Thursday, January 29, 2009


One of Ian's workmates loaned us this DVD and when he asked for it back we thought it was time to watch it. Once is a musical and a love story based around creating music.It's set in Ireland and the combination of these things give it a level of originality and contribute to its charm.

The principal characters (who are nameless) are an Irish vacuum-cleaner repairman and a Czech flower seller. He busks (singing and playing the guitar) in his spare time and they meet in the street when he's busking. She sings and plays the piano but kicks off their relationship by bringing her vacuum cleaner along to his next busking date. The two of them walking through Dublin with the vacuum cleaner trailing along behind is one of my favourite scenes.

Over the course of the film we find out that out he also writes music and he shares his tunes with her, and ends up asking her to write lyrics for them. Which of course she does, and once they've created some songs, they find a drummer and a bass player and hire a recording studio to make an album. So we get to watch the creative process, which is (I think) intrinsically romantic - working together on something that looks and sounds beautiful and having something to show for it afterwards.

What would appear to be a straightforward romance is complicated by the fact that she has a husband in the Czech Republic and a daughter and a mother here in Ireland, and he has an ex-girlfriend living in London that he's still pretty attached to. The end of the film is ambiguous in that the plan is that he goes to London and her husband arrives from the Republic but you can't be sure that's what actually happened.

Being a musical, you'd expect the soundtrack to be good and it is. It's got definite Dave Dobbyn overtones - ballads with guitar and piano accompaniment. "Falling Slowly" won an Oscar in 2008 for best original song and maybe I'm mad but the song it reminds me most of is Dobbyn's "Welcome Home". As a film, and even as a musical I thought it didn't need quite as many full-length songs as it had - the one in the pub, for example, could have easily been left out without the film losing anything.

For a twenty-first century romance there's a refreshing lack of sex and I recommend it if you're in the mood for a wistful musical love story.

Anne's rating 4/5

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sleeping Dogs

I first saw this film on TV in 1981 (during the divisive Springbok Rugby Tour of New Zealand). My main impression was that the police actions during the riot scenes in the film were mild by comparison real thing shown on the TV News at that time. I was also amazed by how much cooperation the film-makers must have had with the Air Force.

Sleeping Dogs is based on a C K Stead's novel Smith's Dream -- which I had read a year or two earlier. While I enjoyed the book, the film has stuck in my mind longer. The plot is pretty straightforward with Smith's marriage breaking up at about the time that a major economic crisis is leading to authoritarian government in New Zealand and an insurgency. Running away from his marriage he gets mistaken for an insurgent, and discovers it is hard to prove that one is not a terrorist.

As other people have noted Sleeping Dogs was first of the current crop of 35mm feature films made in NZ. Most of its notability is related to this fact and that it is a pseudo-political thriller set in NZ. Both of these aspects mean that Sleeping Dogs is of far more interest to Kiwis than people overseas. To an overseas audience it would look like a very low budget and laid back thriller with no particular message or other notable features. To us we get to see a successful piece of low budget film making, a very young looking Sam Neill (as Smith) and New Zealand more or less as it looked in the 1970s (the days when the RNZAF had fighter jets, Dougal Stevenson read the news and Prime Ministers seems all powerful).

Seeing the film a second time, 27 years later, I found the concept of the NZ government declaring a state of emergency more far fetched than it had in Muldoon's time, but I found the idea of the police breaking into houses to arrest 'enemies of the state' / terrorists to be quite believable (especially given the 'Terrorism' Raids of Oct 2007). The brittle relationship between the gung-ho world-wise American and the naive, easily upset, Smith was reminiscent of the relationships between Americans and Kiwis over the Nuclear Ships issue of the 1980s. I had forgotten the personal battle between Smith and Jesperson, head of the special police, which feels like men reliving a school boy battle -- this time with guns.

Sleeping Dogs is especially worth seeing if you are interested in New Zealand film making history and the DVD comes with an interesting documentary on the making of the film.
Watch the Sleeping Dogs trailer (3.3MB; 2.16 minutes) at the Film Archive.

Ian's rating 3/5

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Quantum of Solace

Exotic locations, amazing gadgets, fast cars and pretty women are staples of James Bond films, but like Casino Royal before it, one of these things is missing from Quantum of Solace. Given the pace of the film you would be forgiven for not noticing the omission until afterwards.

As I have come to expect with Bond films, it kicks off with a chase scene in an exotic location as Bond brings in a man for "interrogation" by MI6. Many of the shots are in-your-face close-ups of Bond or from his point of view, which gives the sequence a claustrophobic feel. The shots are very short and choppy which gave me a feel for the instant, death defying decisions Bond is making. But the shots are also quite disjointed which just made me confused. The harbour chase scene later in the film is also shot in short disjointed takes which likewise left me confused as to the overall situation.

The mission for the film is summed up by M: "Who the hell is this organisation Bond? How can they be everywhere and we know nothing about them!" They turn out to be some politically well connected rich guys just wanting to get richer and for some reason Bond and rebel CIA agent Felix Leiter want to stop this! But don't look for rationality in a Bond plot, just go with the flow. You know the sort of thing, Bond follows a series of leads (which might be as tenuous as following a pretty woman) in an chain of events that leads him to foil the bad guys' plans usually in a series of explosions and dead bodies. The film alternates frantic chase scenes with slower development sequences, but even the slow sequences are quite short so that the overall pace is quick and relentless. One could quibble that the flight to Bolivia scene was probably superfluous and the final confrontation (which wraps up the Casino Royale plot) felt like an afterthought. This contrasts with Casino Royale with its multiple fake endings and twists in the tail that drag on and on.

While I found some of the dialogue and acting in Casino Royale quite stiff, I thought Quantum of Solace was a significant improvement. Daniel Craig in particular was more relaxed and natural when delivering his lines, but he has a long way to go to reach the panache and humour of say Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan. Also, there are fewer of the drawn out strangling scenes that I thought detracted from Casino Royale (perhaps I am unrealistic and sentimental but I thought Bond preferred quick kills). Perhaps because Judi Dench (M) is a draw card in her own right (and probably a better actor than Daniel Craig) she gets many of the best lines and unrealistically gets out "in the field". In the scenes they play together Bond comes across as a petulant school boy -- something he is aware of (Camille: "Your mother?" Bond: "She likes to think so.")

There are two Bond Girls: Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko) on her own mission of revenge who teams up with Bond for much of the film to their mutual advantage and Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton) from the British Consulate in La Plaz who will be remembered for her 1960s cream coat and banter at the airport but unfortunately gets too close to Bond.

What's missing? Well it seems that Q and his gadgets have been replaced by a swag of product placements.

Overall this is an improvement on Casino Royale but unlike some previous Bond films I can't think of anything here that is particularly memorable.

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

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Casino Royale

One of Ian's workmates gave him some free tickets for Sky City Cinemas which had to be used by Dec 31st. The best of the films on offer seemed to be Quantum of Solace but as everyone knows this is a sequel and we hadn't seen the original yet. So the best thing to do seemed to be to watch a DVD of Casino Royale on Monday and go to Quantum of Solace at Lower Hutt on Tuesday.

In case you're the only person on the planet who didn't know, Casino Royale is a James Bond film with Daniel Craig starring as Bond for the first time. I found the plot a little hard to follow but Wikipedia has a thorough description here.

There are classic Bond-Story elements like gorgeous women, fast cars, shootouts and exotic locations. There are departures from Classic Bond - there is no Q, no gadgets and Bond sometimes uses strangling rather shooting as his method of killing his enemies. (I didn't feel this last was a good thing - some have described it as gritty and adding a dose of realism but for me Bond films are all about escapism and I don't like to be made to dwell on his victims' suffering). Another departure is Bond falling in love (he even says "I love you" before she does) and wanting to leave the service although I suspect this is an aberration allowed because this film takes place so early in his career.

Casino Royale is good entertainment and the stunts are superb. I loved the early stunt sequence on a building site in Madagascar which involved two cranes and had Bond and his target running along steel girders and leaping improbably from crane to crane employing pulleys and swinging on loads of building materials for extra excitement. The second major sequence at Miami Airport was enormous fun, particularly because of the vehicles used - whizzing around in petrol tankers and plane pushers isn't everyday movie material.The palazzo crumbling into the canal in Venice was also impressive but too recognisably CGI for my liking......I like things to look real even if I know they aren't. I enjoyed the scenery and the casino sequences in Montenegro, and of course the moment where Daniel Craig pops out of the sea in the Bahamas clad only in his swimming trunks. Judi Dench as M was good fun....she is very good at telling people off and she had plenty of opportunity in this film with her newest and most inexperienced agent.

Casino Royale is slightly too hard to follow, slightly too disjointed and slightly too gruesome to be my ideal escapist movie but its worth a trip.

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