Friday, July 31, 2009

The Sky Crawlers

The Sky Crawlers is set in an alternate reality when war has been privatized, countries hire corporations to fight their wars. Our hero is a genetically modified teenage ace fighter pilot for the Rostok Iron Works, who has been posted to a new airbase where people are reluctant to answer questions especially about his predecessor. Eventually he hears a rumour that the base commander shot him. He is also troubled by a sense of deja vu. His attempts to uncover the mysteries about himself, his unit and the war don't uncover much until 2 hours later when a female colleague tells him the secrets about his predecessor and why none of them get any older.

The Sky Crawlers feels vaguely like a reworked Catch-22 without the humour.

Ian's rating 1/5

My Year without Sex

My Year Without Sex was, in a word, disappointing. I really liked writer/director Sarah Watts' Look Both Ways - it was innovative and touching and funny. MYOS tried to be all those things and somehow missed the bus. The potential was there - Natalie, happily married thirty-something Mother of two, has a brain aneurysm and almost dies. Her doctor tells her cheerfully that a recurrence in the year following is fairly likely and could be triggered by sneezing, straining to have a bowel motion or having sex and that the ones that could be avoided, should. The film recounts the year that follows, in 12 chapters - one per month.

As you can imagine, the scenario has huge tragicomic potential. Natalie explores a number of ways to cope, but I thought she and her husband were just too nice to each other to make the film interesting - he was so reasonable and understanding. The kids were amusingly self-centred but there's nothing remarkable about that. The chapter structure seemed arbitrary, and it seemed a bit like watching sanitised reality TV.

Anne's rating 2.5/5


Rachel Corrie was a young American who spent time in the Gaza Strip in 2003. The Israeli Army was building their now infamous wall on the border between Gaza and Israel and were demolishing the homes of Palestinians near the construction zone. Rachel and other young activists stayed in homes likely to be demolished hoping that the presence of international citizens would slow the destruction and they actively campaigned for it to stop. One fateful day Rachel and her companions were out in the demolition zone, armed with megaphones, trying to halt the Israeli bulldozers' progress when Rachel was crushed to death by one of the bulldozers.

Rachel the film is an exhaustive investigation and exploration of the incident. The director interviews the full range of people involved - Rachel's fellow activists, the Palestinians with whom they stayed, soldiers stationed in the Gaza strip at the time, the bulldozer driver, an Israeli Defense Force spokeswoman, the investigator for the original military enquiry, Rachel's parents and Rachel's university teachers, the pathologist who did the post mortem and I'm sure there were others.

This is not an easy watch and some of the revelations are shocking. I think there were three interviews that made a particular impression on me. The first was with one of Rachel's companions who describes watching her being crushed. The interview was five years after the incident and it was clearly very traumatic still. It reminded me that there was a big personal toll on those who witnessed this incident quite apart from any political and philosophical implications.

The second was with a soldier who was stationed in the Gaza strip at the time. He said that shooting water tanks was a particularly popular activity for soldiers because it looks so pretty through your night vision goggles! He also spoke of the huge numbers of houses they destroyed and admitted to having killed some civilians. It really struck me that since all the soldiers are so young they can take childish pleasure in actions that once they're older they might regret, but too late.

Thirdly the statement from an Israeli Defence force spokeswoman "The IDF doesn't intentionally kill anyone, unless they are terrorists" - which apart from being mind-boggling, struck me as unusual - I don't think I've ever heard a military spokesperson talking about intentional killing before - using the term killing is rare.

Rachel is packed full of jaw-dropping facts. You learn things and come away with more stuff to think about. It's a good film but it isn't fun. It's depressing, probably because its emotionally involving - the interviewees are all very much real people with real opinions, even if you can't fathom why some of them hold such opinions. So you can't go home and dismiss the experience as you would with a bad or boring film.

Anne's rating 4/5

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Black Pirate

A funny thing happened on the way to the picture theatre. Well, not funny from my point of view, and all as a result of a silly omission in the morning. On Thursday I had three films back to back (Flame & Citron, Camino and The Black Pirate). But I left for the first film not knowing this vital fact. For some reason I got it into my head that there was quite a big gap between the second and third films and thought I could come home and blog a bit between films. So I thought nothing was wrong in going out without my ticket to The Black Pirate.

The first inkling I had of the impending disaster was discussing the rest of my day with Anna as we walked down the Courtenay Place after Flame & Citron. She said that all she knew about Camino was it was a long film. I did some mental arithmetic Camino was due to start in 25 minutes and The Black Pirate less than 3 hours after that. I hoped Anna was wrong and silently cursed my hubris. While buying a coffee I bumped into Lance which took my mind off things for a bit. Any hope that Anna was wrong was dashed as Camino is one of those films where the ending happens slower than global warming. I was glad I resisted the temptation to leave before the end, because the final two scenes are quite good, but I found myself in Courtenay Place again with 25 minutes to go and no ticket.

I decided to go home and get my ticket. 5:50pm is rush hour and while taking a bus might have saved me some time, I had no idea how slow the bus would be and trying to sit still while the bus crawled its way through town didn't seem a good idea. So I set off on foot, alternately walking and running (I think my lack of fitness slowed me more than my jandles). At home I rushed up stairs, grabbed the ticket and back down to the car. I backed it out of the garage and set off just as the film was due to start. Rush hour and Thursday night meant that it was a slow trip through town and the nearest park I found was on Oriental Parade. So I am running again, this time I catch my toe on the curb and find myself sprawled on my hands and knees in Wakefield St just as the lights turn green.

So that is why I can't tell you what happens at the beginning of The Black Pirate. But I am glad I made the effort. The Black Pirate is a silent film made in 1926 but surprisingly it was made in colour. The camera work is non-existent, no zoom, no panning or tracking, just a fixed camera. All the skill is in the action and the pianist (in this case Neil Brand playing with one eye on the screen). I arrived just as Douglas Fairbanks is marooned and the pirates are dividing some spoils and hide the gold in a cave on an island. Douglas Fairbanks decides to join the pirates and sets out to make himself their leader and calling himself the Black Pirate. Things become difficult when the first ship he captures has a beautiful female passenger, who he naturally falls in love with and tries to save.

The often repeated stunt where someone slides down a curtain or sail using a dagger or knife originated in The Black Pirate. There is another scene you might have seen repeated in a more recent pirate movie where a group of soldiers is filmed swimming in formation under water to retake the ship the pirates have seized. One of the funniest scenes is where a pirate is trying to keep awake by jamming dagger, point upwards, under his chin, and when nods off the dagger slips and and point goes up his nose.

The piano accompaniment was very well done, with a convincing piano explosion when one of the ships explodes. At the end Douglas Fairbanks gets the girl once she realises that he is actually a Duke in disguise (she turns out to be a Princess -- though what she is doing in the Caribbean is not explained).

We are so used to cameras following actors around or zooming in on the action that it is disconcerting when the camera does not act as we are used to.

Ian's rating 3/5

Mary and Max

If you like to leave the cinema feeling that you're more well-adjusted than the characters in the movie you've just watched, then this could be the movie for you. You may also leave with the feeling you've been laughing at people with unfortunate disabilities, which might or might not be a good thing. Mary and Max is an oddball movie about oddball characters which does make you laugh but is rather a sad tale overall. Mary is a friendless bespectacled child with an alcholic mother and "eyes the colour of mud and a birthmark the colour of poo" who gets Max's name and address out of the New York telephone directory and begins a correspondence with him, hoping he'll answer her burning questions about life the universe and everything.

Max is overweight, Jewish, anxious and afflicted by Aspergers syndrome. He doesn't have any friends either, which is possibly what inspires him to write back to an Australian child that he's never met. He does his best to answer her questions even though some of them ("where do babies come from?" for example) cause him panic attacks that last for hours.

Based on a true story, the movie follows the correspondence all the way to its end - which is many years later when Mary is an adult. It makes you ponder the meaning and mechanics of friendship and human relationships and is probably quite unlike any movie you've seen for a while.

Anne's rating 3/5


If all you know about Kazakhstan comes from Borat then Tulpan will take you by surprise. This is not the Kazakhstan of Paper Soldier either. The endless vistas are there and two humped camels, but this is summer and the steppes are dry and dusty and almost devoid of people.

Asa has come home after serving in the Russian fleet. He intends to implement his dream of being a nomadic sheep herder on the steppes, but he is told that you need to be married before you can get a flock. There is only one girl in the district, Tulpan, who lives half a day's drive away -- and she objects to Asa's ears. It turns out that Asa is no more successful at helping his brother-in-law with the sheep than he is with girls. Despite his incompetence, Asa remains defiantly optimistic and determined to succeed. The supporting cast includes Asa's little niece who sings incessently and the more annoyed she is with her father the louder she sings.

The camera work in the outside shots is beautiful, and the film could almost be viewed as a documentary on yurt based life on the Kazakh steppes.

Ian's rating 3/5

Making of Samson and Delilah

In contrast with Samson and Delilah itself, this "making of" documentary is sheer good fun. Initially it follows Writer/Director Warwick Thornton and Producer Kath Shelper around while they hunt for the teenage actors for their film,and then it sits in on the shoot.We get to know the actors chosen (Marissa Gibson and Rowan MacNamara), in a small way - she's more self possessed and he's very shy, but they both turn out to be great actors. His participation in the film is in doubt initially due to a date with the youth justice system which could have ended up with a curfew being imposed, but we get to sit in on the restorative justice session and this particular crisis is averted.

Its fun to watch them getting to grips with acting and following instructions,with interacting on film and then watching themselves. The writer and producer are also entertaining to watch and the whole process just seems genuinely good-humoured. My favourite moments were Marissa getting cold feet about cutting off her hair and at the end when Warwick and Kath bring the film to each of Marissa and Rowan's family homes so they can watch it on the laptop before it goes to the big screen. So there's a big family group on the verandah in each case, glued to the computer and all giggling appreciatively.

This was a great way to spend 50 minutes, and I discovered that the Film Archive does great coffee.

Anne's rating 4/5


Balibo was the second docu-drama I have seen at this film festival. It follows young, cocky José Ramos-Horta as he co-ops Roger East a veteran Australian reporter who is living in alcoholic semi-retirement in Dawin to come to East Timor and head up the new East Timor news agency. He temps East with the story of 5 missing young journalists from Australia's channels 7 and 9. Roger East is completely uninterested in the job offer, but is interested in fate of the other journalists. Once in East Timor he nags José Ramos-Horta into driving him to Balibo (a town on the border with Indonesia).

The story of the 5 missing journalist is told in parallel using more grainy footage. I found this confusing as the two stories take place only 3 weeks apart. It becomes clear from this story line that José Ramos-Horta was also involved here. The personalities of the 5 are not clearly differentiated and their story is fragmented and hence harder to follow than Roger East's story. What also isn't clear is the chronology of political events. When does East Timor become independent with respect to the two stories? Is José Ramos-Horta a government official or does he represent a would-be government?

The Roger East story line is the best acted and directed part of the film. José Ramos-Horta comes across as a sunglasses wearing superhero. He seems to know the secrets of three governments (Australia, Indonesia and East Timor) even when many km from any telephones and knows everyone in East Timor personally! This persona is only shaken twice during the film. Roger East seems to shake off his retirement and alcohol dependency very quickly and turns into a reporter again. Their conflict is very watchable.

I guess it was intentional that Roger is so much more interested in the fate of 5 white guys than the fate of a country being invaded. The director is challenging us to think about the implied racism in our attitudes to the 3rd World.

Ian's rating 2.5/5

Looking for Eric

You might find this hard to believe, but Ken Loach has made a life-affirming,
cheer-you-up-and-make-you-laugh movie to which you must go, without further ado. Looking for Eric has plenty of trademark Ken Loach grittiness, realism, swearing and terrace houses but it also has charm, imagination, humour and a happy ending.

Eric is postman in his fifties who is prone to panic attacks. He lives in one of the aforementioned terrace houses with his 2 obnoxious stepsons and he hasn't had sex in a long time. Fortunately for Eric, his fellow postmen are particularly supportive friends, and one of them introduces him to the self help concept of imagining yourself and your life through the eyes of one of your heroes. Eric's hero is Eric Cantona the footballer, and before you know it, there is Eric Cantona (played by Eric Cantona) in Eric the postman's bedroom, giving him advice.

Watching Eric help Eric sort out his life is an experience you shouldn't miss - so don't.

Anne's rating 5/5

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Daytime Drinking

Have you ever been surrounded by apparently well meaning people who badgered you into doing things you didn't want to do, and if you tried to refuse they got angry and offended? Are you familiar with the phase "Just one more"? Have you had friends who enthusiastically made plans and included you in them and they didn't show up? If you haven't experienced what I am talking about then you won't "get" Daytime Drinking.

Our hero/sucker finds himself on a trip to the country enthusiastically organised by his three pals who fail to show up. He discovers the countryside is populated by wierdos who are either unhelpful or too helpful.

Actually the title is a bit of a misnomer as the drinking goes on day and night. Daytime Drinking is a funny and sad tale of the dangers of being accommodating and letting friends and strangers have too much control over your life ... and over your drinking.

Note: this is a video or DVD and hence doesn't look good on a big screen (trailer)

Ian's rating 3/5


Adventureland is a feel-good movie. There are no surprises here. Every character can be pigeon holed in 5 seconds and their part in the plot is inevitably obvious, as is the plot itself. It is American college kids on their summer break in 1987 who are obsessed with sex (and love) as seen through the rosiest of rose-tinted spectacles. Even the cinematography is done in warm Kodak style colours. It feels like a movie that you have seen before. But unashamedly that is what director Greg Mattola is aiming to do, to make you feel comfortable. Wall-to-wall cliches and tropes. This is movie comfort food.

A jaded cynic would complain that everyone is white and middle class or aspiring middle class (and are disproportionately Catholic and Jewish). They would also complain that the film doesn't challenge its audience, blah blah. Hopefully such people are wise enough to skip this film and go to something high brow or obscure instead.

I enjoyed this film. All the actors seemed to throw themselves into their parts and are generally given good dialogue especially Bobby the boss of the adventure park, who is perhaps the one surprise of the film as he isn't as lame as his character could have been. After many of the more serious and depressing films in the festival I was in the mood for some cinematic comfort food.

Check the trailer to see if it suits your palette.

Ian's rating 3.5/5

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Paper Soldier

The Russians certainly know how to do depressing. Paper Soldier starts off confusing and bleak, and goes down hill from there. The ramshackle buildings of the cosomodrome in Kazakhstan exist in endless vistas of mud, snow and ice and look almost indistinguishable from the gulag that is being burnt down not far away. Soldiers, cosmonauts, medical staff, Kazaks, ex-gulag inmates, ex-guard dogs, trucks and a camel wander aimlessly around. People prefer to carry bicycles rather than ride them. Conversations seem almost equally aimless, as no-one seems to be listening to what anyone else is saying.

Paper Soldier is not about the cosmonauts or the space program; they are the backdrop to the disintegration of Daniel, a doctor working with the cosmonauts. Daniel is haunted by the fear that, given the number failures in the unmanned test flights, the cosmonauts may die in space. He shuttles back and forth between his wife, Nina, in Moscow and Vera in at the cosmodrome, being rude and inconsiderate to both of them and his friends and colleagues (and to a third woman who unbelievably is also besotted with him). He doubles up in psychosomatic pain from time to time. Why can't he just drink himself into oblivion like any good Russian? I didn't warm to Daniel.

Just watching this film makes you want to put on a scarf and gloves ... and reach for the Valium.

As a foot note to cheer you up, 10 years after Daniel has gone Nina and Vera share a flat in Moscow.

Apparently any "true lover of the giant screen poetics" will find this film mesmerising -- be warned.

Ian's rating 0/5

Samson and Delilah

Samson & Delilah is a movie to touch your heart. And disturb you. And, importantly to make you feel that there's always hope. It's the story of the love affair between two aboriginal teenagers, one of whom is a petrol-sniffer. There's no sex to speak of, and almost no dialogue but there's physical beauty, charm and rock-solid loyalty and then there's kick-you-in-the-guts awfulness but the film-maker seems to have got the doses of each just right so you CAN bear to go on watching.

I loved Samson throwing rocks at Delilah as if he were six not sixteen, and I loved him dancing on the verandah. I liked the hand gestures Delilah made to him on the way into the store and I liked them eating 2 minute noodles with their fingers. I liked Gonzo the drunk under the bridge in Alice Springs who didn't say much but he was positively chatty compared to the hero and heroine. I loved Delilah's Nana and I've always loved the landscape of Central Australia.

Clearly, not everyone loves this film and here's a totally contrasting viewpoint for you . I don't think you should go to Samson and Delilah if you need a light and fluffy movie, but I think you should go sometime.

Anne's rating 4/5

Love on Delivery & Ticket to Paradise

In Thy, a region of northern Denmark, there are over 500 Thai women married to Danish men. Apparently it all started with Niels who went to Thailand as a sex tourist and met Sommai in Pattaya. They returned to Denmark and got married. Sommai's success meant that she has become the go-to woman for Thai women from her village who want to leave Thailand and marry a white man.

Love on Delivery is the first of two documentaries on this process. It follows Kae, Sommai's niece, who is visiting Denmark on a 90 day visa in order to find a husband. With no time to learn Danish Sommai teaches Kea some useful phrases "Good morning", "good night", "I have a headache", places an advert in the paper, teaches Kea how to behave with a Danish man -- lots of hugs and kisses. Sommai's friends also enthusiastically pitch in with advice and warnings on a variety of things including the dangers of large Danish penises.

Sommai selects Kjeld a local man (whose mother despairs that he will find a woman) from the replies to the advert and Kea is packed off to live with this quiet smiling bachelor. Neither of whom can speak a word of each other's languages. A Thai-Danish dictionary borrowed from the library becomes necessary to negotiate the basics of domestic life. Sommai pushes the relationship along by chiding Kea for ignoring the advice on daily hugs and kisses. Eventually as time is running out on Kea's visa the couple is put on the spot. Do they want to marry each other or not?

The Danish government uses a bond system to ensure that the marriages are "genuine". The couple (i.e. the husband) pays about $20,000 which the government returns after 7 years if the couple are still together! The Thai brides have to return to Thailand after the marriage until their residency application is processed.

No secret is made of the fact that the Thai wives intend to send money home to their families, and many do factory work in Denmark to earn this. What is not always made immediately clear to their potential Danish husbands are the children these women have in left behind in Thailand and that they want to bring to Denmark too. Here the government says that the child has be reunited with its mother within two years otherwise it is deemed to have had its parental bond broken.

Ticket to Paradise follows one such couple as they go to Thailand to negotiate with the reluctant Thai father to hand over the child. The two films were made about 5 months apart and include many of the same couples. The explicit tying together of love and marriage with economic security will sit uncomfortably with those who feel that love and marriage are so "sacred" that they shouldn't be linked to other concerns. As far as we the viewer can tell these marriages with the big cultural difference, economic tie-ins and in some cases big age differences seem to work. How much this is due to love and how much it is due to the cost of failure is not explored (and perhaps not explorable). Do concerns beyond love enter into our relationships? Is this a bad thing?

Ian's rating 3/5

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Strength of Water

I'm finding it a bit hard to describe The Strength of Water. I think essentially it's about getting to grips with death; about getting used to living without someone you've been close to and about the process of saying goodbye. You might be thinking that this is sounding like another addition to New Zealand's great tradition of dark cinema, but despite the theme that's not entirely true - it's more a sort of grey, and that's certainly how the Hokianga landscape (where it's filmed) looks.

The chief characters are ten year-old twins, Kimi and Melody, who live on a poultry farm near the Hokianga Harbour. They deliver eggs for their parents after school and have a pet hen called Aroha. Melody dies from an asthma attack associated with an accident while she's with Tai, a teenager who is a a newcomer to the district, and Kimi continues to see her after her death, even though she's invisible to the rest of the family.

Kimi and Melody are a delight to watch - the actors do an awesome job. Kimi is fat and resentful and Melody is just a sweetie and they are a very tight team. Naturally his sister's death fuels Kimi's feeling that life is unfair.

We saw this the same weekend as Samson and Delilah, and comparisons seem inevitable. New Zealand film /Australian film; Maori teenagers who talk in rationed sentences liberally laced with expletives/ Aboriginal teenagers who don't talk at all; grey Hokianga seascapes/Northern Territory sunshine. I feel slightly disloyal but I think Samson & Delilah is the slightly better film overall - but the big strength of both films are the central two characters, who in each case are worth seeing in their own rights.

Anne's rating 3.5/5


Apart from enhancing my existence, this Oscar-winning movie (best foreign language film 2009) has enhanced my vocabulary. My new word is "encoffinment" and its what this movie is about - that is, apart from more global issues like attitudes to death and the trouble you can get into by not telling your partner the truth, and the emotional damage you can do by abandoning your children, but I digress. In Japan (and other places for all I know) encoffinment is the rite of preparing a body (washing, dressing, packing orifices and so on)in the family home before the undertaker puts the body in a coffin and takes it away.

Departures is the story of a newly-redundant cellist (Daigo) who returns to his hometown (because his mother left him a house there) and gets an encoffinment job by accident, (although some would say it was fate) and is too mortified (intentional pun!) to tell his wife. When she finds out, she says its either her or the job, and she leaves. It seems she didn't count on her husband finding his vocation in this socially unacceptable business!

While there's lot about death in Departures there's even more about repairing relationships and forming new ones. I particularly liked what a tight team Daigo and his boss and the receptionist became. I also really liked the process of how Daigo's wife came to be accepting of his new career. I thought the big chunk of cello music mid-film after Daigo's wife left was superfluous but otherwise I was kept engrossed.

Anne's rating 4/5

Animation for Kids 2009

OK there is still a kid in me somewhere, and I enjoy a good kid's movie. From past experience the Film Festival's Animation shows can be a mixed bag which I tend to avoid. But this year I was tempted by description of Animation for Kids show. The Paramount was close to full and mostly with kids but for some reason I got a last minute seat in the good block of seats (perhaps there are advantages in going by yourself). Kids are useful, they don't censor their reactions so you can get a good feel for the audience feel for the films.

"Animation for Kids" is a bunch of short animated films ostensibly for kids, but I got the feeling with some of them that they were child-like animation rather than animation for kids. But most of them were good. I figure that the best ones were the ones where lots of kids were asking pertinent questions of their parents ("Why is he doing that?" rather than "When can I have an icecream?")

The 7 Days of the Week is based around a catchy song about the days of the week. The repetitive nature of the song and the animation meant it would appeal best to the youngest kids. The animation looked like someone playing with clip-art.

Bertram this was more fun for me as a boy bored with homework imagined what he would do when he grew up, the things he imagined morphed into other things as his mind hopped from one idea to another.

The Crumblegiant was very beautiful black and white animation but I felt that it was self indulgent. Artists showing off to other artists rather than entertaining kids. The story was obscure and about loss.

Miriam’s Colours got lots of laughs especially for the over helpful bird, that helps the kids repaint the world with colours after it goes black and white.

Hello Antenna is another self indulgent animation, this time a child like animation rather than one to entertain kids

Cello is animation putting animals and insects dancing to classical music. Disney already did this, but this time the style is like a water colour.

The main joke of Roberto the Insect Architect is of a termite that wants to build houses rather than eat wood might be a bit lost on Kiwi kids. It also included jokes for parents such as the establishment architect "Frank Lloyd Ant".

Carrot on the Beach was the funniest film in the show where a snow man dreams of relaxing on a hot sandy beach while a rabbit has designs on his carrot/nose. This is a claymation.

Lost and Found is the longest and most serious animation. A persistent penguin wants to make friends with a little boy. The little boy wants to get rid of the penguin.

Happity was the only Kiwi animation in the show. A simple love story of 2 rabbits in Palmerston North set to a catchy tune.

Ian's rating 3/5 (on average)

Embodiment of Evil

To warm the audience up NZFF gave us the Kiwi short Brave Donkey. Where Brian's revenge on his ex-wife is interrupted by a violent dispute next door. Though ill clad for heroics, he attempts to rescue the dame in distress. It does not look good on so many levels when reality intrudes.

Ian's rating 4/5 (it probably rates 5/5 if you find glass ornaments tacky)

Coffin Joe is a character invented and played by Brazilian filmmaker José Mojica Marins in three horror films, the first two made in the 1960s and the third, last year. He is a grave digger with trademark long fingernails, top hat, cape and a declaminatory style of talking. Embodiment of Evil starts with Coffin Joe being released from prison 40 years after his killing spree in the 1960s, to the great distress of the prison superintendent. Joe is met by his Igor-like offsider Bruno who takes him to a hide out in the slums where four younger accolytes are waiting.

Coffin Joe is obsessed with "the continuation of the blood" by finding the perfect woman to bear him a child. He sends his followers out to kidnap women for him. He comes to the attention of the police and some police also end up in his clutches. There is a lot of torture in Embodiment of Evil much of it directed at women though in some of Coffin Joe's dream/hallucination sequences women are the torturers.

If you want to see a filmmaker having fun with the horror genre with a mixture of traditional horror film scenes and some more inventive and arty style ones and you are also comfortable with gratuitous female nudity and torture then Embodiment of Evil might be your cup of tea glass of absinthe.

If you want to read a plot spoiler check out Wikipedia, otherwise just check out the trailer.

Ian's rating 4/5

Friday, July 24, 2009


If you have seen as many Bulgarian films as I have you'll understand my trepidation at taking a couple of hours out of my life and $12 out of my wallet to see Zift.

Zift turns out to be a black and white morality tale. Our hero is coming to the end of his sentence for a murder he says he didn't commit. The back story gradually unfolds as it becomes important to understanding the details of his release and the unusual welcoming committee, or as our hero decides to let us in to his confidence. The story jumps back and forth between his youth in the 1940s and the present (1960s) and is populated by larger-than-life characters: a one-eyed philosophising cell mate, a beautiful seductive school girl who can make him cum by whispering in his ear, a mysterious army officer in a black car, a randy female doctor, a sadistic torturer, a nightclub singer and fart-lighting grave diggers.

There is double and tripple crossing, a mass prison shower scene, a chase through the women's section of the public baths, a hidden gem stone -- all-in-all an absorbing way to spend 90 minutes watching a Bulgarian shaggy dog story told with lots of prison philosophy thrown in.

If Zift is indicative of Bulgarian filmmaking then I'm keen to see more

Ian's rating 4/5


I'm not sure what to make of this film. The voice over has that slightly mocking tone I expect in a comedy. Similarly many of the supporting characters are one dimensional and over the top, but Rupert Friend and Michelle Pfeiffer play the title role and Léa de Lonval dead straight.

Michelle Pfeiffer dominates this film where she is playing a successful, ageing, yet still beautiful courtesan in pre-World War I Paris. Rupert Friend despite his title role is hampered by the fact that he is playing opposite Michelle Pfeiffer and that his character is supposed to have no personality or sense of purpose. He is the 19 year old son of a Madame Poloux (Kathy Bates) a fabulously rich, retired courtesan (and solo mum) who in her day was a rival of Léa's. She asks Léa to take young Chéri in hand and stop him self destructing in a life of debauchery. Léa, who is between patrons, succeeds in the only way she knows how. Though she is disturbed that for the first time in her life she is spending money on a man rather than having a man spend money on her.

The film is utterly luscious both in terms of the Art Nouveau architecture and Michelle Pfeiffer's wardrobe. While there are some funny moments, if it was intended to be a comedy, it could have done with a wittier dialogue. If it was intended to be a sad or serious view on the end of a era or the end of a career then it needed a more focused plot. If it was intended to be romantic or sexy then the seduction scenes needed to last a lot longer than 10 seconds -- especially as courtesans were more about the promise or suggestion of sex than sex itself. If you were expecting something like Dangerous Liaisons which was also directed by Stephan Frears then only the attention to costume, sets and locations (and the presence of Michelle Pfeiffer) are similar.

Ian's rating 2.5/5 (Another view point)

Examined Life

In Examined Life Astra Taylor asks eight philosophers to talk for 10 minutes each. One complains that 10 minutes is OK for other philosophers but not for her. They cover a diverse range of subjects from the abstract "Why do we search for meaning? And is this bad?" to the practical (well, as close to practical as philosophers get) "What is ethics?" to the controversial "Ecology and concern for the environment is the new opiate of the people" to the spiritual and vague "Life is a preparation for death". Some of these 10 minute segments are interviews and others are monologues and one is a conversation. I doubt if anyone will find them all equally interesting as the subjects and approaches are very different.

Peter Singer (talking about ethics), Martha Nussbaum (talking about the social contract) and Kwame Anthony Appiah (talking about cosmopolitanism) are like seasoned lecturers giving a condensed Stage one university lecture. Avital Ronell is interviewed about the search for meaning and its pitfalls (personally I think she misses the point that meaning is so integral for human thought and communication that she is necessarily using mean in her criticism of the human desire to impose meaning on everything). Michael Hardt talks about types of political revolution and why it is generally unsuccessful in bringing about democracy. Judith Butler has a conversation on disability. Slavoj Žižek gives the most controversial and thought provoking rant on the idea that Ecology and concern for the environment will become a new "opiate of the people". While Cornel West's rant hops from one subject to another like a humming bird. He sounds deep and mystical but never dwells long enough on any subject for one to be sure.

Astra Taylor has cooked up a pot luck meal of philosophy which could be useful starting point for anyone wanting to know what philosophers do.

Ian's rating 2.5/5

Dead Snow

Dead Snow ticks all the boxes as zombie splatter movies go:
  • A group of young people in a cabin outside cell phone range, most of whom will die in variety of gory ways
  • Ignoring warnings about evil things
  • Lots of frights
  • Funny bits
  • Some do stupid things, including having sex in at the wrong time and place
  • Some become unexpectedly brave and resourceful
  • Lots of zombies are dismembered or otherwise dispatched in many inventive ways
  • Very few people survive
Dead Snow does all this very well, with plenty of laughs and gasps from the audience. Its main points of difference are that the zombies are a bunch of Nazi troops that were chased into the hills by angry locals near the end of WWII where they naturally became zombies of course and an unhealthy obsession with both human and zombie intestines.

Ian's rating 3.5/5

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Higher Force

What is it about Icelandic movies? They seem to prefer to show the ugly side of the country. The Higher Force is mostly filmed in a down at the heel cafe, an apartment, bits of wasteland and behind some warehouses. It's an Icelandic slacker movie. The characters are gangsters of sorts, though the life of these Icelandic gangsters is mostly waiting around for people and making cryptic conversation. It is difficult to think of one character in this movie who isn't deluded or a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

So why watch this film? For starters you are left wondering how long these actors can keeps the silliness going in this earnest deadpan manner, and then there are the increasingly complicated deceptions they weave around each other as they try to impress each other, like boys at primary school (except these guys can be brutally violent). And what will David do when he puts together the final pieces in a childhood tragedy.

And it is not all sub-titles because Icelandic gangsters think it is cool to speak English with as much American street slang as they can cram into each sentence, and David's best friend is a German who speaks very little Icelandic.

"The Higher Force" of the title are some tacky self help / kung-fu videos that David watched as a kid and still watches when he is feeling down.

Ian's rating 4/5

This was preceded by The Attack of the Robots from Nebula-5, a black and white Spanish short film about a young man who is convinced that the world is about to be destroyed by robots from Nebula-5 and that only he will be saved, and only if he is in the safe spot (a bit of waste land where people take their dogs to shit). He has trouble convincing his family of their impending doom. He draws pictures of the frightening robots but his mother just puts them on the fridge. Ultimately he makes and wears a robot head made out of a cardboard box but he still can't get his message across.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Officially, Humpday is about two straight guys daring each other to make a man-on-man porn film. And this is part of the truth and very amusing it is too, in a slightly cringe-making way - trying to have sex without attraction or desire on the part of either participant is really a pretty ludicrous concept.

The guys concerned are Andrew and Ben, thirty-somethings who were at College together.Ben is now happily married to Anna with whom he has a communicative and considerate relationship. Andrew is an artist of sorts, who has never completed a project of any kind. Unannounced, Andrew arrives on Ben and Anna's doorstep at 2 o'clock one morning, fresh off the plane from Mexico and is invited to stay. And instead of being a dutiful guest and turning up for Anna's special dinner the next night, Andrew takes Ben to a boozy bohemian party where the porn film idea is born.And the rest of the film is about how this idea plays out

So, in fact, Humpday is about the dynamics of relationships and the process of moving from one life stage to another. There is a key speech where Ben tells Anna that he loves living with her and he loves the idea of having a child with her but he does want to indulge the side of himself that she doesn't know before he gets finally entrenched in the family-man-in-the-suburbs-scene.

Despite its risque premise, its a pretty gentle, talky sort of comedy which won't take the world by storm but made for a perfectly pleasant afternoon.

Anne's rating 3/5

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Big River Man

Martin Strel aka Big River Man, is a larger-than-life character who fully justifies a documentary. He's overweight and his consumption of alcohol is phenomenal. He's world famous in Slovenia, and moderately famous world-wide for his endurance swims of some of the world's longest rivers - the Danube, the Mississippi , the Yangtze and the Amazon. Big River Man the movie documents his Amazon swim in 2007 and the buildup to it. It's told from the point of view of his son Borut, whose practical amd moral support for his Father is a worthwhile story its own right.

Big River Man gives you satisfying insights into what drives Martin. Officially, he wants to draw attention to the state of the world's rivers, and in the case of the Amazon to the plundering of the rainforest that it runs through. This cause is genuinely close to his heart but you also come to see that swimming is a way of exorcising his demons and it has a therapeutic but also a traumatic effect on him.

As a child, Martin was beaten by his Father and Borut says that this has given him the great tolerance for pain that endurance swimming requires. There was also a formative childhood experience when Martin escaped a beating by jumping in the river on the farm where he lived. His father stood on the bank and waited for him to emerge so he swam downstream and his father followed on land. He kept swimming until his Father gave up and went home - and thus escaped a beating that day. So water came to represent a protective medium which he enjoys to this day.

The Amazon swim tests Martin's physical and mental endurance and nearly costs him his life and his sanity. He is both mad and a physical wreck by the end of the swim but Borut takes the attitude of "a man's got to do what a man's got to do" and is there for him all the way.

The scenery is great but its really the human endeavours that you go this film for - watching Martin push himself that hard and watching Borut and the team give him unstinting support despite the effect that it has on them personally is truly inspirational.

Anne's rating 4/5

In the Loop

In the loop is the antithesis of Louise-Michel. It's British, it's loud, it's fast-paced, its gloriously crude and best of all, it's actually funny. And not just funny, its truly a laugh a minute - while you're laughing at one joke you're missing the next one.

ITL is a political satire and focuses on the Secretary of State for International Development (Simon), his new aide (Toby) and the Prime Minister's director of communications (Malcolm). Malcolm is a foul-mouthed sarcastic Scot while Simon and Toby are somewhat self-effacing Englishmen. The film's scenario is that, while the UK and USA are planning to go to war in the Middle East, Simon says in a news conference that war is "unforeseeable".(I'll never see or hear that word again without thinking of this film!) This renders Malcolm apoplectic and the movie is a roller-coaster ride from there, hopping rapidly between London and Washington and Simon's constituency. The dialogue, the sarcasm and the humour are relentless and as long as you can handle bad language in abundance you should enjoy this movie immensely.

Anne's rating 4.5/5 Ian's rating 4.5/5

Red Cliff

If you are in the mood for an epic story of political struggle, armies clashing, brave leaders facing down superior forces, clever tactics, requited and unrequited love for a beautiful woman then Red Cliff might well be the film for you.

The version of Red Cliff I saw at the NZ International Film Festival was the "Readers Digest condensed" two and a half hour version, shortened down from the original two part version (which was 280 minutes long). I could not see any obvious signs that I was watching a shortened version. I didn't notice any unfinished plot lines or unexplained events that might indicate where the cuts were made.

The events in the film are historical. The Battle of Red Cliff marked the end of the Han Dynasty and the start of the era of the Three Kingdoms. But you don't need to know that. The relevant political background is simply explained at the beginning and other political relationships become clear during the film. The Imperial Chancellor Cao Cao brow beats the young Emperor into letting him embark on a military campaign south against Liu Bei (who had risen from poor beginnings to be a provincial leader) and Sun Quan (a more powerful southern leader) citing them as rebels against the Emperor. Cao Cao attacks Liu Bei first and defeats him. Liu Bei sends his military strategist Zhuge Liang to arrange an alliance with Sun Quan whose advisers are keen to avoid a war. Finally the scene is set for a showdown at Red Cliff on the Yangtze River. Zhuge Liang is the character we follow for most of the film, contrasting with the machismo of all the soldiers and generals, he moves from place to place quietly giving good advice, predicting the weather and arguing for a coalition against Cao Cao. He makes friends with Zhou Yu (the military commander on the river), and along with information from a female spy, they come up with the strategies that defeat Cao Cao.

This is apparently the most expensive film made in Asia and it shows in the scale and lavishness of the battle scenes and attention to detail in the more intimate scenes. Director John Woo is able to take the action seamlessly from mass battle scenes to individual heroics and back again. He gives us enough dialogue to let us know what is going on while leaving plenty of time for the action scenes.

Ian's rating 3.5/5

Lost in Wonderland

Just about all I knew about Bob Moodie was that he is a balding guy with a beard who wears dresses sometimes and was secretary of the Police Association when Muldoon was prime minister.

Now I know a lot more, including more background on the dress wearing and what fires his passion for justice. Bob is pretty frank in this documentary which starts with his childhood and takes us through his career up to his recent contempt of court trial where he turned up wearing an Alice in Wonderland outfit.

I'd recommend this documentary to anyone wanting to know more about this colourful NZ character.

Ian's rating 4/5

The Baader Meinhof Complex

The Baader Meinhof Gang (or Red Army Faction) were a West German terrorist group that grabbed a lot of headlines when I was at school and The Baader Meinhof Complex is a docu-drama that fills in background to those headlines. The film shows us how the some of the key players got together, in particular Ulrike Meinhof, Gudrun Ensslin and Andreas Baader. They saw the public apathy in West Germany to ex-Nazis in senior positions, to human rights struggles in the 3rd world, to American militancy around the world and a swing towards right wing authoritarian politics in West Germany as the rise of fascism again. They didn't want to repeat Germany's mistake in the 1930s. Starting with normal protests and public meetings and publications their tactics became more violent after a protester was shot by a policeman and an assassination attempt on a student leader.

The most dramatic scene in the film is the visit of the Shah of Iran to West Berlin in 1967 where a bus load of suit wearing Iranian security guards attack the public and protesters with lengths of wood while the German police look on. Minutes later the German police join in on the side of the security guards.

The only character that the film follows on the government side, is head of West German police Horst Herold, who while always confident that the police will eventually catch all the terrorists is also sure that the police can't stop other people coming to the same political conclusions. The film follows the 3 RAF leaders through their arrest and trial to their deaths in prison, but it never gets inside the minds of West German government, nor the public, except to say the polls say that sympathy for the RAF reached 25% at one point.

Ian's rating 4/5

Not everyone liked this film as much as I did. Though Steve Garden's reaction is that the world is divided into those that agree with him and stupid people. It must be nice to be able to classify the world so simply.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Pretend that you are a humble Catholic priest who nobly volunteered to be a test subject for a new vaccine. It goes horribly wrong, and you are the only one of the batch of test subjects who survives (due to a blood transfusion with some dodgy blood). While trying to live down your miraculous survival, you go back to your life of service in a hospital when you are struck by an urge to drink blood. Luckily a hospital is not a bad place to do this, given you are not into killing people. But then unfortunately you run into one of those school chums you'd prefer never to have met again. You know the the sort: runny nose, awful laugh, no social skills, but between him and his mother they know some embarrassing stuff about your childhood. To top it all off you begin to have trouble controlling your most unpriest-like lust for this dude's cute wife.

That is basically the synopsis for Park Chan-wook's vampire film Thirst. He keeps to the general conventions of vampire movies but throws out some of the mumbo jumbo such as fear of crucifixes. This idea of vampirism as more of a medical condition than an anti-Christian evil makes it feel much more plausible and a better fit with modern South Korea. Most vampire movies follow Bram Stoker's model and are told from the point of view of the potential victims or vampire hunters, but Thirst takes the point of view of the vampire. This tends to limit the opportunities for shock but increases the angst for our priest vampire.

Though there is no angst for the other vampire in the film, unrestrained by being a priest or even vaguely religious she relishes the power and opportunities that she didn't have in her prior life. She is out to have much more fun, leading to a show down with our protagonist.

This film is 130 minutes long and several times just when you think Park Chan-wook is tying the plot threads together for a conclusion he goes off on a fresh direction. That aside Thirst is modern view of vampirism that doesn't depend on pseudo religious Gothic hokum.

Ian's rating 4/5

An Education

Parents of teenage girls in the 21st Century should pause to consider that limiting their daughter's internet access so that they don't meet predatory men online isn't foolproof -they could meet a predatory man in the street, while waiting for a bus - and that's what An Education is about - a teenager who meets a man while she's waiting for the bus, and the consequences of that meeting for her and the entire family.

This film is set in London in the 1960's and while the schoolgirl-dates-older-man scenario gives you a feeling of foreboding you also see that its tremendous fun for a smart schoolgirl whose world revolves around homework and youth orchestra to be taken out to concerts and away to Paris for the weekend by a man who manages to convince her parents its a good idea.

The unfolding of the plot is one of the joys of the movie - others include a great script, great acting and sixties clothes, cars and attitudes. My few criticisms are that Jenny seemed too self-possessed a teenager to be entirely believable and that there was a little too much explanation at the end of the film (it could have been five minutes shorter and not suffered at all) but I enjoyed it completely. It's not a straightforward romance, but its all the more absorbing because of that.

Cleverly, hints about the ending are dropped throughout the film but I only noticed them in retrospect -- Ian

Anne's rating 4.5/5 Ian's rating 4/5

Summer Hours

Just in case you hadn't worked it out it's Film Festival time again, and Summer Hours was festival film number five and sadly one of the least memorable. It's a fairly gentle French film about three siblings dealing with their mother's death and the settling of her estate which consists of the house they all grew up in and its contents - some quite valuable art and some rare art deco furniture. And that's about it......each of the siblings has different attitudes to the situation and to the items to be disposed of but there are really no great insights to be gained from watching, no new things to ponder, no superb performances, no stunning scenery. It was all perfectly pleasant and I didn't suffer but there's really not much to say.

Anne's rating 2.5/5

Rough Aunties

The Rough Aunties in this documentary are certainly a bunch of women I would want on my side if I were an abused kid. They care about the kids and they are tough when it comes to getting things done. Whether it is chasing up the police, social services and the courts on the phone or in person to get things done or get cock-ups fixed up, or comforting a terrified child or coaxing a traumatic story from a child to provide the police with evidence they are kind, confident and relentless.

The Rough Aunties are 5 women from the BobbiBear organisation in Durban, South Africa. In a country where the police, courts, social and medical services are insufficient and the cultures (both black and white) are extremely male oriented abused children are at the bottom of the heap and there is a desperate need for organisations like BobbiBear and women like these.

The documentary follows the women around as they work with police on child abuse cases, including doing the interviews, taking the kids to identify the suspects, making sure that the police enforce restrictions on how close abusers can get to their victims. Picking up abandoned babies, and also dealing with the problems in their own lives. An eight year old son of one of the women drowns during the film and women clean up up the blood after a burglary shooting of a relative of another of the women.

The film is a powerful mixture of awful crimes and these dedicated "Rough Aunties".

Ian's rating 4/5

The Cove

Hands up if you have been to a dolphin show at Marineland, Seaworld or elsewhere? Didn't some of the money you paid go to support marine conservation including dolphin conservation? Yes, your tickets pay the salaries of many marine zoologists. But many of the dolphins used in these shows come from Taiji in Japan, where dolphinariums pay the Taiji town council and fishermen around $US 150,000 for a dolphin. But only a minority of the dolphins caught in Taiji end up in shows; 90% are killed and sold for meat at about $US 600 each. But of course dolphin meat is a delicacy in Japan? No, dolphin meat is often relabeled and sold as something else, and is donated to the schools for school lunches. Supply exceeds demand.

The fishermen, town council and police combine to keep the details of the dolphin killing in Taiji secret. The Cove tries to uncover what happens, why it happens and is an attempt to raise public opinion around the world to pressure the Japanese government to stop it. The film is structured like a making-of documentary about itself, building up to the attempt to film the dolphin killing by covert means. Through out this build up of tension the film crew encounters various Japanese officials who defend the dolphin hunt and are often made to look stupid as their various arguments are demolished in front of them.

But ultimately the film builds up a variety of arguments ranging from the emotional one that dolphins are very intelligent and shouldn't be kill or even confined, through to the public health one that dolphin meat contains mercury at levels way above WHO and Japanese limits for food. It also attempts to answer the questions: why doesn't the Japanese government put a stop to this, and what is the best way to stop this? Well Japan is a democratic country but it is also a country with a deeply authoritarian culture where if you try to oppose authority even if you are a journalist you will find everything is against you. A point the film makes incidentally by describing the compulsory school lunches -- 12 years of eating what teachers tell you to eat is likely to condition you to accepting authority on even quite personal matters like food. So change from within Japan is very unlikely and Japan as a country also has big chip on its shoulder about "The West" telling it what to do, dating back as far as 1854 and whaling and dolphin killing are issues where the Japanese government feels it can safely make its point to the rest of the world that it can ignore what foreigners tell it to do. I am not convinced that this film will be the catalyst that will stop the killing but it is certainly a film worth seeing.

Ian's rating 4/5

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bright Star

Bright Star has had lots of publicity, being Jane Campion's new movie.In case you haven't read all about it already, its the love story of John Keats and Fanny Brawne and its like Pride and Prejudice with racing stripes. Set about 20 years later than P&P, its got the empress line frocks and the sense of people who don't work for a living having a fairly pleasant existence while trying not to infringe social convention. Like P&P, the hero has a pesky friend who doesn't like the heroine - Keats' friend Brown behaves to Fanny like Bingley's friend Darcy behaves to Jane. Unlike the characters in P&P, Keats and Fanny have pastimes which actually keep them busy - he writes and she designs and makes clothes.

In the background of the pleasant existence of both stories are some less than pleasant truths - with P&P it was that if the Bennett girls didn't get married they were going to be out of a home when their Father died. And with Bright Star the unpleasant truth is that Keats can't afford to marry Fanny and he has an incurable disease as well. The movie Star is imbued with a sense of longing and unfulfilled passion -which sounds all rather depressing, but on the whole this isn't a depressing movie.

Set in Hampstead, which was a village north of London in 1819, the Heath is a major feature and the natural beauty of the landscape is one of the film's strengths. There are some gorgeous scenes in fields of bluebells and daffodils and some lovely treescapes. Pleasant picnics and walks in the woods feature and Keats and Fanny manage to evade their junior chaperones and indulge in some serious snogging from time to time so they aren't in anguish constantly. There are other pleasant diversions, like Fanny's younger brother and sister starting a butterfly farm in her bedroom, and the family cat is just a charmer.

The gloom and doom quotient increases gradually and the unhappy ending is inevitable but if you can live without a happy ending this film is well worth watching.

Anne's rating 4/5

Friday, July 17, 2009


Have you ever gone to work to find everything and everyone gone? It happened to one of my colleagues last year. He returned from an overseas holiday and stepped out of the lift to discover everyone gone and no indication of where we had disappeared to. It happens at the beginning of Louise-Michel, where a group of factory workers turn up to work to discover that the factory has been stripped bare over night. Their union comes up with a 1000 Euro each, which they entrust to Louise to implement her idea to hire a hit-man to "whack" their boss.

OK we are in a French comedy but not the usual sort of French farce. This one reminded me more of The Office and Napoleon Dynamite - deadpan, politically incorrect and almost imperceptibly more and more screw ball. At first Louise is the only only odd character, and she just seems slightly slow and illiterate but gradually the film is populated by more and more of these characters who operate according to their own crazy logic almost unnoticed by the normal members of the public (who seem to be an endangered species by the end of the film). The illiterate, transsexuals, people in wheelchairs are all grist to the humour mill. The film takes a detached view of its characters. People wander in and out of shot, and the plot is less than obvious and the humour is often of the shock variety.

I like black humour and enjoyed the oblique approach of this film, though it won't make my top ten.

(Anne) It won't be making my top ten either, and could be a close contender for my bottom five. This film seems to be what might happen if the French made "Little Britain" - politically incorrect deadpan humour which sadly I didn't find very funny. The film quality was grainy, and the sky was overcast and Louise's eating habits (dead pigeon and raw rabbit) added a definite ick factor. Why suffer - just take my advice and stay away.

Ian's rating 3.5/5 Anne's rating 1/5


This delightful animated Japanese film comes from the same director/writer as Howl's Moving Castle which we both loved so we were seriously motivated to attend it.

Ponyo is a love story about a five year old (Sosuke, pronounced Sosski) and a goldfish (named Brunhilde but renamed Ponyo). Sosuke lives in an exotic cliff-top house with his nurse-aide Mum, Lisa, while his father works at sea. Ponyo lives in the nearby ocean and her parents are a bit more exotic - her father is a kind of magician with long hair and stripy trousers reminiscent of Uncle Sam, who was once human but now embraces everything oceanic and wants to engulf the planet in water, and her mother is a kind of goddess. Unsurprisingly, Ponyo has inherited a few magic powers.

Sosuke finds Ponyo in the sea below his house and carries her home in a bucket. A friendship is formed and Ponyo decides she'd like to become human and the film is the story of how that happens which makes an engrossing and enchanting story. It's very pretty to look at - the scenery is more like painting than cartoon and the storm scenes are just amazing. Ponyo herself is completely cute and I particularly liked the fish which morphed into waves and vice versa.

We weren't sitting close enough to any kids (there were plenty since it was the last afternoon of the school holidays but we were in a child-free row) to know how they felt about the movie but it's colourful, fun, imaginative, life-affirming and a little bit frightening - what more could a child of any age want?

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