Monday, August 07, 2006

Summary 2006 Film Festival

FilmBrief descriptionIan’s
Last Train to Freoperils of public transport45
Brickteen film noir53
The MethodSpanish executive job interview53
The Host Updated
old fashioned monster movie5
How much do you love me?Semi-surreal sex comedy3.54.5
The Road to GuantánamoUK documentary44
Avenge but one of my two eyesMasada & Samson documentary44
Thank you for smokinglife of a MOD squad PR man3.54
The ValetFrench farce43
WaterIndian widows4
The Sasquatch Dumpling Gangnerdy teen film4
Kirikou and the SorceressFrench animation of West Africa4
China BlueChinese jeans factory4
The White Planetarctic nature film
C.R.A.Z.Y.Gay boy grows up Canadian

Ten CanoesThe worlds' most exotically located soap-opera

Close to HomeIsraeli teen girl bonding33.5
A Scanner Darklyanimation about paranoia3.5
Shortbuscast driven sex film33
5 Days Updated
settlers leave Gaza2.53
The White Masai Updated
Swiss blonde goes bush2.53
Heading Southwhite women in Haiti3
Iraq in Fragments3 part documentary3
Bad BloodStanley Graham man-hunt3
Event 16low budget NZ sci-fi2.5
Abduction: The Medumi Yokota storydocumentary2.5
JindabyneAustralian PC film22
The Passengeridentity change and road trip22
Three Times3 Taiwanese loves stories2
The Death of Mr. Lazarescupensioner gets terrible treatment by health system and then dies

The New Worldoverly long first contact film11
Worldly Desiresout of focus Thai film fragments0

Ten Canoes

This was a solo Friday night effort while Ian went to games. It was sold out, which was in part due to the Australian High Commission buying 90 seats - part of their patriotic duty, I guess.

This is a gentle tale, depicting aboriginal life as its been for thousands of years, filmed in Arnhem land. There are two strands to the story -in the current day a group of men go on the annual goose egg hunt. One of the men is lusting after one of his brother's wives so one of the elders recounts a legend of what happened when one of his forebears was in the same position. The current day portion is filmed in black and white and the legend, which takes up most of the film, is in colour. The dialogue is in an aboriginal language but there is an English narration in addition to the subtitles.

There was lots to like. The actors are all entirely naked and for the most part had slim and beautiful bodies - the notable exception being the elderly Birrinbirrin who is addicted to honey and has an pot-belly to bear witness to that. It was gently funny with toilet humour and jokes about penis size. You get to see the effective use of spears and daily life in a traditional community.

It isn't fast paced and the meandering story line can be a bit confusing but its a very pleasant journey.

Anne's Rating: 4/5

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

The film festival programme described this film as "mesmerising, suspenseful, darkly funny, shrewdly humane and spiritually challenging" which was enough to convince me to go. Now I'm wondering if the reviewer and I went to the same film.

Mr Lazarescu develops stomach pains and phones for an ambulance - and it takes forever for one to come. He sees lots of doctors, is treated with contempt and indifference. gets shuffled between hospitals and eventually dies waiting for an operation. The film could be retitled "The last day in the life of Mr Lazarescu" as the action takes place in a period of less than twenty-four hours. It feels painfully like real time - one hundred and fifty three minutes was way too long, and it was tedious and dull as time spent in a hospital is. It may have been meant to be insightful and stimulating but it was mostly plain depressing.

Anne's Rating: 2/5


C.R.A.Z.Y is the growing up/coming out story of a French Canadian called Zac. Zac is the 4th of 5 sons and was born on Christmas Day, which he claims is one of the things that made him peculiar. Zac is his Father's favourite son, which makes life interesting since his Father is deeply homophobic. His Mother is more tolerant of his more girly tendencies,perhaps due to her lack of a daughter.

This all sounds quite heavy, but this film is far from it. An entertaining family drama with an endearing central character and an awesome seventies soundtrack, this is definitely a feel-good movie.

Anne's Rating: 4/5

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The White Masai

Reading the synopsis of this film, it sounded deeply romantic -Swiss girl holidaying in Kenya meets a Masai warrior and on impulse decides not to return to Switzerland with her current boyfriend but to stay and pursue the warrior - all the way to his traditional Masai village. It sounded improbable as well as romantic but since it's a true story it seemed intriguing enough to be worth watching. It is worth watching but for me the ending was so unromantic and so unexpected I was just shocked.

The Masai warrior (Lemalian) is the most beautiful man you can imagine, and Carola the swiss girl is beautiful too, though her behaviour gradually lessens her appeal (for me, anyway) as the film progresses. Carola takes up residence in the village, seemingly manages to deal with the myriad of cultural and logistical problems a european would face in doing such a thing, marries her warrior, opens a shop, has a baby and then they don't live happily ever after because she takes the child (who is then about 3) to Switzerland on the pretext of going on holiday and the credits roll as some text tells you she never returns.

I guess since they didn't discuss things like how their cultural differences affected the way they behaved faced with certain scenarios ( like giving relatives credit in the shop and having eye contact with men you aren't having sex with) you could conclude that their relationship was always going to founder, but it survived so much for so long I was disappointed that she killed it off. And I was disappointed that she didn't feel that she should modify her behaviour or her beliefs to help her fit into the exotic location she'd chosen. I guess its the disappointment you feel when you thought you were going to see a romance, and it ends up being a documentary.
Ian’s Rating: 2.5/5
Anne’s Rating: 3/5

5 Days

The removal of the Israeli Jews from the fortified settlements built in the Gaza strip took 5 days. 5 days of intense, papparazzi like, media attention. The question was "how serious was the Israeli government?". Given that the IDF was doing the moving you can argue that the answer was never in doubt; no sane Israeli politician (especially not an ex-general like Sharon) would use the IDF as a political fall-guy. But given Sharon's previous attitude to the settlements perhaps some people believed he could change his mind again at the last minute.

This documentary followed three converging players: the general in charge of moving the settlers, a protest organiser outside the settlements and a couple of almost hippy-like settlers who believe Gaza is God's gift to them. In the bit parts are 8,000 settlers, 40,000 soldiers and police and hundreds (possibly thousands) of protesters. In the audience are the media, and through them 'The World'. On the fringes are the Palestinians of Gaza.

One thing that should strike you is what you don't see. Guns. There is an assault rifle leaning up in the corner of the general's office and other assault rifles pointed at the Palestinians by the soldiers guarding the settlements (not part of the 40,000 who move the settlers), but rest of this documentary is a gun-free zone. But the strangest thing is that the gun-free nature of the process is not discussed or mentioned!

There is lots of potential for clashes between the various factions to derail the process but in fact the biggest hold-ups and potential hold-ups come from within the army. Some of the commanders who report to the general find all sorts of ways to avoid or slow down the implementation of orders. One officer in particular gets close to insubordination / incompetence.

The film provides a partial insight into the Alice-in-Wonderland nature of Israeli politics.

Ian’s Rating: 2.5/5
Anne’s Rating: 3/5

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Three Times

Another film made up of three sub-films (see Iraq in Fragments). Three love stories set in 1966, 1911 and 2005; each filmed in an appropriate style. The first set in 1966 is a slow almost wordless love story between a tongue tied student being called up to the army and the pool hall hostesses he is infatuated with. The second is a silent (though colour) movie where a liberal journalist gets involved with courtesan contract to be close to another girl he admires. The third is grungy, confusing modern story of a girl juggling a boyfriend and a girlfriend.

I enjoyed the humour, shyness, and innocence of first story. The second story was harder to follow though the photography was lush. I found the fragments of argument, the unpleasant silences and the background noise and photography of the third story even less enjoyable.

Ian’s Ratings: 4/5, 2/5, 0/5 giving an average of 2/5

The Host

What makes a good monster film? A menacing monster, scary encounters with the monster, bumbling authorities, a group of misfits with whom we can identify to do battle with the monster (when they aren’t fighting each other or battling the authorities), some funny bits to relieve the tension in between action scenes, a damsel in distress and finishing with a climactic action scene.

The Host ticks all these boxes with style.

The monster looks like a beached whale when sleeping, but with its big mouth gaping as it bounds along the river bank and its prehensile tail grasping victims as it goes, its a different story! And you’ve got to love those swan dives.

The protagonists are a dysfunctional family centred around a river side snack seller, his dozy son and grand daughter who quickly becomes the damsel in distress. Joining them are an alcoholic son and a flawed athlete daughter. The adults form a bumbling rescue squad and comedy routine.

Being a South Korean film we get two sets of authorities for the price of one. In the foreground over reacting but behind the 8 ball are the South Korean police and other government officials. And hovering behind them the menacing, uncaring and all powerful U.S. authorities. Who of course are also responsible for kicking the whole thing off in the first place.

This film unashamedly borrows from lots of great monster films. There are political and ecological digs that owe more to Godzilla than Alien. The monster itself owes it pedigree to both Jurassic Park and Alien. The girl is a, well a normal teenager. I could go on but it is not necessary, ‘The Host’ is great film and you should grab your favourite squeeze and go and see it at a cinema with a really good sound system.

Ian’s Rating: 5/5

How Much Do You Love Me?

This movie is a treat - it's escapist, it's fantasy, it's feel-good, and going along for the ride is a pleasure. Its the story of an ordinary guy who wins big in the lottery and heads off to the local brothel and persuades a beautiful prosititute to live with him for a large monthly allowance

How they cope with the situation, and how his workmates, his neighbours and her husband react to the new scenario makes entertaining viewing. The plot keeps changing and you're never sure what's reality and what isn't, but you won't care. The whole film could be a fantasy (I was half expecting him to wake up from a dream as the credits roll) but any conclusions are left up to you. This is a clever and funny film, and it examines the relationship between sex, love and money.

Ian's Rating: 3.5/5
Anne's Rating: 4.5/5

The Road to Guantánamo

Four British lads on holiday, decide to take a side trip to Afghanistan. Get taken prisoner by some Afghans, then the Americans, taken to Guantánamo for the next few years. If you were blind and heard the British working class accents, you would be bewildered by what was going on. But obviously anyone going to a cinema is unlikely to be blind and hence can see the skin colour of these boys which makes everything that happened to them is entirely understandable.

The story is told entirely from the boy's perspective and the motives of the Afghans, Americans and British they come in contact with can only be guessed at.

Ian's Rating: 4/5
Anne's Rating: 4/5


I was really looking forward to this film since I'm a big fan of Australian cinema and because the director's previous thriller, Lantana, was so good, but I came away disappointed. It was well-acted and the scenery (in the Kosciusko National Park) was fantastic but it just didn't quite hang together. It seemed as if the director hadn't quite decided what kind of film he wanted to make.

It's the story of four men who go on a fishing trip and find a murdered woman's body but finish their fishing before reporting the find to the police. The film spends quite a bit of time examining the reactions of the police, the townsfolk and the men's families to this behaviour. An extra dimension is added because the woman is an aboriginal, but although there is a suggestion of a new acceptance of some aspects aboriginal culture by the white australians at the end of the film it seems like this is an add-on rather than the central theme. Confusing the issue of central theme further is the film's beginning where we see the perpetrator of the murder set up the crime and its all very tense and atmospheric and we think we're in for a real thriller. And then we get sidetracked off to the fishing trip and its participants which is all very prosaic apart from some odd spooky moments in the bush. And the murderer crops up again every now and again but there's no suggestion of him being apprehended.

Another large chunk of the film is spent examing the mental state of the wife of one of the fishermen, who had severe postnatal depression after the birth of her first child and she's in the process of trying to come to terms with the fact that she's pregnant again.

As you can gather there's probably enough fodder for several films here, and that's part of the problem.

Ian's Rating: 2/5
Anne's Rating: 2/5

Thank You For Smoking

Ian's Rating: 3.5/5
Anne's Rating: ?/5

Friday, August 04, 2006

China Blue

Wellingtonians love documentaries. Who would have thought that a film about a small obscure Chinese jeans factory would sell out the Paramount at 3:45pm on a Wednesday! Particularly when there was an evening showing the night before and an extra showing scheduled for the coming weekend. Perhaps Wellington needs its own documentary TV channel.

‘China Blue’ follows the ex-police chief factory owner and two of teenage girls in his workforce for months as they fill overseas orders, where sets of jeans and jackets are sold to a British shop for $US1.40 a set and the profit on a pair of jeans is US20c after paying the workers US6c per hour. If you think you are overworked try up to 17 hours per day, seven days per week with New Year as the only holiday. And keep in mind the slogans painted on the walls such as: "If you don’t work hard today, you’ll look hard for work tomorrow".

The film was made by smuggling the camera into China in pieces. Telling the factory owner than the film would be about China’s new entrepreneurs like him and that filming his staff was just for background information.

It is a jaw dropping depiction of the effect of globalisation and free trade and of life in a society that is far more different than it looks.

Ian’s Rating: 4/5

The New World

Films on the first 2 pages of the Film Festival program are usually safe bets. But ‘The New World’ by Terrence Malick (‘The Thin Red Line’) should be avoided. Its only redeeming features of this film are the beautiful photograph, Pocahontas in the forest and the realism of the recreation of the English settlement of Virginia. If you must go and see it, take your favorite 2.5 hours of relaxing music loaded on your I-Pod.

The forests, rivers and marshes look wonderful. The Indians look alien and the English look grubby (except for the thin upper crust of society). The message, trumpeted loud and clear throughout is that, in this clash of civilizations the horrible English colonizers will either kill themselves with their stupidity or crush the idyllic Indian civilization. Only Captain John Smith and Pocahontas’s father can see this. The pace is mind numbingly slow in what seems to be Terrance Malick’s style.

Ian’s Rating: 1/5
Anne’s Rating: ?/5

Bad Blood

New Zealand the way it used to be. Both in terms of New Zealand film making (even though this is an NZ/UK co-production) and in terms of West Coast life in 1941. This film was made in 1981 and has been restored by the NZ Film Archive as part of a 25th anniversary project. In October 1941 Stanley Graham killed several policemen and went bush for 12 days. This dramatisation portraits Stanley and his wife as paranoid, unsuccessful farmers who resent having to give up their .303 rifle and who blame their neighbours for their troubles. A couple on an collision course with disaster, which the well meaning and tolerant local cop is unable to defuse to inevitable confrontation.

The camera work and acting is workman like and help make the rural West Coast in 1941 more believable than it would be with more polished performances by cast and crew. This film deserves to be better known in New Zealand as it is far from our worst film.

Ian’s Rating: 3/5

Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story

I was surprised to see Jane Campion’s name associated with a documentary about an obscure Japanese / North Korean story. But she is producer of this film about the abduction of a 13 year old girl on her way home from school in 1977. Which turned out to be the tip of an iceberg of abductions of Japanese, South Korean and others by North Korean secret agents. Those abducted were used to teach North Korean spies how to impersonate people from their home countries in order to blend in more easily.

The story is told from the point of view of Megumi’s parents attempts to find their daughter, the journalist who noticed the pattern of disappearances, and the lobby group founded by the parents of detainees to put pressure on a reluctant Japanese government to get the kidnapped people back. Given how polite we expect Japanese people to be it is amazing to see how publicly rude the frustrated parents get with stonewalling government politicians. It is also amazing to hear how the North Korean government changed its story when put under pressure.

If you don’t know the details of this story it is well worth seeing this documentary as an education in North Korean activities, Japanese politics and lobbying.

Ian’s Rating: 2.5/5

Event 16

An engaging New Zealand science fiction film about time travel set in Wellington of 1893, 2005 and 2038 with plenty of special effects would have a budget of .. .. .. $60,000. We are not in Weta Workshop now; this is low budget digital filming and special effects. It is not seamless but it does work as well as many TV sci-fi shows. As any good time travel story goes this is hard to follow, there is no sitting back and letting it wash over you, you need to concentrate. The writer / director Derek Pearson is perhaps a Peter Jackson wannabe but with slightly more concentration on story telling than Peter Jackson’s earliest efforts.

It is worth renting the DVD if you are interested in a different side on NZ film making.

Ian’s Rating: 2.5/5

Kirikou and the Sorceress

Kirikou is an African baby boy who can talk, run like road runner and an indefatigable problem solver. The story feels African; a village is being terrorised for unknown reasons (because no-one before Kirikou has bothered to find out why) by an all powerful sorceress and her robotic fetishes. The men have disappeared, the water dried up and the sorceress is demanding the village women’s gold jewelry and trying to kidnap the kids. Kirikou sets out on his self appointed task to solve the village’s problems, running from place to place only stopping long enough to ask a barrage of questions and solve the up-to-now insolvable problems. The film has a happy ending which will take you by surprise.

The style of the drawings and story telling is largely African (though some squirrels owe more to Disney than Dahomey). The audience is intended to be children and the showing I went to on a Sunday lunchtime at the Pent House was almost 50% children, who, I assume from the lack of noise, must have enjoyed it. But like good children’s books, adults can enjoy it on both the child’s level and from an adults point of view. But if you are the sort of person who is uncomfortable looking at drawings of naked breasts and naked baby boys then avoid this film.

There is a sequel called ‘Kirikou and the Wild Beasts’.

Ian’s Rating: 4/5

Close to Home

Teenage girl conscript border guards in Jerusalem is a setting for a film about girls dealing with the change from being kids to adults. Dealing with protective or absent parents. Dealing with authority. Dealing the boredom and pettiness of their jobs (strip searching Palestinian women at check points, asking people on the street and on buses who look like Arabs for their ids and writing down the details). Dealing with or hunting for boyfriends. And trying to make friends and fit in with other girls in their unit.

It has been compared with "My Summer of Love" but doesn’t come close the anarchy and eroticism of that film. It is generally low-key, matter of fact and often funny. Anne thought it felt like a pilot for a TV series about an all female unit of conscript border guards.

Ian’s Rating: 3/5
Anne’s Rating: ?/5

The Method

I hate job interviews but the thought of being locked in a room with the other candidates and "playing" a Survivor style game to eliminate each other one-by-one is much worse than any job interview I have actually had. This is the scenario in this wicked Spanish film. The job is an executive position and the applicants show up wearing suits and carrying brief cases and look indistinguishable from each other. But as the day progresses the personalities begin to show. The contestants / applicants need to be cunning, aggressive, innovative but also need to avoid standing out from the crowd, putting themselves ahead of the company, or behaving differently to what is expected of a suit wearing executive.

After watching these seven suits battling it out for an hour, you wonder why these people still want to work for the sadistic company who is putting them through this humiliating process. But you are also gripped by trying on the one hand to work out how this "Method" works and on the other by trying to guess who will survive to get the job.

Ian’s Rating: 5/5
Anne’s Rating: ?/5

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Sasquatch Dumpling Gang

If sword fighting with your pals, making an important scientific discovery, facing down bullies and getting that first boyfriend/girlfriend are things you dreamed of as a teen then ‘The Sasquatch Dumpling Gang’ is your film – but you might still cringe. Zerk with his magnificent mullet and Firebird and stoned friend Shirts almost steals the show with his overacting but it all adds to the general nuttiness and good humour. As the Film Festival program says "genuine wholesome fun".

Ian’s Rating: 4/5

Sunday, July 30, 2006

A Scanner Darkly

Society (in southern California) is being destroyed by a drug called D (not to be confused with P). Authorities are using intensive surveillance using hidden cameras and secret agents to track users and suppliers and a big corporation is running the only successful rehabilitation clinic, but drug use is still on the rise. The story is about a secret agent (Keanu Reeves), his work and his friends and flatmates (Robert Downey Jt, Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder). Everyone from the drug users to the authorities are paranoid and both are victims of the real enemy.

Visually this film varies from being obviously drawn (animation) to being almost indistinguishable from photography (due to the way they have done the Rotoscoping). I found this disconcerting. The amusement comes from the paranoid but laid back, mind altered story telling and in the humour (especially the Robert Downey Jr character) rather than the plot.

Ian’s Rating: 3.5/5

The White Planet

I went to the White Planet at the Embassy this morning while Ian headed off to Brooklyn to see Kirikou and the Sorceress. The White Planet documents a year in the arctic and shows the scenic, metereological, biological and zoological highlights of each season. People who have pay TV might wonder why you'd go to the cinema to see a nature documentary since there are whole channels devoted to this kind of stuff, but we don't have pay TV and I think that if you're going to see a film that features an amazing landscape you should see it on as big a screen as you can manage. I saw March of the Penguins on a tiny screen on a plane, and that clearly wasn't how it should be seen.

The White Planet is a really rewarding watch. The scenic stuff was great - particularly the northern lights and the full moon rising over the ice.The animal footage was better than anything I'd ever seen - you're in the little burrow with the lemming while the arctic fox is overhead, and under the ice with the little seal while the polar bear prowls on top. You can see the seal's nostrils flaring and hear its breathing accelerate. And you hear the polar bear grunt in disgust after it get wet but the seal gets away. There were shots of a pod of beluga whales taken from underneath so you could see all their abdominal muscles flexing, and a pod of humpbacks swimming up a fjord taken from above. There were narwhals, phosporescent jelly fish, guillemots, artic owls, reindeer, bison. I learned that mosquitos make summer a torment for reindeer and that new-born polar bears are about as big as their mother's nose. I felt for baby seals trying to feed - a difficult task when their mother is shaped like a barrel and her nipples are tiny. Baby reindeer have to learn to trot within 2 hours of being born, which is also a challenge.

The soundtrack is mostly music - there's a bit of voice-over which is in French, and sometimes the subtitles don't show up well against the snow. At the end, the narrator reminds you that the Artic is disappearing due to global warming, which makes the whole show more poignant.

Anne's rating:4/5

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Last Train to Freo

We went to two films on Thursday night and managed to eat dinner, so it was a successful night. Last Train to Freo was the second of the two , but since I liked it so much I thought I'd write about it first.

This is a film based on a play of the same name, made by the writer and director of the play. It is set on the midnight train from Perth to Fremantle, and revolves around two thugs, recently released from jail, who harrass the other 3 passengers in the carriage - a beautiful female law student, a balding thirty-ish male and a woman in her fifties. The chief thug, (Steve) and star of the show is a larger-than-life character who is unusually tall, has phenomenal biceps and the longest arms you've ever seen (which stretched out along the back of the seats are a truly amazing sight) , a huge mouth with a huge vocabulary to match and a vast general knowledge. His sidekick Trev generally plays the fool, but is menacing at times. The film is eighty-five minutes long and (apparently) roughly in real time - the real journey takes slightly over an hour, and in the film there is a break in the journey when the train stops for a while for no apparent reason.

Watching this film is like going on an emotional journey as well as on a physical one - the tension rises and falls, humour and menace come and go, and gradually connections form between the characters and it all unfolds so seamlessly. Some of these connections struck me as a bit unlikely but I decided I didn't care and just enjoyed the ride. This film is very, very well acted and completely absorbing and the dialogue is a work of art in its own right. This film reinforces my opinion that Australians make great movies

The writer and director were at the showing and talked afterwards, which was a bonus. They said that only 3 minutes were filmed on a moving train, but it was impossible to tell - the shots out the windows and doors were completely convincing.

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

The Passenger

Since I don't go to work on Wednesdays, and Ian has the fortnight off (did I mention that already?) we had the novel opportunity to go a movie together at 10.45am on a weekday. This meant we got to hold hands in posh leather seats at the Embassy at a time of day when I normally be wondering if there was time to fit in coffee between patients, but it was a pity that this wasn't a better film.

The Passenger was made in 1975 and (to quote the film festival programme) "mysteriously withheld from circulation by its owner and star Jack Nicholson." I think he withheld it from circulation because it isn't very riveting. It's a thriller about a reporter who swaps identities with an arms dealer he meets in Africa who dies suddenly, and so for the purposes of the story the Jack Nicholson character has faked his own death. There's great potentential for this film to explore the ins and out of pretending to be dead and pretending to be an arms dealer, all of which could be tricky and dangerous. It fails to do either of these things and meanders along plotlessly, apart from the main character meeting up with a beautiful teenager played by Maria Schneider, (every man's wet dream, Ian said helpfully ["going on a road trip with a sexually available beautiful teenager is a middle aged man's wet dream" is what I actually said]) who he takes along for the ride as he trips around Europe. Meantime his wife gets suspicious and attempts to track him down, which again provided a good opportunity for drama which the film failed to exploit

The redeeming features are the beautiful scenery (the Sahara, and parts of Spain) and the beautiful people - Jack Nicholson was pretty sexy and so was his co-star. They weren't enough to keep me gripped for 125 minutes, though.

Anne's rating: 2/5, Ian's rating: 2/5

2006 Film Festival Explained

In case you haven't worked this out yet, the current flurry of blogging is because its film festival time again. This year the festival runs from July 21st to August 6th, so right now we're a week in. Ian is realising a long-held ambition to take the film festival fortnight off work, so he is going to more films than I am and has more time to blog, but we are going to a dozen or so together and the blog is still a joint effort.

For anyone who is new to this blog, or has forgotten, the explanation of the ratings system appears in the archives for July 2005.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Sri Lanka looks stunning standing in for an exotic, sweaty, hot, wet 1930’s India. This is a film about Hindu widows set in 1938. Widows shunned by family and society, not allowed to work or remarry or go to school. Chuyia an 8 year old child widow is an effective explanatory and message delivery device – "Where are the man widows?" is one of her many questions. She is also the only widow to not accept the situation.

Change comes through a law student who has been listening to too much Ghandi and who spots a particularly luscious and coy young widow, though one with a secret to the economy of widowhood.

As a feminist, political film it might have been more powerful if set in today’s India. But the romantic glory of the thirties makes this a stunningly beautiful film.

Ian’s Rating 4/5


Shortbus might become a cult film. It has the ingredients: odd, perhaps unique, riveting and flawed. The story was developed with the cast and given the amount and type of sex involved I think this was the easiest way to make the film. It also means there is a lack of overall plot or message. There are four parallel and slightly interrelated stories of sexual angst some of which get resolved at the end -- rather too quickly and neatly for credibility’s sake. Perhaps the producer rang a bell while everyone was having fun and called out ‘Time please boys and girls, you have 5 minutes to wrap this up, we have to have a climax here’. But I don’t think you are here for the stories. You are here for the sex and there is plenty of that: mostly guy on guy (on guy), but also some exhaustingly fast girl-boy, a variety of solo efforts, a dash of S&M, and general background orgies -- in fact the extras seem to be having more sex (and certainly more fun) than the protagonists at times!

Ian’s Rating 3/5 Anne's rating 3/5

Avenge but one of my two eyes

The story of Masada seems important to Israel. The Jewish revolt and military operations against Roman occupation is used as a historical precedent for a Jewish military tradition. The despair of the garrison under siege is an inspiration for Jews to never allow such a situation to be repeated. And the suicide of the garrison also requires special explanation with respect to Jewish anti-suicide theology.

The story of Samson is an even older story of Jewish strength followed by defeat, then despair and finally revenge through suicide. Samson killed more people with his suicide than he did while alive. This great Jewish hero is also remembered in Israel today through the education system, through pilgrimages and as political inspiration.

This is a documentary tells these two stories punctuated with fragments of a long rambling phone call between the film maker and an almost suicidal Palestinian friend, scenes of interactions between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian coming home from school, plough fields, going to hospital etc.

The film maker goes no further than that though he certainly isn’t pulling his punches.

Ian’s Rating 4/5 Anne's rating:4/5

The Valet

Every film festival has a French farce. This year it is ‘The Valet’ by the director of ‘The Dinner Game’ and ‘The Closet’. As you would expect from a director of this pedigree there are plenty of laughs and no false notes. A CEO (Daniel Auteuil of course) is photographed in the street with his mistress (the stunning bubbly blonde Alice Taglioni) scared of his stock owning wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) he tries to pass off the supermodel as the girlfriend of the passer by in the photo, a car parking valet (Gad Elmaleh). This far fetched plan doesn’t fool the wife who soon turns the tables and the screws on her husband, as does the increasingly disenchanted mistress. On the flip side of the story the hapless car parking attendant finds it difficult to explain his sudden, new ‘live-in girlfriend’ to his flatmate, boss, parents and his childhood sweetheart (the cute local GP’s daughter who doesn’t want to marry him but still has a sweet spot for him).

But, it almost pulls its punches. Farcical opportunities are let slip, awkward situations are magically resolved off-screen and the presence of Kristin Scott Thomas (although playing her haughty role very well) suggests to me that possibly the film makers are aiming for a less demanding possibly non-French audience. Though there is a passing reference to ‘The Dinner Game’ for you to watch out for.

Ian’s Rating 4/5 Anne's rating 3/5

Iraq in Fragments

Given how many reporters and US civilians have been killed there it is amazing that James Longley managed to film this documentary about occupied Iraq. It is in three parts. Part one is about a ten year old Sunni boy in Bagdad. He works in an auto mechanic shop and lives with his grandmother and an uncle. Failing at school, to his boss’s concern, we hear about life in Bagdad from him, his boss and their customers. Part two is about Shiite politics in the south of Iraq, the story here is a lot less personal but more directly related to the war. Part three is about a Kurdish farming family in the north, again a personal story about the choices between work and school and thoughts on politics.

While the other stories are good, part one is by far the most engaging story and worth the price of admission by itself.

Ian’s Rating 3/5


An American high school film noir murder mystery. A girl makes a mysterious phone call to her loner ex-boyfriend who finds her dead 2 days later. He sets out to find out why ahead of the bulls (cops). Everyone is an extreme stereotype: "Brains" with his thick glasses who eats lunch alone to avoid being baited, a jock with his adoring fan club, two manipulative femmes fatales to act as the school's puppet masters and a hierarchy of drug pushers, the bullying assistant VP, the oblivious parents -- refreshingly there are no cheerleaders. More than most high school films the need to attend class never gets in the way of the protagonists and their out-of-class lives make them busy people.

The plot has as many twists and turns as you would expect for a film noir and ultimately exists as much to give atmosphere as it does to drive the story. A lot of violence gets handed out but our hero Brendan has more ‘come back’ in him than a country singer and he staggers on to the end. There are some great funny scenes especially when the film maker reminds us from time to time that these people are just school kids. The other vital ingredient that puts this film into the must see category is the dialog. Trying to understand the jargon and slang is as much part of the fun as trying to second guess the plot turns.

It is worth going out of your way to see this.

Ian’s Rating 5/5

Worldly Desires

This is the sort of film that puts ordinary people off film festivals. It looks like it was shot on a home video by someone who is unfamiliar with focus. It is made up of disconnected shots some looking like the camera was accidentally left on and edited together in an incomprehensible manner. There are shots of the making of a music video, shots of the film crew setting things up, putting them away, eating lunch and waiting about and some film of a couple running through the bush. There is no coherent dialog. A waste of $5.50.

Ian’s Rating 0/5

Heading South

A film about middle age white women going to Haiti to be pampered and serviced by young black men may sound titillating -- and it is. Nice male bodies, ambiguous situations, flirtatious dialog, verbal cat fights as the women compete for the most desirable men. The Haitian characters gradually move from the background to compete with the white middle aged female tourists for our attention, and the focus of the film moves from the personal concerns of the women to the juggling act of a life of their favorite hunk. Edges of darkness gradually permeate the film in the second half and the finale is like watching a slow train wreck. We can see the inevitable before all the players do.

Being Haiti the dialog is mostly in French and sub-titled. The sex is mostly described or off screen rather than seen. It is a film about people rather than pretty scenery and as one character says the difference between the black men in Alabama and those in Haiti are that the Haitian men are not wearing shirts – which some might say is a form of scenery worth paying to see!

Ian’s Rating 3/5

Ghost in the Shell

There are two ways to watch Ghost in the Shell. One is to follow the story, work out who is doing what to who and why, which ones are the good guys and which ones the bad. To do this it helps to understand that "ghost" is used to mean "soul" or "consciousness" rather than "scary dead thing". The heroine, Kusanagi, and her colleagues are a special semi-secret all powerful police division that is part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Most of these special agents have had body modifications, in some cases whole new bodies. Between operations Kusanagi worries whether, with all her body modifications, she is still human. The division’s top priority becomes the "Puppet Master" and via an escalatingly violent series of operation Kusanagi comes face to face with the "Puppet Master" and the metaphorical mirror image of her own situation and her worries are turned on their head by the "Puppet Master's" request.

The other way to watch this is to allow the experience to wash over you. It is a vision of ultimate high-tech domination of nature. Man totally manufacturing his own environment. But it is also tinged with paranoia and uncertainty. Twentieth century buildings are abandoned or are slums. Its a teenage boy’s dream world where the best secret cop is more curvaceous than a centrefold and her job requires her to eschew the flack jackets or long coats of her male counterparts in favour of getting naked during every ambush and fire fight! A world where technology is all powerful, is used to solve every problem and is concentrated in the hands of a few.

Ian’s Rating 4/5

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Sione's Wedding

It has finally happened! A cheerful, life-affirming film has been made in New Zealand, by New Zealanders, about New Zealanders.The nation should celebrate, and it's residents should go and see this film.

Sione's wedding it ground-breaking for lots of reasons. It's about Samoans and for me the list of Samoan films I've seen is even shorter than the list of cheerful New Zealand films I've seen. As I already mentioned, it's a happy movie. It's scenically beautiful, and entirely filmed in Auckland. And its a chickflick for blokes.

Sione's wedding is a romantic comedy about four guys who have been banned from attending their friend's wedding unless they come with a date (i.e. a civilising influence). So they each have a week to find a girl and their exploits over the week keep the watcher very much amused. We see each of the heroes overcoming their weaknesses and making it to the wedding with seconds to spare. We get to enjoy lavalavas, taro leaves and umu packs making it to the big screen, and we get to enjoy Auckland at its golden sun-kissed best. The palangis don't come off so well, but who cares?

This film has great dialogue, it's well-acted and it looks great. Off you go!

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

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


If you were after action, gorgeous women or character development you've come to the wrong film. This is a political morality tale. It falls into the same category as "The Constant Gardener" but without that film's beautiful camera work. But it does try to make up for it in other ways. There is an attention to detail, how often do you see several overs of a cricket match in an American movie? Distinctions are made between Muslims from different countries, and not everyone speaks English.

Syriana deals with US oil business and politics through a large cast of stereotype, cardboard cut-out characters in four slowly converging story lines. The acting is competent, but as there are no meaty parts, there isn't a chance for any of the actors to shine, nor draw attention away from the political message. Normally such one-dimensional characters would be the sign of a poor film but here it works. The characters are not important, we are not meant to fall in love with them. The four story lines give you different views of the same events, though each is the story of peripheral character who through circumstances outside their control gets to see up close, an inside view of a small part of an oil deal.

What rescues Syriana from being a B-grade TV movie is the lack of exposition. You need to concentrate from the opening credits to figure out what is going on. It is refreshing not to be spoon-fed. Even so I didn't understand George Clooney's character's last action. Tell me if you can understand it.

I rate it a 3/5
Anne thought it was too slow and rates it 2.5/5

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Central Otago Rail Trail

Once upon a time, in the twentieth century, a railway line ran from Dunedin to Cromwell, passing through tiny Central Otago towns and rugged river gorges.In the twenty-first century, the Dunedin to Middlemarch section of the line still lives, and a train for sightseers runs on it regularly. The Cromwell to Clyde section has disappeared under the waters of Lake Dunstan and the Clyde to Middlemarch section, now rail-less, is a motor-vehicle-free cycle route. This 150 kilometre route is called the Central Otago Rail Trail and it featured on Marcus Lush's TV series "Off the Rails". After watching the programme featuring the rail trail we were inspired to ride it and we incorporated three days on the trail into a two-week Central Otago holiday in February.

We began the rail trail experience by spending a night in the camping ground at Middlemarch, having driven there from Dunedin on a splendid sunny Waitangi Day afternoon. Middlemarch is 88 km from Dunedin and is technically an outer suburb - you don't pass the Dunedin City Limits sign until you get past Middlemarch, somewhere in the middle of nowhere on SH87. We had brought my aging mountain bike with us in the back of the station wagon and we hired a bike for Ian at the campground - the owners are agents for the Cycle Surgery in Dunedin who own the bikes, and also for the Catch-a-bus service which runs daily shuttles between Dunedin and Wanaka. We packed the panniers provided for 3 days of biking and went to bed.

On the morning on February, having been woken by an insomniac rooster well before dawn, we and the bikes caught the shuttle to Clyde. The day had begun cold and foggy, became bright and sunny but was cloudy and warm when we reached Clyde. The plan for day 1 was the 46km stretch from Clyde to Lauder, passing through Alexandra, Galloway, Chatto Creek and Omakau. I was a bit apprehensive because it included the steepest gradients on the trail.

The Clyde to Alexandra section goes through orchards and is semi-rural and pleasant. It seems designed to lull you into a false sense of security about your ability to cycle 150km. The route is flat, straight and the surface is hard and smooth. We left the trail at Alexandra and had lunch in a cafe in the main street.Leaving Alexandra again we crossed some nice bridges and were cheered by the markers every kilometre that helped keep track of progress. The first marker after Alexandra said 206 and we worked out later that this is the distance back to Wingatui where the Central Otago line branches off the main trunk line just outside Dunedin. Things to admire on this part of the route include typical Central Otago rocky countryside and distant hills, sheep, deer and wildflowers.

At Omakau we deviated onto the highway so we could visit Ophir, a nice old town with historic buildings, reached by a fabulous stone suspension bridge crossing the Manuherekia River. There was almost a tantrum as I contemplated the highway heading steeply uphill, but luckily the turn-off to the suspension bridge was just before the hill.
We arrived at Lauder at 5 o'clock with me feeling I had biked slightly too far for my liking, and having learned that headwinds are a much bigger enemy to the cyclist than the hills on the trail.We stayed at the Lauder hotel, which I can't enthuse enough about. The bed was comfortable, the shower was fabulous and cookies and cups of tea on arrival particularly welcome. We met some other cyclists at dinner so we were able to compare notes, and were too tired to lament the lack of night-life.

February 8th, Ian's Birthday, dawned grey and gloomy. The day's agenda was 64km from Lauder to Waipiata, via Oturehua, Wedderburn (the highest point on the trail) and Ranfurly. We set off about 9am and since the route goes through the Poolburn Gorge which has tunnels and viaducts we had lots of photo stops and only travelled 6 km in the first hour.After the gorge there's a downhill section through the Ida Valley and passing the Idaburn dam which was speedy and exhilarating.We stopped for lunch a few kilometres past Oterehua at Whiskery Bill's Cafe and Bar which is handily postioned in the middle of nowhere to sustain cyclists. Lunch was delicious and proved that you can get good lattes even in the middle of nowhere. It started to rain during lunch, luckily not heavily, and the negative flavour of the afternoon was exacerbated by Ian's bike getting a puncture (a birthday treat,no doubt). Next stop was Ranfurly, and one of its claims to fame is cute art deco buildings, which we admired in addition to the contents of the art deco gallery.The final 8km of the trail for the day from Ranfurly to Waipiata was gruelling. It should have been a pleasure, being straight and slightly downhill, but a stiff headwind put paid to the pleasure.

Peter's farm hostel, where we had elected to stay, is supposedly 3km from the trail but it felt suspiciously like 5. It is a very pretty mudbrick farm house with lovely timber interiors and original fireplaces but the musty smell was unattractive. The good shower was a redeeming feature and we got acquainted with it immediately.

We got back on our bikes (ouch!) to go back to Waipiata for dinner at the pub where we met more fellow cyclists. Meals there come in "town" and "country" size and the house wine (which wasn't out of a cask) was $4 a glass.Amazing! A variety of scrumptious desserts, which almost all featured chocolate, led Ian to say that the chef must be female.

Day 3 was sunny (hurrah!) and we had breakfast outside with magpies singing to add to the rurual ambience.Unlike Day 2, we met lots of other cyclists on the trail. The route goes through the Taieri Gorge,

which is particularly pretty and unlike the other sections it has lots of trees. The surface was probably the roughest we encountered, with large stones, ruts,plenty of sheep dung and a scattering of pinecones. Roughly halfway between Waipiata and Middlemarch is the Hyde cafe, where we had lunch outside with all the other bikers. Hyde to Middlemarch was a pleasure - all downhill and going fast.
The scenery is on a grand scale with the Rock and Pillar range on one horizon and the Taieri range on the other, with a fertile plain with poplar trees in the middle. There is a slight sense of comedown when you reach the end - nothing that couldn't be overcome by a cheering crowd. Perhaps they could pay the natives to spend a few hours there each afternoon.......

So should you cycle the rail trail? I think you should, as long as you don't hate bikes. It's an opportunity to spend time in the great outdoors in a very scenic part of the country that most of us don't go to often. And you get to cycle somewhere with no cars, take great photos and meet lots of people. As to the great debate over which end to start at, I think the Clyde end is the one. Either way you're going uphill on day 1, but the Clyde end has lots of pubs and cafes to sustain you, whereas from Middlemarch its going to be a sustained long uphill with only the Hyde cafe in the first 50km. And going downhill from Wedderburn to Alex, you may speed past some bridges and scenery that deserve closer attention. Anyhow, enough from me - you can go and start planning now.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The World's Fastest Indian

We kicked off 2006's movie viewing with this gentle little movie about a New Zealander succeeding against the odds. There's nothing startling about it - it purports to be a film about a New Zealander going to the USA and breaking the world land speed record for a motorbike and that's exactly what it is.

There's plenty to admire, like Anthony Hopkins breaking out of his stuffed-shirt-englishman mould and doing a very good job as an ordinary kiwi bloke. I particularly liked his tendency to talk to everyone (from US Immigration officials to the motel receptionist) as if they were an acquaintance and his capturing of that complete incomprehension of the fact that most Americans have never heard of New Zealand and couldn't care less. And he'd mastered the accent quite well. The scenery was good, especially Oreti Beach in Southland and the salt lake bed they raced on in the US. Tim Shadbolt in a bit part raised a smile, as did the character that said "This will really put Invercargill on the map", because that's what New Zealanders said so many times about the film itself.

The Americans portrayed in the film were all kind and wonderful people - even Sheriffs have hearts of gold hidden behind those pointy badges - but they did seem just a touch cliche'd - the trans-sexual motel receptionist, the American Indian, the eccentric older lady who lived in the middle of nowhere - but maybe it wouldn't have been such fun for Burt to have encounters with just ordinary folk. I did wonder if this was supposed to be a film about an extraordinary New Zealander or an advertisement for the fundamental decency of the American character.

We had a pleasant evening watching this film.

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