Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Boy is one of those rare things - a New Zealand film that's doing well at the box office (a week ago it had almost made as much money as Sione's wedding), that doesn't take itself too seriously and that isn't (too) black. It's comedy, and while it has tragic undertones you don't have to dwell on those if you don't want to.

Boy has been described as a coming of age movie but I think it's more a "this is what my childhood was like" movie. It's told in a very matter-of-fact way and part of its charm is that the boy narrator seems completely unconscious of what an amazing story it is - how an eleven year-old whose mother is dead and whose father is in prison can be left in charge of four younger siblings and cousins while their care-giver grandmother goes to a tangi in Wellington. Boy draws us a very vivid picture of life in a mainly maori community not far from East Cape in the 1980s where normality is no-one having any money, having a more intimate relationship with your pet goat than with your father, your friends having picking marijuana as their after school job, and being fascinated with Michael Jackson. Boy is the aforementioned eleven year old and his little brother Rocky (who might or might not have magic powers) is an almost equally important character

Into this normality comes Boy's father(Alamein), who roars onto the scene in a big black Chrysler Valiant with two fellow gang members (this gang affiliation is not to be taken too seriously since the three of them are all the members!) with the intention of finding the proceeds of a robbery that is buried in a field near his mother's house. And the crux of the story is Boy adjusting to the real Alamein, after having had a fantasy father figure for the last seven years. Alamein introduces Boy to drugs and alcohol with almost tragic results, and Boy finds the buried money with differently tragic results.

There are lots of things to love about this film - the cars, the clothes, the child actors, the dialogue and the accents. On of my favourite scenes was Boy serving his father and fellow gang members cups of tea in the Chrysler and another was Boy doing battle with the school floor polisher which was almost as big as he is. The finale (a Michael Jackson dance number which involves almost the entire cast) is a particular gem.

Watch the trailer here

Anne's rating: 4/5

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The White Ribbon

At the start of "The White Ribbon" the narrator tells us that this is a story of strange events he doesn't fully understand but feels they explain what happened to Germany in the 20th century. If you were late finding your seat and missed this bit you'd think you were watching a particularly convoluted series of revenge mysteries in a small uptight north German village, where the most high tech thing in the village is the Baron's bicycle.

The narrator is the school teacher in a village where the biggest employer is the local Baron who employs most of the small village during harvest time. A fatal accident and a series of attacks (most of which look like revenge attacks though it not always clear who carried them out and why) disturb the life of the village. As events unfold we get to know various people's unsavoury secrets. Despite appearances this village is far from idyllic.

Inexplicably the children of the village seem to know more about what is going on than the adults, though they don't let on what. It seems that I was not alone in being reminded of Village of the Damned. But this film is full of red herrings, and I am sure most people will feel cheated by the end, as the director Michael Haneke is deliberately subverting our expectations of how films should work.

In addition to all the mystery, violence and secrets there is a cute love story between the school teacher and the Baron's children's young nanny, including a priceless meet the family scene.

I suspect everyone left the cinema with a different idea of how (or if) the film tied in with German history. That said, it is a very nicely made film -- filmed in colour apparently but turned into harsh but beautiful black and white during post-production.

Watch trailer here.

Ian's rating 3/5

Cairo Time

An unplanned romance between a beautiful blonde 50+ year old Canadian woman and a somewhat younger and equally good looking Westernised Egyptian while the former is at a loose end in Cairo seems a likely synopsis for a shallow chick-flick or date movie. But Cairo Time fails to deliver. Patricia Clarkson is a good actor and she does a great impression of jet lag, but she unfortunately keeps it up for the entire film. She is also saddled with a character that is too neurotic and selfish to be engaging and her relationship with her husband doesn't make sense. He is a UN official in charge of a refugee camp in Gaza but she shows a complete lack of understanding of what that means. There are other irritating inconsistencies. At the beginning of the film she is followed and jostled by men when she walks the streets alone. Later she walks alone unmolested.

Alexander Siddig as Tareq does a reasonable job as a man comfortable both in the ways of the West and in the slower life of Egypt, but he does seem somewhat detached from both. He is conveniently without family, friends or much in the way of job commitments.

All of this might be forgiven if there was some chemistry between the lead characters. Even that is missing and the script doesn't help here. It meanders along without much direction or plot. A few unconnected things happen but don't amount to anything. This includes a promising sub-plot of Tareq's ex-girlfriend reappearing.

On the plus side Cairo looks good. The early scenes are especially good at summing up the crowds, noise, traffic and buildings. But all this is lost in later scenes when the streets are often empty, and a lot of the street noise is replaced by music. The Pyramids naturally play a big part in the film and there is some nice filming in an unnamed mosque and a bit of desert, but there are plenty of other sights in Cairo that could have been used to give viewers more of a taste for the city but in fact for much of the film it is an anonymous backdrop and could have been any large 3rd World city.

Watch trailer here.

Ian's rating 1/5 Anne's rating 2/5


I suspect most people who have heard about Nelson Mandela know that the South African government held secret talks with him while he was still in jail. What I didn't know was that the ANC wasn't aware of what was being talked about and were suspicious that he would be pressured into some deal behind their backs (as they saw it). I also didn't know that Consolidated Goldfields (since bought by Hanson plc) were worried about their South African mines and started a parallel series of secret talks in the UK between the ANC and white South Africans with indirect links to the government. These talks were organised by Michael Young and are the subject of Endgame.

The film is structured around a slow moving build up to the talks; following Michael Young as he tries to find white people willing to talk and is dogged by less than subtle secret agents. The camera work here is jumpy in an unsubtle and (to my mind) unsuccessful attempt to create tension. Mid-section of the film follows the two sets of talks. One in a posh English country house and the other in a South African jail. This is less about the substance of the talks than the roles of Thabo Mbeki (as a sophisticated and unyielding negotiator for the ANC), Professor Willie Esterhuyse (under orders to negotiate nothing and act as a reluctant spy) and Dr Neil Barnard (head of the Nation Intelligence Service as spider in the middle). This is the most successful part of the film, capturing the ambiguities of the government trying to both destroy the ANC and talk to it and similarly the ANC trying to figure out if the government is serious about peace talks or if it is a divide and conquer strategy. The final act begins with P.W. Botha's stroke and things happen so quickly I found it slightly unsatisfactory. Almost like F.W. de Klerk comes to power and then a miracle occurs.

People sitting around a table talking is not a good subject for a film, but Endgame succeeds in bringing out the irony of negotiations between a powerful government and the representatives of the people it is subjugating. The government wants concessions from the ANC but any concessions by the ANC would lead to it agreeing to some special deal for whites.

Watch trailer here.

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