Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Award Ceremony NZ International Film Festival 2010

This is really just a personal summary of this year's Film Festival, in a style I have used before.

This was a year of political films. A year when directors couldn't help themselves from playing with time lines, and they often couldn't be bothered with the traditional cinematic conventions to signal flashbacks. It was also a year of superfluous final scenes.

In summary, this year's...
Best Film: Cell 211
French Farce: The Concert
Classic Film: Once Upon a Time in the West
Special Mention: A Prophet - educating us on how prison educates

Best Comedy

All good, but The Concert just beats Four Lions, but I wouldn't like to pick a third place getter from the other three.

Best Thriller

My pick is Cell 211 - tense from beginning to end.

Best Mystery Film

The best told, yet simplest mystery was The Double Hour.
Triangle was the most mind bending,
while The Ghost Writer was the 3rd most entertaining mystery.

Best Political Film
There were plenty of films with a political theme or drama based on political conflict this year.


Four Lions was the most irreverant, Russian Lessons was the most thought provoking, Kawasaki's Rose and Agora also made me think, while White Material, Ajami and Scherezade did a good job of presenting consequences of political conflicts.

Best Horror
  • The Loved Ones - does for outback folk what Hitchcock did for shower curtains.
  • Dream Home - an apartment to die for.
  • The Human Centipede - mad doctor has it all sewn up.
  • Wound - the angry by-product of being bored by the utterly predictable banality of our mainstream movies.
  • Triangle - didn't I kill you five minutes ago?
  • Splice - Picaso meets genetic engineering.

My pick is Triangle. Usually people take a cruise to escape, but these people want to escape from the cruise. Stylish Splice was my next pick, with The Loved Ones as the best of the splatter movies.

New Zealand Films
In order from best to worst:
  1. Predicament - what did you do in the school holidays?
  2. The Hopes & Dreams of Gazza Snell - come crashing down.
  3. Wound - love it or hate it.

The acting in the Kiwi films was often better than the films. In particlar Kate O’Rourke and William McInnes were outstanding and Jemaine Clement was delightfully spooky.


Time Travel
This was a year where directors used non-traditional techniques jumping around in time.

Superfluous Final Scenes

In addition Splice ran out of inspiration near end. The Time that Remains had superfluous scenes in 2nd half even though the final scene was great. While the final scene of The Killer Inside Me was full of problems.

Best Actors
In order
  1. Kate O’Rourke acts her heart out in Wound
  2. Luis Tosar was mesmerising as Malamadre in Cell 211
  3. Everyone knows a Gazza like William McInnes
  4. Casey Affleck was The Killer Inside Me

Previously I have noted the unrealistic or unjustified use of a sexy actress. I didn't notice any blatant eye candy this year. Even Kim Cattrall and Rachel Weisz were looking restrained and aren't all female violin soloists beautiful?

But I have it on good authority that there were two pretty boys in The Hopes & Dreams of Gazza Snell.

One offs
Western: Once Upon a Time in the West - the best of the West?
Animation: In the Attic - junk having fun
Documentary: Russian Lessons - eye openning
Science Fiction: Splice - shock and humour
Surreal: Wound - amazing acting, pity about the film
Silent: Marvellous Corricks - weird and wonderful pre-1910 silent films

The Hopes & Dreams of Gazza Snell

Gazza is good Kiwi bloke, ambitiously in pursuit of his dreams and hopelessly optimistic to the point of being blind to risk and consequence. A man with a "can do" attitude and boundless energy. Not a good person to be married to if you are the worrying type (or even merely well adjusted). We all know a "Gazza" or two and William McInnes plays him perfectly.

The plot of The Hopes & Dreams of Gazza Snell is very simple, yet it is so dominated by Gazza that only his son Mark gets to share the limelight. Some of the interesting events (like the election campaign or Gail and Ron or Mark and Jee) are handled so abruptly that they seem contrived. I wonder if the story would seem more complete if either more had been made out of them or if they had been cut.

Gazza's passion is go-carting and he lives his passion through his sons and his desire to see them to top of the sport and dreams of Formula 1. He finances his dreams with proceeds of his cleaning business, and what ever schemes he can come up with, to the despair of his wife, Gail (Robyn Malcolm). His risk taking both financially and on the track are leading inevitably to disaster one way or the other only Gazza (and his sons) can't see it.

Overall it a nice simple story with a strong central character that we can all identify with, but the execution of the supporting characters and story elements lets it down a little bit. Still, I have it on good authority that the two boys are eye candy.

Ian's rating 2.5/5
Anne's rating 3/5

The Red Shoes

Made in 1948, the Red Shoes is, apparently, THE great ballet movie of all time. The reason it features in the 2010 film festival is that is has recently been restored. (You can read all about the restoration here .) I read lots of English Ballet novels when I was a child (no TV, you understand) and while I can't remember references to The Red Shoes, Moira Shearer definitely featured. Sunday afternoon at the film festival seemed a good time to see what all the fuss was about.

The story is all a bit melodramatic by twenty-first century standards but gripping nonetheless. Moira Shearer plays Vicky Page, a rising ballet star. Vicky is given her big break by the ballet company director (Boris) who offers her the leading role in The Red Shoes. The director has also given a big break to young conductor and composer Julian Craster, getting him to score the ballet music. In the process of rehearsing and performing the Red Shoes Julian and Vicky fall in love, much to Boris's disgust - he prefers his artistes to concentrate on their jobs and lavish any spare emotion on him. Poor old Vicky has to choose between love and dancing and this causes more turmoil than you'd expect - it turns into a tragedy on an epic scale, echoing the plot of the ballet itself.

There's definitely justification for the fuss - this is a beautiful film to look at on all sorts of levels. Moira Shearer is just gorgeous - wonderful red hair and big blue eyes and an hourglass waist and her party clothes are fabulous. It's fun to see Covent Garden when there was still a working market next door, and the scenery in Monte Carlo is suitably splendid. There's a big chunk of the ballet to watch which is great. There are 1940's hairstyles to admire and that clipped English delivery to marvel at - did people REALLY talk like that? The Red Shoes is escapism on a grand scale and you should take the opportunity to escape if it arises.

Anne's rating 4.5/5

Monday, August 02, 2010

Russian Lessons

Russian Lessons was the only documentary I saw in this year's Film Festival. A couple of years ago during the 2008 Beijing Olympic games Georgia attacked the city of Tskhinvali in the break away region of South Ossetia. The Russians claimed that 2000 civilians and some Russian peacekeepers had been killed in the bombardment, and that they were counter attacking to protect their peacekeepers and the South Ossetians. The Russians quickly took control ofSouth Ossetia and expanded the war into other parts of Georgia. The US, who had military advisors in Georgia, blustered that this was Russian aggression. The French tried to broker a ceasefire and a Russian withdrawal. The ceasefire took effect but the Russian withdrawal was much slower than they promised. There was talk of Russia being annoyed by a oil pipeline through Georgia that bypassed Russian controlled pipelines. Out of the mainstream there was sketchy information about the larger scale presence of Israeli military advisors and hardware in Georgia and the Georgian Minister of Defense with Israeli citizenship. The general consensus in the media seemed to be that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (emboldened by Dick Cheney et al) had tried to retake South Ossettia by force, while the world's media attention (and Russia) was focused on the Beijing Olympics and it had backfired.

At the start of this war Olga Konskaya and Andrei Nekrasov (documentary film makers based in St Petersburg, and connoisseurs of Georgian wine) decided to document the war. Andrei flew to Georgia to reach the front line from the south while his wife Olga went to North Ossetia (in Russia) to reach the front line from the north. Olga found the interesting information. At the Russian border she found people who saw the Russian army moving into South Ossetia before the war started. In Tskhinvali a city of about 25,000 where 2000 civilian were killed she couldn't find anyone who knows someone who died or were wounded, and only 50 new graves mostly of young men. People she talked to said that they had left the city before the war (about half the population left before the war started). Outside Tskhinvali amoung the Georgian villages she found plenty of people who's houses and businesses had been destroyed and evidence of deaths. Strangely most of the destroyed businesses were brand new, evidence of an ecconomic boom amoung Georgians in South Ossetia in recent years.

In Beslan, North Ossetia she finds witnesses from both inside the school and outside it who claim that the killing and destruction was caused by Russian soldiers and tanks attacking the school, rather than by the 7 gunmen inside the school. Turning the official story of this 2004 terrorist incident on its head. The Russian 58th Army was involved in Beslan, South Ossetia and the Second Chechen War.

In the second half of the film Olga and Andrei supplement their field work with uncovering TV footage played in the West and in Russia of Geogian victims in hospital mis-identified as South Ossetians, of Russian planes attacking Gori mis-identified as Georgian planes attacking Tskhinvali. They also look back at the earlier conflict in 1991 especially at the Russian involvement in atrocities in Abkhazia, with interviews of Georgian victims and corroborated by a Russian soldier.

The conclusions they draw are that the break up of the USSR was at least as brutal as Yugoslavia, that Russia is not to be trusted and its interest in Abkhazia is more about access to the Black Sea than the interests of Abkhazians and that western media is often too trusting or lazy about verifying facts. Even though they blame the entire 2008 war on Russia they don't explain Russia's motives. Though Putin made it clear in 2008 when the US recognised Kosovo that it would lead to Russia recognizing separtists in places like South Ossetia.

In my view the last 20 years has seen a ressurection of The Great Game between the UK and Russia in 19thC, but this time played out between the US and Russia with eastern Europe and the break away parts of the USSR as the chess board. While Russia is very short of pieces and is pinned in a corner, it is trying to play itself back into the game. Not a good time to be one of America's pawns.

Russian Lessons isn't neutral but it is a dramatic demonstration that even with today's technology the media (and through them the rest of us and our political leaders) can still be fooled.

Ian's rating 4/5


Boy meets Girl and Girl's parents don't approve is a familiar romantic theme, all the way back to Romeo and Juliet. With Cyrus we have the theme reworked for the older, second-time-around crowd; divorced man meets solo mother and her son doesn't approve. Not only does he not approve, he regards his mother's new suitor as direct competition for her affections.

Cyrus is a fraught, funny and slightly painful story. John is our divorced man, a freelance editor who is overly dependent on his ex-wife for a sympathetic ear. He meets Molly, (the very attractive solo mother) at a party and they hit it off and end up in bed at his house. A relationship ensues, but John, who is not the best adjusted chap in the world, decides to follow her home one morning since he feels she may be hiding something from him. And so she is - her 21 year-old son, Cyrus. Cyrus and Molly have an unusually close relationship which seems to cross boundaries in the realms of personal space and propriety and watching John discovering this relationship is fun if slightly uncomfortable. Watching Cyrus attempt to sabotage the new romance is a similar combination of fun and discomfort.

Cyrus is played very straight (the acting is excellent) and you are left to make your own interpretation of the characters and their motivations - there are no Sex-and-the-City lunches with best mates where the characters explain what's going on in their heads. Despite the subject matter it's relatively light-hearted and ends on an up-beat note and was one of the festival's surprise pleasures

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

After the Waterfall

I was disappointed in After the Waterfall even though my reasons for going (centred around seeing Antony Starr in something other than Outrageous Fortune and also trying to be support New Zealand movies in general) weren't that compelling in terms of guaranteeing a good watching experience.

In fact, Antony did an awesome acting job and the Waitakeres and West Auckland looked wonderful but the film's premise was too slim. It's the story of a man whose four-year-old daughter disappears while he's minding her and she isn't found. As is often the case, the loss of their child destroys his marriage and almost destroys his ability to relate to anyone else. Eventually he emerges from his dark night of the soul and recovery looks possible.

The director was at the screening and she explained that the film is based on a novel and what appealed to her about the story was the lack of closure; that sometimes (often, even) in life we don't know what happened or why it happened and she wanted to explore that. Now, in lots of ways I agree with her - I think the media is obsessed with who or what to blame for untimely deaths, and it's full of stories of grieving parents campaigning about something to prevent others having a similar experience, because that seems to help them deal with their grief. And one of the refreshing things about Antony's character was a complete lack of that campaigning spirit. However, it really wasn't much fun watching his personal struggle, nor was it especially uplifting or edifying. So why would you want to? I'm not sure that you would, unless you just wanted your mind removed from your own issues.

Anne's rating 2/5

Sunday, August 01, 2010


Triangle starts off in suburban Florida with a solo mum (Jess) frustrated with her autistic son and trying while trying to make a sailing trip with a her boyfriend and four other people. The trip starts smoothly, though Jess seems inexplicably dazed and distracted. But the spooky stuff starts soon enough and Jess (Melissa George) is at the middle of it.

This is more of a mystery horror movie than a splatter one. The basic mystery is signaled in the title, but like an onion there are layers of mystery here and at the bottom it becomes a psychological thriller as the protagonists try to escape the trap they are caught in.

Triangle is carefully constructed, and it pays to keep your attention on the details, as the you try to decipher it faster than Jess. In fact at the end I felt like watching it again, to double check the revelations against the earlier events to see if it all makes sense or if I'd been taken for a ride by some cinematic slight of hand.

Ian's rating 4/5

In the Attic: Who Has a Birthday Today?

Every day Buttercup bakes a cake and her three friends toss a die with 5 blank sides and a birthday cake on the sixth side to determine whose birthday it is today.

Stop motion animation has been popularized by Wallace and Gromit, but tends to be the poor cousin to the output of Pixar et al. This Czech film is based on discarded toys and other rubbish left in a capacious attic. Buttercup is a doll and her three friends are a lazy teddy bear, a pompous, windbag marionette soldier and a frenetic plasticine man with a bottle top hat. In fact it is fascinating to try and identify the junk that appears and often re-purposed into machines by Curie (the engineer and radio announcer), or used by the baddies.

Like many good stories for children there are other themes aimed at accompanying adults. In this case the baddies have over tones of a Soviet style regime, led by a talking golden, glasses wearing bust. This authoritarian leader has hots for Buttercup and Soviet style persuasion techniques, but never fear her friends are coming to her rescue (if the cat doesn't get them).

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