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