Saturday, August 23, 2014

Cold in July

Imagine you're an American and you believe in your right to bear arms. One of the reasons you want to do that is to protect yourself and your family from other gun-bearers. Now imagine an intruder breaks into your home and you get out of bed and grab your gun and apprehend  the intruder in your living room. You shoot and he dies. No matter how firm your beliefs you're going to be a bit taken aback at this point and you have to process the fact that you have killed another human being. And of course you'll be wondering about the legal consequences of what you've done.

This is the scenario in the opening scenes of Cold in July. Michael C Hall plays Richard Dane as the anxious leading man. To Richard's initial relief, there seems to be very little in the way of consequences for the murder  - the police tell him the dead man is Freddy Russell who is a  known criminal  and no loss to the community. Then Richard sees a picture of Freddy Russell, and he's pretty sure the person he killed isn't
Freddy. Now the film proper kicks off - Richard goes on a kind of personal pilgrimage to work out what happened. He comes across Freddie's father who is (at first) out to revenge his son's murder, but once the body in the cemetery is unearthed and isn't Freddy he joins Richard in the pilgrimage. They recruit a private detective to help them and they go on a kind of boys road trip to solve the mystery and take retribution.

There's lots of gore and shooting in Cold in July but this film is a great watch. It kept me gripped and if I didn't exactly empathise with Richard I could understand how he felt.The 1980's setting, particularly the big cars and the aviator glasses is done superbly It's very good- humoured for such a violent film  and there seemed to be cheerful camaraderie between the the three men who are the main characters. The acting is superb - Michael Hall can definitely compete with Jesse Eisenberg when it comes to being anxious convincingly and. Don Johnson plays the private detective with just the right amount of swagger. Cold in July isn't quite as classy or quite as much fun as In Order of Disappearance with which it shares some plot similarities but it's good entertainment nonetheless.

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Green Prince

The premise of this documentary is interesting enough - Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of a Hamas leader in the West Bank, was for many years an agent for Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service. We find out how and why that happened and how it worked. Like many documentaries, there's quite a lot of talking head footage but in this film there are only two heads - Mosab himself and his Shin Bet handler Gonen Ben Yitzhak. The two heads are interspersed with historic footage and some re-enactments and there is an element of the political thriller here.

That said, the Green Prince doesn't feel like a documentary, or a political thriller. In some ways it feels like a Cinderella story - how the slightly plump, bearded, bespectacled Muslim youth from the West Bank that we see in the historic footage became the immaculately groomed beautiful and Christian specimen who resides in the US that we see in the interviews. In other ways it feels like a love story - the relationship between Mosab and his handler was (and remains) deep and intense. Mosab has no contact with his family now but he rings Gonen every week, even though he is no longer a spy and Gonen no longer works for Shin Bet. You could also view it as a sort of morality tale  - Mosab was raped by a family friend when he was about five and in his culture it seems the only thing more shameful than being a rapist was being a victim of rape,  so he never told his family. It's not a huge leap to say keeping a shameful secret from a very young age made him a good prospect for being a spy for the Israelis - just another shameful secret, really. So look after your children, if you'd like them to look after you in later life.

You will come away from the Green Prince with new facts, and an appreciation of how Shin Bet recruits its spies. You'll also come away with an appreciation of the effect that the recruiting and the spying has on the participants. And, I think, an opinion of who came out of the process the best.

Anne's rating 3.5/5

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Housebound was one of the festival films I was really looking forward to and it didn't disappoint  - all the elements of a classic horror film, with large dollops of comedy thrown in.

 Housebound's main character, the recalcitrant Kylie, is sentenced to home detention for her part in robbing and destroying an ATM. It's not her current home, it's her childhood home, where her mum and step-dad  live. It's not an ordinary suburban home, it's a big old two-storey wooden house that's a bit isolated.What's more, the house has a history - it used to be a residential home for teenage girls with mental problems, and Kylie's mum thinks it's haunted. For a horror film to be authentically nightmarish, there should be no escape, and the home detention scenario fits the bill perfectly.

Not long into her detention, Kylie comes to realise her Mum could be right about the house being haunted. Light flicker, there are strange noises and sometimes food goes missing. Some of the noises come from the  basement (where would horror movies be without the basement?) where there'a bunch of paraphenalia from the house's previous owner including a statue of Jesus. The next door neighbour is a wierdo. Kylie tries to put two and two together with the help of Amos the security guard who is monitoring her detention.

There are quiet spooky bits ( the toilet scene is one of my favourites) and full on fights with lots of splatter. There's a  variety  of weaponry and I bet you've never seen a cheese grater used in anger before. Housebound  has great acting, good music and a great location  and its just such good fun. Go and enjoy.

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


If you're watching a wildlife documentary, you expect a few things. Firstly, you expect wonderful  photography and amazing close-ups whether you're looking at an elephant or following a centipede. Generally you expect voice-over - sometimes someone like Stephen Fry reading the script, or sometimes you get the narrator on camera, like David Attenborough. You don't really expect a plot, except perhaps a loose one where you're following a group of animals over the course of a season or a migration.

Amazonia gives you the fabulous photography. It also happens to be 3D, but I don't think that adds much. It doesn't have any narration at all, which was mostly a pleasure, except when I was wondering what the particular creature I was looking at was. It does, however, have a plot. A capuchin monkey is being transported in a small plane, and the plane goes down in the rainforest in a thunderstorm. The pilot climbs out, never to be seen again, and there is the monkey, languishing in its cage with only its toy monkey for company. the next morning an enterprising mongoose unlatches the cage and the monkey is free to explore the forest.

The exploring monkey is cute and provides a nice vehicle for showing off assorted other wildlife. Walking around on the forest floor it encounters spiders, snakes and frogs. Climbing the trees, it meets other monkeys and birds of prey. Floating down the river on a clump of plant matter it encounters alligators and dolphins sloths. Then there's the encounter with a jaguar. Just to remind you that this is an animal we're looking at, the monkey gets involved in predation and takes and eats a bunch of birds' eggs out of some nests.

Generally speaking it's all good fun, and my only criticism is that the selection of wildlife did seem a little contrived  -our monkey friend didn't run into the same species twice - it was always something new. And as I said, I did wish from time-to-time that Stephen Fry was there to tell me what the amazing bird with the multi-coloured turkey-like head was. My favourite animal was the baby ( or pygmy) armadillo which was completely endearing and the thing I learned was how close to Rio de Janeiro the rainforest comes.

Amazonia 3D is what it says on the box, an amazing photographic experience packaged in a story about a small monkey.

Anne's rating 3.5/5

The Mule

Ray is one of those well meaning guys whose life hasn't gone anywhere. Living at home and dominated by his mother he admires Gavin, a childhood friend with a lad-about-town lifestyle. At the end of the footie season celebration Ray unexpectedly wins player of the year and is offered a free ticket on the team holiday to Thailand. It is left to Gavin to explain to Ray the reason for his inclusion. To swallow 20 condoms of heroin that Gavin is smuggling back to Melbourne for club benefactor and nightclub owner Pat Shepherd.

This wouldn't be much of a movie if everything went well. This is 1983 and all Australia is obsessed by the America's Cup. It also means that Ray can refuse a rectal exam and the police are only able hold him 7 days or 2 bowel movements. Ray decides to hold on. As the days drag on both the police and drug world become increasingly desperate. The only chink of light for Ray is his young court appointed lawyer, but she is clearly out of her depth.

Angus Sampson, writer, director and star of The Mule does a convincing job of playing the passive, uncommunicative Ray and convince us that he is trying hard to avoid going to the loo for 7 days. Hugo Weaving has a ball playing Detective Croft, well outside official police procedure and John Noble is suitably creepy as the local crime boss. Georgina Haig as the lawyer plays well against Hugo Weaving's crass macho posturing.

Like The Castle, The Dish and Muriel's Wedding; The Mule is an example of what Australian film makers do well - a funny film centred on a simple story staring ordinary people.

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

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

We Come As Friends

Don't touch that mouse! Now tell me ten things you know about South Sudan.

I knew that South Sudan is the world's newest country, it was the Christian part of Sudan and Juba is the capital. I am 7 things short.

Hubert Sauper (who also made Darwin's Nightmare) brings us a look at South Sudan and its foreign "friends". He travelled around in a home built plane and got access to a whole range of people from Chinese oil workers, Texan missionaries, UN officials, an ex-British Army mine clearance expert, investors, and plenty of locals from poor villagers and school kids, to soldiers and politicians.

Without exception all the foreigners said they were doing good, and the mine clearer probably was. Meanwhile the Chinese oil workers casually said that the environmental impact (piles of rubbish and oil tainted drinking water) was the responsibility of the locals to solve. The rehousing and providing farms for those locals displaced by mines, oil wells, foreign owned farms was also not the responsibility of the foreign investors to solve.

If you wanted to know what the term neo-colonialism means, then We Come As Friends would be a good place to start. (neo-colonialism, dependency theory and semi-colony are considered Marxist theory, as a lay person and knowing Marxism is out of favour, I had a quick look a non-Marxist theory about this subject but couldn't find one).

In one of the stand out interviews an old man (presumably a local chief) complained that he was falsely accused by his people of signing away the local land. Though he had a document (which he seemed unable to read) that was a signed lease contract for 600,000 hectares for 60 years for a one off payment $25,000 giving the lease holder the right to chop down all the trees, use the land for agriculture, own all the minerals and petrochemicals that they can extract. That is a one-off payment of 4 cents per hectare!

We Come As Friends makes the situations in Big Men seem like paradise.

Ian's rating 3/5

notes to eternity

notes to eternity is New Zealander, Sarah Cordery's documentary explaining the Zionist-Palestinian conflict and myth-busting hasbara used to delegitimise Palestinians. It focuses on the views of 4 critics of the Israeli (and American) position: 3 American academics (Noam Chomsky, Sara Roy, Norman Finkelstein) and British journalist Robert Fisk whose career has been based in the region, calling Beirut home.

Sarah Cordery says she chose the Americans because they are also Jews. It is rare to hear Jews side with Palestinians against the Jewish State. The interviews with each of them covered their childhoods and their parents experiences. Chomsky (born in 1928) is the oldest and the only one with memories of World War II and the history of Israel / Palestine since the Nakba. This digression into their backgrounds is partly to illustrate that their backgrounds were not abnormal for Jews, partly to humanise and possibly provide context for their current views and partly to tie the Zionist-Palestinian conflict to that other important event in Jewish history - the Holocaust.

For Robert Fisk the important event is World War I (which his father fought in). It redrew borders around the world especially in Eastern Europe and the former Ottoman Empire. He squarely blames the British government for making promises during the war that it failed to keep (and couldn't keep because they were contradictory).

notes to eternity (always in lower case) is a long film, listed at 150 minutes but I'm sure it was longer (I left while the credits were rolling and it was already 25 minutes beyond the 2 hour 30 minute mark). For that reason it should probably be edited or divided, Jackson-style, into multiple films. The film is largely interviews conducted in America, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank. There is also current and historic footage and some cartoons (with voice overs giving realistic, in other words pessimistic, views on the future).

To people who say "we shouldn't take sides" or "they have been fighting each other for thousands of years" or "they are both as bad as each other" or "why can't the Palestinians leave the Israelis in peace", notes to eternity will be a very useful education. To someone who takes more than a casual interest in the subject there wasn't much new information. Though I was interested in Sara Roy saying that her mother chose to go to America (rather than Israel) because she thought that to be tolerant you needed to grow up in a pluralist society.

Ian's rating 2.5/5


I enjoyed Bong Joon Ho's comedy monster romp, The Host. I've generally had good luck with South Korean films.

This time Bong Joon Ho has a big budget, a mostly English speaking cast and script from a French graphic novel. In Snowpiercer an attempt to solve global warning goes wrong and all that is left of humanity it trapped on a train endlessly circling the frozen planet. The film starts at the back of the train where people who didn't pay to ride, live in overcrowded squalor. They are starting to get restless.

The inevitable revolt starts with the aim of reaching the engine at the front of the train and overturning the class system. They merely have to fight their way passed armed guards and unlock all the doors between the carriages all the way up the train. We have no doubt that the unarmed plebs will get through the locked doors and defeat the army in the way. If we are looking for subtlety, we got on the wrong train.

The idea of an overtly rigid class system feels alien in our current world with its all pervasive propaganda about (theoretical) class mobility. Though it works well with the linear nature of a train.

From the dirt and rags of the windowless carriage at the back of the train the scene changes carriage by carriage. Once we reach carriages with windows we can see the frozen wasteland outside. In this carefully ordered world each carriage has a purpose and is decorated accordingly. Similarly the occupants of each carriage dress according to their caste and purpose. It is obvious that the people designing the sets and costumes had a lot of fun. Though it feel like their brief was make this bit look like Blade Runner or the original Total Recall and that bit look like Stepford etc.

The graphic novel origins of Snowpiercer shows through, not only in the setting, but also the visual humour, simplistic characters (particularly the cartoonish villains), and the holes in the premise.

Unfortunately I didn't care for any of the good guys and their strategy is reminiscent of HAMAS's one in Gaza. The repetitive nature of get through a locked door into the next carriage, fight the bad guys, rinse and repeat began to feel like an unchallenging computer game where the main interest is seeing what the next level looks like. Some South Korean films have spectacular fight scenes, but in one of the Snowpiercer fight scenes, Curtis is leading the good guys against the better armed baddies, but as he moves forward he keeps passing good guys who were massed behind him at the start of the fight! Don't get me started on the avalanche! Once you begin to notice things like this, you know that the director has lost you. There are plenty of good movie scenes shot on trains and it is pity Bong Joon Ho wasn't inspired by them. Tilda Swinton is Snowpiercer's one redeeming feature.

A quick look at the reviews of Snowpiercer shows that the audience either loved it or hated it. I expect Snowpiercer will become a cult movie, but I won't need an intervention.

Ian's rating 1.5/5
Anne's rating 1.5/5

Other views: The Lumière Reader, Forbes and Vulture

Monday, August 11, 2014


I don't have much luck with surreal films. Most of them turn out to be much worse to watch than to read about. Luckily Borgman is a rare exception. Borgman himself is a vagrant. The film starts with him on the run from armed hunters, he warns confederates, Pascal and Ludwig, before hitching a ride to an affluent leafy suburb. There he tries to beg a bath and gets beaten up for his troubles. Sympathy from Marina (his attacker's wife) is his key into their house.

Much of the surrealism comes from the abnormal, unexplained and anti-social behaviour of Borgman and his accomplices. Though unusual and unexplained coincidences abound (why do whippets keep popping up?). The shifting relationship between Borgman and Marina is the core of the film. Marina moves from sympathy, to curiosity, to longing, while Borgman alternates effortlessly between victim and aggressor.

Our society works to a huge extent because in any given circumstance almost everyone behaves in one of a limited number of ways. This gives someone who is willing to ignore these strictures on behaviour the opportunity to get away with doing the most outrageous things (though perhaps only once). Borgman plays with this characteristic of society just enough to shock us from time to time while making most of the film seem plausible.

The humour in Borgman is dark and motivations of Borgman and his pals are obscure. None of the characters, not even the children, are innocent. There is a plot to this film even though some aspects are unexplained (and probably unexplainable). The balance between the 'real' and the surreal was just right for my literalist tastes.

Ian's rating 4/5

Still Life

Still Life is a tale of a man who is more interested in the recently dead than the living. His job is to bury people who have no-one to arrange their funerals. When a neighbour dies alone, he comes to realise what we have already seen - that he will die the same way.

How you cross the road defines your personality
Actor Eddie Marsan is very effective as a civil servant of strong principles and very little awareness of his life and the changing world. John May is the sort of civil servant whose concept how his job is to be done is completely foreign to modern life. The idea that a council worker should be interested in the dignity of the dead, and reuniting families and friends who have lost contact with a loner who has died is something his manager doesn't understand. His colleges, clergymen and undertakers all treat him with respect, understanding the principles he stands for, though realise that he is dinosaur. With change from above and his own situation dawning on him, John May tries in small ways to experience more of life and even other people. This is a slow comedy about one man's awakening self-awareness, which also has a social conscience.

Still Life felt like it should have been set in the Thatcher era. The idea that jobs and people like John May have survived into the 21st century is difficult to believe. The idea that local government should look after the welfare of the unfortunate with the rates we pay is crazy.

While the film maintained an admirable balance between sentiment, distance and humour, that balance slipped in the final few seconds, and I'll try hard to forget that flaw.

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

Life After Beth

Your girlfriend comes back from the dead, looking as good as ever and eager to make out. You can now tell her all the things you should have said before. You can both do those things that she so wanted to do before she... um died. Resurrection is in the Bible so it must be good, right? Life After Beth has taken a turn for the better.

OK there are a few problems: what do you tell your family? Or her family? Or say to girls that hit on you, knowing Beth died?

Aubrey Plaza's deadpan style is perfect for the briefly deceased Beth. I'm not sure what she ever saw in the neurotic Zach (Dane DeHaan). Occasional flashes of violent exasperation aside, Beth takes Zach's twitchiness in her stride and is keen to get on with their relationship. The supporting cast enjoy their roles as: sceptics, believers and white knight.

Life After Beth is romantic comedy in what is becoming a new sub-genre of rom-com. While teasing us with our expectation of the genre, director Jeff Baena eventually takes us there briefly before circling us back around to the one-on-one story of Zack and Beth.

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

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Love is Strange

I always find movies set in Manhattan a refreshing change from movies set in the rest of the US, which almost always involve people living in large fenceless two-storey  homes set well back from the leafy streets they're in, with some large shiny vehicles parked in the driveway. In Manhattan space is at a premium, so people live in apartments. That lack of space is a major driver of the narrative in Love is Strange.

The protagonists of Love is Strange are a gay couple ( Beplayed by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina) who have been together almost forty years .It's hard not to think of John Lithgow as Dick Solomon from Third Rock from the Sun and he maintains that larger than life presence in this film. As his husband,  Alfred Molina provides a low-key contrast.  Ben (John Lithgow) is retired and George teaches music at a catholic school, and has some private pupils. When he's fired from his school job they can't afford the mortgage on their apartment, so are forced to bunk down (separately) with relatives. The movie examines the effect that this has on their relationship with each other and with their relatives. It's gently humourous and an easy watch.

Anne's Rating 3/5

Charlie's Country

 It's fair to say I am likely to go to any film that David Gulpilil , the star of Charlie's Country, is in. It's a particular pleasure to watch him walk - he has the most upright carriage of anyone I can think of and a light springy step. It's a bit like the pleasure you get from watching a dancer. Having committed to going to this film on that basis, there was the trepidation that comes with going to a film about indigenous Australians about whether it's going to be unbearably depressing.

Happily, this depiction of life in the Northern Territory (set in an aboriginal community and in Darwin) is
painted with light strokes and we see both good and bad aspects. Charlie is the main character and he is in almost every shot. In the community Charlie lives in a bivouac and has the opportunity to dabble in the traditional lifestyle - although the local cops take exception to him carrying a spear through the village and confiscate the buffalo that he and a friend shoot because their firearms are unregistered. Going walkabout results in pneumonia and he is med-evac'ed to Darwin. Discharging himself from hospital he lives rough in town, gets jailed for supplying alcohol to  people he shouldn't and is eventually released back to the community.

The film touches on the nature of friendship, the beauty of the landscape, the mostly patronising but usually well meaning nature of authority (the police, the housing officer, healthcare workers) and the community's residents' awareness of their health issues. There are moments of great humour ( Charlie doing some tracking for the police is one that stands out) and also ones of great pathos. Charlie's Country was an enjoyable watch.

Anne's rating 3.5/5

When Animals Dream

Marie is growing up, getting her first job, interacting with boys, getting a mysterious rash on her chest and discovering disturbing things about her non-speaking wheelchair bound mother. The small, dull, featureless Danish fishing village is an appropriate setting for the rising tension between Marie and her workmates. It also matches her pale blonde complexion. Marie's father is caring but inarticulate and it is left to Marie to figure out her mother's secret and her inheritance.

When Animals Dream is not a blood bath horror movie nor a Disneyfied glorification of the supernatural like the Twilight series nor a bloody soap opera like True Blood. When Animals Dream is much more a coming of age film for a lonely girl with an unusual difference. I thought the ending was a bit weak but it might appeal to those given to revenge fantasies.

The special effects and on screen violence is kept to a minimum. The focus of the story is the emerging secret and how Marie is going to cope with it. It is clear that like any predator that can kill people, Marie is in mortal danger herself. Humans don't like to be endangered, except by themselves.

Ian's rating 3.5/5

Friday, August 08, 2014


Northern Russia looks bleak. A treeless, windswept, rocky waste land, fringed by a restless sea. Unpainted wooden or cracked concrete buildings look like they have seen no maintenance since Brezhnev was in charge. A fitting stage for a Russian tragedy. When faced with a powerful adversary: do you stand up for your rights and fight back or lick your wounds and accept your losses? That is the question at the heart of Andrey Zvyagintsev's Leviathan.

Kolia runs an auto-repair shop from his home on the outskirts of a coast village. The local government has claimed the land and offered a fraction of what Kolia thinks it is worth. Kolia brings in a old army friend, now a Moscow lawyer, to help in the case. Like traditional tragedy, early success is followed by set-back and suffering. Aristotle's theory is that in tragedy the suffering must be as a result of a mistake, but in Leviathan we are left to decide if Kolia and his family made mistakes or if failure is inevitable if you take on "the system" (in this case the Russian government). More than one character says that taking on the government is a mistake.

The Film Festival program links the film's title to Thomas Hobbes book on government: Leviathan and the film's theme to the most famous quote from the book "the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short". But this miss-uses the quote which refers to life in a world without society and government. A priest in the film quotes from Job 41: "Can you pull in the leviathan with a fish hook or tie down his tongue with a rope?" and then goes onto use the story of Job to illustrate the futility of fighting something more powerful than yourself.

The answer to every problem in Russia is vodka (it is also the way to celebrate success). The ability to act as if drunk was a requirement of almost all the actors in Leviathan.

Ian's rating 3.5/5

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Hot Air

Hot Air covers the facts and the politics of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emission in the (almost) twenty-five years since  1990, which is the majority of my adult life. I remember being taught about greenhouse gases and global warming in high school and wondering why, if everyone know this stuff, aren't we doing something about it. Hot Air will give you some ideas about why, and how difficult even committed politicians have found trying to do something about it. To quote Pete Hodgson " Climate Change Politics is hard"

There were some memorable facts, which bear thinking about. NZ's greenhouse gas emissions have doubled in the last quarter century while our (human) population has only increased by 25%. A gas-fired power station was built in that time and we have chopped down a lot of pine forests to create dairy farms. These things are problems.

I enjoyed the footage - lots of it from television archives - a kind of montage of politicians and movers and shakers past and present. It reminded me that that some of those people have died since they were filmed  - Roger Kerr, Rod Donald, Parekura Horomia.. I liked the way it showed things changing - computers, glasses, hairstyles, telephones and the Wellington streetscape. Hot Air interviews lots of intelligent and articulate people, and quite a lot of articulate  people who seem less intelligent. I liked learning things - for example, I didn't realise quite how many global-warming nay-sayers the business round table has brought to New Zealand over the years, and how Nigel Lawson was one of them.

Anyone could and should find this documentary's subject matter interesting, but if you lived in New Zealand between 1990 and now you'll particularly appreciate it as a social and political history.

Anne's rating 3.5/5


Virunga National Park is Africa's first - created by King Albert of Belgium in 1925 to protect habitat of the mountain gorilla.This documentary about Virunga has two main thrusts - meeting the park's staff who give the phrase "passionate about my job" new meaning, and examining the threats posed to the park. These threats include the oil exploration concessions given to British Company SOCO by the Congolese Government, poachers, and the various rebel factions still fighting in the Congo.

The park staff are all armed - they need to protect themselves from wild animals, but also themselves and the animals from poachers and rebel fighters. They are literally prepared to give their lives for the animals and the preservation of the park, and many rangers have been killed in recent years. During the course of the film we see rebel fighters and tanks arrive in the park and fighting taking place, which feels a bit like seeing armed conflict at a kindergarten. It was heartening to see that once the fighting was over, the first thing the staff did was head up to the hills to check on the gorillas. Men who had been shooting at people the day before were now sitting in the grass and smiling.

Andre with one of his charges
The softer side of the job is shown by the carers for the four captive orphaned gorillas that live in a special house in the park. Mountain gorillas are particularly furry and photogenic, and their chief minder, Andre, is equally charming.Taking the gorillas outside to play in the trees looks like tremendous fun.

It's hard to know whether you'll be more impressed or depressed by this documentary. Virunga is staggeringly beautiful and diverse but there are so many things going wrong in the Congo. I was somewhat cheered to see on  that SOCO appears to have agreed not to drill for oil in Virunga unless UNESCO agrees.

So get acquainted with deepest Africa by watching the film, or at least the trailer, or perhaps this piece from Al Jazeera's Earthrise. I hope that one day going to Virunga might be less hazardous than it is now.

Welcome to New York

The first 20 minutes or so of Welcome to New York is semi-pornographic and 2 men sitting on my left walked out just before the scene that made Dominique Strauss-Kahn infamous and ruined his career as managing director of the IMF and potential future President of France.

Welcome to New York is a film based around the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair, with the characters names changed and a fictional version of events that are not public record. It is a caricature of Strauss-Kahn rather than a sympathetic portrayal. Gérard Depardieu plays George Devereaux (the Strauss-Kahn like character) and Jacqueline Bisset plays his wife.

George Devereaux is an elderly French playboy bureaucrat, which looks as odd as it sounds. He surrounds himself with call girls at work and at night. Life appears to be a series of sex parties. This is all brought to a halt and we get an intimate look at the US criminal process. In the final act Simone Devereaux flies in from Paris to bail out her husband and rent an apartment in New York for his home detention. They spend their time arguing with each other. There are a couple of surprise flashbacks to a hard to believe seduction of a law student at an art gallery and molestation / attempted rape of a journalist.

While George Devereaux seems over the top at the start of the film, at the end of the film he is a more believable character (if not one to sympathise with). George Devereaux at the end sees himself as the victim of society's norms and his wife's ambition. Despite many interactions between Devereaux and women during the film, there are only 2 or 3 where he comes across as charming and seductive.

The first and third acts of Welcome to New York are slow and it is not an easy watch. I don't think I know Strauss-Kahn (or Devereaux) any better by the end, but Gérard Depardieu certainly throws himself into the role.

Ian's rating 2/5

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

The Babadook

An alternative title for The Babadook could be " a mother's worst nightmare." So what do mothers worry about, particularly if they're tired and stressed? Do they worry they might have a car accident if they're really tired? Do they worry that they might actually harm someone or something they care about if they're really angry? Do they worry about getting sacked if they have to take time off work to look after their kids? Do they feel inferior in the company of better-dressed other mothers with better-behaved children?  Are they embarrassed when their child pushes his cousin out of the treehouse? Do they worry that the neighbours hear them shouting at their children and judge them? Do they think they'll scream if their child says "Mum-mee!" one more time?

The answer to all those questions is probably yes. And all those scenarios crop up in the Babadook. I was unsurprised to find out that the Babadook  was written, produced and directed by women. It seemed
 like a very woman-centric nightmare scenario. The
story centres around solo mother Amelia and her seven-year-old son Samuel. Amelia's husband died on the trip to hospital for Samuel's birth so we're talking solo parenthood with extra pathos. Samuel has "behavioral issues"  and a vivid imagination. One of the story books in the house features a bogeyman- in- the-wardrobe type creature which Samuel is convinced is real. He builds an assortment of weaponry to deal with it and of course he can't sleep because he's frightened. His behaviour gets worse and he's suspended from school. Amelia gets (more) exhausted and she starts to see the Babadook too. She rear-ends a car. She makes soup with broken glass in it. She strangles the family dog. And so on.

The trouble with The Babadook is that it's tedious rather than terrifying. There are some scary moments, an atmospheric score and there's quite a lot of screaming but mostly you want it to stop because of the tediousness. I think a good horror film should have the kind of frightening thing that you can't do anything about, and you never know when it's coming. It should get under your skin at least a bit. I felt that most of the terror in the Babadook was eminently addressable. Try painting the rooms in your house is a more cheerful colour than dark gray. Get a flatmate or a boarder or live with your mum so you don't have to deal with your child completely alone. Get psychological help sooner rather than later.  Watching the trailer again I can see that part of the nightmare is Amelia seeking help and not getting it, but perhaps waiting seven years wasn't the wisest idea.

I didn't feel the Babadook got under my skin. I didn't go home and feel any urge to look under the bed or check the wardrobe for bogeymen. All I felt was a bit relieved I wasn't a solo mother and a bit cheated in the adrenaline department.

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

The Noble Family

Javi, Cha and Bárbara
A super rich father realises that his live-at-home adult kids are spoiled. To teach them a lesson he stages financial ruin and convinces them to join him on the run from angry creditors. The Noble Family (also known by the direct translation We Are The Nobles) is a Mexican farce that makes fun of the super rich with broad humour. The premise is not particularly fresh (based on a 1949 Mexican film The Great Madcap). Off the top of my head I can't think of what film it reminds me of most closely, but many movies such as The Valet and Welcome to the Sticks involve ridiculous conspiracies. It pays not to think about such plots too closely and go with the flow. Fortunately film is fast paced and the characters in particular Germán the father and Bárbara his daughter are engaging.

Germán takes the kids to his father's derelict house in the sort of Mexico City suburb they would normally be too frightened to go near. He wants them to find jobs while he gets on with the DIY. The film has a soft heart and the kids find ways of coping with life on the other side of the tracks. Living in such close proximity to his kids for the first time in years leads Germán to learn surprising things about them.

As this is a comedy everything gets nicely wrapped up at the end. But I felt all through the film that problems got solved rather too quickly and neatly, as if the director was always in too much of a hurry to get on with the next scene.

If you are a native Spanish speaker there is a running gag about Spanish versus Mexican accents that gets lost in translation.

Watch through the credits for the final scene.

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

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The Wonders

A film about a poor, idiosyncratic bee keeping German-Italian family in rural Italy that centres on the eldest daughter and an odd Italian reality TV show that comes to town; sounds promising. Plenty opportunity for humour and possibly satire of urban life or commercialism (as represented by the TV show) but that is not what we get with The Wonders. Certainly the relationship between 12-year-old Gelsomina and her irascible father Wolfgang is well represented and the three younger sisters attempt to steal the show at times.

But where The Wonders fails is that it has too many plot lines and characters and doesn't do them all justice. For instance Angelica the mother is pretty much a bystander. On the other hand Cocò would not be missed and the mystery of her role within the family is a distraction. The reality TV show plot line doesn't really deliver on any level and is just confusing. The plot line about Martin, the foster child, adds tension to the relationship between Gelsomina and her father, but it is begging to go further.

On the whole this is a film with promise that ends up being a muddle.

Ian's rating 2.5/5 Anne's rating 1/5

The Congress

The Congress is a savagely funny and surprisingly moving commentary on our increasing reliance on screens and a meta-textual Hollywood satire - according to the Vancouver International Film Festival. Perhaps I saw a different film. Actually I didn't read the small print carefully. In particular the bit where it said "dazzlingly surreal animation". I have a bad history with surreal films. They almost always sound more interesting than they turn out to be.

Scanning Robin Wright
The Congress opens with an interesting concept. Robin Wright (The Princess Bride) is 44 and too old for Hollywood. Her home life is odd, living in a converted hanger at the end of a busy runway with two teenager kids. One of whom has behavioural problems and  is also gradually losing sight and hearing. Miramount Studio has one last contract. They want to scan her and buy the rights to her (in effect a CGI version of her) for ever. She is told that live actors are a thing of the past. Films from now on will be completely computer generated.

So far so good, then the film leaps forward 20 years and almost immediately jumps into dazzlingly surreal animation territory. The CGI version of Robin Wright is staring in her own franchise of sci-fi action films. We are told that now Miramount has moved in to pharmaceuticals and you can eat or drink your favourite actors! While some of the animated crowd love the idea others start a war against Miramount. A new guy turns up to save Robin. I began to lose the plot at this point.

Animated Robin Wright
Obviously a massive amount of effort has gone into the animation and it is certainly dazzling. I wish rather more effort had gone into the script writing, and into making the images on the screen match the story that the exposition sections of the dialogue tell us is happening. Despite Robin Wright being the star of the film she is barely a character. Harvey Keitel as her agent and Danny Huston as a Miramount executive have much better parts.

I surprised afterwards to learn that the film was 2 hours long. It felt much longer.

Ian's rating 2/5

Club Sándwich

Club Sándwich is a Mexican homage to the indolence and inarticulateness of teenagers. Chubby 15 year old Hector and his 30 something solo mum Paloma are having a cheap off season holiday at an otherwise empty holiday resort. They are both completely comfortable in each others company and Hector is only slightly bored with lying about. Director Fernando Eimbcke gives us more than a taste of Hector's boredom before introducing the almost equally well padded Jazmín.

Hector is just old enough to lust without knowing what to do next. Jazmín turns out to be Hector's equal as a conversationalist but has a sly line in glacially slow seduction moves. Meanwhile Paloma is figuring out how to deal with this new development in the life of her "honey bun". While Paloma blunders a little bit she admirably figures out when to withdraw from the battle for her son's affection, hence maintaining the balance between protection of the innocent (or is it her preservation of a little boy who no longer is?) and loosening the apron strings without loosing her place as mother and best friend.

The pacing is slow, the non-panning camera keeps us distant (even in close up). The humour is mostly observational and more than balances out the sad spot or two. Club Sándwich is definitely a nostalgic film for adults rather than a teen movie.

Ian's rating 2.5/5

Land Ho!

Two ex-brothers-in-law take a trip to Iceland. A road trip with spectacular scenery and ...

I was expecting a little bit more from Land Ho! perhaps some comedy or romance, catharsis or bereavement, mystery or drama; but all we got was a crass rich bloke eventually confiding a secret that was already known and a sad, lonely bloke accepting a tiny dose of affection.

Mitch is a surgeon, one of those extrovert, won't-take-no-for-an-answer, life-of-the-party blokes that turn timid people to thinking of an exit strategy. Colin is one of those timid people who didn't think of one in time and ended up on this holiday in Iceland. To be fair Land Ho! has a few laughs and a bit getting old angst but not enough to justify the ticket price.

Nice geyser though.

Ian's rating 1.5/5 Anne's rating 2/5

Art and Craft

Mark Landis is good at copying things, a habit he developed as a only child. He also has a great knowledge of art which started when visiting European art galleries with his father (a US naval officer). The advertising for Art and Craft promises to explore the 30 year 'career' of one of the most prolific art forgers in US history. This is somewhat misleading as it only covers Mark's childhood and perhaps the last 5 years of his 'career'. Despite that, Art and Craft is an engrossing film about an old man with an unusual obsession.

What makes Mark Landis's forging unusual is that he doesn't do it for profit. He doesn't sell his art work. He donates it to art galleries (known as Art Museums in American English). He also doesn't claim the tax rebates that are available under the US tax system. Many of his works have hung in art museums undetected as forgeries for years. His activities have been brought to attention of the FBI, which doesn't see them as criminal. Some of the duped curators are strongly of the opposite opinion but Landis has never been charged or sued. Matthew Leininger in particular is obsessed with stopping Landis to the extent that it probably cost him his job. Other curators and art museums are just plain embarrassed that they have been duped.

Mark Landis is a reclusive man who also likes some of the aspects of fame. Remarkably the film makers gained access to his home, where he entertains them with quotes from movies, descriptions of his methods and memories of his mother. Indirectly and slowly the film does a good job at getting into the motivations behind his obsession. The film makers also got access to Matthew Leininger and the comparison of their obsessions is instructive.

My only complaint about the film is the hole in Mark's life between attending art collage in 1974 and his mother's death in 2010.

Ian's rating 3/5

Monday, August 04, 2014


How was Paris liberated in 1944 with so little damage? It is something I have never thought about long enough to research. So I watched Diplomacy from a position of ignorance. Since I watched it I have done some research and realised that depending on which version of events you believe, this film may make you angry. Though if you are in that camp, the advertising for the film would be warning to stay away.

Diplomacy is based on a play and compresses the events of August 1944 into one day for dramatic effect. The Germans are in retreat in France after the D-day landing in June that year, and the Allies on the outskirts of Paris. General Dietrich von Choltitz is under orders from Hitler that:
"The city must not fall into the enemy's hand except lying in complete debris."
The engineers have prepared demolition charges on the bridges and major buildings and are awaiting orders to blow the place up. As we know this didn't happen we are confronted with: how were the Germans stopped?

Before dawn while General Choltitz is giving orders for the final preparations at his HQ in the Hotel Meurice he gets an unannounced visitor, Raoul Nordling, the Swedish Consul. The neutral diplomat has come to talk the general into disobeying Hitler and saving the city (and its inhabitants). Nordling's only weapon is his powers of persuasion. Not just to talk the general out of blowing up the city but also to avoid being thrown out into the street by a busy general preparing for the approaching Allied forces.

The conversations between the two men are punctuated by events outside (reports from subordinates, phone calls to Berlin, breakfast served by a maid). This film could have been subtitled "Two old men in a hotel room", but this is a hang over from the play it is based on and not a criticism. Each man brings out arguments and counter arguments as preparations for the demolition reach completion and the Allies get closer. The battle inside the hotel room seems more vital than the fighting in the streets.

Whether or not you believe that Choltitz or Nordling (or neither) was the saviour of Paris this is a great illustration of the power of argument and how to use persuasion from multiple angles. Both lead actors are eloquent advocates for their point of view and while polite to each other, use their rhetorical powers to the full.

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

Sunday, August 03, 2014

It Follows

Sex and horror go hand-in-hand in movies. But rarely is sex part of the chain of horror. It Follows addresses this with a sexually transmitted curse. An infected person is followed by something that will kill them if it catches them. If they have sex before it catches them, then their sex partner becomes the target instead. But if the target person is caught and killed then the previous person in the chain becomes the target again. An idea that puts a certain amount of responsibility on the current victim of the curse.

While It Follows is punctuated by well timed jump scares, once we realize that Jay is the heroine then it becomes an exercise in rising tension as we try to figure out how she is going to survive, even with the help of her friends and sisters. While perhaps a little short on laughs, it also avoids some of the typical silly life shortening behaviours that are stock in trade in other horror films. It Follows keeps the gore level down and has a refreshingly different idea on horror to normal run of zombies, vampires, super resourceful crazy serial killers, ghosts or swarms of mutated creatures. Combining fear of sexually transmitted diseases with a thing that behaves like something from a bad dream makes It Follows feel like something you are more likely to experience, albeit from the safety of your own bed.

While almost every other American horror is set among the middle or upper middle class It Follows has a working class setting. Oddly the décor and technology screams 1980s - except for an ebook reader in the shape of scallop shells.

This film was made by the director of The Myth of the American Sleepover, it is a huge improvement over that film!

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


This beautiful but harrowing film is a portrait of life in and around the West African city of Timbuktu under militant Islamic control.The Islamic Police prowl the streets and the rooftop armed with machine guns and sometimes with a loud hailer, looking for anyone infringing on their particular brand of religion. Their brand is a joyless and often seemingly pointless one - no football, no music, no hanging out with the opposite sex, women must wear gloves and socks in the market place. Banning cigarettes and alcohol is also included but you can't help thinking that this is because people enjoy their consumption , rather than because they're bad for your health. Their brand is brutal, too - stoning, lashing and shooting seem all in the day's work.

The film focuses on people on both sides of the religious divide. On one side we have Kidane the Tuareg cattle herder, who lives in a tent outside town with his wife and daughter and on the other we have Islamic police themselves - Abdelkrim and his driver get the most screen time. While the police's religious doctrine isn't portrayed sympathetically ( this would be difficult, I think) they are portrayed as human . Abdelkrim's driver kindly tells him he doesn't need to go off and smoke secretly because all his fellow policemen already know he does it.

Kidane has a row with a fisherman neighbour who has killed one of Kidane's cows because it got tangled in his fishing nets. Kidane's gun goes off in the struggle and the fisherman is killed so Kidane ends up in the Islamic Court and things turn out badly.

Before you get too depressed, do remember that this is a beautiful film. Timbuktu is a world heritage site because of its amazing buildings and the surrounding desert is equally beautiful. Living in a Tuareg tent looks particularly romantic but it does make you vulnerable to unexpected visitors. The residents of Timbuktu are  physically attractive, but their  attitudes and lack of automatic acquiescence to their oppressors also make an impression. The Imam of the local mosque gently reproaching members of the police for bringing guns into the mosque while wearing shoes and criticising their theology was memorable and so was a woman explaining (via 2 translators!) that she didn't want her daughter to marry one of them because he was a complete stranger.

This isn't a film you'll forget in a hurry. One of the things I've been thinking about is what motivate religious people who are into harsh punishment regimes for (what westerners would consider) harmless pastimes. Is is because they enjoy the power, or are they motivated by concern for people's immortal souls? And on a less philosophical plane, who was the woman with the chicken and why did the police leave her alone?

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


Déjà vu is the recurring theme in low budget, Kiwi, sci-fi, thriller REALITi. The unsettling feeling one gets when all the evidence denies something you recently saw hits Vic repeatedly after his recent promotion. Then things start to get really weird for him. Around him his wife Meg, his lawyer Mandrake and George the security guard try to keep him grounded in reality, whereas Mandrake's wife Selma and doppelgänger of someone else (Michelle Langstone with her best feral smile) freaks him out. As does a bunch of activists with a strange tale of media manipulation.

This is not a film to let wash over you. Its a film for intense concentration. Yet I feel, even that would not allow the viewer to fully untangle the folds in time and separate hallucinations from reality. It is not a wizz-bang special effects sci-fi film, rather a cerebral one with a single idea that separates it ever so slightly from today's world.

It is a great advertisement for what can be done on a low budget (Doug Dillaman interviewed director Jonathan King about making REAILi).

I felt sorry for the film maker that his world premier only half filled the Paramount!

Ian's rating 3/5

Living is easy with eyes closed

I'm far too young to be an original Beatles fan. Hence I am ignorant of the Beatles story and have only an average familiarity with Beatles songs, but that is more than enough knowledge to enjoy Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed.

Set in Spain during Generalissimo Franco's dictatorship, Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed is a beautiful movie almost cloyingly so. It is carefully crafted and perfectly shot. The characters are unambiguously nice or nasty. It is a nostalgic and simplistic look back at 1960s Spain.

The authoritarian side of 1960s Spain is illustrated by some small set piece violence, with a very modern revulsion by bystanders. The perpetrators include a nun and a priest. This is a country where priests are the heroes of both comedies and dramas in the cinema and the radio is full of Catholic messages and no pop music.

Well meaning and single minded Antonio anchors the film. He is a 40 something bachelor, English teacher and Beatles fan, who listens to Radio Luxembourg and uses Beatles lyrics in his English classes. Hearing that John Lennon is in Almería filming Richard Lester’s How I Won the War Antonio decides to drive there to discuss song lyrics with his hero. The two hitchhikers he acquires on route fill out the film.

Juanjo has run away from home after one too many run-ins with his policeman father. Beautiful, pregnant, but still slim, Belén has run away from a home for unwed mothers. Neither has a destination and Antonio tries to help them out and keep them safe on the short road trip. Belén turns out to be more than a passive girl with a pretty face; she has hidden talents to help out the guys. Feminists might take exception to a her as a character, but the male audience will be less picky.

Ian's rating 4/5