July 15, 2010

Film Fest: Day One

After racing out to the Hutt to borrow the car from the parentals, it was a pell mell speed dash back into town and to Te Papa to kick off the Film Festival.

Space Tourists

When perusing the Festival programme, this film leaped out at me. Because of the that one simple word, Space, and the accompanying picture of an astronaut. I'm a bit of a space geek and I didn't even need to read the run-down of the film to decide I was going to go see it.
In the end, this documentary around the Soviet space programme manages to feel scatter-shot and heavy-handed at the same time.
The film starts with a photographer in Kazakhstan, capturing striking images of massive monuments to the Soviet space programme in desolate ghost-towns. We then follow and an Iranian-American business-woman as she becomes the first female space tourist, with her her talking about her desire to get to space. As her shuttle is launched we meet a group of Kazakh scrap dealers, who race out and salvage the detritus of the boosters. This is really where the film (albeit briefly) takes off. Sure, it's great to be on the International Space Station and watch the daily lives of the astronauts and cosmonauts in zero-G, but as breath-taking as all that can be it's stuff we have seen many times before. The colourful characters who live off the space junk are not. They deserved their own documentary; riding around in the Kazakh wasteland, using parts of rocket-boosters for a dinner pot. As did the enthusiastic Georgian engineer/theologian as he builds a sort of rocket balloon in his backyard. He's a fellow space geek, and he's a direct counter-point to the space tourists. Where they are paying to get to space and have a look around, he's very much wanting to make his own way there in the pursuit of pure science. He seems a little naive, perhaps, but watching his face as the rocket balloon at first fails to get off the ground... just a little heart-breaking. And then the film wraps up with the training of another space tourist.
The photographer, in particular, strikes a derisory tone to the space tourists - the noble Soviet space programme, selling itself for money. Unfortunately, space programmes cost money. A lot of money. And they're not particularly popular at the moment. And as someone points out earlier, the money shelled out by one space tourist pays for more than half a Soyuz rocket launch. And the space tourist herself talks of "seeing no borders from up here" and it "looks so peaceful". A little bit pap and sentimental - and again, something we've seen and heard before. It's the Kazakh scrap guys (just change the focus and call it Space Junk and be done with it) and the Georgian backyard rocket-builder that are really the heart of the film.

It's great to see another Kiwi film (or, a film from a Kiwi director, in the case of last year's Bright Star) officially opening the Festival. It took me a little while to settle into this one, but once I did I well enjoyed this fantastical, dark and comic gem.
Set in a nameless small New Zealand town sometime in the 30's it follows Cedric as he falls in with, what could best be described as, a couple of bad apples - Heath Franklin's Mervyn and Jemaine Clement's Spook, two actors better known for their comedic pursuits. It all starts simply enough for poor Cedric; time to kill on his holidays and no friends because of his crazy dad's "Leaning Tower" in the front yard. Mervyn happens upon him, and it's not long before the ruthless bludger has weaseled his way into Cedric's home. His creepy friend Spook follows soon after and Cedrric finds himself caught up in revenge, blackmail and murder. Quite a predicament.*
Hayden Frost is excellent as the nervy Cedric, eventually finding the courage to stand up and be a man. Heath Franklin, who I've only known from his Chopper impersonation, is surprisingly great as the smooth talking, vicious bludger Mervyn. But it's Jemaine Clement as Spook who almost steals the show. He's a weedy voiced sneak, almost like a distant cousing of the Addam's Family, creeping around the town's of Taranki trying to raise the capital for various schemes.
Jason Stutter, as screenwriter (adapting the novel by Ronald Hugh Morrieson) and director handles the changes in tone, from tense to dark to comic, with a deft touch with some scenes turning on a dime.
A great film to open the Festival and one I hope to catch again in cinemas soon.

Birdemic: Shock and Terror
Oh gods. What a way to wrap up my first day of Festival. With Birdemic. The newly minted Worst Film of All Time. I can unequivocally support that. It is, categorically, the worst film I have ever seen in my Entire Life. An experience to watch with a lively crowd to be sure. Just expect pain. Actual physical pain. My brain wanted to throw up and I felt physically ill at the utter awfulness afterwards.
The best thing to be said about the whole mess, is that lead actress Whitney Moore is incredibly awful. She wouldn't look out of place in some cheapy horror, and acquits herself as well as anyone can. Alan Bagh, as the entirely boring Rod, looks like he's trying to remember how to walk. And there are a lot of scenes of him walking. And driving. And then walking again. And then maybe driving some more.
Look, this is a fucking bad film. The only way to enjoy it, in any way whatsoever, is to have (quite) a few beers and laugh at the ineptness on display. It looks like something my friends and I may have made at age 14 with a shitty camcorder, no lighting or sound gear and given a few days to make it in. And had never before watched a movie.
And I'm torn in a lot of ways. Where this worthless piece of junk has become some sort of phenomenon, travelling all the way here for a Film Festival, other low budget filmmakers struggle and plug away with their perfectly great films; such as my friends Miles and Tony with their self-funded Crimefighters, which has recently bowed at the Edinburgh Film Festival and are now touring the UK with it. But then, watching something so outrageously, mind-kickingly execrable with an, I guess, appreciative audience is an experience all in itself.
And there's a sequel (according to IMDB) in the works: Birdemic: The Resurrection.

*Sorry. Couldn't help myself.

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