Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Dark Knight

NANA-nana-NANA-nana-NANA-nana Batmaaaan! is not the theme tune to The Dark Knight. In fact I can't remember what the theme tune was. I think that long term my memories of The Dark Knight will not be the dialogue or the music but the special effects and the general film noir look of the movie. The film opens with the status quo of Batman hunting down Gotham's criminals from the shadows under threat from three directions. A fan club of Batman look-alike vigilantes trying to get in on the act, a new district attorney who doesn't approve of vigilantes including Batman and most dangerous of all the Joker. The first two threats are quickly dealt with: the fan club evaporates and the new D.A. morphs into a love competitor, but the third threat drives the film.

The central character of The Dark Knight is not Batman but Heath Ledger's Joker. Unlike the other criminals of Gotham, the Joker doesn't commit crime for money or revenge (though he gets plenty of both), he is not insane (though he pretends to be). He is an equal opportunities bad guy. His victims are across the board: ordinary civilians, the authorities, Batman, other criminals -- everybody. His lack of motive plus his meticulous planning make him a formidable opponent for everyone, including Batman. He is the ultimate parody of both the all powerful/scheming solo super-villain and the unfathomable born baddie (the genetically disposed criminal or terrorist). Sending up two stereotypes that are the stock-in-trade of Hollywood (and G. W. Bush's view of the rest of the world). The Joker is not a likeable character. This anti-hero is also neither funny nor scary, or even someone to be feared or pitied. It is just that when he is in a scene he dominates it and when he isn't there, he is the main topic of dialogue.

The Dark Knight is a long (150 minutes) visual feast of a film about the collision between the vigilante super-hero and the all powerful super-villain, with child-like shorthand of beauty and ugly standing in for good and bad, and a veneer of film noire. I enjoyed being there but found this review hard to write, as once you start to think about it you start seeing the holes!

The love triangle between Batman, Harvey Dent and Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal with the sex appeal turned down a bit from Sherrybaby) and how Harvey Dent becomes "Two Face" are almost irrelevant to the main story and the question "is Batman still relevant in the 'modern' world?" is not conclusively answered either.

Ian's rating 3/5

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Award Ceremony 37th Wellington Film Festival

I did a summary last year and as people keep asking which was the best film I'm doing it again. While Anne and I have only seen one film each that we classified as "must see" there are many films we would recommend.

Last year I noticed a theme of family problems. This year the theme was rain. I have never been so cold and wet, I almost wore my raincoat out and probably ended up smelling of oilskins. It wasn't until half way through the second week that I started to notice a theme of bullying, particularly in: Ben X, CJ7 and Let the Right One In. Since the festival finished I have noticed another theme of illegal immigration with: Lorna's Silence, It's a Free World and The Visitor.

Best Documentary
My pick is Taxi to the Dark Side and Anne's pick is Trouble Is My Business. While Waltz with Bashir was the most innovative with its use of animation.

Best Comedy
We enjoy comedies, the best of this year's bunch are:
My pick is In Bruges, but if you prefer a non-violent comedy then Welcome to the Sticks is a nose ahead of Empties.

Best Drama
The best dramas this festival include:
Ben X was the most original film, mixing PC gaming CGI with live action and tackling a tough issue in a fresh way.

Political Dramas
The best to worst of this sub-category:

  1. I Just Didn't Do It
  2. It's a Free World
  3. The Wave
Strangest Film
Well not really, rather the best of the Incredibly Strange section:
  • Cargo 200 - The Good, the Bad and Ugly back in the USSR
  • King of the Hill - Last one standing in the Spanish countryside
  • Teeth - Sex with a bite
  • Frontier(s) - French splatter, keep away from those creepy motels
No contest here. Teeth is destined to be come cult movie.

Best Short
Nominations (all NZ films):
  • Take 3 - "Can you be a bit more Asian?"
  • Noise Control - Rooster shooting at Raumati
  • Cargo - People trafficking in Eastern Europe
Winner: Noise Control

Most Disappointing
Loser: The Duchess of Langeais

Best Actor / Actress
Winner: Greg Timmermans
Runners Up: Scott Wills and Kierston Wareing

Best Eye Candy
Unrealistic or unjustified use of a sexy actress (think of typical US sitcom slobby husband with impossibly pretty wife).

  • Like the Americans, the French like to partner up average guys with gorgeous chicks - twice in Welcome to the Sticks
  • Boys would never leave primary school if their primary school teachers looked liked the three in CJ7
  • Even Harry's best friend can't believe the perfect Kay belongs with boring Harry in Married Life
  • Beautiful women visit beauty parlours but I'm still going to classify the repeat customer in Caramel as eye candy
(Other possibilities: Vexille, Lorna's Silence, King of the Hill, It's a Free World)

Winner: Rachel McAdams as Kay in Married Life

Best Energizer Bunny
Where a woman spends the whole film running around trying to achieve something (think Run Lola Run).

Winner: Kierston Wareing playing Angie in It's a Free World

Grossest Moment
  • Eye ball eating in Jar City.
  • There are times when you don't want to let the dog into your bedroom in Teeth.
  • Meat hooks, circular saws and steam rooms and other messy ways to die in Frontier(s).
  • Sharing a bed with too many dead bodies in Cargo 200.
Winner: final bedroom scene in Teeth

Special Mentions
  • Impeccable cross gender acting - Xu Jiao playing Dicky in CJ7
  • Best Bang for Buck - the remarkably restrained and lo-tech Teeth
  • Only arty film I saw - Ashes of Time Redux
  • The R16 kids film - Let the Right One In
  • Worst seats - Paramount H22 & H23
Coming Back
Each year I try to predict which films will come back on general release. Here are my guesses for this year.

No Brainers
In Bruges, Apron Strings, The Counterfeiters

Art House
Empties, Married Life, Welcome to the Sticks, Ben X, Lorna's Silence, The Visitor, The Wave

Might come back
Teeth, Be Kind Rewind, The Band's Visit

Would come back if I had my way
Let the Right One In, Noise Control, Waltz with Bashir, Terror's Advocate, Taxi to the Dark Side

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Waltz with Bashir

10-20 years ago documentaries were programs we watched on TV, but things changed and documentaries became gradually rarer on TV and people wrung their hands. But unpredicted documentaries reappeared, this time at the cinema, even occasionally at cinemas run by Hoyts and Reading. Not only have they reappeared but they have become more innovative and even been imitated as mockumentaries (Forgotten Silver, Dark Side of the Moon, Strictly Ballroom and Razzle Dazzle). Using reconstruction is relatively common in documentaries but Waltz with Bashir takes this further by using animation for its reconstructed scenes (including people's dreams and memories) and also for its interviews (Noise Control turns this approach into a mockumentary).

Director Ali Folman (who co-directed the X-files like comedy Saint Clara) served in the Israel Army during the Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon (at age 19) and had trouble remembering some parts of what happened. After being rung by a friend who was troubled by nightmares of being chased by 26 dogs, he hunts down former army colleagues in an effort to fill in the gaps. This film documents that process.

Some of the men have more accurate memories and some have less . More interesting than the filling in the gaps is the general impression one is left with of how the Israel Army conducted its operations and apparently how little the average Israeli soldier understood of where they were and what they were doing there. Also some of the surreal experiences, such as walking through the terminal at Beirut airport.

The film climaxes with the infamous massacre at the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camp. The film steers clear of the controversy over how many Palestinians were killed (700-3500) but comes down with a clear statement of who was responsible. Namely Israel's allies, the Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia, who, angry after the assassination of their leader Bashir Gemayel, were sent into the camps with the cooperation of the Israelis and did the killing, until stopped by an Israeli general (the film suggests that the order to stop came the next day, Wikipedia states that the massacre and body disposal took 2½ days). It exonerates the Israeli soldiers but implicates their commanders all the way up to Minister of Defence Arial Sharon, in knowing that the massacre was under way and doing nothing to stop it, while continuing to provide military support to the Phalangist militia during the massacre.

The angular style of animation, with bold, red/orange, colours and black shadows are very effective for a war movie. The moment at which the film breaks out of animation into "live action" footage was very well chosen.

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

Standard Operating Procedure

The infamous photos of prisoner abuse from Abu Ghraib is focus of this second documentary on America's "War on Terror" (the first was "Taxi to the Dark Side" and unfortunately I failed to see the third one "No End in Sight"). It is a mixture of reconstruction, the original photos (and videos) and "talking heads". The pictures are so well known they have lost their shock value, its interviewees that are the star attraction of this documentary. The interviewees include Lynndie England and others prosecuted for the things depicted in the photos, Janis Karpinski the general in charge of running Abu Ghraib and many other prisons in Iraq, a civilian contract interrogator who worked at Abu Ghraib and an investigator who used the photos to build the cases against those prosecuted. For some reason no Iraqis are interviewed.

This is not a hysterical Mike Moore style documentary but a smooth measured one which doesn't tell you what or how to think, but gives you various peoples views on a very limited series of events. The interviewees talk about serving at Abu Ghraib (those prosecuted repeatedly mention the frustration they felt at being shelled by insurgents). They talk about where the prisoners came from (often army patrols would detain all men they came across) and policy of not releasing them even if there was no reason to hold them and the prisons were becoming overcrowded. They talk about:
  • the interrogation techniques by various agencies,
  • the different classes of prisoner (including those who were being hidden from the Red Cross),
  • how they worked out how to treat the prisoners and apparent lack of supervision by officers
The general excuses by the military police (MPs) are not surprising:
  • we did what the interrogators wanted us to do,
  • we felt frustrated by the shelling,
  • the interrogators did far worse
The reason why the MPs weren't prosecuted for some activities, such as handcuffing in tortuously uncomfortable positions, is that those things were "Standard Operating Procedure".

While it was very interesting to hear directly from the people involved rather than from: politicians, top brass, PR / spin doctors and journalists; but ultimately there was nothing surprising here.

Ian's rating 3/5

Terror's Advocate

Before seeing this film I was vaguely aware of a French lawyer who defended people that no-one else would. So I was interested in seeing this film about Jacques Vergès. I was interested in why someone would do this and how would you mount a defence when the evidence is so damning and often the justice system trying the person is not seen as impartial.

The film starts in Algeria (well I think it does as I missed the first couple of minutes because I was caught up in a bus load of grey haired folk queuing to buy coffees, ice creams and tickets to go and see 'Sex in the City') with scenes from The Battle of Algiers. Jacques Vergès was one many French lawyers who arrived in Algiers for the terrorism trials as the French troops caught suspects. The right-wing lawyers came to work for the prosecution and the left-wing ones to work for the defence (Algerian lawyers were jailed by the French). Jacques Vergès defended Djamila Bouhired and his strategy differed from many of his fellow defence lawyers by challenging the court and its assumptions at every opportunity and accusing the court, prosecution or state of equivalent or worse evil than the accused are being prosecuted for. A strategy he calls the 'rupture defence'. Djamila was sentenced to be guillotined, but an international campaign for her release, inspired by Jacques Vergès's defence, got her (and others) reprieved.

Jacques Vergès was born in Thailand and brought up on the island of Réunion, son of a French diplomat and a Vietnamese mother. His background explains his strong anti-colonialist stance. He became enamoured of Djamila Bouhired, converted to Islam and eventually settled in Algeria, married her and they had 2 children. But in 1970 he abandoned them and disappeared, reappearing without explanation in Paris in 1978. Even now he refuses to say what he was doing during those years (I suspect he likes the sense of mystery).

He then moved on to the Palestinian cause, in particular defending associates of "Carlos the Jackel" including Magdalena Kopp, with whom he became infatuated. But most famously he defended Klaus Barbie; arguing in 'rupture defence' fashion that the French State was being inconsistent with who they were trying for crimes against humanity.

Jacques Vergès has had a busy life and I've only described a fraction of the film and judging from what I've read elsewhere since, the film only covers a fraction of his life. This anti-establishment figure who is also very at home in the luxuries of Paris life serves a useful purpose of shining a light on some of the hypocrisies of "The West" in general and France in particular as well as the more practical purpose of defending those who might not get an effective defence elsewhere.

Ian's rating 4/5

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Savages

The Savages was billed as a black comedy, but I'd describe it more as a low-key drama with humour. The Savages of the title are a brother and sister (Wendy and Jon, played by Laura Linney and Philip Seymour-Hoffman) and their elderly father (Lenny) - a small but not close-knit family who are forced into reunion by the death of their Father's companion. As Lenny is suffering from dementia, he needs full-time care and its up to Wendy and Jon to organise it and the film tells the story of this process.

This may not sound that scintillating but its well done and not at all sentimental. The focus is probably more on the relationship between the siblings than on their relationship with their father - probably because the latter was neither warm nor close. And neither was the former, at least until their father needed help. Wendy and Jon are dysfunctional enough to make them easy to watch and not too hard to identify or sympathise with. What will become of our parents is a pretty universal potential problem and The Savages lets us think about that while suggesting that it could be a positive experience. The actors do a great job - I thought Laura Linney did neurotic rather too well for comfortable viewing in Jindabyne and Love Actually but she struck the right note of understandable human frailty here.

Anne's rating 3.5/5, Ian's rating 2.5/5

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Visitor

Walter, a lonely, stick-in-the-mud, college professor at a Connecticut university returns to his New York apartment after a long absence to find a couple of illegal immigrants in residence: Tarek, an outgoing Syrian drummer and his prickly Senegalese girl friend, Zainab. The easy way out would be to kick out the squatters and get on with his life, but Walter, who up to now has been taking the easy way out, allows compassion to override the sensible/easy decision.

The two parties share the apartment and maintain a polite distance until Walter takes an interest in Tarek's drumming. This precipitates a chain of events leading to Tarek's arrest and film moves into a different gear as everyone is now caught up in the meat grinder of American immigration detention centres. Tarek's mum is now pulled into the picture and relationships change again, with Walter now the middle between girlfriend, mother and detained son.

Tom McCarthy (the writer/director) uses the same technique as in the earlier Station Agent -- characters (including a loner) who wouldn't normally meet are thrown together by circumstances and find themselves out of their comfort zone. The Visitor has the same message as About a Boy, and I think does it more convincingly, namely life is more interesting (if less comfortable) if you get involved in other people's problems.

Ian's rating 3.5/5


Had your legs carameled lately?

This movie is set around a beauty parlour - in a very different Beirut to any ever shown in the news or typical documentary programs - at least any that I have seen, where normal people are pursuing their normal fleshy desires in apparently normal lives. And in this beauty parlour, fresh chewy caramel is wax!

Caramel is a warm depiction of the manageress of this parlour, her two assistants, the seamstress across the way, her dotty sister or aunt or mum or similar, a local traffic cop and a customer or two as they pursue and interact in their diverse and troubled love lives.

I don't seem to have a lot more to add about this, although I did enjoy it and would recommend it to mature people especially any who like arty movies. 3.5/5

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


Hai Ya! Only that doesnt sound right as the fighter this movie concerns is a woman - Aicha - a turkish teenager whose family lives in denmark - and the screams were different.

Fighter is a chapter in the life of Aicha during her senior year at high school, during which time she leaves the self-defence training she's done for a couple of years, and in defiance of her parents joins a competitive full-contact mixed (ie both genders) fighting team. A black eye makes her the object of suspicion in her family, and worse, her elder brother's fiance's family. Due to the inhuman strictures of islam, when the source of her injury becomes known, her brother's fiance's family breaks off the engagement, and the fallout begins.

The film successfully portrays the various members of these two turkish families, their emotions and their interractions all seemingly appropriate to the casts' various roles, their ages and genders.

While the film starts cleanly, it does however end with several loose ends, and it contains a number of episodes of semi-dreamscape (or nightmare) which is never given any basis, and doesnt mesh with the film as a whole.

Nonetheless I did quite enjoy it. Recommend it? It's Ok, - although thats a positive ok, rather than a negative one. 3/5

Ian's rating 3/5

Saturday, August 02, 2008


OK, you'd think even the French would know to run away from a remote motel run by crazy people. But perhaps if you have a suitcase full of someone else's money and you've been smoking pot, you are not so picky. This is opposite view of the north of France to Welcome to the Sticks. Here it is a scary place with abandoned cars, mines and a preoccupation with guns and butchery equipment.

Three men and a woman on the run from a Paris riot show up at a motel and once the creepy credentials of the management are established it becomes a case of working out who is going to survive (not really any surprise there), in what gruesome ways are the others going to die and what the total body count will be. There are two reasons for a policy of killing motel guests: firstly to rob them and the second one I've already hinted at. We have Texas Chainsaw Massacre situation with some silly left over Nazi in hiding trappings. There are plenty of messy deaths, in fact the rule seems to be never kill two people in the same way. There are also a number of stupid decisions leading to fatal results (horror film makers love their Darwin and it wouldn't do if the protagonists escaped 30 minutes into the film!).

There is also some good bits of dialogue before the killing starts. But the makers of Frontier(s) seem to have left behind any semblance of a sensible plot when the protagonists left Paris. But sensible plots are rarely important for makers and watchers of splatter movies.

Ian's rating 3/5

Friday, August 01, 2008

It's a Free World

To set the scene for It's a Free World we had an almost wordless NZ short (Cargo) shot in Eastern Europe about people trafficking.

The two things that stick in my mind from It's a Free World are the mesmerizing performance by Kierston Wareing as Angie, the sexy blonde energizer bunny (OK, a male point of view) who always has a come-back ("You know wot I mean?") and the layers of exploitation at the bottom end of the labour market.

We meet Angie on a trip to Poland working for a company recruiting Poles to come and work in the UK. Back in London she is laid off, and tired of being messed with she decides to start her own recruitment company with her more reluctant flatmate, Rose. Fitted out with a leather jacket and a big motorbike she specialises in casual (day labour) jobs for foreign workers. This allows the ultimate employer to get rid of workers on whim. The temptations of the dodgier end of the market beckon both from compassion for a sad case and the money to be made from people who dare not fight back because they don't have a work permit or worse shouldn't be in the country at all.

Ken Loach has painted a picture of a system where top level companies exploit sub-contractors who exploit recruitment companies who in turn exploit those who are desperate enough to work for them (especially those who are in a country without the right to work there). Anyone who is ethical at any level have to compete with those who are prepared to be unethical. It is a depressing picture of system which no one person is capable of fighting back against. On the "positive" side is Angie who lets nothing get her down.

Ian's rating 3.5/5

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Wave

Have you heard of that experiment they conducted in California back in the 1960s where... OK you can fill in the rest with what ever urban myth about a psychological experiment gone wrong that you care to imagine. Who wouldn't believe you? The 1960s have a reputation for being a wild time and are long enough ago to be beyond the reliable memory for most people. Anyway The Wave was inspired by such an experiment.

It is project week in a 21st century German High School, where students choose from a number of optional subjects. Rainer Wenger is a popular teacher, and usually does a project class on his pet subject of Anarchy, but this year at the last minute his boss decides that given that the aim of the political classes is to teach the superiority of democracy it would be better to swap Rainer and another teacher. Rainer will teach Authoritarianism and the less popular, boring old teacher will teach Anarchy. The kids are more interested in having a good time in Rainer's class than the subject ("The Nazis sucked. We get it"). After a quick rethink, Rainer comes up with a plan to make the subject less boring. He gradually changes the way he runs the class, telling the kids why he is making the changes (its for their own good in various ways), sometime involving them in choosing the more superficial details. He introduces each new idea with a simple slogan. He encourages all the kids to contribute according to their strengths and builds their self esteem. But also moving their thinking, from themselves to the group (i.e. the class). It helps that Rainer is popular and 'hip', so the kids are more willing to go along.

The project takes a life of its own, and start to interfere with the rest of the school and the home lives of the kids and finally Rainer himself. Realising what has happened he takes drastic action to defuse the situation but it has gone too far for one kid.

Having enjoyed Das Experiment I was expecting something as plausible and chilling, while some of it seemed very plausible (achieving conformity among teenagers through increasing self esteem) other aspects of The Wave, especially the shirt and salute defy belief in country which is so sensitive to the Nazi salute.

It is clear that the film has been carefully scripted so that different kids act out the full gamut of reactions to Nazism. So in the end this film becomes a sort of medieval morality play with a Shakespearian tragedy of an ending. I think if it hadn't tried to recreate some of the more obvious symbolism of Nazism, in Germany, of all places, it might have kept me on board. History repeats but rarely exactly the same way.

This film is well acted, well paced, with good sub-plots, and certainly made me think about what people find attractive about belonging to an empowering group but it lacked the chill of Das Experiment or Lord of the Flies.

Ian's rating 3/5

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Apron Strings

The Film Festival Committee must have liked this film a lot because they chose it for the Auckland opening. And the evening sessions here in Wellington sold out well in advance so the public must have liked the sound of it, in addition to showing commendable loyalty for local product.

This is a human relationships drama which explores the mother/son relationship and what happens to that relationship when the mother is a single parent. Apron Strings does this by telling the stories of 2 Auckland mother/son duos. One is a bakery-owning mother whose gambler husband committed suicide when her son (Barry) was in his teens. Barry is thirty-five, unemployed, addicted to gambling and still living at home. The other duo is an Indian TV personality (Anita) whose husband died when her son (Michael) was two. Anita brought up Michael alone because she was estranged from her family. Michael, now a university student, becomes interested in his estranged relatives and meets up with his childless Aunt who finds it difficult to deal with the fact that he's gay.

As you can tell there's enough fodder here to keep a bunch of counsellors and psychiatrists in business for months and that's without touching on any peripheral characters. It was well-acted and quite moving but didn't set me alight in any way.

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

The feature was proceeded by a short film, Take 3. Three "Asian" Kiwi actresses go to auditions, in each case they are asked re-do the scene, but this time "be more Asian". A funny dig at racial stereotyping.

Ian's rating 3.5/5


Girls, this is the date movie to take your boyfriend to if you just want to cuddle afterwards. Dawn (Jess Weixler) is a leader in her school's abstinence group. A group of enthusiastic, ring-wearing kids who know to avoid PG films and how to avoid being alone with a member of the opposite sex, in order to keep their most precious gift until their wedding nights. This doesn't stop them thinking about sex and pairing up. Blonde, athletic Dawn has her own admirers. Finally one of them has "his way" with her but it is cut short in a bloody way, which is a complete surprise to both of them (the amputated penis got a suitable audience reaction).

Pure, good, innocent Dawn is so ignorant about vaginas that she doesn't know what they are supposed to look like (all the school text books have stickers over the diagram of female genitals). But hey, this is the internet age and she soon learns about vagina dentata, and eventually plucks up the courage to visit a doctor (which is one of the funniest scenes in the film).

Over Dawn's home loom 2 power station cooling towers, which sometimes belch black smoke (via special effects), to hint at a industrial pollution related cause for Dawn's extra teeth. The other obvious evil in her life is her foul-mouthed, dope-smoking, heavy rock-loving stepbrother, Brad.

But this is a comedy, so eventually Dawn gets control of her vagina and takes control of her life. Despite the topic there is not very much nudity or even that much blood. I recommend this to anyone who likes the strange and it is a "must see" for any woman who fantasies about permanently emasculating a man in a uniquely female way.

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

Let the Right One In

Oskar is a passive, lonely, blue-eyed blonde 12 year old who is bullied at school (is there a festival theme here?) and plays by himself after school, chopping out newspaper clipping about murders for his scrap book. One night (it is winter in Sweden so almost always night) two people arrive by taxi with lots of luggage and move into the apartment next door. Later Oskar meets a new girl about his own age and they try to figure each other out in the way kids do.

Winter in Sweden has an obvious advantage for a vampire who might want to get out and about, but I've never thought of vampires in Scandinavia before. These vampires are powerful but also have to deal with their own issues. At one level you have a traditional vampire film and on another level it is a kids-dealing-with-life film. I'm not sure why this film was set in 1982, it didn't seem to have anything to do with the film, in fact I didn't notice that aspect until Anne pointed it out.

If you wanted to know what happens if a vampire enters a room uninvited, then get along to this film. Of course if you are into vampire movies then this is a must see as it deals with the unusual issue of a child vampire.

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

Rita Angus: Life & Vision

Now for something different in the middle of Film Festival. Anne and I went to the Rita Angus exhibition at Te Papa. Being a philistine, I knew nothing about Rita Angus and Anne found it difficult to describe her paintings which made it difficult for her to convince me to go with her.

The exhibition was laid out chronologically but, accidentally, we viewed it backwards (the first room was more crowded than the last room). So we started with pictures of Wellington (especially Thorndon), then moving onto her experimental / abstract works from the 1960s. Then her goddess pictures and portraits of herself and friends from the 1940s and 1950s, often with pacifist symbolism. Finishing with her early works of the 1930s. The way the exhibition was laid out showed how her painting styles changed through 40 years. Being a NZ painter (and having lived in Christchurch) there are lots of landscapes with mountains and clouds in the background throughout her career. In addition to her painting there were also pages from her sketch books (some of which had been framed!).

Some things I noticed about her paintings are that:

  • She does wonderfully accurate flowers (which I would have thought would be much more difficult than landscapes or buildings).

  • Her sketches are very good -- may be she should have made drawing more of a focus of her work?

  • She emphasises eyes in portraits, giving people a slightly manic look.

  • Anne noticed that she uses odd skin colours.

  • In may of her water colours it looks like she has drawn the picture in ink and then painted the spaces in between like a kid colouring in book except done in water colour!

  • In many of her landscapes the distance is painted in more detail than the forground.

  • She drew and painted a lot of self portraits, presumably because it is cheaper than hiring a model. Though looking at her nudes she must have had a beautiful body (at age 34). But I think her best (least manic) self portrait was her first from 1929.

The painting I liked best and perhaps the only one I would give wall space to was one of her experimental works. A little bigger than A4, it had 3 blocks of colour (blue, yellow and pink) painted over detailed but more monochrome paintings of mushrooms and other fungi. I found this an interesting mix of representational and abstract art. Or maybe it was just because it was so different to most of the rest of the exhibition!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I'm not a kid and I don't have kids so perhaps I'm not the best person to judge this film, but judging from the noise of the kids around me in the cinema I think that they enjoyed this film as much as I did. (On the other hand many professional critics hated it!)

It is a simple story: kid is teased at school, finds a way to get back at tormentors. Add an extra terrestrial in the form of a green toy dog with a white furry head, that can do magic making kids more powerful than adults and you have the ingredients for a successful family film.

Dickie is a boy who tends to get into trouble and whose day labourer, solo dad (Stephen Chow) sends him to a posh private school. Dicky is the unfortunate victim of bullying from both kids and teachers (Unlike Ben X, Stephen Chow turns some of the bullying against the bullies). He also want an expensive toy (a CJ1) his father can't afford and throws a tantrum in the toy store. While scavenging at a rubbish dump, dad finds a green rubber ball which he brings home for Dicky telling him it is a CJ7. The ball transforms into a white-headed green dog. If you are still reading you should probably go and see the film.

Useless fact from the official web site is that the 9 year old boy hero of the film, Dicky, was played by 10 year old actress Xu Jiao. I wouldn't have believed this if I hadn't read this.

Also note that the non-Cantonese speaking film goers will need to be able to read subtitles to enjoy this film.

Ian's rating 4/5

King of the Hill

While chasing a girl he previously encountered at a service station, a man gets lost, shot at and then hunted. There is a nice, gentle transition from the sunny, featureless open plains at the start to the claustrophobic, misty, forested mountainside as the film transitions from the humdrum to the hunt. This film plays with the conventions around thriller/horror movies, mostly honouring them but sometimes not, leaving you confused about peoples motives. Working mostly from sounds and fear of the imagined the tension is maintained with the minimum of special effects.

This film is smoothly done but unfortunately I guessed the twist from the festival blurb. It is best seen knowing as little before hand as possible.

Ian's rating 3/5

Monday, July 28, 2008

Be Kind Rewind

The premise here is as goofy as Ghostbusters or Weird Science. Jerry (Jack Black), who is a bit of a weirdo, gets himself electrocuted while trying to sabotage a substation. He becomes magnetised and, unknowning, visits his best friend (Mos Def) who is minding a video store. As he blunders about the store he wipes all the tapes. The two friends (and a girl they co-opt (Melonie Diaz)) set out to remake videos on demand, as people come into the store to try and rent them.

We get to see high speed remake sessions for Ghostbusters, Rush Hour II, Driving Miss Daisy etc. As their short remakes get more popular the number of remakes they must do in a day goes up and they start a production line and recruit more of the locals. There is a Fats Waller-lived-here story line running through the film as well.

What starts off as Jack Black over-acting gradually gets better, but if you are expecting some amateur take-offs of Hollywood films along the lines of fan films or parodies you see on YouTube this is the wrong place.

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

Trouble is my business

Trouble is My Business could also be called 90 Minutes with Mr Peach. Mr Peach is the assistant principal (not to be confused with the deputy principal) at Aorere College in Papatoetoe in South Auckland and his brief is student management. His day involves monitoring who is and isn't behaving, chasing truants, administering discipline, talking to parents and CYF, liaising with the guidance counselor, the truancy officer and the school administration and motivating staff and students.

The film focuses on his dealing with three particular students and we get a pretty privileged insight into their lives and his. The interactions with these students give us an idea what the rewards of his frenetic job are and what drives him. We find out that Mr Peach grew up in Otara, became a father at fifteen and is married to a Cook Island Maori so we get some clues into what gives him his credibility and the student's respect.

Gary Peach is amazing to watch. Smartly dressed in shirt and tie (often accompanied by fringed straw sunhat and wraparound sunglasses in tune with his South Auckland environment) he strides around the school grounds armed with a megaphone alternately doling out greetings and instructions to pick up litter or get to back to class. We see him get in his car to go in pursuit of miscreants and truant. He talks a lot. He cares a lot. He has lots of energy and never gives up. Trouble is My Business is compelling viewing and since one of the conditions of making the film was that it would never be shown on TV you have to make the effort to go.

Anne's rating 5/5.

Donkey in Lahore

The Scenario: skinny unprepossessing twenty-something Australian puppeteer and part-time goth Brian meets beautiful and vivacious sixteen-year-old Pakistani Amber after a puppet show in Lahore. Immediate attraction results and she suggests he marry her, which he agrees is a good idea. On returning to Australia, rather than dismiss the idea as youthful folly he sets about trying to make it happen and this film documents the process.

The process involves conversion to Islam, several trips to Pakistan, getting Amber's family onside using Amber's english-speaking brother-in-law as the intermediary, and doing battle with Australian immigration to get Amber a visa.The difficulties seem insurmountable at times and Brian (or Aamir as he becomes known) has to battle depression as well as everything else. Back in Lahore, Amber likewise finds her situation hard to cope with, particularly the shame of having a husband who seems unable to procure her a visa. His efforts to get her a visa are hampered by the distance and communication difficulties and at times were almost painful to watch.Brian's lack of paid employment exacerbates his difficulties.

Happily, there were definite humourous moments to counterbalance the angst and getting to see what life in Lahore is like was very interesting. I alternated between thinking Brian was a complete twit who was only taking on this enormous challenge because everyone thought he shouldn't and admiring him for his determination to get what he wanted. I was delighted and impressed that it all worked out in the end - because the odds were certainly stacked against that outcome.

The donkey of the title refers to a puppet Brian made and took with him, hoping to make a TV program called "the little donkeys of Lahore". (The donkey puppet was particularly charming and traveled between Queensland and Pakistan several times before taking up residence with Amber. When she gets her Australian visa she donates him to the local puppet museum.) I presume that thinking Donkey refers not just to the puppet but also to Brian is the intent.

Anne's rating 3/5

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I Just Didn't Do It

This is probably the most detailed and matter of fact courtroom drama I've ever seen. A young man is accused by a 15 year old school girl of groping her on a crowded train. The police, the other guys he is locked up with and public defender all advise him to admit the crime, pay a fine and get on with life.

But he insists that he didn't do it. So he remains locked up while his friend and his bewildered mother look for a lawyer willing to defend him. The case is followed through all its dozen or so public hearings plus the strategy meetings of the defence team.

Why show such a trivial case in such minute detail? Well, as gets pointed out repeatedly, Japanese judges have a 99.9% conviction rate. While officially the system has the same basis as ours, that you are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt, but in practise in Japan you are expected to be found guilty unless you can prove you are innocent. Judges are promoted on their throughput of cases and apparently can be demoted or dismissed for acquittals. The police also operate under similar pressures. This means that once the system starts to roll the verdict is almost inevitable. The decision about guilt is not made by the courts but by the police (or perhaps earlier, with those making complaints to the police).

So this film is aimed at shedding light on the injustice of Japan's justice system. It tries to educate its Japanese audience about their justice system, and mostly does it very well with a riveting courtroom drama. The area where the aim is most clear is a number of conversations that seem staged only to explain facts and procedure to the audience.

Perhaps this film has relevance here in NZ, where we recently have had a lot of outcry against acquittals, to show us where we don't want to end up.

FYI: only 3% of people taken to court plead "not guilty", of those who plead "not guilty" only 3% get found "not guilty". Judges handle up to 200 cases simultaneously, and cases can move from one judge to another part way through. Of course there are no juries.

Ian's rating 3.5/5

The Band's Visit

This is a very gentle situation comedy - the situation being that an Egyptian Police Band (the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, actually) which has come to Israel to perform at the Arab Cultural Centre in Petah Tiqva ends up in Beit Hatikva. Beit Hatikva (which Wikipedia says is a fictional town) is in the Negev Desert and not only doesn't have an Arab cultural centre, it doesn't have a hotel either, and having arrived on the last bus of the day, the band has a big problem.

Fortunately the cafe owner takes pity on them and allows three of the band members to sleep at the cafe, sends another three home with one of her perpetual customers and takes the last two home with her. These two are the somewhat uptight band leader Tawfiq and the simply gorgeous Khaled, who probably makes the ticket price worth it just on his own.The film is basically the story of how the band members pass the evening in a town with essentially nothing to do. The band members don't speak Hebrew and the locals don't speak Arabic so the dialogue is a little stilted (mostly in English) and the story proceeds at a leisurely pace.

I was expecting a bit more than I got from this film - perhaps some more Israeli/Arab tension, perhaps the exploring of some prejudice, perhaps an impromptu concert. The theory of the band members situation was more comic and thought-provoking than the actuality. The Band's Visit was a perfectly pleasant film, but nothing amazing.

Anne's rating 3/5

The premise for this film sounded excellent and I thought it would give plenty of fodder for comedy, but I was disappointed, the film makers missed so much. Yes there is comedy but it is gentle comedy, in small doses. Though I did like the very understated "don't mention the war" scene when a band member notices that he is sitting next to a picture of an Israeli tank, he says nothing but hangs his hat over the picture. The opposite of Basil Fawlty.

Ian's rating 2/5


Why would a 65 year old High School teacher resign, then instead of retiring goes out and gets a job as a cycle courier in hilly Prague? Failing that switches to checking in bottles for recycling at the local supermarket. Part of the reason is that he dreads the thought of being at home with his wife. The rejected wife believes her husband is having an affair and gets increasingly jealous, which has always been good fodder for comedy.

Zdenek Sverák the writer/star of Kolya also wrote and starred in this film about getting old without dropping out of life. It also has the message that a sex life and sexual fantasies are not the preserve of the young (even if being a sex object is the preserve of the young and beautiful). This unashamedly a male view of the world could be retitled "Old man behaving badly in Prague".

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

Taxi to the Dark Side

A young Afghan who drives his village's taxi, goes on a trip to the local town to look for fares and earn a living. He takes 3 men on a trip on which he is captured by some Afghan fighters who hand him over to the American forces with the story that he is the get away driver for some people who have been firing rockets at a small American base. He is taken to Bagram where he is tortured for information he doesn't have, when he moaned and screamed with pain he was beaten until his legs were so pulped that doctors say that had he lived the legs would have had to have been amputated. A blood clot killed him. The US Army pathologist ticked the homicide box on the death certificate. The US commander stated that "we" have no knowledge of possible homicides at the Bagram base. No-one was prosecuted until media reports on the US use of torture and subsequent deaths become too loud to ignore and there is a search for a scapegoat. Like the subsequent Abu Ghraib courts martial, it is the military police rather than the military intelligence, the other ranks rather than the officers who get found guilty. The interrogation team from Bagram was transferred to Abu Ghraib.

It turns out that the people who kidnapped Dilawar were the same people who fired the rockets at the US base. In fact, most of the men held by the Americans in the "war on terror" were turned over or sold to the US rather than directly captured by them. The "worst of the worst" are transferred to Guantanamo Bay. But even there only 7% were picked up by the American on the battle fields or elsewhere. Despite the lack of supporting evidence the assumption prevails that they must be guilty, dangerous and have useful secrets that they are withholding.

This documentary is constructed as a series chapters on different aspects detention and torture and goes beyond the initial focus on the killing on Dilawar at Bagram to the holding and torturing of men the US government is loath to classify as prisoners of war at Guantanamo Bay, the changing definitions of torture in the US administration and the history of CIA research into torture techniques. Many of the most illuminating interviews are with military policemen and interrogators who were prosecuted for what they did at Bagram. Of current interest is Senator John McCain's flip-flop from being a strong opponent of torture to voting for a law that prevents any members of the current administration being prosecuted for war crimes, when the Administration threatens to derail his presidential campaign.

This straight forward and fact filled documentary is a must see.

Ian's rating 5/5

Lorna's Silence

The premise was used more humorously in Green Card (and probably in real life often enough) so is nothing new. Here the would be immigrant is an young Albanian woman who wants to become a Belgium citizen and earn enough money to open a snack bar and the other party is a drug addict who is happy to earn a bit of cash through a fake marriage to Lorna. The bit of the plan that Claudy is unaware of is that he is due for a drug overdose to conveniently make Lorna a Belgian widow so that she can marry a Russian man to earn more money for both herself and the taxi driving broker, Fabio, before divorcing him so she can marry her real boyfriend, Sokol, and get him a Belgian citizenship too. Claudy thinks the plan is for a divorce, and as he struggles to get clean it becomes Lorna's preferred plan too. But Fabio is implacable and insists on the original plan.

The camera never strays far from Lorna with her elfin good looks, soulful eyes and red pants, as it follows her around a dull urban landscape as she juggles her job, her dreams, her conscience and the men in her life.

I am still debating with myself whether what Lorna does at the end was out of character or whether I had misread Lorna's character all along.

Ian's rating 3.5/5

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Welcome to the Sticks

We saw this after Ben X and it was probably the ideal follow-up - something completely silly to take your mind off darker things. If you've never been to a French farce, it's time to rectify the situation, whether you need distracting or not.

Welcome to the Sticks is a comedy that celebrates life in the Pas de Calais Region of Northern France where its a little cool and the natives speak funny. I suppose most countries have a north/south or an east/west divide and generally the warmer option is considered the place to be and so the people who are churlish enough to dwell in the cooler less populous region are considered foolish, eccentric and backward. And so it is in this film - a post-office manager from Provence is transferred north for bad behaviour and of course is completely dismayed by the prospect, as is his wife who refuses to join him. The actuality proves far more congenial than he imagined - his co-workers (around whom the film centres) are welcoming, charming and hospitable. The manager's wife seems unable to believe this, so he strings her along in thinking he is suffering in his new environment - and this is one of the films long-running gags, which culminates when his wife decides that she'll come and keep him company.

The other long-running gag is that the natives in the Pas de Calais region pronounce "s" as "ch" - and say "ti" and "mi" rather than "toi" and "moi" hence their nickname "Ch'ti" and use a bunch of quaint slang, so lots of the comedy is poking fun at this and exploiting the potential for misunderstanding. You'd think that for a non french- speaking audience that these jokes would fall flat, but the sub-titling is absolutely brilliant and the gags are well-sustained.There's physical comedy too - the manager and the postie cycling through Bergues visiting customers while trying not to accept alcoholic refreshment is wonderful, as is the "kidnapping" of the manager's wife in a post-office van.

Just to add another level to the story there's a dual love affair going on - that of the postman with one of the counter staff, and that of the manager for his new home so its a completely satisfying film.

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

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Noise Control

Before Welcome to the Sticks we had a short film and before the short we had a couple of speeches. A long gushing thank-you speech from the producer (during which I wondered if the speeches would take longer than the film) and a shorter and far more interesting one from the director on the relationship between the late cockerel and his son's band practises.

Those of you who have longer memories than I have might remember that a noisy cock was shot by an animal control officer in Raumati in 2001, it died the next day at the kindergarten where it had been a pet. The incident apparently made the TV news in NZ and the papers overseas.

The film is quirky mix of interviews with the Mayor, the animal control man, a kindergarten teacher etc merging into animation of same, plus an animation interview with the rooster himself as a guy with a band whose practise sessions annoy the neighbours.

Said band (a guy with 3 girls doing backing vocals -- which seems strangely appropriate) featured in the film and also in the Blondie cafe afterwards.

It is a pity that some of these short films don't get more time at the mainstream cinema or on mainstream TV, after all this one is only 11 minutes long and was very funny. Though a certain ex-Mayor might not think so!

Ian's rating 4/5

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Ben X

Ben X is the story of a Belgian high school student with Asperger's syndrome who is persecuted mercilessly at school for being different. Outside school he plays a fantasy computer game called Archlord at which he excels. There's a lot I can't tell you about the film without ruining it for you, but I guess its really about what happens when Ben X the superhero meets Ben "the jerk I see in the mirror".

Bullying is big in the media right now and Ben X can give you an idea about how comprehensive the misery created by physical, text and internet bullying can be. It was traumatic to watch but was beautifully crafted and superbly acted. The school bullies are particularly good as is Ben's Mum who pulls off the harried but endlessly supportive parent role so well.

This film has a great plot and if you think you've got it sussed by halfway through, you're wrong.

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

Cargo 200

If you are too young to remember what it was like in the USSR when Russians thought that Ladas were flash cars, or if you think you do remember what it was like, perhaps you need to see Cargo 200 to disabuse you of any idea that 1984 was a golden year back in the USSR.

A Colonel's daughter's boyfriend earns more than he does. No-one respects the Professor of Atheism from Leningrad University. Rock bands are playing at ad hoc clubs. An illegal vodka still and bottling plant operates alongside a major road. The army has to try to co-opt the local police to bury a "Cargo 200" due to a man-power shortage. "Cargo 200" is a code word for dead soldiers flown back from Afghanistan. Society seems to be on the verge of crumbling.

But wait there's more. A local police chief, who lives with his senile mother is a violent psychopath with extremely perverted sexual tastes and, according to his mother, performance issues.

The humour here is as dry and black, as the police chief is vile and perverted. What else would you expect from a film chosen by Ant Timpson?

Ian's rating 3/5

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In Bruges

The short story is I'm sure that In Bruges will come back on general release and be quite popular with people who like slightly quirky movies (e.g. Coen Brothers fans).

The longer story is that two Irish hit men from London have unexpectedly been sent to Bruges to wait for instructions. To make matters worse the young jumpy Ray (Colin Farrell) has to share a hotel room with older, laid back Ken (Brendan Gleeson). It initially the pair try to kill time in their new surrounds, mostly by arguing about things.

No-one is quite what they seem, something that gets Ray into a lot of trouble. Gradually the film moves from funny conversation spurred by boredom into action and finishes with a bang. The violence and body count should leave you in no doubt that this is a gangster movie. The gangster boss is played by Ralph Fiennes in best psychopathic form.

Like classic gangster movies both the baddies and goodies have strong moral codes. Which are not necessarily the same moral codes that you and I have.

Ian's rating 4/5

Jar City

A bad tempered detective investigates a murder of an old man with an interest in porn and a young genetics researcher and his wife sit by the bedside of their dying 5 year old. You get an initial feeling that this is going no-where nice. You'd be right, murder, rape, dead children, drug addicts and grungy houses this is not the view of Iceland that the tourist bureau would like you to see. Couple this with the Icelandic films I saw last year and I'm left with the opinion that Icelandic film makers don't care too much for their country's image. But on the plus side there are some great aerial shots of the countryside.

While the film is a serious crime drama there are some moments of humour, such as the young detective knocking on doors of old women and asking if they had been raped 30 years earlier. The one that got best audience reaction was when the detective in charge eats his take-home dinner of sheep's head starting with the eye-ball.

All in all, a good solid, well acted, crime drama with a couple of feel-good moments.

Ian's rating 3/5

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Counterfeiters

You could say concentration camp movies have been done to death and although it would be a pun in extremely bad taste, it would be at least partly true. And you would hope that The Counterfeiters, having won this year's Oscar for best foreign language film, would have something rewarding or refreshing to contribute to the genre and that hope is more than partly realised.

This movie is the story of how counterfeit pounds and dollars and other documents were produced by skilled Jewish labour in concentration camps for their Nazi oppressors. History buffs may know about this already, but I didn't so I learned something. The skilled workers in the story enjoyed vastly improved conditions relative to the average prisoner, partly due to the value of their skills and partly due to the management philosophy of the officer in charge of the operation. The the telling of the story was both factually and dramatically interesting. It was interesting to see a part of concentration camp life where suffering wasn't absolute and also to see how each worker coped with that. It was also interesting to see how the workers balanced the desire to stay alive with the desire not to aid the Nazi regime too much. Some characters were very open about their attitudes and other were more guarded - you had to make inferences from they way they acted.

The protagonist is a professional counterfeiter and it was fun to have a criminal not very jewish-looking character being the centre of the story. The officer in charge is a relatively jovial character who claims he was once a member of the communist party and again it was fun to have a not-quite-so-bad baddie. In echo of Black Book, the lines between the good guys and the bad guys were blurred just a little.

These fun aspects were counter-balanced by moments of absolute pathos - most notably when the new recruits are shown their bunks and touch their sheets in wonder and also when one worker finds his own children's passports in a pile of documents they are using to make replicas.

This movie kept my attention and I would recommend it unless you're too sensitive to watch any depiction of human suffering.

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

The Duchess of Langeais

The Film Festival programme says that this is a "tale of drawing room passion is superbly by two strikingly odd actors, Jeanne Balibar and Guillaume Depardieu. She's the aristocratic Antoinette, a seasoned coquette who mocks the awkward courtship of her socially clumsy suitor, a Napoleonic General and war hero. Pushing him too far, she finds herself becoming the pursuer." The general and the duchess are almost sadistic and masochistic in the way they treat each other and themselves. It is an old fashioned story about social mores that are completely foreign to us today, but the two main actors do a great job of bring them alive and making them believable.

The film is in three acts and I think the middle act was way too long and bored the audience. Even though I know the length added to the tension, but even the endless parade of empire line dresses got repetitive.

I think this film would suit those want to see a costume drama that feels historic rather than being a modern style story set in beautiful old clothes and buildings. Or else it would suit someone looking for a tortured love story played out with 18th/19th century civility and length. In which case it would be 4/5, but for the rest of us it has difficulty scraping past 1/5.

Ian's rating 1.5/5
Anne's rating 2/5

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Ashes of Time Redux

This is a review by our guest reviewer, John.

Magnificent, a wonderful experience. The programme quotes someone as having said of this movie "Memories should be made of this" and that is a good description.

Although not easy to follow the movie spans a year in the life of an agent providing mercenary/assassin services, and delves into the past lives and experiences of the agent, the agents customers (there are two, and these are the same person, who presumably is psychotic) the past lover of one these personalities who is the agent's brother (and a swordsman), his brother's wife, whom the agent also loved in his younger days when he too was a swordsman, and whom the agent asked to elope with him - on her wedding night.

A young poor woman (ie without the money to pay for mercenary services) whose brother has been murdered by local militia, another swordsman & his wife also feature, as does a sizable gang of bandits & said local militia.

There are a couple of fight scenes in the movie, when first the bandits then the militia are eliminated, but these scenes aren't really action, but rather are simply part of the story, and furthermore are shown as a graphic mish-mash of shots & short scenes (with perfect (for the lack of it) lighting) and feels much as it might for a participant rather than being shown to the viewer as an evidently
choreographed hollywood blockbuster might be.

However the strengths of the movie are its insights - a couple of episodes focussing of the thoughts / admissions of its participants about their lives and reactions to other happenings, combined with the richness of the movie's tapestry - music, camera, effects and acting are all profound. Direction is pretty good as well and overall the movie is fantastic.

4 1/2 *'s (+). Unmissable. I would happily pay to see this movie again and would recommend it to anyone mature.

Ian's view in the comment

Married Life

Married Life is loosely based on John Bingham's novel "Five Roundabouts to Heaven". The premise is that Harry (Chris Cooper), a middle-aged businessman looked upon as staid and boring, falls in love with Kay, a sexy young widow, and wants to leave Pat (his wife) without hurting her. The film is narrated by womaniser and Harry's best friend, Richard (Pierce Brosnan -- who else?). Chris Cooper plays Harry more diffidently than he played the extremely confident Robert Hanssen in Breach, but otherwise the slightly old-fashioned, serious, slow-speaking middle-aged man is the same, and Harry, like Hanssen comes up with a plan to do the unthinkable (in this case to kill his wife to save her from the pain of leaving her). Things are complicated by Richard's lust for Kay.

This film walks a fine line between thriller and comedy in a meticulous and lush late 1940s setting. The two male leads really run away with this film as the screen play puts the women into unfortunately passive roles. This is not the fault of the actresses as the film is told entirely from the male perspective. The main theme running through the film is that appearances matter even between husband and wife. This theme covers everything from Kay's always meticulous make-up and hairdo to those uncomfortable moments while everyone is pretending something didn't just happen. The final scene feels like a slightly drawn punch that only half worked for me as Richard's conversion is unconvincing (otherwise this would be a 4/5).

In the director's Q&A after the film I learnt that the original novel was written by John le Carré's mentor at MI5, who was also the inspiration for George Smiley.

Ian's rating 3.5/5


The film festival guide says that Night is a symphony of music and images celebrating life and the world between dusk and dawn so I was expecting something like Koyaanisqatsi with fantastic footage and great music. There was some of that - a stunning moonrise over Uluru, fantastic fireworks at Sydney Harbour Bridge at New Year and sunsets with a great harp soundtrack. There was also a lot of time devoted to Australians talking about night and their attitudes to it and that ran the gamut from interesting to puerile to just plain weird. I'm not convinced that the taking heads added anything.

I wasn't taken with the fast forwarded footage either and the film maker seemed to want to fast forward everything. There was a night-time church service with lots of procession and incense waving, there were the footballers doing press-ups on the field under lights, there were ferries on Sydney harbour and there was a steel-works (or some similar industry) belching fumes, all of which were good images which didn't need speeding up.Quite a lot of the movie was a bit out of focus which is understandable for low light filming but rather annoying.

So there were flashes of brilliance but as a complete experience this movie was lacking.

Anne's rating 2.5/5

Friday, July 18, 2008


The idea of a Japanese animation depicting a dark view of the future and negative relationship between Japan and the rest of the world (especially the USA) doesn't surprise me any more. In Vexille, Japan has dominated the world market for robots and having run foul of the UN over limits on robotic technology cuts itself off from the rest of the world. An American special forces team called SWORD gives itself the mission to penetrate the Japanese defences and find out what is going on there. Vexille, herself, is a member of the SWORD team along with her boyfriend, who was the last foreigner out of Japan 10 years before.

I expected something dark and confusing like Ghost in the Shell but in fact apart from the long opening sequence there is plenty of explanation about what is going on. It is a straightforward story with one big twist. The film is CGI style animation and has lots of explosions and wizz-bang stuff to entertain you with a thumping sound track to go along with it. Very stylish and entertaining. Who needs George Lucas?

Ian's rating 3.5/5

Son of a Lion

The amazing thing about Son of a Lion is not the cinematography or the acting but that the film was made at all. The Northwest Frontier province of Pakistan is effectively a war-zone and the Pakistani government is not keen on contacts between the local Pashtun tribes and foreigners. So it is pretty remarkable for an Australian film maker to go there and make a feature film in secret. Especially when the film maker is actually a paramedic and all the actors are local amateurs.

It is a simple story, a conflict between father and son, an illiterate gunsmith "needs" his 11 year old son to work in the family business but the boy wants to go to school. The father gets more stubborn as his brother, clan elders and other villagers advise him to send the boy to school. The story could be set anywhere in the Third World, but few places would have people casually test firing guns in the street and show a man having his armpits shaved at the barber. This film is more important as a reflection of ordinary life in a maligned part of the world than as a feature film.

Ian's rating 2.5/5

Forbidden Lie$

How easy would it be to write a piece of fiction and get reputable publishers to publish it as a non-fiction book? Apparently not difficult at all.

Norma Khouri wrote a book (Forbidden Love aka Honour Lost) about the honour killing of her best friend in Jordan and got it published by Random House as a non-fiction book. It seems that simple geographical mistakes like describing the river of Jordan flowing through the city of Amman and describing Jordan as bordering Kuwait didn't ring alarm bells, even when they were pointed out to the publishers by Jordanians. Of course such a book, published at a time when the Western World was hungry for negative stories about Muslims would be much more sensational (and profitable) as non-fiction than as fiction.

I would have thought that once the hoax was blown the publisher would back away from the author and apologised to the readers but not in this case.

In Anna Broinowski's documentary about this con job she manages to convince Norma Khouri to prove that she isn't the con artist that she now appears to be and Norma takes up the challenge with relish. Anna and Norma lead each other (and us) on an amazing dance of claim and refutation. Norma seems to have an inexhaustible supply of explanations for every refutation and for every time she changes her story. Anna and Norma follow the trail from Australia to the US and to Jordan and back. Norma is a pretty and charming, petite woman which probably helps tug our sympathies in her direction. I wouldn't blame you if you left the cinema wondering if you could believe what anyone says.

I was left with one niggling question: Broinowski went to the expense of flying her crew and Norma and Norma's body guard to Jordan, so why didn't she make things much easier for herself and take someone who could speak and read Arabic? Instead she relies mostly on Norma and her friends for translations of documents and what people are telling her.

Ian's rating 4/5


Films done in a documentary style are fairly common these days and Redacted fits in the serious and political end of the spectrum of such films. There are interviews and bits of amature looking film and bits that looks like they have been taken from a French documentary about US forces in Iraq. But all this is just away of telling a story that is based on a real story of US soldiers who raped a 14 year old girl and killed her family.

It is pretty powerful technique as it makes the story look less like a feature film and more real.

The soldiers here are not cardboard cutout Bushites, but a bunch of people put together from different walks of US life and who have as many issues with each other as some of them have with the Iraqi civilians they deal with at the check points they man.

Ian's rating 4/5

Beauty in Trouble

Do beautiful women attract trouble? This is probably not a question you'd find as the theme of an English language film. But the Czech are not so politically correct. Marcela is a sexy mother-of-two whose beauty attracts trouble and provides escapes from trouble in equal measure. She is surrounded by a great cast of characters: an extremely pious mother-in-law, a sleazy, insufferable stepfather, an adoring hansom Tuscan-villa owning sugar-daddy, a sneeky priest and her unreliable husband.

This is a comedy about people taking advantage of situations in all sorts of (often illict) ways. From a battle of wills over biscuits between Marcela's kids and her stepfather, to taking advantage of a rich man's attentions to escape her husband, to taking advantage of dodgy bit of surveying to try and blackmail a land owner.

Oh, and Ana Geislerová looks very good in a bikini.

Ian's rating 4/5

Sunday, April 20, 2008

In the Shadow of the Moon

In the Shadow of the Moon (ITSOTM) is a documentary and I'm not the world's greatest documentary fan. This lack of enthusiasm could be something to do with the facts often getting in the way of a good story but this could not be said about this film, perhaps because the story and the facts are so good. ITSOTM documents the Apollo missions to the moon, and is narrated by 10 of the astronauts who were on those flights.

The astronauts themselves are hugely entertaining. For guys who are mostly in their mid-seventies they appear in remarkable shape and are articulate, interesting and funny. The footage of the launches, the moon landings and the views from space and in space is all spectacular and apparently much of it hasn't been publicly screened previously. Other people may be deeply familiar with the events and the material but having grown up in a house with no TV I certainly didn't watch the events at the time they occurred (despite being just old enough) and haven't spent time watching the documentary channel since, so it was all very fresh for me. And despite having seen it before, I find the earth viewed from space particularly beautiful and I hadn't appreciated until watching this film that lunar landing modules and their little gold feet were so pretty. Men walking on the moon is just fascinating, even if you've already seen it and watching Buzz Aldrin descending the ladder to the moon's surface is now just that bit more interesting because he revealed he was having a pee just before he stepped off the ladder. I really liked the footage of the crowds at Cape Canaveral watching the launch of Apollo 11 - they look so different from crowds now. It was July in Florida and all the men are wearing shirts and ties, which I find incredible.

At the time space exploration was cutting edge, exciting and just plain cool. Men landing on the moon was an incredible feat and the fact that it was broadcast live on TV meant that large numbers of humankind got to watch, and celebrate. Almost forty years later In the Shadow of the Moon lets you share or maybe relive the sense of excitement that the Apollo missions engendered.

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

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Outsourced is about a young manager from Seattle whose call-centre is outsourced to India and how he has to go to India to train the new staff. The call centre sells American patriotic kitsch (such as plastic model bald eagles made in China, and hamburger branding irons) to Americans so among the many challenges of getting the new call centre up to speed is making the customers think they're calling within America, or at least making them happy to be calling India.

Outsourced was our first outing to this year's International Cinema Showcase at the Paramount, and its a very nice movie - life affirming, even. You could probably take your grandmother, unless she finds the thought of unmarried sex or cross-cultural relationships disturbing.

I'm probably making it sound a bit sickly, which it isn't. One of its roles is to contrast life in India with life in America without taking sides, and another is to challenge some our assumptions about India. And then there's poking fun at both America and India and their inhabitants - there's even some toilet humour, which is rare for an American movie. It's a comedy and a romance, and although its not earth-shattering its well worth seeing, especially if you're in need of a movie to cheer you up.

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

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


I'll put my cards on the table now - I loved this film. So if you just wanted a quick recommendation, you could just head off to the movies now. The less trusting could read on.

Juno is a teenager who discovers she's pregnant, contemplates an abortion, decides on adoption, goes hunting for adoptive parents and then discovers that the best laid plans go awry when they involve human beings.

Human beings and how they're flawed is partly what this film is about. It's also about love and the strength of relationships. It's definitely life affirming, but don't start reaching for the sick bag. The dialogue is one of the films many strengths, and is witty and understated. There's no screaming or shouting - Paulie (the father of the baby)tells Juno that she broke his heart while managing only to sound mildly aggrieved. Juno's stepmother has some particularly good lines, and we both thought the pharmacist at the beginning of the film was a great character who could have been utilised more.

I liked the soundtrack (folksy) and I liked the fact that Juno and Paulie seemed genuinely young. The contrast between Juno's level of knowledge about pregnancy and that of Vanessa the adoptive mother-to-be was cleverly drawn. I liked how life at high school went on, and how Juno's parents were matter-of-fact. The flowering of Juno and Paulie's relationship was a joy to watch and the not-too-predictable ending made made me cry.

Anne's rating 5/5

I can't help comparing this with last year's Knocked Up -- another American comedy about unplanned pregnancy. Both are comedies about a young woman coping with an unexpected pregnancy. Juno is focused on a laid back, gentle comedy style while Knocked Up has a wide variety of comedy styles. Juno steered closer to the abortion option than Knocked Up (where the A-word wasn't mentioned), but still dealt with the option quite glibly.

Overall Juno is more realistic and a more gentle comedy than Knocked Up.

Ian's rating 4/5

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

No Country for Old Men

The Coen Brothers have a reputation for making unconventional films. But No Country for Old Men starts in a conventional fashion. It opens with voice-over a monologue by Tommy Lee Jones as a Texas country sheriff and a man out deer hunting who comes across the aftermath of a gun-fight. There are dead bodies of men and dogs, abandoned pick-up trucks (one packed with packets of drugs) and a heavy black bag of $100 bills. We don't need any dramatic chords to know that taking home the money is the bad idea that will give us our plot.

Of course there are people on both sides of the drug deal who weren't at the gun fight and in particular Anton Chigurh (played by Javier Bardem) who will kill anyone to get his hands on the money. The Chigurh character is the lynch pin of this movie. His soft voice, his blank expression, his weapon of choice and his relentlessness are compelling and repelling in equal parts. His counterpart is Llewelyn Moss, the deer hunter - played by Josh Brolin, a resourceful, independent and stubborn man and the one we are rooting for in this thriller. Sheriff Bell is on the trail of these two and provides us with the sort of laconic commentary that is second nature to Tommy Lee Jones.

This is a thriller and therefore we know where we are going, and for the most part the Coen Brothers are happy to oblige. There is plenty of violence, close escapes, black humour, taunting and even a "fairy godmother" (Woody Harrelson is a white cowboy hat). But I am happy to say that there is also a musical turn and a very untraditional ending that I won't say any more about.

To sum up: No Country for Old Men is an extremely violent and somewhat unconventional thriller set in west Texas that will leave a lasting impression.

Ian's rating 3.5/5

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lust, Caution

It is the second world war and a pretty young woman uses her sexual attraction to get close to a senior enemy official in order to aid the resistance. This synopsis will be familiar to those who saw Black Book.

In Ang Lee's film the setting is Shanghai under Japanese occupation and being run by the Nanjing regime. The resistance are the Chinese Nationalists -- who later became the government of Taiwan (Ang Lee's homeland). Unlike Black Book, this film explores the delicate process of seducing a highly suspicious, aloof and dangerous married man. To this end the pace of the film is very slow and somewhat non-chronological. The heroine, Chia Chi, is initially a university student and member of a drama club which decides en mass to join the resistance. Their strategy is suitably dramatic, use Chai Chi to infiltrate the Yee household and lure Mr Yee to a place where he can be assassinated.

This is basically a Chinese film, the Japanese are a foreign and menacing presence, and white people are refugees queuing in the streets. I don't know what 1940's Shanghai looked like but the interior shots in the film are often very lush. Understandably the exterior shots look more like sets, some long shots look very fake and 1970s London taxis are substituted for period cars in a couple of places. But I was willing to overlook these things in what was basically character driven film.

What is more difficult to get my head around was the love story. Was it love, lust, acting or sexual relief from the suffocating social environment of occupied Shanghai? Did they both feel the same way about each other? The slow build up of the relationship in Lust, Warning contracts with the instant love affair in Black Book, and general paranoia makes for a more realistic feel.

There is a bit of hype around the sex scenes and whether they were simulated or real. Let me burst some bubbles here: there are about 10 minutes of sex in 2.5 hours of film, it doesn't look any more real than other mainstream movies, there is one violent sex scene (which might account for the R18 rating) and there is more nudity in a British comedy like Death at Funeral than here.

Ian's rating 4.5/5

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Charlie Wilson's War

When I first saw this title I wondered if this was some Dad's Army spin-off film. But I was confusing Arthur Wilson, the suave, diffident Home Guard Sergeant for Charlie Wilson the Texas Congressman I've never heard of.

Film is a straightforward telling of the story of how womanizing, hard drinking, happy-go-lucky and not particularly important Congressman, Charlie Wilson, almost single handedly boosted the CIA budget for covert war in Afghanistan from $5 million per year to over $500 million a year ($630 million per year according to Wikipedia) and hence brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The eponymous war (I've never heard anyone actually say that word) refers to both the war Charlie Wilson fought in Washington DC to get funding for Operation Cyclone and also to the proxy US-Soviet war that the Soviet-Afghan war (1979-89) evolved into due to operation Cyclone.

Tom Hanks plays Charlie Wilson as an all-american politician, charming, pleasure seeking, naïve on the surface yet smart enough to smell trouble before it happens and to trade his vote on issues that are not important to himself and his constituents for support for the issues he is keen on. The ultimately important issue is killing Russians.

This is not an action movie.

The war in Afghanistan is presented as linking scenes between the main action in Washington. There are shaky and grainy anonymous Afghans or Soviets firing out of shot. There are reconstructions of Soviet attacks on Afghan villages and later Afghans downing Soviet planes and helicopters in slow motion. There are visits to (less than authentic) refugee camps by some of the characters. But all of this seems to be interludes to punctuate the story.

This is not a romantic movie.

There are plenty of pretty women in the supporting cast led by the queen of pretty women, Julia Roberts, but there is no love match or sex. Just plenty of tight skirts and cleavage leading the eye from one scene to the next and Julia Roberts in a bikini that matches her flowerbeds as background to a phone call -- all eye candy.

This is a political movie.

So it is mostly talk-talk. The visuals are there to provide mes-en scene and keep you interested. The film doesn't try to drive home any political points directly but presents us with a bunch of explicit and implicit contrasts and lets us make our own mind up. I expect that this will tend to re-enforce our existing beliefs rather than change our minds about anything.

For instance the Soviets are shown as evil killers who's main war aim is to kill Afghan civilians. There is an implicit contrast with 2008 where the main killer of Afghan civilians is the US military. If you are a believer in the evilness of communism and the implicit goodness of America then you will be happy that the difference is because the evil Taliban are hiding behind the civilians who are killed by accident and that most of the "civilian" dead are really Taliban anyway. If you are less partisan you will see that the USSR was supporting a regime in Kabul and fighting an asymmetric war against an insurgency funded by enemies of the Soviets with the consequent civilian casualties and today the USA is supporting a regime in Kabul and fighting an asymmetric war against an insurgency funded by enemies of America with the consequent civilian casualties.

If you are too young to remember the politics of the 1980s and are interested in an straightforward American view of that time then go and see the movie. Tom Hanks is at the top of his game. The humour is understated, the politics are un-preachy and everyone is honourable -- pity about the battle scenes.

Ian's rating 3/5