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