Wednesday, November 21, 2007

We're Here To Help

While not exactly a Love Actually or even a Finding Nemo, We're Here to Help is definitely a feel-good movie and it's nice to know New Zealand can make them. It does have black undertones (you couldn't call it a New Zealand movie without them!) but it's good-humoured and funny and the little guy wins in the end. The style is almost documentary and the humour is deadpan, and the story unfolding creates its own understated drama. The plot is uninspiring on paper (man battles tax department) but you shouldn't let this fool you or keep you away.

There's a lot to enjoy about this film. The credits are done amusingly in the style of an IRD form and there's the soundtrack which features Dave Dobbyn. There's 1990's furniture and office decor to admire and it was good to see Erik Thomson (who plays Dave, the film's main character) working on this side of the Tasman for a change. All the IRD employees are great to watch, with actors Jason Hoyte and John Leigh doing a particularly fine job at being bastards in smarmy self-righteous and smug style. Jason Hoyte gave me much pleasure being smarmy in Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby, so I'm unsurprised at him being good at it. John Leigh being smarmy was a novelty - a bit of a change from being Sparky the mad on Outrageous Fortune, but just as much fun.

Here you see Dave (Erik Thomsen) on the right berating Steve (Jason Hoyte) in their first encounter- an action which he came to regret. And you'll regret not going to this film, so stimulate the economy and the film industry and go.

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

The Lodger

Jack the Ripper is a popular subject for film makers and The Lodger (1944) is billed the Wellington Film Society as the third filming of Marie Belloc Lowndes's novel about the Ripper. The film stars the large, soft spoken Laird Cregar as "Slade" who arrives carry a small black bag and inquiring about rooms for rent on the night of the fourth murder. The audience is left in no doubt that Slade is the Ripper and the suspense surrounds how long it'll take the family of the house to figure out what we already know. And will Slade kill Kitty the showgirl or will her sympathetic personality win her a reprieve?

Apparently filmmakers of the time were squeamish about mentioning the word "prostitute" so this Ripper kills female entertainers, because some beautiful "woman of the stage" had led his artist brother astray, which in turn led to his early death.

While Laird Cregar is very watchable as the menacing but sometimes naive Ripper, the best line goes to George Sanders who plays the inspector from Scotland Yard who has invited Kitty for a private tour of the Black Museum and asks her to come to tea with his mother. Kitty ignores his question and asks a series of questions about various artifacts, when she gets to a large poker the inspector tells her a man used it beat his fiancee to death. Kitty asks why and the inspector replies "Probably because she wouldn't answer a perfectly reasonable question". Not the sort of pickup line you hear every day.

(According to Wikipedia the Black Museum was established four years after this film was made!)

Ian's rating: 3.5/5

Via Satellite

Carol Dunn is swimming for NZ at the Olympics and doing unexpectedly well. The TV is talking of her as a medal hope, and are starting to take an interest in the Dunn family. Identical twin sister Chrissy (both played by Danielle Cormack) is happy enough to be recognised as Carol's sister especially if recognition comes with a free beer, but she is embarrassed by the idea that the rest of the family will be seen on national TV in all its looser glory.

There is prissy big sister Jen (Rima Te Wiata) trying to get pregnant and jellous of pregnant, flirty, but unattached, middle sister Lyn. In the middle trying ineffectually to make her daughters play nice, is slightly ditsy Mum -- who treats the TV people like royalty, bemusing the TV host with a curtsey! Rounding out the family is Jen's severely henpecked husband Ken (Tim Balme) is an electrician whose incompetence is matched by his over confidence.

Little wonder that Chissy has got it into her head that she and Carol were adopted -- they couldn't possibly be related to this mad bunch. Set in Wellington, there is plenty of the city to see as Crissy spends half the film running away from situations she can't handle; starting with the previous night's one-night stand with a guy (Karl Urban) who turns out to be the TV cameraman.

The plot is surprisingly complicated for a comedy and comes with an excellent twist at the end that Rima Te Wiata brings off very well. In fact all the cast throw themselves into their parts with relish, while being completely believable.

In the 1990s sport and television were dear to the hearts of most Kiwis. Given how we react when we caught by a TV camera scanning a stadium crowd they still are today. But in other ways Via Satellite is blast from the past, even though 1998 was only 9 years ago, some of the suburban interiors, clothes and attitudes would be more at home in the Telethon era than the latte era. But this distance in time makes it easier for us to laugh at ourselves.

Did I mention that there is some excellent pre-1980's suburban decore? It is worth hunting this film down on DVD and renting it.

Ian's rating: 4/5

Monday, August 27, 2007


What is the difference between a squirrel and a rat?

Ratatouille is a film that goes a long way to rehabilitate the reputation of rats. It is the latest Pixar / Walt Disney animation. So it should come as no surprise that the story is animal driven. In this case a rat, 'cursed' with a superior sense of smell, decides that he has had enough of stealing and eating garbage. He wants to eat good food. In fact not only eat good food, but learn to cook it too.

Ignoring his father's advice to "stay away from the humans", Remy ventures into the kitchen to try real food, watch TV cooking programs and read a cookbook left open on the bench. Naturally dad was right, catastrophe strikes and the rat family has to leave (via the sewer) chased by an angry shotgun wielding old woman.

Our hero finds himself outside the restaurant of his TV chef hero on the day that a new boy (Linguini) starts working in the kitchen. With way more enthusiasm than talent Linguini starts by screwing things up and Remy comes to his rescue. Once Linguini realises that Remy isn't vermin the two new comers join forces in the hostile environment of the restaurant kitchen. First they have to overcome the language barrier. Remy can understand what humans say but humans can't understand rats. The animators make great mileage out of how they do this. Then the pair have to overcome the jealousy of the boss.

Judging by the squeals and excited explanations of what was on the screen the film was a hit with the kids sitting further down our row at Hoyts last week. The film is packed with lots of good old fashioned morals: don't steal, don't judge by appearances, value loyalty, value teamwork and don’t let being the odd one out get you down. Plus some more complex ones like "who comes first: family or friends?” I have no idea if any of that stuff makes the desired impression on kids, but this film has it by the truck load.

It is longish (almost 2 hours) and the plot is pretty predictable but for kids I doubt if that matters and there are enough jokes and fun visuals to keep the adults amused. I think the animators have done well with making the rats move in a rat-like way. Even the final credits are fun to watch.

Not quite as good as Finding Nemo but definitely recommended.

Ian's rating: 4/5

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Pickup on South Street

The camera flicks from face to face in a crowded subway car. It doesn't take long to decide which two out of the four faces belong to the stars of this film, namely Richard Widmark and Jean Peters. This 1953 noir thriller has more holes in its plot than a James Bond movie and like a good Bond movie, its panache carries it through. Only a noir hero can pick a girl's handbag when they first meet, punch her out and ransack her handbag on their next encounter, relieve her of $500 on their third and then walk into the credits with her on his arm.

The Feds know Joey is passing secrets to the Commies but want to catch the guy he is passing it to. Joey uses ex-girlfriend Candy (looking like a movie star on the way to the Oscars rather than a unobtrusive courier on the Subway, but hey this is the movies). The Feds are watching Candy when the film is lifted from her handbag by pickpocket, Skip McCoy (looking every inch the filmstar). Skip, who's profession relies on being unobtrusive, is now centre of attention. Everyone wants the film. Offers from Joey (via Candy) go up from $50 to $25,000. The police offer a clean rap-sheet. And Candy offers herself. Skip plays them off against each other and its the women, Candy and Moe (the police informer), who get shot.

This film was made at a time when people were looking for reds under every bed, and Communists were as unquestionably the enemy as 'Terrorists' are today. So director Samuel Fuller contrasts the treachery of passing US secrets to the Communists with the treachery of a police informer, and the trust governments expect from their citizens to the lack of trust when the citizen is a habitual criminal and the government is represented by the police. Watching this film in the George W Bush era adds an extra layer of irony that Sam Fuller couldn't have anticipated.

Ian's rating: 3/5

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Black Snake Moan

If that film poster is sending you running for hills, then just keep running. (You probably weren't all that hot on the title either.)

If you are still reading then you might be wondering why Samuel L. Jackson has that big-ass chain around a semi-dressed Christina Ricci. Is it really that way in the movie? Or is this good old fashioned exploitation advertising? And will my significant other or date-for-the-evening look at me funny if I suggest we go and see it? (Hey if you really want that funny look tell them you'd prefer to see it by yourself.)

This film pulls out all the stops on cliches about the American South. Skinny white trash girls in Daisy-Duke shorts, white bars full of guys playing pool, black bars with guys playing the blues, old guys selling produce off the back of a pickup truck. About the only things missing are the KKK and alligators. But this is all window dressing. What we are wondering about is why Rae (Christina Ricci), who is devoted to her boyfriend, suddenly goes nympho as soon as he is called up for duty in Iraq? And what the heck is Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) thinking when he puts that chain on her after he finds her unconscious on the side of the road? Even the locals find Rae and Lazarus's behaviour disturbing. And finally when is the black snake going to moan?

If you like blues music and a movie that will make you wonder what the heck, or if you really just want to see Christina Ricci chained up in her knickers then go and see this movie.

Ian's rating: 4/5

Note: there is violence and rape in addition to the non-PC stuff I mentioned above.

Razzle Dazzle

Do you take your kids to dance class? Did you go yourself as a kid? Or do you just like Australian comedies? Another film back from the World Cinema Showcase, now on guess where?

This film takes a risk by being yet another mock-documentary. It follows the fortunes of an unconventional dance teacher and his dance class as they prepare for a competition. Mr Johnathan choreographs his dances inspired by global issues like poverty, global warming and child labour. Other dance teachers prefer to be inspired by Broadway and MTV. It takes a dig at obsessiveness, precocious children, pushy parents and officialdom.

Ian's rating: 3.5/5

Heartbreak Hotel

This comedy is another returnee from the World Cinema Showcase, now on at the Paramount. It is about two 40 something single women trying their luck at a singles bar in Stockholm. Sexy, confident Elisabeth (Helena Bergström) leads tall, timid Gudrun (Maria Lundkvist) astray.

Too much of a chick flick for me. Though did I mention that Helena Bergström is sexy?

Ian's rating: 2/5


I notice that four of the films I enjoyed earlier this year at the World Cinema Showcase are now on at the Paramount. Pierrepoint is the story of Albert Pierrepoint probably the most famous British hangman of the twentieth century. Being hangman is a part time job, his day job was delivery truck driver. It was also a secret job, he doesn't even tell his wife -- though she guesses. He sees his job as necessary part of the system, but one that should be done 'properly'. But the job, not having anyone to talk to and media attention take their toll.

The film doesn't take an obvious pro or anti-capital punishment stance. While there are a lot of hangings in this movie, the camera concentrates on what happens before the trap door opens rather than after.

If you are a Timothy Spall fan (Barry Taylor in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet) then this is your film, as he is in almost every scene.

Ian's rating: 3/5

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Knocked Up

Knocked Up is the sort of film title that has one scanning the small print for the phrase "by the director of Dumb and Dumber". The premise: gorgeous, successful woman has drunken sex with a complete stranger (an obese looser no less) and 8 weeks later tracks him down to guilt-trip him into playing daddy - suggests that this was the sort of crass American comedy you wouldn't go out of your way to tell your more high brow friends that you had spent good money to see.

I really enjoyed it.

Perhaps it was a case of reality exceeding low expectations or else this movie is more subtle than it appears on the surface. On the surface it looks like a romantic other-side-of-the-track, chick's world vs guy's world, coping-with-pregnancy comedy with a side dish of slacker humour. While these components are there; I didn't feel I was rooting for an against-the-odds relationship, for the chicks to beat the guys or for the slackers to come out on top, these (and many other things) are vehicles for humour not ends in themselves.

Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl) is the young career woman who's drunken celebration leads her to take Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) home for some sexual relief. Alison's home a flat in is the garden of sister Debbie (Leslie Mann), her husband Pete (Paul Rudd) and their two little girls. The deteriorating relationship between the critical, nagging Debbie and the alternately sarcastic and passive Pete form the B plot (A surprising use of anti-role models). Ben, who has never had a job, shares a house with some similar friends. Don't expect gritty realism here, these losers are Canadian losers, slumming it south of the border but essentially nice, civilized blokes under that crass veneer.

Eight weeks later Alison, carrying a psychological shotgun, tracks Ben down to 'offer' him the job of father without the perks of sex. She is beautiful, he is desperately optimistic; and father-to-be will at least get his foot in the door now and then. Initially Ben is only paying lip service to his new role, but he is as faithful as a puppy, and comes creeping back even when kicked -- and Alison kicks him hard, low and often. He eventually changes into some semblance of the new age father she is looking for (validating Debbie earlier assertion that you need to change your man rather than accept him as he is). I don't think Alison comes to love Ben but she does come to rely on him.

Instead of a single style of humour (eg farce, The Office, Jim Carrey) or a single overall situation (e.g. mistaken identity) there is a scattergun approach. Ben and his friends are movie buffs so there are some in-jokes about movies in their scenes in addition to the toilet humour and visual gags. When Alison is at work we have digs at management v employee relations in corporate (but PC) America. There are marital disputes to make you squirm and virtually everyone bar the kids have body image issues. There is even meta humour in having all the marriages in the film going badly and a couple of funny impression gags.

All in all, there are a lot of different types of humour going on here, on a bunch of issues, to match a wide range of tastes. You won't find all of it funny and you won't identify with all the characters, but there should be plenty for most people to laugh at. While it wasn't perfect with flaws from the basic premise through to the prosthetic tummy (which didn't match Katherine Heigl skin colour in the same way that flesh coloured underwear or pantyhose never do). But it was certainly worth double the $6 I paid at Hoyts last night.

Ian's rating: 4/5

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I Wake Up Screaming

I Wake Up Screaming was last night's Film Society film. Apparently this is an early example (made in 1941) of film noir. A newly discovered model is found dead in her apartment by her flatmate / sister. In true noir style suspicion falls on an innocent man (her promoter). While being pursued by the police, it is up to him to prove his innocence by finding the real murderer. In another cliché, he is helped by a plucky woman (the sister -- played by Betty Grable).

What made this old film worth mentioning is the menacing detective played superbly by Laird Cregar and made more sinister by some great camera work and clever sound effects (squeaky floorboards follow him). I notice on the web that it has been released on DVD and I'll look out for it, as there were some good one-liners in the dialog. Someone who probably watched the DVD has posted some nice pictures that give you an idea of the ambiance.

Ian's rating 3.5/5

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Award Ceremony 36th Wellington Film Festival

Actually my personal assessment of the 36th Wellington Film Festival. Overall I thought that there were fewer outstanding films but lots of good films, and I seemed to be better at avoiding the clunkers this year. There seemed to a theme running through the festival of family problems (or "intergenerational nastiness" as Annie puts it).

Like most festivals most of the films will never be seen again. This is especially true of documentaries and all but the most popular foreign language films. It could be argued that there is little point in writing about most of these films. That said, here is my pick of the good, the bad and the ugly in the 2007 Film Festival.

Best Documentary
There are no duds here. The winner is The Devil Came on Horseback by a nose over These Girls.

I saw eleven comedies (or films with a strong comedy element). The top 3 were:
And the "must see winner" is Death at a Funeral

Winner: Retribution - the only one to make my hair stand on end

Winner: Black Book

Of the dozen or so films I saw in this category the best three (all focused on women) are:
Winner: Vanaja
Note: while I loved this movie, Anne didn't like it, so it is a controversial choice

Oddest Movie
Since the wonderful Incredibly Strange Film Festival merged with the Wellington Film Festival our annual "fix" of odd films has to be fitted into 2 weeks along with everything else.

Winner: The Bothersome Man

Worst Film
I try not to see bad films but sometimes the festival blurb fools me or I take a punt and get it wrong.
  • Times and Winds - intergenerational nastiness with few redeeming features
  • Wolfsbergen - a film about people who don't talk to each other with dull camera work
  • Kissy Kissy - an embarrassing local offering
Winner: Kissy Kissy

Best Actor / Actress
Winner: Peter O'Toole

Worst Family
As I have mentioned before there seemed to be a theme of family problems running through this festival. I saw seven films centred around family problems and another eight or so where family problems played a part!
The Home Song Stories - the filmmaker's troubled childhood
After the Wedding - who's the daddy?
The Matsugane Potshot Affair - has anyone got a nice word to say about anyone else?
Wolfsbergen - will anyone talk to anyone else?
Times and Winds - fathers take it out on their sons
Death at a Funeral - family skeletons belong in the closet or coffin or somewhere, don't they?
Children - mothers and sons behaving badly
Winner: Wolfsbergen is long slow motion family train wreck
Second: Children more violent but also more watchable

Coming Back
Each year I try to predict which films will come back on general release. I get the feeling that more come back each year, though sometimes it takes almost a whole year for the return to happen. Here are my guesses for this year.

No Brainers
Death at a Funeral
Black Book
A Mighty Heart (I didn't see this one)

Art House
Lady Chatterly
The Home Song Stories
My Best Friend
The Secret Life of Words
Conversations with my Gardener
I Served the King of England (not my cup of tea!)
Romulus, My Father (I didn't see this one)
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (I didn't see this one)

NZ Connection
Perfect Creature
Eagle vs Shark (already on in London)

Might come back
Death of a President
Day Watch (sequel to Night Watch)

Would come back if I had my way
No Mercy for the Rude
Any of the documentaries I saw

The Bothersome Man

I finished the 2007 Film Festival with a surreal Icelandic/Norweagen film called "Den brysomme mannen" (The Bothersome Man). Andreas arrives on a bus at a clapped out petrol station in the desert. A man is there to meet him and drives him to the city gives him the keys of an apartment and the address of a job. Everyone at work is nice to him and the work is undemanding. He meets a beautiful woman and they immediately move in together. On the down side, the food doesn't taste right, the alcohol doesn't make you drunk, etc. As the film festival blurb says "Is this heaven? Hell? Or Scandinavia?"

I didn't try too hard to work this one out. It is weird and I just went with the flow.

It is worth a look if you are into the odd -- and worth missing if you are not.

Ian's rating: 3.5/5

The Journals of Knud Rasmussen

Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner was a hit with Anne and the critics and The Journals of Knud Rasmussen is made by the same team so I went to see what all the fuss is about. Knud Rasmussen was born and grow up in Greenland in 1879 with a Danish missionary father and an Inuit mother. Later in 1910 he and his friend Peter Freuchen established the Thule Trading Station which became the base for seven Arctic expeditions in Greenland and Canada. While Knud, Peter and their friend Therkel Mathiassen appear in this film (set in 1922 during the 5th expedition), it isn't really about them. The story is told from the Inuit side, in Inuit, subtitled in English (though with significant gaps!). The style of story telling in the first half of the film is non-linear and disorientating but settles down to something more conventional in the second half.

The great shaman, Avva, and his family are living on the land some distance from Iglulik, his home community when the 3 explorers come upon them. Rasmussen hears and records Avva’s life story and that of his wife Orulu before heading west. The other two travel with Avva and his family as they set off back north to Iglulik. It is a hard journey and the family arrive hungry and weak and we realise why Avva had been reluctant to return to Iglulik. The community has converted to Christianity, something as alien to Inuit as the ideas of Shamanism is to us.

While I found the first half confusing, the film got better as it went along and the ending was excellent. It might be better to get this film on DVD and watch it twice to make more sense of the earlier stuff.

Ian's rating: 2.5/5

Monday, August 06, 2007

Perfect Creature

This was my fourth horror movie of the festival. Perfect Creature is a vampire movie, which explains vampirism as the result of genetic experiment 300 years ago. There is bit of pseudo scientific mumbo-jumbo which doesn't satisfactorally explain anything, but sets the scene for an alternate history where human scientific progress has been held back and a symbiotic relationship has been established between vampires and humans. The vampires have taken a privileged religious role in society (calling themselves the Brothers), where they accept offerings of human blood in return for their priestly services (an ironic take on Roman Catholicism perchance?). The vampires claim to be a new and more advanced species, though given that they can't reproduce (being all male) and that they all have human parents; occasional occurring mutations might be closer to the mark.

The film takes the form of a police investigation of a series of murders in the slums by a team of cynical detectives led by Lilly. They are without witnesses until a street kid claims that a Brother did it. Naturally the kid is correct and naturally the Brothers have closed ranks to initially deny it while sending one of their own (Brother Silus) after the renegade (Brother Edgar). Eventually Silus and the police team reluctantly join forces and work uncomfortably together. Unsurprisingly the always calm Silus and beautiful Lilly are attracted to each other, and mad Edgar guesses and exploits this with predictable results.

Parts of this stylish film are filmed in Dunedin, Oamaru and Auckland and there are some familiar Kiwi faces to lookout for in the cast. Even though Perfect Creature is assembled from a variety of stock film formulas (including a final scene that shouts "there will be a sequel") it works, but I think it is watchable for its setting and inventiveness rather than its scariness.

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

The Great Happiness Space

Guys, how would you like to earn $50,000 per month by drinking and talking with women? Girls how would you like to spend $600 to scull a bottle of champaign? Welcome to the host clubs of Osaka. If, like me, you've never heard about host clubs you'll need an explanation. A host club is a place were women hire professional (male) hosts to drink and talk with them (and dance, and sing karaoke if need be). Women entering a host club gets to choose a host from the menu of colour photos. Some of these hosts have a reputation beyond their own clubs, so women apparently seek out their clubs. This is a type of business that is missing from Courtenay Place!

This documentary concentrates on the club Cafe Rakkyo in Osaka run by Issei who is also its top earning host. Issei and his fellow hosts, all in their 20s, spend a fair bit of time and money on their appearance; hair spiky with product and sunglasses are de rigueur. Their clients are similarly aged young women. At the start of the film Issei describes his job as making women fall in love with him; and interviews with many of the clients suggest he is quite successful at that, with many admitting that the reason for their repeat visits is a quest to become Issei's girlfriend. Issei admits to having sex with a lot of clients but there is never a girlfriend. Later Issei talks of (and the film shows him) providing emotional support to his clients ranging from a shoulder to cry on to unflinching advice. The film also shows the darker side with the hosts encouraging binge drinking.

More amusing are shots of the newbie hosts out on the street hustling for business among the apparently disinterested young women walking past. Even if (like me) you don't think you are interested in Japanese host clubs, this movie was certainly not a waste of time and should keep you interested and amused right through to dawn, when the tired hosts head home and the credits roll.

Ian's rating: 3/5

Manufacturing Dissent

Apart from Peter Jackson, Michael Moore is the best known film maker in the world... and he makes documentaries. In America he polarizes people with films like Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko. Loved by the American "Left" and equally hated by the Right, his in-your-face methods and slobbish personal appearance are at odds with the usual documentary making techniques. Like most American politics, accusations of lying and deceit have been thrown at Michael Moore (then again his documentaries include similar accusations by Moore himself). Despite his unusual documentary making techniques most of the criticism of him have been from his political opponents. This documentary looks at man and his film making. Trying to get an interview with Michael Moore turns out to be next to impossible and the documentary team starts to talk to colleagues and ex-colleagues and uncovers a less than flattering portrait of Michael Moore.

Moore is accused of distorting the truth and lying, which he either denies or explains away as an effect way to get his point across. Of course Moore isn't the first documentary filmmaker to claim that the message is more important than 100% honesty. It is not clear if the makers of this documentary started from the pro-Moore position that they claimed, but that doesn't detract from flaws they point out in Moore's filmmaking techniques and personality.

The title of this movie is a play on the phrase "Manufacturing Consent" which Walter Lippmann coined to describe the process of American journalism.

Ian's rating: 3/5

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Italian

There are lots of good things about this film. It has a really cute star, a great plot and it's about a topic I haven't encountered in a movie before - intercountry adoption. It also makes you think about levels of morality and whether the characters' misdeeds better or worse than those perpetrated by their counterparts and at what age people should be held accountable for their actions.

Six year-old Vanya (the cute one!) lives in a children's home somewhere outside St Petersburg . The headmaster is a crook and an alcoholic but the major force in the children's lives is the mafia-style operation run by the teenage residents from the furnace room. Any gifts received by the children , or money raised by activities like windscreen washing or prostitution has to be handed to the mafiosi, who distribute the loot as they see fit.

One snowy day "Madam" arrives with an Italian couple who are looking to adopt a child. Vanya is selected, the Italians pay up and Madam and the headmaster split the money. The paperwork is expected to take eight weeks or so, and the Italians return home while Vanya is left to celebrate his good fortune. However, not long afterwards he meets the mother of the last little boy to be adopted by foreigners who has come in search of her child. She commits suicide when she finds out her child's fate and Vanya worries about what would happen if his own mother comes in search of him after he's left for Italy. Appealing as a new life in Italy sounds, being reunited with his mother sounds even better.

So Vanya sets out to track down his Mum. He has to steal his personal file from the headmaster's safe, learn to read, get to St Petersburg, find his Mother's house and evade the pursuit of Madam and her chauffeur. You'll have to watch the movie to find out how it ends.

I particularly enjoyed the chauffeur chasing Vanya through the streets, and the bedtime stories at a Russian children's home being Winnie the Pooh and The Jungle Book. It was also interesting to notice that most Russian doorbells are out of reach for a child - it would make trick-or-treating challenging.

My rating 4/5.

Death at A Funeral

At last! A lets-not-have-to think-about-it romping good time which is laugh-out-loud funny. And very British, which was a novelty for this festival. It's a farce and I enjoyed it immensely. I was a bit worried because the acting seemed a little wooden for the first few minutes but from the time one of funeral directors utters a forceful "shit" and the hearse takes off up the gravel drive like a bat out of hell, it's all on and everyone is giving it their best.

All you need to know about the plot is that a family funeral is taking place at an English country house, and that members of the family and other mourners are worried about what other people think. Matthew McFadyen is one of the stars and his character is a short-back-and-sides, somewhat anxious older brother who suffers from low self-esteem who is totally different from Mr Darcy - the last person I saw him play. Also featuring were Peter Vaughan who has been playing cantankerous old men since I first started watching TV in the mid-eighties and continues to do it perfectly, and Kris Marshall who is always a joy to watch.

There's toilet humour, nudity, homosexuality, illicit drugs, floral wallpaper, an anxious vicar, a dwarf, and people in hysterics. Hopefully one of them will be you.

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

Times and Winds

Did the rest of Wellington know something we didn't? Or perhaps their research into festival films extended beyond the programme's "breathtakingly fresh" and "comic and dramatic force" and "ravishing visuals". Whatever the logic, this was by far the emptiest evening showing at the Embassy that we've been to - with good reason, we think.

Times and Winds is a depressing tale of inter-generational nastiness set in a pretty Turkish village. It centres around three twelve-year-olds and their families - focusing particularly on their irascible fathers who seem to spend their time being generally unpleasant. We learned early on that this is in all likelihood because their fathers were equally grumpy, ungrateful and generally unloving but this failed to evoke my sympathy, except for the children. Understandably, the children spend most of their time away from home, roaming the countryside. The countryside is gorgeous and the sky is staggeringly blue but the scenery doesn't redeem the film and nor do the goats, which are much more appealing than the humans. One of the boys spending his time plotting to kill his father is mildly diverting, but, as the rating suggests, there are better things to do with an evening than watch this film.

Anne's rating 1/5

Two of the grumpy fathers also have to put up with an unappreciative and hypercritical father of their own. There is a cute primary school teacher and great camera work but as Anne said I was always conscious of the time and my feelings toward the film weren't helped by the fragmented way the story was told.

Ian's rating 1/5

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Matsugane Potshot Affair

People who are intensely focused on their own lives can come across as somewhat dim. The townsfolk in Matsugane comes across like this. Even Kotaro, a local policeman, is more focused on mice in the ceiling of his patrol base than solving a hit-and-run. It centres around yet another disfunctional family. Kotaro, his dimmer lay-about twin brother Hikaru, their separated parents, senile grandfather, overworked sister and lazy husband. Surrounding them are the local hairdresser (who dad has been shacked up with), her sexually available daughter and a couple of crooks (who have little trouble remaining below the local radar).

The crooks arrival and mysterious mission is the driving thread of this laid back black comedy, which is played very deadpan with no exposition. So we, the audience, have to work harder than is usual in comedies to work out what is happening, who is related to who and even to pick up on some of the ironies.

Ian's rating: 2.5/5

Thursday, August 02, 2007

No Mercy for the Rude

Gangsters and violent death seem to be a popular subjects for South Korean film makers, so it should come as no surprise to hear that the hero of No Mercy for the Rude is a hit man. He also has a severe speech impediment and is saving up for surgery, while dreaming of becoming a matador. He was bullied at school and hence wants only to kill rude and ill mannered people. His best friend is an ex-ballet dance (who retired after a knee injury) and together they kill people stylishly.

The first half of the film is largely a comedy as first a bar girl and then a local street kid decide to move into his apartment. The mood gets darker though still, with some humour, in the second half after a kill goes wrong and the intended victim sends his henchmen after the two hit men.

Ian's rating: 3.5/5

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Jesus Camp

A man swaying backwards and forwards as he prays, a family chanting with their hands on the holy book, parents preparing children for a religious war. These are some aspects of the American Evangelical movement shown in Jesus Camp, a film about Becky Fischer a "children's minister" and the summer camp she runs in North Dakota. If you have had a secular New Zealand upbringing it will seem quite alien and may be worrying.

What is more worrying is that this may be the largest block of voters in America (80 million people), who are proud to be conservative, anti-liberal, global warming denying and anti-Muslim. They regard themselves to be at war not so much with secular America but with Islam (even though they have much in common with the conservative, anti-liberal, anti-secular Muslims that they hate!). These people not only have influence in America but also in US foreign policy. But this is just my rant!

This film is a non-confrontational (though not neutral) view of Becky Fischer and the kids she is ministering to. There are amusing scenes like the blessing of a cardboard cutout of George Bush and more serious ones like inducing kids to break down in tears to confess their unspecified sins. But in general these people just look like ordinary Americans, overweight, living in the suburbs, listening to hard rock, worried about their make up, flying the flag. It is interspersed with excerpts from a talkback radio show by a liberal Christian with strong views on protecting the separation between church and state (I guess this is to reassure viewers that there are some other Americans out there).

Ian's rating: 4/5
Anne's rating: 3.5/5

Drama / Mex

May be the audience was in a bad mood this morning because I seemed to be the only one who found this movie funny. It is set in Acapulco over a 24 hour period and involves several intersecting story lines. Fernanda who can't make her mind up between two boys, which means she gets plenty of sex while she oscillates between them. The much younger Tigrillo sets out to find a sugar daddy on the beach. Where she runs into middle age Jaime who has stolen money from his company and comes to beach to kill himself in a cheap motel. She steals his wallet, but discovering his state of mind sets out to show him a good time and stay with him long enough prevent the suicide.

The film is of video quality and while entertaining is nothing special.

Ian's rating: 2/5

The Secret Life of Words

The Secret Life of Words is a title that may put off some cinema goers, as might the knowledge that this is a Spanish film, but actually it is all in English. Joseph (Tim Robbins) is temporarily blind as he is recovering from burns and other injuries suffered trying to rescue his best friend on an offshore oil rig. Curious about the nurse who was hired and flown out to look after him, he start with the obvious questions. She stymies him at question one by refusing to tell him her name. So he calls her Cora, and sets out to prise out her secrets by trading his for hers. She has a head start on his secrets as she listens his last cell phone message at night. We have a slight head start on Joseph as we know that Hanna (Sarah Polley) was working in a dead end factory job, not talking to her workmates, not taking holidays or sick leave and leading a sterile, lonely home life before she was hired for this job. But we don't know what she hiding or hiding from, until she finally confides in Joseph. The revelation is pretty stunning.

I was expecting a dark movie that got darker as it went on, but apart from Hanna's secret and my own suspicions about the accident on the rig it is actually, on balance, a happy movie. The almost shut down rig is populated by a reduced crew of people who for their own reasons want to avoid the world. The miss fit crew includes a pair of singing, gay roughnecks, an obsessed marine biologist, a musical chef and a goose.

Ian's rating: 3/5

Lady Chatterley

I must be a Pom, because it seems odd to me to hear a Roman Emperor speaking with an American accent but not with a British one (OK I admit, I would find a Geordie or Scouser Roman Emperor equally odd!). Similarly it felt slightly odd to hear English people speaking French (or rather French actors playing English people), but apart from that Lady Chatterley could be British period film of the D. H. Lawrence novel. The house and grounds could have been an English country house and grounds (not one of the great houses, but still big enough to require a number of servants). The furniture, clothes, mannerisms were all perfect for a British period piece set in the 1920s. I wish I knew French better to hear if there was a difference between the way that Constance Chatterley and her ilk spoke and the way Parkin (the gamekeeper) and the other servants spoke. That sort of thing is lost in subtitles.

I've never read the novel so I can't comment on how close the film sticks to original plot and dialog, but as the film is mostly about Constance and her relationship with Parkin I guess it is reasonably faithful. There is plenty of sex, heavy breathing and eventually even nudity; mostly in damp green countryside. So if you want a long, gentle, sex movie you can take your grandparents to (and as I saw it on a Tuesday afternoon most of the audience were of that age) then this is your film.

One very minor niggle. Before Constance embarks on her outdoor sex life we see she has a very nice all over body tan, which seems incongruous for a woman who perpetually dresses in stockings, long skirt, long sleeves, high neck lines, often a scarf and usually a hat. Perhaps it is difficult to find a young French actress without any tan!

Ian's rating: 4/5

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Row R at the Embassy

The Embassy is the premier cinema for the Wellington Film Festival. It contains 3 types of seats. There is a block of leather seats which I believe are usually priced higher than others but during the festival are just first come, first served. Around these and back as far as row P are fixed seats that are better class than traditional "flip-up" style seats. From row R back to row V are narrower, traditional "flip-up" style seats. Unfortunately row R has very poor leg room (even Anne felt cramped) due to the change in seat type and in the center block most of the 24-6 seats have broken backs. It is possible that people have broken the backs of the seats because they have been so cramped.

My advice if you are forced book into rows behind row P at the Embassy refuse a seat in row R and choose a row further back. Even row V is better than row R!

Ian's rating: 1/5

A Few Days in September

Early in September 2001 Elliot (Nick Nolte) an American spy, who hasn't been seen for awhile, wants to meet with Orlando, his French daughter, and David, his American step son. He somehow convinces Irene (Juliette Binoche) a French spy and ex-colleague to get the kids (in their early 20s) to the meet in a seedy Paris Hotel. Orlando who was abandoned by her dad when she was ten comes armed with a gun and a scowl. David who is ignorant of his step father's earlier life arrives like an innocent, happy tourist on holiday. William, a neurotic and psychopathic assassin out to kill Elliot turns up and scares Elliot off.

After the failure of the first meet, a second meet is set up in Venice by some banker types (with Arab connections) who have been employing Elliot on the side for his inside info. While kicking their heels in Venice Irene, Orlando and David discuss the differences between the US and the rest of the world (i.e. France) and generally get to know each other.

The ever postponed meeting with Elliot, Elliot's info and the rapidly approaching 11th are the MacGuffins that this film hangs on. The innocent All-American David in close confines with two sexy French women, his sulky younger step sister and the sophisticated, older but still sexy, Irene and on the run from a ruthless, mad assassin provides plenty scope for sexual tension. The phone calls from the poetry reading assassin to his shrink gives some comic relief. The camera work is stylish in two of the most photogenic cities in the world. But I left the film feeling that it had so much potential ... wasted. Plenty of style, but no substance. Such a pity, it could have been a great film.

Anne scanned the credits to see if Irene's glasses and her turtle would get their own listings.

Ian's rating: 2/5
Anne's rating: 3/5

Monday, July 30, 2007

Kissy Kissy

I feel sorry for the actors in this New Zealand film, they spend a lot of time in front of the camera, saying very little and doing even less. I am not sure what message the film makers were trying to get across but the message I took home was that some people are very boring. There were a few lines of interesting dialog and the occasional flashes of interesting interaction between the characters, but mostly it was dull to watch. Anne will be glad she didn't go.

Ian's rating: 0/5


This is the French farce.

Irene is a gold digger (in an earlier century she would have been a courtesan). Jean is a hotel worker, who Irene mistakes for a rich guest. Their one night fling leads to both of them losing their sources of income -- in his case his job and in her case her newly acquired aging fiance. The practical Irene sets off to catch her next sugar daddy and love-sick Jean sets off after Irene and gets in the way. She teaches him an expensive lesson, but he is rescued by rich, middle aged Madelene. He is a novice to this lifestyle and Irene relents and offers some coaching. The pair form a loose coalition to assist each other through the tricky bits of being kept young things.

Jean is played by Gad Elmaleh (The Valet) and Irene by Audrey Tautou (who looks a lot sexier than she did as Amélie in Amélie).

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


This is the third horror movie I've seen at the festival this year, apparently it is already available on DVD, but probably better seen at a cinema. It follows the pattern of a group of people (who don't get on that well -- in this case workmates) who are stuck in the middle of nowhere and are being hunted down and killed gruesomely by homicidal crazies for no obvious reason except to entertain us. It is our job to workout what order people will be bumped off, jump out of our skin and laugh at the right moments.

A sales team for multi-national Palisade Defense is sent on a team building exercise in a Hungarian forest. The coach driver takes fright at a fallen tree, unloads their luggage, turns around and drives off without them. They eventually discover the lodge, which is dilapidated and empty. Poking around they find some old Palisade Defense files written in Russian and start telling each other horror stories about Palisade's murky past. The next morning one member of the team gets his leg caught in a bear trap, and things start to go bad. From here on the film follows formula and we go along for the ride.

Ian's rating: 3/5


In a flip way this could be summed up as "Cute, smart-ass, teenage girl versus the caste system -- and the audience is the winner". This film was the thesis for Rajnesh Domalpalli's master's degree at Columbia University! Let me tell you that my master's thesis isn't a minuscule faction as good as this one! I hope he got a good grade!

The film is about Vanaja who is forced from school to work due to lack of money. From the start she is up front with what she wants (to be a dancer) and she takes advantage of every opportunity to steer her life in that direction. She is pretty, sharp tounged, and, luckily for her, manages to look cute even when sulking. The story concentrates on her so much that she is in every scene. Even though she has a harrowing time (rape, birth, death in the family) the film is (like Vanaja) essentially happy, and she gets to do lots of dancing.

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

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Night of the Sunflowers

With a bit of trepidation I set off to the Penthouse again (where I earlier watched Wolfsbergen). It was a much fuller house this time and a much better film. The story is of an attempted rape followed by a vigilante attack resulting in the death of the wrong man and subsequent cover up. It is told in six parts each from the point of view of a different person (the would be rapist, the victim's boyfriend, the wrong man, a policeman etc) each brings different motives to their actions, which can look odd or suspicious to the others.

It is a good tense film with each segment posing a different question to keep you hooked (will she be raped? will the cover up succeed? etc).

Ian's rating: 3.5/5

My Best Friend

Every film festival has a French Farce, and this is not it. My Best Friend is a humourous look at the subject of friendship. What is a friend? Who are your friends? How do you make and keep friends? It stars Daniel Auteuil as Francois, a successful Parisian art dealer, the sort of character we are getting used to see him play. He is perhaps more self-absorbed than is usual but is shocked when he is told at a dinner party that no-one will come to his funeral because no-one likes him and that he has no friends because he doesn't care about anyone else. He sets out to prove them wrong, going through several stages: denial, searching, desperation, learning, failure, deception - all providing fruitful opportunities for comedy. His co-star in this journey is a sociable, chatty taxi driver named Bruno (Dany Boon) who takes Francois under his wing to teach him how to be friendly. Sadly, Bruno who gets on well with everyone and is liked by everyone he meets, is equally friendless, which opens up the next can of worms in the journey to become friends with someone. Can you depend on your friends and can they depend on you becomes the acid test in this philosophical comedy.

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

The Devil Came on Horseback

I get the feeling when I hear, see or read about African conflicts that I am hearing about Africans killing Africans for reasons no-one can understand or stop. It is too easy for this view to morph into the idea that Africans are naturally violent and can't get along with each other (may be Americans had the same view of Europeans in 1914-8 and 1939-41 etc). But these pernicious ideas really part of the group of ideas that serve to make us feel superior, blameless and without need to act. The ignorance we have about African conflicts (ditto conflicts in the former USSR) is, in part, due to our general ignorance of those areas of the globe -- how many of us given a map of Africa (or the former USSR) with borders but without names could put the right names to the countries? (Yet we get upset when people don't know about NZ). Additionally the reporting in our media tends to make us more confused. Months can go by between reports. A report on an African conflict is likely to be brief, with little or no background information to give context, some photos or video of victims or men on a ute waving guns, it will be couched in politically correct terms and accompanied by contradictory statements by various parties.

The media isn't entirely to blame. The government of Sudan is keen to keep its war in Darfur (half of the left hand side of Sudan) out of the news. It knows that other governments have little interest in this dry patch of dirt, twice the size and twice the population of New Zealand. Chad and the Central African Republic neighbour Darfur but are far too weak to act and other governments will only act if prodded to by their publics. Hence the strategy to keep out the media, deny genocide, ethnic cleansing and deny funding and fighting alongside their coalition partner the Janjaweed. An ignorant world public (or media) can't prod their respective governments.

So much for the political/sociological rant and onto the film. This documentary is the story of retired US Marine Captain Brian Steidle who applied for a job as team leader in the African Union peace monitoring force in Southern Sudan just east of Darfur. In response to reports of violence the team moves west into Darfur, taking photos, interviewing and writing reports (most of which go no further than A.U. mission H.Q.). They watch Sudanese helicopter gunships leave their bases fully armed and return empty. They catalog weapons (including artillery) "going missing" from Sudanese military base. They photograph helicopter gunships attacking villages, Sudanese soldiers and Janjaweed attacking together. They talk to Janjaweed leaders who candidly describe their relationship with the Sudanese military. The team gets to know the conflict so well that they can predict where attacks will take place -- they are not listened to. Brian is sure that once the U.S. public knows the U.S. military will be on their way. After 6 months in Darfur he is so frustrated he doesn't renew his contract, going home with his copies of his photos and reports.

Back home he realises that reports written by the A.U. monitoring teams have not become public knowledge and he goes to the N.Y. Times. Briefly he becomes a media celebrity and the U.S. Congress recognised that genocide is happening in Darfur. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice politely listens to him and hands him back his photos. Brian learns his lesson in realpolitik, and becomes an activist. He is a committed, driven, brave and frustrated man and the villagers of Darfur need as many of his sort as possible.

Interestingly he went to Rwanda to learn about their genocide, how it was stopped and how the country recovered. But I suspect what he learned won't help, because the Rwandan genocide was stopped by the Tutsi themselves, not by UN, US or AU.

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

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Black Book

Black Book was Friday night's entertainment. We were in the middle of the back row of The Embassy (row V) which has the best leg room of the 6 rows of "bad" seats and the view from there was great. I had a slight feeling of disquiet about the fact that should there be a fire we were bound to burn since it takes forever to get out from that far back, but since the film was good I didn't dwell on this for long.

Black Book is a WWII movie. You might feel that this subject has been done to death (so to speak) but Black Book is a refreshing look at the occupied Netherlands. It's characters include Jews in hiding, the Dutch Resistance, the occupying soldiers and Dutch residents. The principal character is a Jewess (Rachel) who comes out of hiding and works for the resistance. One of her assignments is to seduce the head of the local Gestapo - which she manages to do, but she falls in love with him as well, which makes things complicated. I won't give the rest of the plot away but one of the great things about this film is that the good guys and the bad guys aren't clearly defined. There's double crossing and deceit galore and lots and lots of hidden agendas. Everyone is out for his or herself, obviously, but is also in support of others that you wouldn't necessarily expect. It's a war story and a thriller and a love story and it delivers on all those levels. It will keep you engrossed for all 147 minutes which is a big achievement.

Anne's rating 4/5

I agree with Anne's description. It is a visually gratifying film, the scenes are either filmed in orange tones or grey tones which seems appropriate. Its escapist entertainment rather than realism; with a glamourous portrayal of a grim time (1944/5 Netherlands) where smartly dressed Nazi officers have a posh HQ, a girl on the run is able to come up with several sexy party frocks and the Dutch public looking remarkably well fed considering the famine they were suffering! Perhaps that is why Rachel looks back on her exploits from the distance of 1956 Israel somewhat wistfully.

Ian's rating 5/5

I served the King of England

We went to this Czech film on Wednesday morning, the two evening showings being sold out. The Embassy looked pretty full on Wednesday too - obviously lots of other people were seduced by the extremely positive billing it got in the festival programme. It said "pleasing crowds wherever it goes" and "hugely entertaining" so I had high expectations. And I have to say I was disappointed, not because it was a bad film but because it didn't push any buttons for me, and because I felt I was missing the joke.

The hero is a moderately likeable little chap, always falling on his feet until his imprisonment for collaboration with the Nazis. The film begins with his release from prison and is essentially a retrospective of his life up to that point. He begins his working life as a railway station sausage-stall holder and ends it as a millionaire hotel owner, having learned along the way that rich men can access all the life's pleasures and are always surrounded by pretty girls, which is why he so badly wants to be one. We're left wondering why he chooses an unglamorous German girl to fall for (she won't even consider marrying him until she convinces herself he has some German ancestry and whether there was some particular point to this film - it wasn't funny enough to be escapist entertainment,and didn't really stimulate serious thought either.

Anne's rating 2.5/5
Ian's rating 2/5

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Long Goodbye

Elliott Gould plays a chain-smoking Philip Marlowe living in an L.A. penthouse apartment with his demanding ginger cat and next door to four girls who are topless 24/7 in this 1973 private eye film. The film starts with Marlowe being woken by his cat at 3am wanting to be fed. Marlowe discovers he has no cat food, an improvisation of margarine and egg doesn't work and he sets off to the local 24 hour store (getting an order for 2 boxes of brownie mix from his topless partying neighbours). The store is out of the necessary brand, confronting a store worker he is told that all cat food is the same. Marlow responds asking if the worker has a cat; "No, I've got a girl" is the reply. Back home Marlow, locks the cat out of the kitchen while he transfers the food to an old can. Lets the cat in and makes a show of opening the can, but of course the cat is not fooled and disappears. This scene is just a prelude to the action (and sets up a number of cat jokes later on).

The plot itself starts with an old friend, with a history of gambling and wife beating, shows up at Marlow's place sporting a big bruise on his face and an urgent desire for Marlow to drive him to the Mexican border, because his wife is dead and the police will think he did it. Unable to find Marlow's friend the police and later the extremely vicious hoods he owes money to turn their attention to Marlow; and it is clear that private detectives occupy a very low niche in 1970s society. Between rough ups, Marlow investigates a new case of a missing husband for a woman who's dog also takes a dislike to the private eye. The husband is easily found in the clutches of a strange little doctor. But unsurprisingly the case leads back to his friend and dead wife. The final scene contains a noir twist as Marlow takes out his frustration at the way he is used and treated by everyone he meets.

Elliott Gould and looks disturbingly like Guy Secretan from Green Wing! One of the characters nicknames him Marlboro (he finds a new way to strike a match in every scene). If you are nostalgic for California in the 70s (the cars, the decor, the novelty of yoga and yogurt, the tennis frocks that are so short they make modern tennis outfits look like bridal dresses) and you like a film with humour, violence and plenty of plot twists then go to your video store and try and hunt down "The Long Goodbye".

Ian's rating: 4/5


Maggie Gyllenhaal is very sexy as Sherry Swanson, a parolee whose contempt for rules and shortsighted pursuit of her own wants, without regard for consequences lands her in a continuous stream of trouble. She uses her body and her status as a mother, sister and daughter to try and extricate herself or postpone the trouble, as she tries to stay clean and regain her little daughter. The film ends on an upbeat moment of realisation of the needs of those around her but I left wondering if it is a turn around point or just a hump on the rollercoaster of her life?

Co-staring are Sherry's almost entirely bra-free wardrobe and her Red Indian boyfriend who is unfortunately handicapped by a script writer who couldn't move beyond the obvious stereotype.

Ian's rating 3/5

Death of a President

In October 2007 George W. Bush is assassinated.

This British film follows the events leading up to the assassination and the police investigation afterwards. I didn't know what to expect having only read the Film Festival blurb. May be it would be about America's reaction to another presidential assassination, probably media led popular and political hysteria to overshadow the 11 Sept 2001 reaction. Or perhaps a thriller about how such an assassination would be carried out. In fact half the film is a build up to the assassination, with the tension being provided by a 'big' anti-war/ anti-Bush protest (10-12,000 people seems medium to me) in Chicago where G. W. Bush is scheduled to speak and by our knowledge that the assassination will happen at some point that day. The second half concentrates on the FBI investigation, rounding up the usual suspects (Arabs, protesters, young black men), political interference from newly sworn in President Cheney etc. I can't tell you much more without spoiling the plot twists but ultimately this film is a thriller in an up to date political setting. There are some political messages but if you find them new or challenging, you must have had your head in the sand these last 6 years.

Of all the films I've seen that use 'live' footage mixed with 'staged' footage, this film does it best. If the film could have kept its tension going throughout the whole 93 minutes it may have got a 5/5.

Ian's rating: 4/5
Anne's rating: 3.5/5

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Signal

Another horror film, this time an American splatter movie about a day when TVs, radios, phones etc give out a hypnotic static sound (and pictures on TV), which drives people to kill each other. Often for reasons that seemed rational to the killers at the time. Being a splatter movie they do it messily, often by surprise and occasionally humourously. Everyone thinks that everyone else is crazy and that they are the only sane person left in the city. This paranoia adds to the body count. There are about 8 main characters that are gradually introduced through the film, but with the attrition rate it is unclear who will survive and given that everyone is into killing it is tricky to workout who is 'good'.

If you are into zombie style horror films then this is probably up your alley.

Ian's rating: 2/5


A unknown woman in a distinctive red dress is found drowned in a puddle of water. A detective finds a button at the scene matches one missing from his coat. His finger prints are found at the scene. He gets paranoid that his colleagues suspect him. He catches a glimpse of the dead woman at the scene a couple of days later. Then there is a second drowning murder, which is easily solved and while the suspect is being questioned by police he sees someone who isn't there. From here the detective is more frequently visited by the ghost of the first victim, making him more jumpy and confused. The plot gets even more complicated with a disused mental hospital and a rumour of punishment by holding patients' heads in a bowl of seawater, a third murder and the detective's much younger girlfriend. Just as I thought I had it all sorted the final few scenes threw a bunch of spanners into the works and I am not sure it makes sense or if it is even meant to.

Interestingly many of the dramatic events in the film are preceded by earthquakes. This is a mix of who-done-it, horror and metaphysical puzzle.

Ian's rating: 4/5

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Bad family relationships seem to be a theme running through this film festival (or else through my choice of films). The Home Song Stories, Children, After the Wedding and even These Girls and Red Road are about or include bad family relationships.

This time it is a family that doesn't talk to each other (a subject I'm familiar with). Konraad has decided to die on or about the anniversary of his wife's death and writes to his daughter Maria and granddaughter Sabine to tell them. Both women ignore the letters, which their respective husbands find and get concerned about. Both women stonewall their husbands carry on with their lives. Maria with the silent treatment, work and recovering from secret liposuction and Sabine by brushoffs and anger, work and an affair with her ex. Maria and Sabine are equally unconcerned (in Sabine's case hostile to) Sabine's sister Eva's mental problems and it is left to their husbands to try and deal with that too. Sabine and Otto's elder daughter is into breaking plates (and later chewing glassware) to protest her parent's arguing, while Otto's attempts to help his sister in law ends, predictably, in bed. Meanwhile Maria's dentist husband (who doesn't seem much younger than Konraad) is the only one to go and try to deal with him and original issue of his death wish.

This family clearly love each other but talking, showing emotion and dealing with issues before they become problems is foreign to them. Konraad's death finally brings all the family together but given that at the end of the film they still aren't talking it is not as hopeful a finale as you might think.

The filming is based around long fixed medium and long shots with the actors walking in and out of shot. This coupled with the lack of dialog makes 95 minutes feel like 3+ hours. It more than just makes the point of the film, it hammers it home so hard you feel like you are a living though it like a bad dream you can't wakeup from.

It is probably quite good if you like that sort of thing.

Ian's rating: 1/5

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

After the Wedding

This is the first festival film that Ian and I have gone to together. (You'll see that we've both rated Conversations with my Gardener, but Ian went to that on a different day to me, inspired by my favourable review) . We were squished into row R at the Embassy, which is the first row of bad seats. My seat, R28, was wobbly and defective, and without wishing to sound overly grumpy, so was the film. Too long, too.

The film festival programme said "one of the richest and most satisfying family dramas of the year" and this film was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar for 2007. What were they thinking? And what was the director trying to say? This is what happens when a billionaire is dying and decides to play god? This is the weirdest family scenario I can think of, how do you like it? The main characters weren't likeable and their various predicaments didn't inspire sympathy. I thought that Jacob was beautiful and Ian thought that Helene was beautiful so if good-looking actors are all you need you might like it.

What you should do is go and see the movie that actually won the Oscar, The Lives of Others - that's a great film

Anne's rating 2/5. Ian's rating 3/5

These Girls

When I think of girl-gangs I think of LA or South Auckland, but girl gangs live on the streets of Cairo too. They sniff glue, pop pills, smoke pot, fight and talk. They get raped, get pregnant and raise their babies. It is a hard life and the girls stick together for protection against boys, men, the police and families. As one girl is taken home by her father another girl confidently predicts that "she will return before you finish filming".

The filming is mostly done in the evenings and focuses on one gang, led by Tata. Tata is not the biggest girl but is certainly the most aggressive, which is an advantage in the macho environment of Cairo's streets. She boosts her reputation by bragging about her fights and wins the respect of a local boy by rescuing him from the boot of a police car. Even within the gang violence and threats are used in an almost feral way to establish the pecking order. The flip side to the violence is the need these girls have for affection, and it is this perhaps more than the misery of being dirty poor that drives the urge to sniff glue etc. To our advantage these girls talk openly of their histories, their lives and emotions, and philosophise on drugs, rape, respect etc.

Whether you are interested, put-off or couldn't care less about street kids, I recommend this film as a realistic view on street kids. It doesn't moralise, patronise or lecture about the subject. It just lets us see and hear the kids. And did I mention the great scene of them galloping down a frighteningly busy Cairo street on horseback or dancing to music from a local cafe?

Ian's rating: 4/5

Monday, July 23, 2007


I have heard that Iceland is beautiful, but Ragnar Bragason's depiction of Reykjavik is ugly and functional. Then Children isn't a beautiful film. It is could be retitled Sons and Mothers, as the relationships between sons and mothers plays a major part in the film. Its a dark, sombre, realistic, black and white film about disfunctional relationships, particularly between parents and children, and also about lying and hiding the truth. The film is structured as 3 intersecting stories which all finally come together at A & E. A hospital worker solo mother of four children she is too busy to take proper care of, meanwhile living downstairs is a schizophrenic and his lonely mother, and menacing and often beating up virtually everyone he meets is Gardar a local "enforcer" who hates being lied to and is despaired of by his mother.

Unintentionally the director make the point that if it wasn't for the language and the blonde hair you couldn't tell which western city you were in. The cityscapes and the interior shots of shops, schools, buses, cars, apartments and hospitals all look the same. We are living in a McDonalds world.

If you need to get the idea that Iceland is a beautiful place populated by nice people out of your system or if you need to see how easy it is for parent-child relationships to break down then this is the film for you.

Ian's rating: 2.5/5

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Peter O'Toole is a dirty old man - a part he plays remarkably well in Venus, the story of a couple of old actors whose life is upset by the arrival of a teenage girl. One of the two friends, Ian, (a hypochondriac who likes an ordered life) is stressed out by the arrival of his grand niece, but Maurice (Peter O'Toole) immediately "hits" on the bewildered girl, calling her Venus. Jodie Whittaker plays the sullen teenage girl well. Jesse, aka Venus is repulsed, fascinated, confused and flattered by Maurice's attentions and slowly comes out of her sullen, tracksuit- wearing, shell. Maurice is indefatigable, resourceful and smitten, but also gets older and weaker.

Peter O'Toole is obviously the star of the film but the story is not an exercise in showing his skills at seducing a pretty young thing. It's a story of getting old, being disparaged for indulging in previously normal activities, not being capable of doing things any more and finally dying.

Ian’s Rating: 3.5/5

The Home Song Stories

So you think you had a mad, selfish mother, who ruined your life or personality? Meet Rose a glamorous Chinese nightclub singer who is perpetually in need of a man, as seen through the eyes of her little boy. Actually Tom, as an adult, claims that he and his sister turned out quite normal; but it is obvious his mother has left a big chip on his shoulder. At the risk of mixing my metaphors, this film is his chance to scratch it. Despite the standard disclaimer that the film is not based on actual events and people, it is the writer / director's childhood told from his point of view.

The film is the story of Rose who migrates from Hong Kong to Melbourne in 1964 with her two kids, in order to marry Bill. Bill is in the navy and leaves his new wife with his mother and not enough money for Rose's liking. The cultural clash between mother and wife is too great and together with the lack of money and a man means the marriage lasts a week. I suspect that being a solo mum in 60s Australia was hard enough without being Chinese, and emotionally, sexually and financially in need of a man (almost pathologically so) as Rose was. Rose seems doomed to short term relationships with men and the family moves from one man to the next until little Tom becomes attune to the events that signal the start and end of each relationship. Things come to a head when Tom's sister May reaches 17 and jealousy is added to the emotional mix and Rose's mood swings lead to suicide attempts.

The acting of Joan Chen who plays Rose and Joel Lok who plays 10 year old Tom are particularly good and the depiction of 60s Australia is great (you got to love those stubbies). Despite what I have said about it this film has its funny moments.

Ian’s Rating: 4/5

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Tales from Earthsea

This an animated movie from Studio Ghibli who were responsible for Howl's Moving Castle, a highlight of last year's festival. The director is the son of Howl's director; his characters look similar but the landscapes are more like paintings so I was more conscious of the art work. There is a particularly beautiful night sky which looks like a van Gogh painting.

Tales from Earthsea is the third novel in a trilogy for children by Ursula Le Guin, but I wouldn't call this a children's movie. There's excitement aplenty - fire-breathing dragons, wizards, sword fights and storms at sea and there's a great sound track. Christine says it doesn't follow the book especially closely but I doubt that this is important. My major criticism is that the pace was a little slow at times for what's essentially an adventure story.

Anne's rating 3/5.

Conversations with my gardener

A french painter inherits his childhood home in the countryside and returns to live there. He hires assorted tradesmen to help make it liveable, including a gardener to recreate his mother's kitchen garden. The gardener is a retired railway worker and, serendipitously, one of the painter's schoolmates. The film follows the re-creation of their relationship and the lifeblood it infuses into the painter's other relationships and into his painting.

Going to this film is like being part of a really good conversation - its engrossing and entertaining, and it makes you laugh. The two protagonists are likeable and articulate and the dialogue is witty."Can't he get another job?" "Don't you read the papers? Jobs are like tigers - a species facing extinction" or "Is he a bit stupid?" " More than a bit!"

It reminds us that human beings are fallible and that life is short, and that we should cherish the ones near to us while we have them. The big screen experience isn't vital for this movie, so waiting for the DVD would be perfectly reasonable.

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

Friday, July 20, 2007

Tie me up! Tie me down!

A few weeks ago Anne and I watched this Spanish film on DVD at home (rented from Wellington Public Library). The director is Pedro Almodóvar, who has a reputation for unusual films. This film is unusual but not in the Mulholland Drive, what-the-#@*% sort of way. The story telling is conventional, the setting is conventional (modern Spain), and the camera work is conventional. All that is odd is that the main characters are a recently released, but still less-than-sane young handyman Ricky (played with relish by Antonio Banderas) and an ex-porn star and not-entirely-ex-junkie trying to go straight Marina (played by Victoria Abril). Once Ricky has tied Marina up in her own apartment, his less-than-sane view of the world prevails and the sane people around (including us the audience) them become the outsiders trying to enforce our "odd" views of normal behaviour.

In some ways the structure of this film is an old fashioned comedy. We know there should be a happy ending, with boy gets girl. But with obstacles ranging from the good old fashioned : "I'll never love you, ever," to the fact that Ricky is still quite mad, and this thing about tying people up and other criminal behaviour; we are left going for the ride and wondering if it is safe to root for Ricky or Marina while Almodóvar pulls his happy ending out of the hat.

The sex in this film looks remarkably normal (rather than cinematic) and hence quite sexy. Which should be a hint to other film directors!

Ian rating: 4/5

Red Road

This is not the sort of film I would recommend to everybody but if you like to figure out what is going on in a film rather than have it spoon-fed to you, you might find it interesting.

You also need to be comfortable with the Glasgow accent.

The plot is quite simple and basically involves just 2 people. Jackie works for City Eye which runs Glasgow's all seeing CCTV system. One night see catches sight of a guy she recognises. A man she thought was in jail. She starts to make inquiries and to stalk him at first via CCTV and later in person.

Jackie's two sex scenes make an interesting contrast: in the way they are filmed, her apparent enjoyment (or not), her choice of sexual partner and the post-coital activities. The cunnilingus scene is particularly good.

I would rate the film somewhere between "didn't regret going" and "could have waited till it showed on TV".

Ian's rating: 2.5/5

36th Wellington Film Festival

I'm taking a couple weeks off work again to enjoy the Film Festival in 2007.

The films I'm looking forward to are:
  • Eagle vs Shark
  • I Served the King of England
  • Death at a Funeral
  • Black Book
  • My Best Friend
  • Times and Winds
  • Perfect Creature
  • Brand upon the Brain!
  • The Home Song Stories
  • The Bothersome Man
  • Kissy Kissy
  • Drama / Mex
I'm also looking forward to:
  • After the Wedding
  • A Few Days in September
  • The Devil Came on Horseback
  • Death of a President
  • Priceless
  • The Matsugane Potshot Affair
  • Venus
  • Bamako
  • The Boss of it All
  • The Secret Life of Words
  • The Signal
  • The Lost
  • Animation Now!
  • Wolfsbergen
  • Retribution
  • Severance
  • The Night of the Sunflowers
  • Lady Chatterley
  • Inland Empire
  • No Mercy for the Rude
  • Them
  • Romulus, My Father
  • Climates
  • The Journals of Knud Rasmussen
On top of this there are quite a few I am sort of interested in! So I expect to be having a busy two weeks.



Everyone knows someone like Liz.
She's quick with a lie.
Nothing is ever her fault.

What's yours is hers, doesn't matter if it's your necklace or your husband.

For most people these personal traits would spell disaster but when her sister kicks her out and Liz is rescued from the streets by Aiden, a delusional tow-truck driver, she's equipped with the kind of quick wit and survival skill to get inside his head.

Just as well because he's convinced she's his runaway wife, and he's intent on making sure she doesn't leave him again.

How far will Liz go with his fantasy?
Pretty far.
But the line between fantasy and love can be confusing even for Liz.

That is the distributor's blurb. And it sums things up reasonably well, and describes Liz perfectly. She is the grungier version of Suburban Mayhem's Katrina (what does this say about Ozzie sheilas?). Before we can get comfortable with the idea of a "Suburban Mayhem" remake, the film takes a drastic turn and Aiden takes charge. Aiden is also an interesting character, well out of the norm for film characters, if not in real life. Liz and Aiden spend the film struggling for the upper hand over each other as the back story is slowly revealed.

Behind the mind games and the escape thriller story line, there are other things to confront the audience: obsession, personal ethics, sanity, love.

On the downside this film is video quality, which is irritating on the big screen, but would not be noticeable on TV. There also seemed to be a couple of minor plot flaws near the end. But otherwise it is an enjoyable film which will stick in your mind.

World Cinema Showcase 2007

The films I saw at the World Cinema Showcase were:

Pierrepoint -- if you want to over dose on Timothy Spall (3/5)
Black Snake Moan -- if you want to over dose on blues and white trash (4/5)
Hula Girls -- Japanese feel good movie; hula your way out of the coal mine (2.5/5)
Suburban Mayhem -- the girl you wouldn't want living next door, or even in the same suburb! (5/5)
Go for Zucker -- German comedy about Jews!! (3.5/5)
Heartbreak Hotel -- 2 40+ year old Swedish divorcees at a singles bar (2/5)
Little Children -- modern surburban fairytale (for adults) (2.5/5)
Sabah -- belly dancing makes you happy when you have an overbearing brother (2.5/5)
Razzle Dazzle -- funny Ozzie comedy mock-documentary about dance schools and competitions (3.5/5)
Lemming -- a french film that is odder than finding a lemming in your U trap (2/5)

Of these I would recommend:

Suburban Mayhem and Razzle Dazzle as the best of the comedies -- go Australia!
Pierrepoint if you are a Timothy Spall fan
Black Snake Moan if you like blues and a movie that will make you wonder what the heck?

Only Suburban Mayhem is a must see, but nothing I regretted seeing.

Lemming was probably the worst and it wasn't too bad. It was pretty clever in that it probably most of the way through the film before I figured out what was going on. What put me off was that none of the characters really grabbed me.

Little Children also suffered from unlikable characters in an interesting film.