Film Festival weekend 3

Turtle: The Incredible Journey

This would have been an excellent movie if it wasn’t for the narration. I guess it was to make the whole movie more child friendly but it made the movie not Jenni friendly. Too much anthropomorphizing of the sea turtle and the other animals. Too much calling the undersea currents ‘blue highways’, too much description of things we were looking at “the ocean: liquid and elemental”. Duh.

The photography was very beautiful a lot of the time, so it was good in that way. I’m not that I learned much, though. I would recommend watching this either with kids or with the soundtrack muted. The music was quite bombastic and intrusive, so even if you just muted the narration it would still be annoying. I do love sea turtles though.


Bill Cunningham: New York

An excellent documentary about Bill Cunningham who has spent the last 30 – 40 years photographing fashion on the streets of New York. He’s had a regular ‘On the Street’ columm with the New York Times for much of that time.

There were interviews with his friends, a lot of big name people who he has photographed (Anna Wintour for example) and lots of his photographs and footage of him photographing people. It was a fascinating companion piece to Teenage Papparazzo as Bill says several times that he couldn’t care less who is wearing the clothes. Celebrity means nothing to him, he only cares about the clothes. Also a nice companion to The September Issue from last year, for the insight into the fashion world.

The best thing about this film was Bill himself, he is utterly unassuming (he wears a street sweeper vest because it’s durable) and completely lovely. He really loves people and especially people who wear interesting clothes. He’s sweet and funny and you can see in his relationship with his editor that although he’s a bit eccentric, he is loved.

American: The Bill Hicks Story

I didn’t know much about Bill Hicks, I just knew that I had seen some of his stand up at some point and it was funny. This documentary was made by his friends and family, and was understandably a bit fawning, but at the same time they were very honest and open about his drug habits and alcoholism so it was still a good look at his life. Lots of footage of him being funny, lots of interviews and a lot of neat stuff where they animated old photos.

I liked it, but I didn’t love it the way I loved Bill Cunningham.

The Inventions of Dr Nakamats

Dr Nakamats is amazing. He’s invented heaps of things, including floppy discs, CDs, DVDs and a sexual aid called Love Jet. Well, that’s what he says and I believe him. This little hour long film is following him around for a couple of days and seeing how he lives.

I was a bit annoyed that the audience for this documentary seemed to have come along just to laugh at Dr Nakamats. I noticed a bit of this in Bill Cunningham, there was a section of the audience who laughed uproariously at some of the pictured fashions, some of the New York characters that Bill photographed. It’s kind of mean spirited. I mean, I only speak for myself of course, but I go to documentaries to learn something. And I know I’m an optimist, but I generally expect to learn more about someone and open up my mind a little more to the world at large. Going to docos to laugh at other people is completely contadictory to this goal. But this is the problem with seeing movies in a cinema, you do have to experience other peoples’ reactions to the film and they will frequently be different to your own.

Anyway, leaving that aside, I enjoyed this documentary.

And that’s it, that’s all the films I saw in this year’s International Festival.

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Film Festival second week

Farewell

Lee was struck down with man flu, so I hurriedly texted a couple of people I knew lived in Wellington and would hopefully be free to take the other ticket. My brother in law came through and we saw Farewell in a packed out Embassy theatre. I really really enjoyed this movie.

It’s based on the story of an actual KGB colonel who started leaking important information to France and America and essentially started the end of the Cold War. The espionage was great, but the best thing about the movie was the humanity of the two leads: the KGB agent and his amateur French contact. The KGB agent was funny and playful, actively making friends with the French businessman who had been roped in to be the contact. The French guy’s relationship with his family suffers and it’s very tense because you’re constantly worried that they’ll be found out.

Great movie, would recommend.
See also Svend and Morgue’s reviews for more opinions…


Wah Do Dem

I’m not sure about this one. It was kind of like watching unhappy hipsters the movie. It was kind of like watching a documentary about the worst trip ever. It was kind of funny and I liked the lead character, most of the time. It is very very indie, lots of handheld camera work and some poor sound and lighting. It got a bit mystical/noble savagey in the middle and then it ended very abruptly.

Overall I think I liked it, but then I think I might have been happier if I’d stayed in, had a bath and then gone to bed with a book. Tough to say.

On Wednesday I thought I was going to see The Strange Case of Angelica but I had the day wrong and nobody noticed until someone else tried to sit where I was sitting. How silly of me! So I went home and Lee suggested we see Inception and I said yes, because the internet is a dangerous mine of spoilers when you haven’t seen it.

Without spoilers: I really enjoyed Inception and it was pretty and mind-warpy and Joseph Gordon Levitt was awesome and Leonardo was awesome and Ellen Page was super awesome and I liked it. Also Cillian Murphy is very pretty.

The Runaways

Awesome. Just plain awesome. Great music, great acting, great chemistry between Dakota and Kristen (Cherie and Joan). It’s the story of The Runaways, all girl punk rock band that launched Joan Jett’s career. I don’t want to say too much, just that if the thought of watching an all girl punk band in the 70s appeals then you should see it. Reading Cinemas have a poster up for it so it looks like it’ll get a regular release.

After seeing it, I am inspired to: write, start an all girl rock band, wear crazy ass 70s shoes, style my hair like Joan Jett and sing lots and lots and lots.
Also, I am now totally addicted to this one song:

The original:

Film Festival Weekend 2

Babies

An easy to watch, slice of life documentary following the first year or so of 4 babies in different places around the world: Mongolia, Namibia, Toyko and San Francisco. It kind of reminded me of anothe French doco from a couple of years ago Avoir et Etre which just followed some kids through a year at school. The documentarians are expert at staying out of the way, not affecting what’s happening with their subjects but getting incredibly close all the same.

It was really a study in cultural differences. Like the Namibian kid who had a bone to chew on comapared to the fancy toys the American baby had. Or the incredulous laughter in the audience when the Mongolian baby’s swaddling blanket was tied with string so it wouldn’t come open. I felt bad about really judging anyone though, it’s so not my place. Except for when the white, upper middle class ‘Friscan father and baby were at a baby sing along class and they were doing a Native American chant. Seriously, cultural appropriation much?

My favourite moments were: Mongolian baby is taking a bath in a tub by a window when a goat comes to have a drink from the tub. Excellent WTF? expression from baby. Emo drama when Japanese baby can’t get ring to stay on stick, throwing herself backwards on the ground and wailing. Then she sat up, was going to read a book, took one look and then throws it away, wailing and throws herself back down.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The radiant child

I love documentaries about artists, they’re so inspirational. Most of what I knew about Basquiat I knew from the old movie and from some mentions in the Keith Haring doco a couple of years back. I know a lot more now. It was a good, if fawning, depiction of his career and his life, with some thought put into how he died and why. Lots of great interviews with people who knew him and lots of shots of his art and his influences. I liked it a lot but I came out feeling a bit sad and introspective.

The Room

How to describe The Room? It was an excellent viewing experience, with funny things being called out, lots of laughter, spoons to throw at the screen and a football that was tossed around while it happened on screen. The movie itself? I gotta say, it’s not the best worst movie I’ve seen. Lee pointed out that unlike Birdemic the production values (particularly lighting, camera work and sound) were generally pretty good in The Room.

The script and acting are bad, but since it’s a romantic drama there’s no terrible make up or badly animated monsters, there’s no ridiculous Mega Shark eating an aeroplane and I found that I missed those things. My theory is that awful/awesome movies are better if they’re genre.

There is lots to love about The Room though. My favourite character, Denny, makes no sense at all. There are such great lines as ‘you’re tearing me apart’ and ‘so, how’s your sex life?’ I’m gonna show it at a movie night I think, so we can try it again with our friends.

An excellent viewing guide to The Room.

A little mash up of all the ‘oh hai’s and ‘hey Denny’s (worth watching right til the end, trust me.)

Howl

Another inspiring movie about a creative person. This was a kind of almost-documentary biopic about Allen Ginsberg, centred around the court case about whether his poem Howl is obscene. Cross cutting between Allen (played by James Franco) reading Howl at a Beat cafe, animation of the poem, Allen, older, recording an interview and the court case. Apparently the movie script is taken in large part from the actual court records and interviews, so I feel like it was accurate.

As someone who has studied 20th Century American literature, and therefore, Howl itself, I loved the movie. Not sure how much you’d understand otherwise, since both Svend and Stacey mentioned specifically that they hadn’t read it.

Anyway, I came away inspired.

Teenage Paparazzo

A weird circular, meta kind of documentary. Adrian Grenier, who is famous for playing someone famous on TV, investigates the paparazzi phemomenon in the process he tries out being a pap and also elevates the subject of his documentary, a teenage pap, to semi-celebrity status. I really enjoyed it.

Basically, Adrian notices this kid in amongst the regular paparazzi and asks him what he’s doing. Austin, 13, is a paparazzo just like the others. He has tip offs, a really flash camera, he’s sold pictures for a thousand dollars a pop. Through him Adrian explores what it means to be famous, whether the paparazzi have a right to be doing what they’re doing and what the implications of it all are.

It’s a very entertaining doco and peppered with interviews with celebs (Matt Damon, Paris Hilton, Linsday Lohan, Whoopi Goldberg, etc), plus it made you examine the way you relate to celebrities and Adrian himself was very open and honest about what he was doing and what he learned.

After the screening he did a Q&A and some interesting stuff came out of that too, although it bugged me that two people asked much the same question (how do you like NZ?). Adrian seemed very down to Earth, soft spoken and polite.

Film Festival first week

Once Upon a Time in the West

Amazing. OK, it was very long and there are some long, indulgent shots of people squinting, but it’s all part and parcel of the Serge Leone experience. It was funnier than I thought it would be, and the story was very involving. I wouldn’t have minded how long it was, because it has an excellent story, but it was getting to be quite late at night and I started dropping off.

There is probably a whole lot of deep and meaningful stuff I could say about the railroad being built, and the way progress changes towns and people but let’s just leave it on: I like trains!

Exit through the Gift Shop

It’s been advertised as the world’s first street art disaster movie. I would agree with that. Ostensibly a movie about Banksy, it’s really a movie about Thierry Guetta, a slightly mad man with a handy cam who became involved in the street art movement. There’s a lot of speculation about whether the events as depicted in the film are real or fabricated but I choose to take it at face value.

We did a learn a little about Banksy, there’s lots of footage of him and other street artists (I am slightly in love with Shepherd Fairey now) sneaking around rooftops at night and putting art up. We saw inside Banksy’s studio and how his stencils are put together. Overall the movie was about the modern art world, and what makes art valuable to people. The conclusion you’d draw from this movie is that hype is all you need. I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that in real life, but there is some truth to it. Same as hype working for movies, books and clothing, really.

Anyway, the doco was great fun and I’d definitely recommend it. Lee was a bit worried about the cringe factor and the possible soul-crushing disaster towards the end but it all worked out.

Strange Powers: Stephin Merrit and the Magnetic Fields

So I went into this never having listened to the music of The Magnetic Fields. Well, I’ve heard their stuff in a couple of movie soundtracks, but not like sitting down and listening to them on purpose. I knew of Stephin Merrit because he collaborated with Daniel Handler on the Gothic Archies for the Lemony Snicket audio books. Yeah. Oh and Neil Gaiman appeared in the doco.

I wasn’t disappointed. The doco gave me a love for the music of the Magnetic Fields and specifically for the voice of Stephin Merrit. It wasn’t a documentary about any big event or anything, just a wee history of the band and interviews with people about them and the band members talking to camera. Lovely. I queued up a gigantic list of Magnetic Fields music on Grooveshark and have been enjoying it ever since.

Especially this one, Papa was a rodeo:

Oceans

As a documentary it had a number of failings. The biggest problem for me was the unfocussed nature of the whole thing. Like, they’d show some orcas and the voiceover said “this particular pod of orcas has developed a new and unique method of hunting” and you’re like, oh yeah? Tell me more, and then the movie flicks to footage of dolphins jumping out of the water and then polar bears or something.

To be honest, this movie suffered in comparison to the BBC Life show that I recently watched on Blu-Ray.

That said, it’s an entertaining movie and there was some beautiful footage of whales, sharks, sea lions, and a bad ass mantis shrimp that tore the arm off a crab.

I like this image from it:

Film Festival first weekend

Predicament

The world premiere (for paying audiences) of a Kiwi Gothic movie very much in the style of The Coen Brothers. For the roleplayers in the audience it was like watching an excellent example of a game of Fiasco. The basic story: smart, gawky teen Cedric is befriended by shady grifter Merv and together with his oddball friend The Spook they start a blackmail scam which goes predictably badly. The film is gorgeous, very stylised and beautiful. Set in small town New Zealand in the 30s it also has Tim Finn as Cedric’s loopy father.

Funny, cringey and great to look at, I’d recommend it. Lee found it a bit slow and I thought there was something a bit ‘off’ about the beats of the film (not sure the climax had the appropriate gravity for example) but it was a satisfying story all the same. Fantastic acting from the leads, too.

Birdemic

An excellent bad movie. It was Manos: the hands of fate -esque in the opening, because of the slow slow start with lots of shots of the lead just driving. Oh the driving. The film was one of those ones where it shows *every step* of what is going on, just in case we can’t follow the story. So we see our lead, Rod, driving into town, getting a park, getting out of his car, locking his car, walking to the diner, being seated by a waitress, looking at the menu, etc. By this time the audience was mostly already laughing.

It was a brilliant audience for the film, not too big, not too raucous, but happy to play along with the film and make silly comments about it. Some of them were even funny. Some of them were made by me or Lee. I was sitting next to a middle aged woman who had not seen terrible cinema before and was laughing like crazy.

So, what’s the story? Rod meets a girl and goes on some dates (we saw all of them), his job in sales at a small start up flourishes and the company is bought for One Billion Dollars! He has solar panels installed on his house. He meets his girlfriend’s mother. Then, over 45 minutes into the film, although it felt longer, terrifying eagles attack for no reason! The eagles were apparently armed with bombs, because they set fire to some buildings, but most of the attacks were ineffectual hovering. The special effects were terrible, really bad animation pasted onto the film. It was all sorts of awesome, I can’t even tell you.

Check out this awesome review from Lumiere that says it all in a much more eloquent way than I can.

Animation for Kids

Some weird stuff this year, but also some very good wee shorts. I particularly liked Ormie about a pig trying to get the cookies off the top of the fridge, Tally ho pancake, which was about a pancake that flew away and all the people who wanted to eat it and the spectacularly beautiful Garbage Angels, which was a nature doco recreated in a rubbish dump. The highlight though, was The Lost Thing, which is my favourite Shaun Tan picture book and translated beautifully to film.

Watch this trailer for it now, seriously:

The Concert

Fantastic Russian film. A janitor who used to be a conductor steals an important invitational fax and recruits his old orchestra to pretend to be the Bolshoi and perform in Paris. It was funny and moving and lovely and I don’t want to tell you too much because of spoilers, but it was full of classical music being played wonderfully and everyone in it was great and you should really go and see it. It’s on at the Embassy theatre at 1pm on Tuesday, if you can make that.

Hahaha

We actually left this one after about 50 minutes. It was kind of dull. It was meant to be a sex comedy but it was kinda, not funny. Anyway, we left.

Lourdes

A woman travels to Lourdes, hoping to be healed of her crippling MS. It was a quiet, slow kind of movie with one of those endings (like Before Sunrise) that could be used to measure how much of an optimist you are. I find movies about religion very calming, even though I don’t really have any religious affiliation at all. It was easy to get drawn into the lives of the characters and it was quite tense at times.

Summer Wars

A lovely, lovely, lovely and tense anime. Half family drama, half end of the world future internet crisis, all awesome. Very beautifully animated, it tells the story of Kenji who is invited by a cute girl to spend the summer with her family. She says it’s for a job but actually she wants him to pretend to be her boyfriend. Then there’s all this stuff with OZ, a virtual world that you can enter into and explore. I don’t want to head into spoiler territory so let me just say, this is an awesome film and you should see it.

Film Festival reviews – second week

Double Take

A strange little film. It mashed up footage of Alfred Hitchcock with news reels, clips from his movies, adverts for coffee from the same time and new footage shot with Hitchcock lookalikes. I enjoyed it very much, but Lee was bored.

It was a kind of potted history of the cold war, but mostly it was about Hitch and it also told a story about what Hitch would do if he met his exact double. Hard to explain, really, but good.

Movie info

The Black Pirate

A restored print of the 1926 Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckling action movie, accompanied by Neil Brand playing live on a grand piano. It was an awesome performance.

The movie itself was amazing, completely over the top and fun with impressive stunts and some incredibly camp moments from nowhere. Although I guess we might have brought that to it, with our modern sensibilities and knowledge of fan fiction.

Info.

Dogtooth.

How do you describe a movie like this? It’s about a weirdly controlling family where the three 20-something ‘children’ aren’t allowed to leave the house or grow up at all. It was light and funny but also very dark and strange. There were some moments of shocking violence and some touching moments where the family showed real togetherness. I was surprised about how many people walked out of this movie, I mean, it was nasty, but it was no Piano Teacher

I’m glad I saw it, just because it was an experience. I’m glad that Lee didn’t choose to go, because he would have hated it.

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Animation for Kids

I enjoy seeing this animation collection because you know the shorts will have a story line to them, because otherwise the kids will get bored. Overall it was a great collection this year, and I really enjoyed several of them.

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Here are my highlights that I could find on Youtube…

Catchy They Might Be Giants song (embedded in a podcast). “Oh no no, I never go to work!”

This is a sweet little song about how hard it can be to get a present for someone, gorgeously animated with paper and collage.

And the trailer for the 25 minute ‘Lost and Found’ about a boy who has his life invaded by a penguin. It was gorgeous.

The Artist’s Life

A French film about trying to make it in a creative career. There was a young girl trying to make it as a singer, an English teacher struggling with writer’s block for his second book and an actress who has become type cast after a stint voice acting for a long running anime. It was gentle and funny, with most of the frustration coming from the characters doing themselves exactly no favours. Lesson learned from this movie? You take any opportunity that comes your way and you run with it!

I love watching movies about the creative process though, it’s always so inspiring.

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The Sky Crawlers

An anime movie about an alternate world where there’s a constant war going on. Over the course of the movie some strange truths were revealed, and it was very beautifully animated but overall I have to say it dragged. I was bored. Nothing much actually changed after two hours. Disappointing, but pretty.

Movie info.

Film Festival reviews – Wednesday – Sunday

Best Worst Movie

A documentary about Troll 2, 20-ish years after the film was made. The documentarian was the child star of the movie and managed to track down all the other actors. The star of the documentary was George Hardy, the guy who played the father. George is a dentist and full of life and humour. He was a great centre point for the story, watching him as he discovered the cult following and signed autographs for the fans he didn’t know he had was a joy. Generously peppered with excerpts from Troll 2 and interviews with the writer and director made me and Lee rather desperate to see the movie. I have since bought it on DVD off Trade Me. Watch this space for a review, not sure it will ever beat out Manos: the hands of fate for my favourite worst film, but I’ll let you know.

Trailer

A Christmas Tale

Our first disappointing movie, this was a french drama about a family reuniting at Christmas following the news that the matriarch has a rare disease and needs a bone marrow transplant. Kind of reminiscent of The Royal Tenenbaums but not as quirky, it gave us background on most of the characters. I was disappointed that the black sheep, Henri, was the default star of the movie, because I found him unsympathetic. Sure, it sucked that his sister caused him to be banished from family gatherings for five years, but it’s hard to be on his side when the first thing he does when reunited with her is to verbally abuse her. That said, it was a great film; beautifully shot and with plenty of humour, it was just very long.

Trailer

The Secret of Kells

An Irish animated feature set in medieval times and following Brendan a boy monk. The Northmen are terrorising Ireland and the Abbot, Brendan’s uncle, is preoccupied with building a stronger wall around the settlement. Brendan is more interested in illuminating manuscripts and becomes involved in creating the Book Of Kells. The story is highly mythical, with him befriending Aisling, a fairy, quite early in the movie. The best thing about this film though was the design, it’s highly stylised and beautiful. The snowflakes are shown as Irish knots, the smoke is curled and braided, the characters are extreme caricatures.

Several of the frames were so stunning I wanted big prints of them to put up on my wall.

Movie website pretty pretty.

Departures

We were a little late for Departures because I wanted real food for dinner and it wasn’t quite quick enough in the half hour in between Kells and this. The food was great though, stuffed chicken breast, winter veges and beans. Nom.

Anyway, the movie was lovely. It’s a Japanese film about a cellist whose orchestra is shut down. He and his wife move back to his home town and he accidentally gets a job at a casketers, who are the people who prepare the body and put them into the coffin, working for the undertaker. It was very beautiful and moving, and perhaps hit a little close to home with the funeral we attended on Tuesday, but I loved it.

Departures movie website. I also found out today that it won the Academy award for best foreign language film. Well deserved.

Dead Snow

It’s a movie about zombie Nazis. Do I need to say any more?

I was a bit worried at the start that it was actually going to be scary, and I wasn’t ready to cope with that at 11.15pm after a long and hard week. However, it was just as funny and silly and hilarious as a Norwegian zombie Nazi movie should be. I laughed my ass off, fell in love with the bad-ass characters and can quite thoroughly recommend it.

In fact, go and watch the trailer now!!!!!

Coco Avant Chanel

Lee bailed on this one to audition for another community theatre production, so I took the Lovely Chelle with me instead. We had a good time, although the movie was quite sad. Audrey Tautou was her usual graceful and charismatic self, the other actors were also very good. Pretty fashions, pretty locations. I’ll watch it again I think.

Adventureland

Written by the guy who wrote Superbad (which I haven’t seen), this is the story of one summer, after finishing college James is set to go on to post-grad study at Colombia, but it turns out his father has been transferred to a lower paying job. James takes the only job he can get, working the sideshow games as a carnie at Adventureland. There he immediately makes geeky male friends and falls in love with Kristen Stewart.

It was a gentle, funny film with some real heart to it. It kind of reminded me of watching Garden State, except the characters were younger and dumber. I really enjoyed it overall and would recommend you seek it out when it comes back. I did feel sorry for the lead though, since it seemed like James was written for Michael Cera and he was directed to act like Michael Cera.