Wednesday, August 26, 2009

District 9

Last night, making a change from lowering the average age at the Pauatahanui Lighthouse the other Sunday afternoon, we raised the average age at an almost sold out showing of District 9 at the Embassy.

District 9 has been getting rave reviews from all and sundry, and justifiably so. The scenario is that twenty years ago an alien spaceship appeared over Johannesburg, and hovered ominously but uneventfully for sometime. Humans eventually cut their way in and discovered 1.2 million starving bipedal aliens inside, who they brought down to earth and housed in a refugee camp. Twenty years on the alien population has swollen to two million and the township they live in (District 9) is a slum. So its been decided to move them to a camp 25km outside the city and and a corporation called MNU (who seem to be a kind of military quango) has the job of organising the eviction.

Enter the "hero" of the film, Wikus Van der Merwe, the MNU employee who is in charge of the operation. Unexpected things happen to Wikus on eviction day and he begins a closer relationship with the aliens ("prawns") than he was expecting. On one level, District 9 is the story of what happened to Wikus, and on another its a story about apartheid - about how a fictional underclass is treated in South African society and how that mirrors how non-whites were treated in South Africa last century. While this second level is quite obvious it isn't too dominating or laboured too hard. And since Wikus' story is such a rollercoaster ride of shoot-em-up drama, you only have to reflect on the other aspect if you want to.

If you want to know more about the plot, there are lots of other reviews you could read. There are many joys watching this film and one of them is not knowing what's going to happen next. It begins and ends documentary style with talking heads and chunks of Sky-news-type footage, with straight filming of Wikus' story sandwiched in the middle. I enjoyed the novelty of Afrikaans accents and names, and the splatter factor of the fighting and I liked the fast pace and noise. I liked how the story was firmly rooted on earth (moderately unusual for a science fiction film) and how it focused on a particular individual while considering the plight of humankind. It was completely engrossing, escapist and exhilarating and watching it is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours.

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

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Separation City

Just for a change, the weekend after the film festival, we went to the movies again, this time because we were invited. We lowered the average age at the Pauatahanui Lighthouse, we think.

I've read a lot about Separation City. "Not a first date movie" "Bittersweet comedy" "Hilarious" "A movie about falling out of love for the first time". And also that Tom Scott first wrote it twenty years ago and that the scenery is great. I think if you're from Wellington it's probably worth seeing just to admire familiar landscapes beautifully shot.

The "Hero" of the story is Simon, 30-something father-of-two, who works at the Beehive as a ministerial advisor and is married to Pam. Pam and Simon's sex life is the doldrums and their friends in their age group have problems too - Keith's wife has decided she's a lesbian, and Katrien and Klaus another have split up because she caught him bonking another woman in the marital bed. Simon fancies Katrien, (she's beautiful, foreign, a cellist and above all available, so why wouldn't he) and they attempt an affair. Pam rumbles Simon and Katrien, and chucks Simon out. Meanwhile Keith starts a men's group and Simon and his best buddy Harry go along.

One of Separation City's problems is that it hasn't quite decided what kind of film it is. It might be intended as a comedy since it IS very funny in parts and has plenty of good lines. And it has lots of physical comedy that would do credit to any farce. However, the subject matter (separation) isn't intrinsically funny and the plot seems to indicate there's a serious story to be told so it isn't really just for laughs.

It might also be intended as a drama about separation. So why all the gags and why the happy ending? Graeme Tuckett said on National Radio today that it was a romantic comedy and that people who like romantic comedies will go to it. I'd say if its a romantic comedy you want there are much more uplifting feel-good options out there. The sex scenes are characterised by a complete lack of foreplay, and are generally unsatisfying for one or both parties which contributes to the lack of feel-good flavour.

My take on Separation City is that it's a story about the plight that ordinary relationships can get into, which most people can identify with to some degree or another (either recognising themselves or people they know) with lots of jokes thrown in to make it palatable and a happy ending so we don't go home too depressed.

It didn't quite do it for me - I laughed a lot, and I thought it was well-acted but it didn't hang together. Definitely a wait-for-the-DVD film.

Anne's rating 2.5/5

Separation City is not about separation, its mostly about infidelity real and contemplated. On the good side it is very funny in lots of places, with some serious bits in between. Like Anne, I was confused as to the overall intent of the film. While I enjoyed the jokes and the great bedroom farce scene, I personally thought there was too much voice over, which a more experienced stage / screen writer could have avoided. Perhaps Tom Scott should have teamed up with Roger Hall.

For me Danielle Cormack was the pick of the actors, she had by far the best body language. You could tell what her character (Pam) was thinking before she spoke. On the other hand her performance in her sex scenes seemed out of character.

For Wellingtonians the drive from Parliament to the airport via Eastbourne will seem unnatural!


Ian's rating 2.5/5

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Jerichow

Jerichow is a bleak German love triangle.

Thomas, strong, silent, almost withdrawn and recently discharged from the army plays good Samaritan to Ali a portly, middle-aged Turkish-German businessman. Consequently Ali offers Thomas a job helping manage his chain of snack bars. Enabling Thomas to meet Laura, Ali's much younger, slim blonde wife.

With its lack of dialogue, actors and only necessary scenes this is a very economical film, which revolves around Ali. His outwardly cheerful and chatty persona carries the dialogue. His almost constant presence and occasional absence create the sexual tension between the would be lovers and fleeting opportunities to release it. A man who has made his fortune against the obstacles of racial discrimination, he is obsessive and suspicious, a serious opponent for Thomas and Laura's plans. We are not led to like Ali (or indeed Thomas or Laura either), but we are interested in their fate. Will Laura end up with Thomas or Ali, in fact why was she with Ali in the first place?

The plot has the feel of a Shakespearian Tragedy, trimmed of its fat and comedy. Fate has it in for someone, may be all of them, and it seems like nothing will stop it. If you like happy love stories then this isn't your film, but if you like tension and not knowing how things will end and you can handle characters who look like normal people living unglamorous lives then this might be your sort of film.

For a man who otherwise guards his privacy, counter intuitively Thomas never locks his front door.

Ian's rating 3/5

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Maid

The Maid (La Nana) is a Chilean portrayal of the relationship between a long time live-in maid and the family she works for. Raquel is 41 and has been working for the Valdes family for 23 years. Her job has become her life and she simultaneously resents how the job has consumed the best part of her life without much reward (financial or otherwise) while also resenting any challenge to "her place" with the family. Raquel's isolation in the large empty house during the day and the boredom of her day off underline how her job has imprisoned her.
When Mrs Valdes chides Raquel for forgetting an instruction she complains about overwork, when Mrs Valdes responds by floating the idea of hiring a girl to help Raquel, she retorts that she doesn't need any help. This conundrum is Mrs Valdes's problem to solve (within the self imposed constraint of not upsetting Raquel), while Raquel tries to make sense of her life and her dissatisfaction with it.

Raquel's childish passive-aggressive approach to any problem is the main source of humour that lightens what could otherwise be a depressing story. Finally it takes imperturbable and friendly new maid Lucy to break through Raquel's defences and show her that there is another way to relate to people and that life is possible outside work.

The Maid takes us on an emotional journey to an impasse and then through it (with plenty of humour on the way) to and ending that isn't as sugar coated as other film makers would be tempted to make it. It is also an interesting look at the relationship between servants and their employers, something Kiwi's are less familiar with than Chileans.

(If you want a spoiler then this link will give a fuller account of the plot)

Ian's rating 3/5

Mid-August Lunch

Italian films (like their French and American counter parts) are noted for their beautiful actresses. But Mid-August Lunch breaks that mould. The average age of the four actresses is 88.

The concept of a guy living with his mother into his middle age or later is a distinctly Italian one. Gianni is leaving middle age behind but certainly not leaving home. He has money worries but otherwise tries to lead a simple life. So he is not prepared for the series of events which lead him and his mother to house and feed three other old women for the August holiday of Ferragosto (an Italian holiday that dates back to the Roman Empire). These four old women are no more happy with the situation and each other than Gianni is. They employ all their skills at bitchiness, hautiness, forgetfulness in trying to get their own way, but it is Gianni's eager-to-please attitude and unexpected help from a drinking buddy that smooths the feathers and unexpectedly turns the awkward situation into a happy feast in a hot and almost deserted Rome.

This is a sweet gentle and very watchable comedy. The only nod to more traditional Italian films is a shot of Gianni on his balcony watching a sweet young thing in a summer dress get into a convertable in the street below.

Ian's rating 3.5/5

Sunday, August 02, 2009

OSS 117 - Lost In Rio

You may not have come across OSS 117 before - he's a French Secret agent. Think 007, but sillier. He's a sort of cross between James Bond and Inspector Clouseau with some American Pie crassness thrown in.

Lost in Rio is set in the 1960's, mostly in Brazil and the clothes, scenery and cars are almost worth going for by themselves. OSS 117 (Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath) has been dispatched to Rio to retrieve a list of French citizens who collaborated with the Germans in WWII, and a further list of Nazis who are in hiding overseas. The person ransoming these lists is a Nazi-in-hiding so Hubert ends up with a glamourous female Mossad agent helping him out. This provides fodder for lots of sexist and racist jokes - along with his king-sized ego and fear of heights, Hubert is incredibly un-pc. He is larger than life with bryl-creemed hair, unnaturally perfect teeth and a fondness for checked sports jackets that some may find cringe-worthy.

Lost in Rio isn't non-stop slapstick French farce of the Ruby and Quentin variety, but there's plenty of action and physical humour - lots of shooting sprees where of course OSS 117 remains untouched and a particularly splendid scene where Hubert's head gets stuck in some lift doors. There's also a big dose of deadpan humour - my favourite example is Hubert going into the German Embassy in Rio and asking for a list of Nazis resident in Brazil.

If you're in the mood for a spoof and general silliness then this could be what you're looking for.

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

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Grace

Horror movies tend to conform to narrow clich├ęs, so I tend to look out for ones that promise innovation. Grace promises a vampire baby (and a send-up of pre- and post-natal obsessions). That Madeline Matheson's baby is not keen on milk is perhaps not unusual, that baby Grace prefers blood is, and it rather upsets Madeline's vegan lifestyle. That baby Grace attracts flies is another upsetting issue. Then there is the maternally obsessed, interfering mother-in-law who thinks that the "women her son married" is not fit to be a mother.

Given that breast feeding plays such a big part in this film, it is a pity that the film suffers from the typical mainstream American TV/film prudishness towards naked breasts. The director's efforts to show breast feeding while not showing breasts seems awkward and unnatural.

Ian's rating 3/5