's being videoed making his martyr's speech; Said's Mother reading his coffee grounds at breakfast time and saying "you don't appear to have a future".

There were good contrasts too - the huge one between Tel Aviv's well-maintained modernity, and Nablus' ramshackle antiquity; and the philosophical contrast between those characters in the film who believed that violence was the solution to the Israeli occupation and those who didn't.

The ninety minutes flew by, and after the stunning ending the credits rolled in absolute silence. Gradually, everyone picked their jaws up off the floor and filed out.

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

Silence explained

We haven't posted anything for awhile, this is not that we haven't been to any films, but that we have been to too many (and our innate laziness). We are going out shortly to see our last 3 films which are on consecutively at the Embassy.

The films yet to review are:
  • Howl's Moving Castle
  • The Ax
  • Paradise Now
  • Up and Down
  • Birth
  • 10th District Court
  • My Summer of Love
  • Life is a Miracle
  • The Queen of Sheba's Pearls
  • Hari Om
  • 36, quai des Orfevres

(The last three on the list being today's films.)

Thursday, July 28, 2005


Yes is a really interesting film. I went for two reasons - firstly because it had Sam Neill in it (see previous comments about favourite actors),and secondly because the dialogue is in rhyming couplets. Sally Potter was the director and wrote the screenplay and the music but I didn't really regard this as a plus because the other films I've seen of hers (Orlando;The Tango Lesson) were pretty wierd.

Yes is definitely the best of the three Sally Potter films I've seen. It's really just the story of an affair and the heroine isn't especially likeable, but the inter-personal dynamics are quite absorbing. The rhyming script worked well, though sometimes I got distracted into imagining how it would look written down - sometimes she used words that didn't actually rhyme but would have looked similar on paper. I think it should have been sub-titled so you could appreciate how they looked as well as how they sounded.

The heroine's cleaning lady (who calls herself a "dirt consultant") provides a running commentary on the characters' lives which is really enjoyable.The ending was a bit kitsch, we thought.

Anne's rating: 3.5/5 Ian's rating 3/5.

Bombon - El Perro

This film was made in Patagonia and is about an illiterate recently-redundant garage attendant(Juan) who gets given a pedigree Argentinian Dogo (Bombon) as a reward for rescuing a damsel in automotive distress. Dogos are supposed to be great fighting dogs, but Bombon is mostly benign and friendly, and attempts to get him to be a stud dog don't go that well either.

Bombon and Juan have assorted low-key adventures, and attempts are made to take advantage of them but they triumph in the end.This was a nice tranquil little film, and marked the beginning of the ever-more intimate relationship Ian and I are having with row L at the Embassy. Row L is the back row of the posh section which has large leather seats. Normally these seats cost $18, so to get them at the film festival price of $14 (or $11 if you're a film society member)is a definite incentive to book early.

My rating: ( for the film) 3/5 .(for the seat) 4.5/5 - could be a little squashier

Monday, July 25, 2005

The weekend film schedule explained

Just in case anyone is confused about where all these films fit in, I thought I'd write an explanatory note. The Zoo was an impromptu expedition on Friday night as we were going to an Indian restaurant with a bunch of other people at 7.30pm. The Zoo started at 6.15pm and was 70 minutes long so we decided it would fill the gap before dinner nicely. And the movie theatre at Te Papa is only a hop, step and jump from the restaurant.

On Saturday I went to Bombon - El Perro in the early afternoon, Ian went to The Man from Laramie at 6.15pm and I went to Three Dollars at 7.00pm. ( so 6.30 is obviously a good time for penguin-spotting).

On Sunday Ian kicked off the day with Shake hands with the Devil at 11.00 am and then we both went to Yes at 4.00pm and Howl's Moving Castle at 6.15pm. We even managed to fit in help-yourself type Chinese dinner in the half hour between the two movies. On the way home at around 8.45pm we spotted 2 more little blue penguins, though these ones were just sitting quietly on their respective rocks.

Three Dollars

Another Australian film which didn't disappoint.Its about an engineer in the public service who has a wife, young daughter and a mortgage and who, at the film's end, has only three dollars in his bank account. The star was David Wenham who vies with Sam Neill for the top spot on my favourite actors list.

The producer and director were both at the screening and they said Three Dollars was intended to be an indictment of Autralia under John Howard. They also said that this was the third film they'd made together with David Wenham in the lead role. We've seen the second of the three (The Bank) which is a great film in which a little guy gets one up on a big corporate. You could say in Three Dollars that the establishment gets back at the little guy.

While there are definitely some laughs, this was a blacker film overall than Look Both Ways. It is certainly life-affirming but not necessarily uplifting.

My rating: 4/5

The movie-going experience last night was enhanced by seeing three little blue penguins on the rocks in front of Frank Kitts Park. The first one was swimming and obligingly hopped out of the water on to the rocks and shook itself while I watched. Further along there were two more penguins who hopped in and out of the water more than once

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Shake hands with the Devil: the jouney of Romeo Dallaire

This film a counterpart to Hotel Rwanda.
I don’t think they teach "how to deal with political masters" at general school. Which might explain why some of the most successful generals were their own political masters. It also may explain why a general whose political masters are a committee of 190+ squabbling countries is likely to fail.
This documentary is the story of Canadian Major General Romeo Dallaire the UN Force Commander in Rwanda during the genocide. He was sent to Rwanda to oversee a peace agreement between the Hutu dominated government (armed and encouraged by France) and the Tutsi rebel forces (the RPF armed and trained by the US). He finds that half the government want peace and half want to continue the war, he finds the Interahamwe (Hutu militia) being trained by the extremists in the government and incited to genocide by the propaganda on the radio, he finds his warning to the UN in New York are ignored. The moderate Rwandan president is assassinated, the moderate ministers and their families are rounded up by the Rwandan army and disappear, the genocide starts. General Dallaire wants to take the initiative to take out the extremist leadership before things get totally out of hand, but is ordered not too. He finds his Belgian soldiers are being targeted by the Hutu, not only because they are the best but because when Belgium was the colonial power in Rwanda they favoured the Tutsi (because of this sort of problem it is not usual UN practise to include a former colonial power in a peace keeping mission). Forced to defend only, General Dallaire finds his force is too small and apart from his Belgian troops not trained well enough for the situation. He is short of food and without medical supplies. Even later he thinks that with more troops he can get control and more troops arrive (2500 of them) but these are not under his command and only stay long enough to extract white people from Rwanda. The Belgians withdraw their troops after 10 are killed.
While the UN did nothing and the US wondered if they could use the word ‘genocide’ 8000 people are killed every day for 100 days, almost certainly the world’s most efficient genocide to date.
The film traces Dallaire’s trip back to Rwanda to give a speech on the 10th anniversary, a trip that allows him to show his wife where he was in 1994 and what happened in each place. It also discusses his alcohol abuse as a reaction to his time in Rwanda and his fight with the Belgian government which accuse him of letting their troops get killed while he regrets that his father fought to free Belgium from the Germans while Belgium troops guarded Belgian colonists exploiting Rwanda during WWII.
The title of the film (and book) refers to Dallaire’s reaction to shaking hands with Hutu extremists though he is clear that he doesn’t believe in the myth that blacks will always kill blacks and it is useless to try and stop them.
The only flaw in the film is that it doesn’t interview anyone from the UN peace keeping mission aside from Dallaire and one of his Canadian colleagues. It would have been interesting to hear the views of the Ghanan, Tunisian, Belgian and Bangladeshi soldiers.
The timing of this film allows one to compare the fuss over the 60th anniversary of the Holocaust and 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre this year with the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide last year and 25th anniversary of the end of Cambodian genocide also last year. It is hard to look past the skin colour of the victims as the main factor in the way we remember and commemorate and react to these events. Romeo Dallaire forces us to ponder his question: "are all humans human, or are some more human than others?"
Ian's rating 4/5

The Man from Laramie

Back to the 1950s for a restored version of The Man from Laramie by Anthony Mann, and staring Jimmy Stewart. There are some unimaginative, cutesy moments and dialog -- mostly involving the female characters. Also one point where a more hard core script writer would have chosen a violent showdown. But aside from these flaws this is a very watchable western. There are hardboiled characters, men who fight first and ask questions later, people with secrets to hide, secrets to uncover, revenge, fatalism, people wrongly accused, plus a dose of moral greyness and some corny harmonica music.
Ian's rating 3/5

The Zoo

Hands up if you know how many zoos there are in the West Bank? Double points if you can name the town it is in. The town of Qalqiliya is one of those real life situations that you would think was impossible if you read about it in a novel. The town with a zoo that is itself a cage, surrounded by a wall (pdf). A situation taylor-made for a documentary maker and kiwi Hayden Campbell takes advantage.

Everyone plays their part. The star is zoo vet Dr Sami Khader, with a variety of animal co-stars, some alive and some, like the teargassed zebras, are stuffed. Dr Sami is almost irrationally happy (though his humour tinged with sarcasm) in the face of the situation that he is in. Other players include the zoo's visitors, truck drivers, and a wide variety of Israeli soldiers from the incomprehensibly obstreperous, the curious, the bored, the macho clown, the defensive, the american-israeli and even a helpful soldier. The film is interspersed with an interview with an Israeli zoo vet friend of Dr Sami.

The story that holds this all together is Dr Sami's trip to Nablus (about 35km away) to pick up a couple of baboons and return to the zoo. It takes 2 days to complete the trip and involves two trucks, an ambulance, a taxi, red tape, subterfuge, numerous cellphone calls, lots of pleading and begging, luck, three languages, and the use of a white man with a video camera to embarrass soldiers into being slightly more accommodating. All in all a well told view of life for 4,000,000 Palestinians.

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

Thursday, July 21, 2005


Another romance, another film without Anne. 3-Iron is a South Korean film for people who hate subtitles. Made by a someone who would have been at home in the silent era. Two solitary and hence silent people accidentally meet and fall in love. He tries to live without interacting with people, invisible, taking and giving without asking, self indugent yet caring, a man who likes to do things manually in an automated, throw-away world. She sees his life-style as an escape from hers. Boy meets girl, boy not sure he wants a girl cluttering his life at first, initial happiness is brought to a close by an uncaring outside world. Not an original plot, but one that puts us into the role of love's enemies by exposing the uncaring, paranoid nature of today's society and the anger some people have towards those who thumb their nose at conventional behaviour. Very beautifully presented and showing how much a file-maker can communicate without words.

(I might flinch the next time I see someone pick up a golf club)

Rating 5/5

The Edukators

Anne stayed at home and I went to see this German/Austrian romantic comedy. For some reason I imagined it was a Swedish film and for the first few minutes I thought "I didn't realise that Swedish sounds so much like German" and then the pfennig dropped. In the first half things go OK, the three protagonists are inside their comfort zone and are in control and this is gritty urban love story. Then things go wrong and supprisingly the pace of the film slows down, the setting changes, things become unravelled for the protagonists and much funnier for the audience.

This film is a bit of nostalgia for 1960s radicalism viewed through a sunset coloured lens, quite slow at times but it finishes with a bang which got the audience clapping.

Rating: 3/5

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Look at Me

I went to this movie by myself yesterday. Often when I choose to go to movies that aren't chickflicks without Ian they turn out to be tedious. Look Both Ways on Saturday night was an exciting exception to this rule. Look At Me was the rule making a comeback with a vengeance.It was French movie-making at its "let's not let the lack of a riveting plot get in our way" worst. It was populated with grumpy self-obsessed men and women with low self-esteem who are all irritating in the extreme. The film festival programme review has words like "wonderful" and "absolutely riveting" which should have made me suspicious.

Anne's rating 1/5.

Kung Fu Hustle

Ah, the pressure! We're only on day 4 and we're behind with the write-ups already. Kung Fu Hustle is light entertainment. If you haven't been to a Kung Fu movie you need to know that the stunts and special effects are very sophisticated and the dialogue and plot are not. Think Christmas pantomime for their equivalent and you'll have it about right.

Taking a distinctive characteristic and exaggerating it until funny is a standard comic technique for lampooning. Film-making includes many conventions which are ridiculous under a magnifying glass. 'KFH' does for HK martial arts films and the current obsession with CGI what "Last Action Hero" did for American action flicks. It has spectacular stunts. It out-sillies silly. It makes jokes about homosexuals and fat people. It even makes jokes about spectacle wearers which for a movie made in a country with as many myopes as China is amazing.

For pure escapist entertainment you can't go past this film. Best seen on the big screen, we think.

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

Monday, July 18, 2005

Look Both Ways

Yesterday I went to Look Both Ways, Ian went to Turtles can Fly and we both went to Kung Fu Hustle.

Look Both Ways is an Australian drama and since I am a big fan of Australian films, I was unsurprised that I liked this one. The theme is the way people deal with the bad things in their lives (death,illness,relationship trouble) but you shouldn't be put off by the threat of too much angst. The three main characters are very likeable despite their neuroses and the script is very funny.It is touching, but not sentimental. Seeing the heroine's imagination in animated form is a nice touch.

The producer and director/writer were both present and did a Q&A session after the film. The writer was asked if she wrote the script with any particular actors in mind and she said that her partner(William McInnes, who was Max Connors on Seachange and is one of the three main characters in the film) was underemployed so she wrote a film for him to be in! She also said they shot the film in Adelaide because the Adelaide film festival paid them $250,000 and they got money from the South Australian Film Commission.

Anne's rating 4/5.

Turtles Can Fly

On the Turkish / Iraqi border, awaiting the US invasion, a bunch of kids in a world short of adults earn money, solve problems, boss each other about, give advice, are parents, fall in love, kill and other adult activities. This is a film of contrasts:
  • the rubbish and mud of the refugee camp against the beauty of the hills and cliffs around them and the bright blue sky above
  • the know it all, satellite dish installing kids practising their english phrases and the technophobic frightened adults
  • villagers verses refugees
  • news from satellites and premonitions from dreams
Amid the fear, landmines, thre is a little humour before the inevitable injuries, deaths and the arrival of the Americans

Ian's rating: 3/5

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Hotel Rwanda

Hotel Rwanda
121 minutes
Canada / UK / Italy / South Africa
Directed by Terry George
Seen by Ian and Anne at the Paramount on 10 July 2005.

Staring Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina the Hutu house manager for a Kigali hotel with Jean Reno in a camio role as his Belgian CEO in Lisbon and Nick Nolte as a Canadian colonel working for the UN.

This is the story of a westernised Rwandan who feels that he is above the Hutu / Tutsi conflict and believes not only that he is equal to white people but also that they view him as an equal. These beliefs are destroyed in 1994 one by one as his white manager flees, the Hutu army and militia (Interahamwe) attack his friends, family and hotel, and his white guests are rescued leaving him to protect 1250 ‘cockroaches’ from his fellow Hutu.

There is a sharp dichotomy between the white people who appear in person (hotel guests, UN officers, aid and church workers and journalists) who are mostly concerned and often working desperately to stop or save people from the genocide and the invisible white people outside Rwanda who are voices on the radio and telephone (diplomats and politicians and by implication the rest of us) who did nothing beyond arguing whether we could use the word genocide or not while 600,000 to 1,000,000 people were being killed based on whether their ID card had "HUTU" or "TUTSI" written on it.

Along with this political message is a survival film with surprisingly little blood or violence and plenty of suspense and tension even though we know what will happen. Between the killing, hiding, bribing, rescue attempts etc an awful lot of alcohol is drunk. It is one thing the UN, Tutsi and Hutu have in common.

I enjoyed the film and would recommend it to anyone who likes tension during a movie and something to think about afterwards.

Ian’s Rating 4/5
Anne's Rating 4/5


Our first festival outing had a definite "ick" factor, which wasn't all to do with the film. The woman next to us kicked over her beer, which she had left on the floor, shortly after she arrived. The usher, who came to mop up the mess, commented cheerfully that she had cleaned up much worse - film patrons seem to have a tendency to vomit, and if its a late night showing, wet their seats. This could make a person resolve only to watch movies on DVD in the comfort of their own homes, but since we've paid for all our tickets we will just have to soldier on, bravely. I'm wondering about suggesting a pocket in the seat in front of you for sick bags and absorbent cloths - and maybe disposable seat covers. Anyhow, back to the film.

Dumplings is not for the faint-hearted, or people who think that cannibalism is not suitable material for a movie. I liked it more than other films that have touched on this topic - for example "Titus" and "The Cook,the thief, his wife and her lover". It had quite a high walk-out rate - about 10 people left during the film. It had definite overtones of the TV programme Fear Factor where the contestants have to eat repulsive things to try and win $100,000 but the characters in the film weren't after money. They wanted less achievable things like fecundity and eternal youth. For a Hong Kong movie it had a remarkably coherent plot, and was a rather sad little story which gave you plenty to think about afterwards.

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

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Ratings System Explained

Responding to Rachel's request for a rating system, here it is.

5/5 Drop Everything and go! This is a great movie.

4/5. A good movie. Worth the effort of going, and you should tell other people to go.

3/5. Reasonable movie,didn't regret going.

2/5. OK movie. Could have waited until it showed on TV.

1/5. Poor movie. Conscious that there were better ways to spend 2 hours than watching this.

0/5. Terrible movie. Should have stayed at home and cleaned the oven, which would have been more fun.

Intro and Hotel Rwanda

The Wellington film festival opens tonight, and since I'm going to 17 films and Ian is going to 18 (there are 13 movies which we'll be viewing together) I thought we could share our thoughts on the movies in case people are interested, AND give our normal email correspondants something to read while we're too busy watching movies to write to them personally. What's more, I like to think we could be providing handy reference material to our friends and relatives who, due to their child-minding commitments, don't make it out to the movies all that often, and when faced with a trip to the movies or the video-store can't decide what they should watch.

Ian has been in festival training mode for several months by going to the Film Society's weekly offering on Monday nights.Until last Sunday I hadn't been to the movies since the Sercombe and Matheson staff outing to Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy , so to get into the swing of things we went to Hotel Rwanda at the Paramount. The seats there are still dreadful but the movie is to be recommended as long as you don't find the sight of dead bodies too disturbing.The story is engrossing,and the acting convincing.

This evening we're off to Dumplings at the Paramount at 10.15pm. This is from the "that's incredible" section of the festival programme and is directed by someone called Fruit Chan. Man or woman? Don't know. The programme says " Chan has concocted a sneakily spiced banquet for connossieurs of bad taste and political incorrectness". We will keep you posted.