August 31, 2011

09.08: BEING ELMO (NZIFF)

In the first few minutes of this look into the life of Kevin Clash, the man behind Elmo, I was captured. I was taken back to that childhood joy and madcap hilarity and fun that were Jim Henson’s most famous creations. That’s the enduring power of the Muppets and like a lot of people around my age I was raised and influenced by the likes of Sesame Street and The Muppet Show.

Kevin Clash is one of those people; though somewhat older than I, being one of the first generation to watch Sesame Street. A black kid growing up in Baltimore, his interest and growing obsession with puppetry makes him stand out, but never derided. His parents are encouraging to the point of not blowing their stacks when he cuts up a coat for material and his popular puppet shows entertain the local kids. He’s soon appearing on local TV and, through his passion and determination, works his way up to Jim Henson’s workshop. From there, Clash has the opportunity to meet and work with the man himself and become a Muppeteer. He becomes the man to really give the life and personality to Elmo and then it all takes off. Elmo becomes a phenomenon and Clash works and works and works it.

This is a very surface documentary, entirely given over to the success of Clash and the phenomenon of Elmo. There is some time given to the work of Henson and the Muppets (something I would love to see a full length documentary on) but things like the breakdown of Clash’s marriage and the difficulty of being there for his daughter when he’s on the road with Elmo are barely given lip service. To me there’s a rich vein of drama and irony in the man behind Elmo, the Sesame Street character beloved by children the world over, being unable to be there for his own daughter. And, frankly, Being Elmo just made me hungrier to see a really great, in depth documentary on Henson himself.

But on the flipside, this documentary never sets out to uncover great secrets or hidden agendas; this is not a hard-hitting piece of investigative filmmaking asking the tough questions about big issues. This is something we have almost become accustomed to in our documentaries; it's become expected that there is some cover-up or dark secret in the background. There have been any number of brilliant docos investigating corporate and government malfeasance, lies leading us to war or miscarriages of justice. Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey is exactly what it says on the tin. There is no dark secret behind the furry red monster; just a young black guy who followed his passion and made good. And it says much about the power of Henson's creations that even despite any shortcomings in this documentary, I still wanted to run away and joing the Muppet circus. 

August 30, 2011

08.08: SENNA (NZIFF)

Asif Kapadia's documentary on legendary Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna's career is a thrilling piece of film that has no problem crossing-over into audience that has no idea about car racing. Speaking as one of those people who has a) little to no knowledge of cars and their racing and who had b) never heard of Ayrton Senna before, Senna captured me for it's full runtime. 

If nothing else Senna would be a masterclass in editing technique to tell a story: the entire film is constructed from archival footage covering Senna's career from 1978 - 1994, with the occasional voice-over narration from people involved to provide context. And what footage! There has been a remarkable amount of access been granted here, from thrilling in-car footage as it careens around the track, to pre-race meetings with drivers and officials to home video with Senna on family vacations. For a documentary, it is remarkably well constructed along narrative lines. Ayrton Senna is something of an artist behind the wheel of really fast cars; his natural talent astonishes and outstrips those he races against. Early on in the film/his career we see him place first after lapping almost every other racer and have no troubles with conditions (such as a wet track) that would otherwise flummox lesser drivers. And on top of that, he's a proud Brazilian at a time when Brasil was experiencing mass poverty and a deep financial crisis.

So, we have the young and talented Ayrton Senna as our hero. Cast as his opposite in the world of racing, is Frenchman Alain Prost. Where Senna had a natural flair behind the wheel, Prost was a man who played the angles; whether they be on the track or behind closed doors. He's the old lion trying to protect his turf from the young up-and-comer and he's not adverse to having a few words with the (French) president of Formula 1. These two men jockey for position, with it often coming down to tense confrontations at the World Championships. But there was still a certain amount of professional respect between the two men. They hated each others guts, yes, but they respected one another. And Senna himself, with the advent of newer and better racing technology that takes some of the skill away from the driver, begins to become as paranoid and untrusting as Prost. 

What really got to me was the audience reaction to all of the very real-life drama. Be they motorheads or car-ignoramus', everyone was invested in the film. There's a hero and a villain, politics and talent, ups and downs, reversals and reveals. Senna, though made entirely of archival footage, has the feel of a "big budget" or Hollywood style documentary, in the best sense. It is structured and paced magnificently, really humming along with no real lags or stumbles along the way. For someone who had never heard of Ayrton Senna before and who had no interest in the world of Formula 1 racing, I came away from Senna fairly buzzing.

August 29, 2011

07.08: THE YELLOW SEA (NZIFF)

The Film Festival has been inordinately (and thankfully) packed with a trio of hardcase Korean films. The Man from Nowhere and I Saw the Devil have both already made their indelible marks upon my brain and now The Yellow Sea sears itself there too. 

This is a down and dirty tale, dealing with a vast culture I had no previous knowledge of: the denizens of Yanji City, a city bordering China, North Korea and Russia. These people are commonly referred to as Joseonjok's and from the looks of it, this is what you would imagine a standard border town to look like: rife with poverty and crime, people struggling to make it through life and the hope of getting out. One person who made it out is Gu-Nam's wife; they borrowed money from a loan shark to get her out to Seoul and now Gu-Nam is stuck trying to pay the ever-increasing bill. He drives a taxi but gambles most (if not all) of his income away at mah-jong and he hasn't heard from his wife in 6 months. Enter local crimelord Mr. Myun with a proposal for Gu-Nam: he can consider his debt repaid and can look for his wife, if he smuggles into Seoul and kills a wealthy South Korean businessman - "The Professor" - and returns with his severed thumb for Mr. Myun. Gu-Nam struggles with the idea of killing, but with nowhere else to go and no-one else to turn to he reluctantly accepts. It doesn't go according to plan.

That's the set-up and that first part plays out like a slow-burn drama. Perhaps as you may expect from an arthouse foreign film detailing the downtrodden lives of a vast sea of immigrants offering cheap labour to Korea. But then the hit goes down, or more specifically, crazily sideways and the adrenaline kicks in like a bucket of Red Bull to the face. The chase sequence directly after Gu-Nam finishes the job is an insane piece of vehicular carnage, as Gu-Nam runs and the cops (on foot and in cars) close in. But Gu-Nam doesn't just have the cops to worry about: he's also still trying to track down his wife, The Professor had gang connections who are now after Gu-Nam and Mr. Myun is headed to Seoul to clean up. Gu-Nam has no friends or allies to call on, little in the way of weapons and funds and is quickly running out of time. But he's a tenacious bastard and won't let himself quit, even as the bodies and the beatings stack up.

The entire middle section of the film is made up of these chases, fights, deals and betrayals and director Na Hong-jin keeps the pace and tension up. Adding to the brutality is the almost complete lack of guns or firearms of any kind. Axes get a big workout. This is a genre film with the requisite gangsters but they're not glamorous and nor are they totally grim'n'gritty either. This is a film with a heightened reality - where a guy can take a gunshot, a bunch of stabbings and head wounds and keep on keeping on. There is also Mr. Myun who is a big, rough and total badass rogue who has a lot of the film's great lines and carries a lot of charisma; he's a larger than life character.

The Yellow Sea, for all its adrenaline and tensions, is not perfect. There is a certain point an amount of drag sets in and a chase sequence with visuals that become messy and distracting. The biggest problem I had though, was come the end where a number of plot contrivances are unnecessary but used to try and wrap and twist it all around. But damn this is an otherwise tightly wound film with Na Hong-jin masterfully using genre conventions to say something more.

August 28, 2011

07.08: A CAT IN PARIS (NZIFF)

In a cinematic animation landscape all but dominated by CG and Pixar wonders of technology and buddy-comedy, A Cat in Paris breezes in with its own, more impressionistic charm.  

In Paris, young Zoe lives with her Police Chief mother, Jeanne. Showing that the film is not shy of the darkness, Zoe's father was murdered by ruthless (and crazy) criminal Victor Costa. Costa still holds sway over their family life: Zoe never speaks and her mother is the typical workaholic and absent parent, as she desperately tries to track down and arrest Costa. To help look after Zoe, Jeanne brings in new maid Claudine. In an around this family is Zoe's best friend, Dino the cat. But this is not Dino's only life; at night Dino slips out and down to the apartment of notorious, daring and charming cat-burglar, Nico. Zoe, Dino and Nico are all pull into the orbit of the Costa gang as they plot to steal a priceless Colossus and Costa plots some extra revenge.

Everything unfolds with an easy charm and, though the run-time is brief, events unfold naturally and unforced. This is an animated adventure with some dark twists and turns that pulls off feelings of real peril. And that's down to, at least in part, the great character work; all the more impressive for one of the main characters being all but mute. Directors Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol have, with their first feature length film, successfully brought the feeling of a children's book to beautiful, animated life. Everything may be wrapped up a tad too neatly come the end, but it's hard to argue when it's all done so well and with what seems to be little effort.

As opposed to Space Battleship Yamato this film is childish in the best way possible in that it brings it's audience on an adventure and is one of those rare gems to bring out that childlike excitement in the oldest of audience members. The Cat in Paris is another reminder that you don't need photoreal characters made up of 1s and 0s when you have a cracking story and beautiful impressionistic animation. 

August 25, 2011

06.08: LE HAVRE (NZIFF)

This seems to be yet another film I find myself in the minority of opinion on. I really didn't understand the appeal of this film, nor why it was in the Festival. But then, I have never seen another film by director Aki Kaurismaki and everyone else I talked to who had, loved Le Havre. Perhaps I missed some sort of Kaurismaki in-joke but my overall reaction to the film could be summed up in one word: blah.

An old shoe-shiner, Marcel, attempts to ply his trade on the streets, where he meets with hostility from store owners. Typically shoe-store owners in fact. Meanwhile, down at the shipyards, a shipping container is found to house a number of refugees lost on their way to asylum in London. One young refugee boy, Idrissa, makes a break for it and is eventually discovered and taken in by the shoe-shiner. The cops (personified by the black hatted and trench-coated Monet) are after Idrissa, and fairly quickly, Marcel too. Marcel's wife has also been diagnosed with terminal cancer and is lain up in hospital as Marcel troops about, trying to locate Idrissa's people.

Absolutely none of this found a connection with me, and that's not due to the story or themes behind it. Frankly, I'm all for tackling serious issues within the genre of comedy, in addition to being impressed by many previous films that have gone after this same subject matter. I found the photography flat and uninteresting and still struggle to see the appeal of the film, let alone it being the sell-out centrepiece of the Film Festival. There is a dry, deadpan sense of humour throughout the film that just didn't scan with me. In fact, I'm finding it incredibly difficult to talk about Le Havre - the film is not monumentally awful by any stretch and obviously has some craft behind it. I just found the whole experience of it to be so middle-of-the-road and disconnectingly boring it was like watching road markings dry.

And that's all I have to say about that.

August 23, 2011

06.08: LA DOLCE VITA (NZIFF)

To my eternal shame I knew next to nothing about this classic film before stepping into the cinema. In fact, the only knowledge I had of the film was its most famous piece of iconography: Anita Ekberg frolicking in the Trevi Fountain in Rome. That image has been held up and looked upon as a sort of romantic high-point in cinema. The film surrounding that image though is something closer to a look into darkness.


La dolce vita translates to “the sweet life”, a rather pointed title to the ensuing tale. Marcello Mastroianni stars as Marcello, a jaded tabloid journalist who moves through the fashionable circles of Roman life, documenting and in search of the elusive “sweet life”. Each encounter plays out like a vignette seemingly unconnected to anything else, though of course this is hardly the case. Marcello is a continual outsider, one who always wants to be “in” but can never quite make it. He puts on a good show, and looks the part of a suave, smooth womaniser. But he’s a tabloid journalist; he’s there to document the foibles and follies of the elite, not to be one of them. And this so-called sweet life is often shown to be hollow and unrewarding: in the opening scenes Marcello takes off with a wealthy socialite only for them to end up in a prostitute's flooded apartment. Each piece of the puzzle neatly highlights Marcello’s downward spiral until he is finally part of his sought after “sweet life”; the leader of a party breaking into a beach villa to while away the evening with bored debauchery.


This digital restoration of one of Fellini’s acknowledged masterpieces is dazzling in its clarity and beauty and there is any number of striking images, beyond Ekberg in the fountain. There is the aforementioned flooded flat, a media circus around two children who claim to have seen the Madonna, an argument between Marcello and his girlfriend on a long and lonely road and the final scene of a huge sea-beast dragged up onto the beach, dead.


I’m just not entirely certain how the film left me feeling. Going in, I believe I was expecting some sort of beautiful Italian romance as the journalist woos the movie star in hot cars and snazzy scooters sipping cappuccinos and calling out “Ciao!” but instead found I had my expectations upended completely. La dolce vita delves into something much darker, and that sharp upending of expectation left me a little lost. However, this is a film I look forward to revisiting and one that I am grateful to have first experienced in a cinema.

August 17, 2011

06.08: SONS OF PERDITION (NZIFF)

The documentary Sons of Perdition follows three young men (boys, really) who have escaped/been exiled from the Fundamental Latter-Day Saints in Utah. The three kids - Joe, Sam and Bruce - all try to adjust to life outside of "The Crick" (Colorado City) and the omnipresent influence of Warren Jeffs; the (recently incarcerated) "prophet" of the FLDS.

Life in the Church is strictly regimented and controlled - Jeffs has a say over every aspect of life there. No outside influence is allowed in - no books or magazines, no TV or movies - and people, especially the women, are very rarely allowed out. Actually, that's not entirely true: men are routinely exiled, as the FLDS practice polygamy (all overseen and controlled by Jeffs of course) and they need more women than they do men. The boys are often taken out of school - the FLDS school - and made to work. Made to work at construction sites, operating heavy machinery for example. They are kept cowed and ignorant, with the ever-present threat of exile hanging over them.

However, some decide to make a break from life in the Crick of their own accord and life is not that much easier on the outside. These three kids have been so sheltered, have had such little interaction with the outside world, they have no idea what the capital of the United States is or even that Catholics worship Jesus! As Joe, Sam and Bruce have previously been so sheltered and controlled (in addition to just being teenage boys) they go off the rails a little with drink, drugs and general stupidity. They're struggling to find their new place in the world and, oftentimes, have no concrete support; their families are all still in the Church and they have no place of residence so cannot attend school. The only people they tend to know are other exiles; some of these are willing to help with a place to stay and there are also social workers and a local philanthropist who takes them in but it is still a struggle.

The film is a tense and emotional affair, just by virtue of the subject matter and the three engaging boys. They may not know too much of the outside world, but they aren't entirely meatheads. Joe keeps working to try and extract his younger sister Hillary and his Mother from the cult. These two women are obviously desperate to escape but yo-yo back and forth after intimidation from Father. The authorities attempt to intervene in the case of Hillary but, as there is no evidence of physical abuse, are powerless to do anything. There are truly heartbreaking moments as Mother caves in and drags the 13 year-old Hillary back to the Crick, possibly to be married off to some up-and-comer in the Church.

Packed with emotional wallops but never trying to oversell itself Sons of Perdition joins Jesus Camp as a remarkably clear-sighted look into American religious cults. By focussing on three boys trying to find their way in this new world, with commentary and explanation of the FLDS from other older exiles directors Tyler Measom and Jennilyn Merten have crafted a remarkably effective documentary.

August 15, 2011

05.08: SHUT-UP LITTLE MAN! AN AUDIO MISADVENTURE (NZIFF)

Shut up Little Man! documents a cult phenomenon I had no previous awareness of. This was a pre-internet phenomenon, so it comes as no small surprise it never made it to these shores. Also, the fact that it was/is such a strange, niche thing could have something to do with it. In the late 80's, two young guys move to California and, with them being regular, young guys move into a shitty apartment with paper-thin walls. In the adjacent apartment live Peter and Ray; two old drunks who engage in profane shouting matches with one another. The two kids, "Eddie Lee Sausage" and "Mitch D", begin to record these obscenity-fuelled, high-volume exchanges; first as a "just in case something happens to us" and then quickly mutating into something else. The guys share the recordings with friends, include snippets of arguments in homemade mix-tapes (yes. Tapes) and generally spread them around. A pop culture sensation is born.

Portions of the recordings are dotted throughout the documentary and they are relatively funny, in a puerile sort of way. Ray is an unrepentant redneck homophobe, while Peter is a bitchy queen of the highest order. The fascination with their living arrangements is what drives a lot of the interest in the recordings, in addition to the actual content. But I just didn't get the hilarity of the recordings; perhaps it was because snippets were only ever parcelled out during the runtime, rather than a full recording ever being played.

As is generally the case, it's what happens after that is the most interesting. The recordings take on a life of their own - there are audio-nuts who hunt down the original tape recordings, there are comic strips illustrated around the recordings, there is even plays and, at one point, three separate films in development all based around the recordings of two drunks shouting at each other. And, of course, as the phenomenon gets bigger "Sausage" and "Mitch D" try and exert some sort of control over it - moving the tapes from copyright free, to copyrighted. That in of itself opens up a whole lot of legal questions, but it's really the questions around what is "art" and what the line is between "art" and exploitation that drove my thinking of the film. These two guys, who recorded their abusive neighbours without their consent (possibly without their knowledge - they noticed the first time, but they may have been too drunk to remember) are, more than 20 years later, still making money off them. The tussle between art and commerce is a fairly strong throughline even if the documentary itself is less interested in asking these questions and more interested in simply laying out the "behind the scenes" tales. 

Shut up Little Man! manages to cover a lot of ground for such a niche cult happening, if only it could have delved a little more into the effects and the questions that naturally arise. 

05.08: SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO (NZIFF)

I have no idea what the original cartoon show Space Battleship Yamato is based on is like, but the film was an utter disappointment. The situation is thus: in the far future, some sort of space-aliens by the name of the Gamilas have been laying waste to Earth by bombarding the planet with radioactive missiles. The survivors have fled underground, scavenging metal for the war effort. One such scavenger, an ex-fighter pilot, discovers a beacon from a place called Iskandar that offers a device to clean Earth of radiation. He signs up with the eponymous space battleship, for humanity's last ditch effort.

I was expecting a crazy-fun little bit of Japanese sci-fi, but what Space Battleship Yamato is instead is a cheap looking, poorly paced (and acted) bit of bad cheese. The over-riding feeling I got from the whole production was it being like a (slightly) bigger budgeted fan film. If only it had the charm and sense of fun a fan-film would have, it would have been forgiven a lot more. There was no passion, and that meant a lot. If there had been some sense of engagement, I could have easily forgiven any shoddy effects and over-wrought cheesiness thrown my way; I routinely do.

There are occasional bursts of noise and action but nothing that really stands out. The whole film is photographed in the flattest, least interesting way possible. There seems to have also been little thought given to the costumes and sets, the filmmakers instead choosing to ape the cartoon rather than try and bring it in to a "real-world" setting. And I say this having never seen the cartoon - the costuming just looks lazy, with the extent of military uniforms being snazzy leather jackets for all. It's a look that would work in animation but here just looks ridiculous. Similarily lazy is the arc of lead character, Susumu Kodai. He's the ex-fighter pilot scavenger and, after signing up he is immediatly (with no explanation whatsoever) given the post of lead fighter-pilot. But he's stationed on the bridge and seems to be the guy who fires the big gun. And then, again for no real reason, come the end he is given control of the ship. It all seems like they had an idea of how this type of arc was supposed to play out, but had no thought to actually pulling it off.

It cannot be easy making a sci-fi film in a battleship/submarine setting, with having to follow the excellent Battlestar Galactica. They're two very different beasts yes: Yamato is a Japanese sci-fi film going for "fun", where Galactica is an American TV show exploring issues of faith, morality and mortality. Still, Yamato could have learned a few things from Galactica instead of being an endevaour that is entirely childish, in the worst sense of the word.

August 14, 2011

FILM FESTIVAL 2011: THE WRAP UP

Well. That went quickly and yet, not so quick. The past two weeks have been intense. Over the course of the Festival this year, I've plonked my ass in front of 41 films and have, so far, written about 21 of them (with the rest to follow). It has been an interesting ride and experiment in terms of just how far I can push myself. Scheduling films, ushering, Film Society info desk duty and writing around my day-job has been... exhausting. I found myself yesterday utterly, utterly exhausted in a way I have never been before. It was not the kind of tiredness that swamps your brain or slows you down, but more a bone-deep feeling of just wanting to crawl up into a rug and sleep for a week.

This year's Film Festival has probably been one of the strongest, in terms of the number of truly great films on offer. And the success of the Fest can almost be measured in the number of films I wanted to see, but missed. There were 17 in total, all missed for a variety of reasons. There was the wicked head-cold/man-flu that struck me down for the middle weekend, meaning I missed films like Errol Morris' Tabloid and the talked about Le quattro volte. There were films that I just couldn't squeeze into my already packed schedule like Hot Coffee, The Trip, Stori Tumbuna, Homegrown: Drama,  Love Story, The Guard and more, so many more.

But the films I did see were, for the vast majority, absolutely aces. At this Festival there were intense South Korean films, documentaries galore, works of pure cinematic poetry, enigmatic and unresolved endings, new cultural experiences, laughs, tears, awe, stunning classics seen on the big screen for the first time, a couple of little gems, disturbing and challenging films, a couple of minor disappointments, innumerable cups of coffee, relatively few people on cellphones, one power cut, many discussions of films and 22 (and counting) posts on this blog. I've definitely got some favourites from the Festival and a few I'm looking forward to seeing again - either on DVD or on general release. But, as opposed to Winter's Bone and Animal Kingdom from last year, there was no film that really gut punched me like those two did. A few came close - The Tree of Life and Melancholia were truly beautiful while The Man From Nowhere, 13 Assassins and I Saw the Devil were all captivating in different ways and, like I say, it has been an absolutely stonking Festival overall.

These are the two weeks I live for each year. I love the big-time Hollywood films, the superheroes twatting each other about, the often ridiculous high-concepts... but for two weeks, it is a pleasure to take a break from that and gorge on a different cinematic diet. Who knows when, or if, these films will ever return to our screens here in NZ? I love the Film Festival and so, to the small but dedicated team behind these two weeks, I say a very humble thank-you. 

Right. And with that, I am off to my last film of the Festival: the Ryan Gosling starring Drive. I will be bringing you my write-ups just as quickly as I can, uh, write them. And thanks to you for reading. 

04.08: SUBMARINE (NZIFF)

Submarine is a distinctly British (specifically, Welsh) coming-of-age film with a strong, acknowledged influence from Wes Anderson. This is British actor/comic Richard Ayoade's debut feature film and, to my eternal shame, I still have not seen any of his The IT Crowd or Garth Marenghi's Dark Place. They're on the list. Meanwhile, this scene is one of my favourite ever. 

Young Oliver Tate is having a difficult time. He's a little different from other kids at school; he has a crush on Jordana Bevan, an insular pyrotechnic; and to top it all off his parent's marriage is slowly falling apart. Tate narrates these events set in the 80's, with an intelligent wit and occasionally breaking the fourth wall. Craig Roberts as Oliver more than handles his own in a cast of older, more established actors. His dialogue and delivery cracks just as much as Sally Hawkins' and he brings a soulful understanding to the strangeness he finds himself in. Yasmin Paige as the shut-off, hurt and occasionally bullying Jordana is equally impressive, never flinching from the role. There's a reason Jordana closes herself off and acts out, and it's never handled in a heavy-handed way. Paddy Considine is, of course, stonking aces as the mullet-haired self-help bullshit guru ex-flame of Oliver's mum.

Submarine is a funny film, with a  knowledge and love of cinema and cinematic conventions. Ayoade is a confident director and has done extraordinary work in balancing the smarts and the heart; compare Submarine to the more emotionally distanced Eagle vs. Shark. It's just... I was (perhaps unfairly) expecting more. I've had a difficult time writing about this film (as you can likely tell from my short, stop-start review) and I believe it's because I am still unsure what I make of it. There were my expectations and then the reality and, in the midst of the constant cinematic craziness that is Film Festival, I have not had the time to properly digest and contextualise. Submarine is a film I will revisit on general release and I look forward to getting my thoughts on it in more order.

August 12, 2011

04.08: THE INNKEEPERS (NZIFF)

Talking with a few people after the screening, I got the distinct impression I was one of the few to enjoy the new film from director Ti West. The Innkeepers is not a freakishly frightening or gory horror film; instead I found it to be an atmospheric, good ol' fashioned ghost story.

The Yankee Peddlar Inn is closing down; it's the final weekend before the old inn shuts up shop for good. Manning the front desk (and everything else) is tomboy Claire and moody Luke. There's two sets of guests staying the weekend - a mother & son and a TV start turned New Age healer, Leanne Rease-Jones. There have always been tales of a ghost that haunts the inn - a blushing bride, cruelly rejected on her wedding day hung herself and was hidden by the owners at the time - and Claire and Luke are determined to track down proof before the inn closes. Things begin to get decidedly spookier, with West building the tension without relying on heavy-handed jump-scares.

Sara Paxton is a grumpy, cute, stompy delight as Claire. She brings just the right mixture of charm, moxy and innocence to the role. She's all wide-eyes, flailing limbs and goofy charm. Claire is also the true believer of the ghost stories; the one who, despite never experiencing any spookiness at the inn herself, believes Luke and his stories. Luke is an altogether different prospect: he operates a crappy website dedicated to ghost "sightings" at the inn and talks often of his own "experiences" with the ghost, though you often doubt him and his stories. Pat Healy is ok enough in the role, but didn't offer any more than a character who is a little bit of an asshole. And yes, it's Kelly McGillis from Top Gun as Leanne Rease-Jones.

The first couple of acts may seem a bit slow and even boring, but I found myself soaking up the spooky atmosphere, before West really brings the scares. In fact, it was the last minutes of the film that were kind of disappointing. The suspense, and the questioning of whether the ghost stories are real or not, has been built up so well the reveal and conclusion feels somewhat unsatisfactory. It's a tough call - how do you ensure you pay off from what you've been building on for an entire runtime? But that aside, The Innkeepers is a spooky and fun ghost story layered in atomsphere in suspense, rather than gore and cheap jump-scares. And that's more than good enough for me.

04.08: NORWEGIAN WOOD (NZIFF)

Based on Haruki Murakami’s celebrated novel (which I have not read) and directed by The Scent of the Green Papaya’s (which I have not seen) Tran Anh Hung, Norwegian Wood is a slow burn of a film that failed to engage me and, like the snow-covered hillsides, left me cold.

Set in Japan in the 1960’s it tells of Watanabe, his best friend Kizuki and the girl Kizuki has been close to since they were born, Naoko. Kizuki and Naoko are two people who, by all outward appearances, were made for one another. And then Kizuki kills himself and Watanabe leaves – needing to get away from the village and expand himself at university. However, one day he runs into Naoko again. She's still fragile from Kizuki's death but they become close and, on Naoko's 20th birthday, spend one passionate night together. Naoko takes off and Watanabe manages to track her down to a retreat in the mountains. She's delicate and on a downward spiral, obviously still not over Kizuki taking his own life. To further complicate matters Midori, an attractive girl at university, begins showing an interest in Watanabe. And he's interested in her, but still hung up on Naoko. 

This all plays out at a slow pace, aiming for dreamy and memory-like but comes across as emotionally cold and left me unconnected. Everything is taken Very Seriously - these are young people that seem to never, ever laugh or have fun. They have each of them suffered under some sort of tragic incident (death), but some sort of release was required in the film. Something that enlivened them somehow. At one point, Midori asks Watanabe to take her to a porno movie - this could have been a great scene; something different to the rest of the film (and, supposedly, hilarious in the book). Instead it is never mentioned again and the statement just left to sit there, like a forgotten knick-knack.

The film is beautifully shot, at least, by Ping Bin Lee. Characters are often framed off-centre, as barely more than tiny specks in vast landscapes. The performances, as Serious and often dreary as they are, are perfectly measured. Those two sentences are kind of the perfect encapsualtion of Norwegian Wood for me: coldly beautiful, studied and measured but somewhat lacking in life. Even as they explore love, sex and the emotional ties that connect Watanabe with these women. It just didn't connect with me.

August 10, 2011

04.08: POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD (NZIFF)

Morgan Spurlock (he who ate only McDonald's for a month) returns with a documentary that aims to unveil the world of advertising and product placement in movies, while also including advertising and product placement within the doco. It’s a catchy, meta idea to the concept that I’m not sure entirely pays off.

Product placement in film and television is rife nowadays, and this documentary just feels a little behind the times. I’m sure most people recognise and realise how prevalent this revenue-booster is, even if they don’t catch every single instance of it. Then again, maybe they don’t. Maybe I just assume this due to my own interest in film and television and the issues surrounding these money-spinning entertainments. In any case, product placement is everywhere; obvious and not.

Spurlock sets about finding sponsors in his own, recognisable way. He heads to a consulting firm, to find out what his “brand identity” is and engages professionals to help sell him and the movie to sponsors. He cold calls and pitches to a number of corporates, both big and small. He does it with a wink and a smirk - the Spurlock personality is big part of the film and depending on how much he appeals to you, will decide whether this film is for you or not. I personally don't mind Spurlock, but the initial hook starts to become a big part of the film; so much so it almost obfuscates the genuine discussion around advertising and product placement that could be taking place. 

The film wanders a little when going into digressions about advertising in general - though the visit to advertising free city Sao Paulo is an intriguing one. Overall, as an exploration into product placement, advertising and branding in entertainment/art there is nothing terribly surprising. I, personally, would have preferred to see more people directly involved in the business - screenwriters, directors, producers - but understand that they were unwilling to talk on camera. Spurlock is aiming for the widest audience possible here, which is somewhat suitable and works. His stated aim was to just get people thinking about advertising; to become more aware of it. And, if that was his only goall, I believe he achieved it.

03.08: I SAW THE DEVIL (NZIFF)

Director Jee-woon Kim’s I Saw the Devil is a confronting, brutal and gruesome entry into the sub-genre of films focused on vengeance, and once again coming from South Korea. No punches are pulled and nothing is shied away from, creating a disturbing and haunting portrait of the true cost (and futility?) of vengeance.

When Joo-yeon, the pregnant fiancee of dedicated cop/secret agent Kim Soo-hyeon (The Good, The Bad, The Weird's Byung-hun Lee) is brutally murdered by notorious serial killer Kyung-chul (Oldboy's put-upon hero Min-sik Choi) he sets about taking vengeance/justice into his own hands. That's the entire film in a nutshell, right there. But from that kernel (kernel? nut? What is it?!) a film of savage brutality and occasional, jarring beauty is crafted. The murder of Joo-yeon is utterly brutal and callous; body parts are strewn around Kyun-chul's killing floor, with Jee-woon Kim never shying away from showing the very real gruesome horror of a human being in bloody pieces. Even thinking about it now makes me a feel a little queasy, but this is all set-up and introduction into the twisted world of I Saw the Devil.

Kim Soo-hyeon feels at least partly responsible; he was, once again, away and unable to protect his love. He takes it upon himself to exact equal and bloody revenge upon her killer and methodically works his way towards Kyung-chul. To do so, he becomes something less than a man; he becomes a cold and driven vengeance machine determined to hunt Kyung-chul down and make him pay. The hunt for Kyung-chul is over relatively quickly, and Kim Soo-hyeon incapacitates him only to let him go; he's playing with Kyung-chul. Soo-hyeon can now track him and hurt him however, whenever and wherever he pleases. This is his vengeance: to hurt Kyun-chul as much as he hurt Joo-yeon. And this raises incredibly troubling issues, as Kyung-chul cannot stop brutalising and hurting people (especially women). So is each new victim then the fault/responsibility of Soo-hyeon? Not that he cares - his focus is Kyung-chul. And the the majority of this chase narrative is spent with the killer, Jee-woon all but daring us to identify with this psychopath. The question also becomes: how much can Soo-hyeon really hurt this man? Soo-hyeon can savage him physically, but can he possibly hope to do to Kyung-chul what Kyun-chul has done to his victims? How much of a monster does Soo-hyeon have to become? It's a question pretty explicitly touched upon when Kyung-chul is holed up with a fellow serial killer (the film also gives the impression of serial killers roaming the countryside around Seoul like an infestation) and they discuss how similar See-hyeon is to them.

Despite clocking in at 2 hours, 20 minutes you never feel that time as everything moves along at an incredible pace. Every scene, every confrontation is perfectly balanced and executed with some stunning photography. In the cold snow of the countryside and in the lit canyons of Seoul, there are a plethora of arresting shots; the film draws you in with its beauty even as it repulses you with its violence. And the performances are also uniformally excellent. Min-sik Choi is one of the most fascinating actors working in any country right now, utterly inhabiting the skin of Kyung-chul and almost making him a(n even more) twisted version of Oldboy's Oh Dae-su. He's somewhat hypnotic and fair counterpoint to Byung-hun Lee's emotionally shut-off fiance/hunter. You can see the pain in Byung-hun Lee but you can also see the pain channelled. You sympathise with him up to a point, but he takes you beyond that point and into much darker waters.

I Saw the Devil is an exhausting and demanding watch with no clear "hero" and bleeding with shockingly confronting violence. It demands a response from the viewer, beyond meatheaded cheering for bodily damage. It's hard to say the film glamourises the violence, as even when Soo-hyeon is beating on Kyung-chul, he is almost as bad as the killer. Jee-woon Kim doesn't shy away from showing anything; there aren't really moments of holding back or pulling away. Vengeance is unleashed and it only leads to escalation and destruction, offering no closure or catharsis.

August 9, 2011

03.08: METROPOLIS (NZIFF)

This is not the first time I have seen Fritz Lang's silent classic Metropolis on the big screen, nor is it likely to be the last time this year (as it will be playing with a live performance from the NZSO). Metropolis is one of the grandaddy classics of science-fiction cinema, towering over almost every subsequent film in the genre (and beyond). It is also one of those films that is constantly having new parts, previously lost scenes and edits discovered and rediscovered around the world. Frankly, I have no idea how many cuts there are of the film no nor if there can ever truly be a "definitive" version. 

The version presented here is the latest and most complete. With a recently discovered near-complete 16mm cut in Buenos Aires acting as a template. The reconstruction has also blown up parts of the 16mm print to plug gaps otherwise unavailable. Still, there are parts of the film (relatively important plot points too) that are still lost and these gaps are filled by black title cards, describing the action. All of this makes watching the latest cut of Metropolis an interesting exercise. 

The film itself is still something of a wonder to me. The first hour or so drags and moralises but once the action kicks off with Maria and the workers, and Joh Fredersen and the mad scientist Rotwang (who would give Dr. Frankenstein a good run for his money), it really kicks off. Freder, Joh Fredersen's son (that is, in fact, his full character name as credited) is the son of Metropolis' ruler. He and his fellow sons of men of influence cavort and play in the paradise gardens at the top of the city. Their cavorting and skipping ways are interrupted by the arrival of Maria, with adorable moppet children of the workers in tow. They're quickly hustled out, but not before Freder decides to follow Maria and learns for himself the plight of the workers who slave away to keep the great city going. Cue dastardly plot from daddy involving the Thin Man, Rotwang and a certain lady robot.

The one thing that must always be mentioned with regards to Metropolis is its astounding design and art direction. Even today, nearly 85 years on, it is still astonishing work. And watching Metropolis you cannot help but be reminded of bits and pieces of other, later films that have borrowed inspiration from it. The city, far from being a stale or drab place is filled with life: cars drive along impossibly high boulevards, scores of workers riot in the streets and buildings crumble. It's a wonder of expressionism and futurism, giving us a vision of utopia and dystopia all in the one city.

What really struck me in this viewing was the performance of Brigitte Helm as Maria/The Machine Man/Death and more. As Maria she has the rather unenviable task of portraying a saintly figure; the Madonna if you will. She plays her with nervy passion, wanting to heal this society but not being entirely confident within herself. And then, as the Machine Man evil robot clone of Maria, she lets loose as a gyrating, temptation leading ne'er do well; the whore if you will. She throws herself into this role with lusty gusto and, due to her talent and the expressionist style of the performance they are vastly different characters. So much so, you can hardly believe anyone thinking they are the same person. The performances around her are fine enough, tending towards the exaggerated, but Helm is the standout - in multiple roles. 

Yes, Metropolis can drag, has kinks in its plot mechanics and can be overbearing in its pomposity. But it is also still thrilling, still magical and still influential. The image on this new cut was crisp and clean, except for the portions blown up from the (rather dirty) 16mm. I cannot wait to see it again, this time with live accompaniment. 

August 8, 2011

03.08: KNUCKLE (NZIFF)

The documentary KNUCKLE provides a look into a culture and mindset that is entirely alien to me and my experiences. Director Ian Palmer follows two clans of “Travellers” – kind of like Irish gypsy folk, but sort of not – for 12 years as they settle their differences in organised bouts of bare-knuckle boxing.

The primary clans involved in the feud are the Quinn McDonaghs and the Joyces; other clans move in and out of the ongoing feud but the baddest blood is between these two. Though there are familial ties between the Quin-McDonaghs and the Joyces, they’re not the types to let that get in the way of good blood feud. The narrative is pieced together with interviews and footage of the boxing matches, all shot in a loose and handheld camcorder sort of way. Palmer stumbled into this world when shooting a wedding video for one of the McDonagh brothers, Michael. There he heard about the war between the two clans, and how they settle it. He was invited along to film one of the upcoming matches and so, in a quiet country lane, two bare-chested men slugged and slapped at each other until one had had enough. Each boxer brings along an impartial judge, and there are (some) rules - no biting, if a man is down step away etc - all to ensure fair play. Oh, and only the boxers from each clan are allowed for fears of a gang war breaking out. These families hate the fuck out of each other and, in addition to the boxing bouts, send each other video taunts ensuring the rivalry just keeps on going and going...

And that's the long and short of it really. For 10 solid years, these two families arrange bouts, bet, and keep on spiralling down. There is talk from some corners of putting their fists down, wondering what all this fighting is doing to their kids, but no action is seen to be readily taken. Each side becomes too invested in the conflict, the men using the bouts as a means to prove themselves. This is very much an internal world all of their own: their accent/dialect is so impenetrable as to require constant subtitles and they have no time for the coppers. And despite following these two families for over a decade, Palmer is still seen as an outsider.

There are a couple of personalities that inevitably float to the top but the focus is on unbeaten Quinn McDonagh champ, James. He's the tall, bald-headed man the Joyce's tend to try themselves against without success. He shows signs of mellowing in his old age, even retiring at one point, but he does come back (for a bout that lasts longer than TWO HOURS) and things begin again. By the time the credits roll, you're left wondering if this animosity will ever truly die or if it will always simmer away, forever in the background. KNUCKLE puts true, pointless brutality on display in grimy, shaky video.

02.08: TAXI DRIVER (NZIFF)

A fully restored, 35mm print of Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver? Oh, hell yeah! The last (and only) time I'd seen Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader's examination of a broken soul, and a broken city, was on a shitty VHS tape. The grunginess of that was a help and a hindrance: it really isn't the best way of being introduced to a Scorsese film but I don't really remember too much of it. So, this screening of Taxi Driver was almost like my first.

For those who may, for some bizarre reason, be in the dark: De Niro is Travis Bickle, a mentally disturbed ex-Marine Vietnam war vet who narrates from his obsessively kept journals (think Spacey in Se7en). Due to his inability to sleep he takes a job driving night-time cabs in New York city and talks of washing away all the scum and depravity he sees. He develops an obsession with Cybill Shepherd's campaign worker Betsy and, when that doesn't work out, trying to help Jodie Foster's child prostitute Iris from her life.

Scorsese fetishises the taxi while casting a glaring eye on the streets of New York; the opening shot of the film is a taxi sailing through the mists of an open New York sewer, like a bright yellow Horseman of the Apocalypse. The driver of said taxi, De Niro is a frightening vision of an urban nightmare; a tautly conditioned Marine’s body holding a diseased mind lashing out at the world. But this New York is not entirely a hive of scum and villainy: Shepherd’s Betsy is, at first, held up by Travis as an angel bringing light to where there is none. Of course, when she rejects his advances she is, in Travis’ mind, shown to be just as depraved and filthy as the rest of the scum (even if it was Travis who took her to a porno for their date). And man, I forgot how funny this film could be! Albert Brooks, as Betsy’s co-worker on the campaign Tom, is the Jew-fro’d, pink-shirted nervy antithesis of Bickle. He brings much needed laughs to almost every scene he’s in, helping to deflate tension before it builds up again.

Taxi Driver is a bonafide classic of American cinema and it’s still as dark, disturbing and potent as when it was first released. I find it interesting almost as a time capsule to compare the present with: take Taxi Driver’s filthy, crime-ridden New York and contrast that with the loud, brash and Disneyfied Time Square now. And where Scorsese seems to have acclimated to now being a seasoned master as opposed to the young hotshot with fire in his belly (and, yes, coke in his veins), De Niro has just gone soft. You watch him here, all taught and jangly, a dangerous fire behind his eyes, and then you think of Meet the Parents and you weep a little. But this fil, this moment in time, this is bravura filmmaking. The fevered script; the iconic character and performance; the pulsing, shifting Bernard Hermann score; the city... all woven together by Scorsese. Wonderful.

August 7, 2011

02.08: THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE 1967-1975 (NZIFF)

I am a white, middle-class male from New Zealand. I was born in the 1980's and grew up in and around kiwi suburbia. As this is plainly obvious, I can hardly begin to imagine the actual experience of a black person in mid-20th century America. Even my knowledge of this particularly tumultuous time in American history is patchy, at best. I know the broad outlines, but not the specifics nor the experiences. I think it's fair to say that most of my actual knowledge of the period is from various pop-culture sources. This documentary, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, does not purport or aim to tell the entire story either. Instead, it is a collection of footage shot by a Swedish news crew, charting the rise of the Black Power movement in the US from 1967-1975. It is a fascinatingly clear-sighted and personal time capsule of a period of massive social change.

Things begin with Stokely Carmichael, a charismatic, intelligent and angry early black leader. The footage then moves through the years and the growing black power movement that finds a fair amount of sympathisers in the reporters' native Sweden. The footage is supplemented by narrative voice-over of prominent members of the black community; artists, activists and musicians. While its great to hear from modern day descendants of these activists and society-changers, the footage all but speaks for itself. They cover a wide range of time and subjects: from Carmichael to founders of the Black Panthers to wrongfully imprisoned black intellectual Angela Davis (who also provides voice-over narration) to people in Harlem. They travel far and wide, including the Black Panther embassy in Algiers and charting the rise from anger to militancy to more community involvement.

For being footage from such a select source, telling only a portion of the American black civil rights/Black Power movement, this is an illuminating film giving a human face and context to the broad outlines of history I know. It is all to easy to think of History being shaped by Events when, in fact, it is all down to People. It is people up against other people, people banding together, or people creating events; creating change and trying to improve their world that shapes history. A fascinating documentary from an intriguing source.

August 6, 2011

01.08: LET THE BULLETS FLY (NZIFF)

Before I get to the movie, I just wanted to apologise for the slow down in posts lately: I've been whacked over the head with a gnarly head-cold/man-flu the last couple of days and am trying to rest up, while also catching the films I'm desperate to see and write about.

Coming in at pretty much the exact opposite of Meek's Cutoff, the Chow Yun Fat starring Let the Bullets Fly is an over-the-top Chinese Western gangster kinda film. In 1920's China, a bandit and his gang raid a train that just so happens to be carrying the new Governor of the region. The bandit leader, "Pocky" Zhang, ends up taking the place of the Governor, with his gang in tow, and sets about planning a bit of a "Robin Hood" scam in Goosetown. The local big boss gangster, Huang, is none too happy about this and so schemes and plots ways to bring down the Governor/bandit leader. The two war with one another in the streets of Goosetown, their followers and the townspeople all being caught up in it.

Cow Yun Fat looks to be having a hell of a lot fun playing (for the first time?) a villain; no scenery is safe from the man. His is an over-the-top performance in a totally over-the-top film. He smirks and chats politely, all the while plotting away. And you can see that, in just the way he plays it. It is even more impressive as he is playing a dual role; gang boss Huang and his body double. You can never be sure who is who. Jiang Wen, as Zhang, more than holds his own against Chow Yun Fat. He stomps and blusters about, contriving to act the fool while plotting his next move. Zhang's gang are all charming rogues and by the end of the film, you think of them more as a family than a gang.

The action, much like the dialogue, is fast paced and bombastic. In fact the dialogue scenes, with people snapping back and forth at each other like crocodile jaws, were the highlight for me. When they need to be, they're wickedly fast-paced and every one of the actors plays it perfectly; whether it's straight-faced or with the hint of a smirk. The visual effects work is not always the best (looking a little hokey in places) but, thanks in no small part to the relentless pace and overall charm of the film yyou don't mind so much.

The film is, quite literally, stuffed to the brim with plots, double (and triple) crosses, identity switches and more. These keep you guessing, but occasionally go on a tad too long. There are pacing issues that keep the bullets from truly flying, but this is such a big, brash and boldly stylised movie they kinda get away with it.

August 4, 2011

Thank-you.

In the midst of all the Film Festival craziness I'd just like to take a quick moment to say thanks. My online fundraising campaign wrapped up recently and the generosity shown to help me achieve my mad dream is truly humbling. In addition to incredibly kind donations from family and friends, I'd like to say a special thanks to my mate Mez for the aces photos (you should check out her photography website here) and my wonderful partner Sarah for the continuing encouragement and support.

So within the next few months I will be experiencing the mystery and wonder that is Fantastic Fest for the first time. I'll be writing all about my experiences; the ups and downs, the films, the city, the cinema, everything really, all here at rockets & robots are GO! 

I won't let you down. 

Thanks again.

August 3, 2011

01.08: MEEK'S CUTOFF (NZIFF)


Kelly Reichardt’s (Wendy & Lucy) new film is not your typical Western. In fact, the only way you can really consider it a Western is the time-period in which it is set, as there aren’t many of the expected genre tropes. Three families and their blow-hard guide toil across an arid Oregon landscape, obviously lost and with their water running low. The trip, and the film, is slow going with little hope of a successful conclusion.

Reichardt and her star Michelle Williams obviously got along well on Wendy & Lucy as they have teamed again, but this time Williams is surrounded by something of an indie-film all-star cast. Her much older husband is played with gruff sincerity by Will Patton (also, briefly, Wendy & Lucy), Shirley Henderson a fellow wife, Paul Dano the husband in the youngest couple and an unrecognisable Bruce Greenwood as their blustering and blowhard guide, Stephen Meek. Williams has come a long way since Dawson’s Creek, constantly doing challenging work and she is the quiet but strong centre of the film. She, more than almost any other member of the train, guides them and focuses them. Greenwood looks to be having the most fun, relishing his disappearance under a huge mane of beard and hair. His Stephen Meek is a teller of tall-tales and carries the air of a bronco rider more than a wise guide.

Reichardt’s modus operandi has not changed from Wendy & Lucy; things are slow going, with a focus on the mundane everyday activities that people do. This only serves to enhance the hardships faced by these foolish frontier people though; fording a river is slow going, possessions having to be carried across on heads; the three wives are up before the sun each day, preparing coffee and breakfast and a busted axle stops the whole wagon train for a day. Meek’s Cutoff is a dry, dustbowl of a film simultaneously in love with and afraid of the landscape.

Some sort of strange, unreliable guidance comes to the travellers (and the film) in the form of a lone captured “Injun”. Meek counsels killing him outright, but the families decide to place their trust momentarily in the mysterious Native American. There is the constant refrain of “one more day. We’ll see how we are in one more day”, but that day never comes. The train reasons the Native American man must know where water is, and he leads them to a possibility of it... and then the film ends. It just ends; no resolution, no nothing. I’m all for open-ended films but to stop the film, so abruptly after all that toil... Perhaps there is some rich, inner meaning beyond the foolish and relentless slog of these pioneer families but, if so, I am afraid it escapes me. Yes, Reichardt highlights the hard, everyday work of pioneer woman and the foolhardy struggles faced by many but I am unenlightened as to what more there could be.

31.07: SNOWTOWN (NZIFF)

For my final (re: fifth) film of the day I made the uncharacteristic rookie mistake of confusing my venues. Being at the Embassy Theatre all day, I had foolishly assumed the Australian true-crime film Snowtown would also be screening there. Nope. I was coming out of Beginners just as Snowtown was scheduled to start down the road the Paramount. Thankfully, there was a short I had already seen (Meathead) screening beforehand and, after hauling ass, I made it before the main feature. 

Snowtown is based on the real events surrounding one of Australia's worst serial killers, John Bunting. Before Bunting even enters the picture, we are introduced to 16 year old Jamie and his rather dysfunctional family: his father isn't around, his mother Elizabeth is unemployed, he has an abusive older brother and two younger brothers in Alex and Nicholas. To top it off, his mum's boyfriend Jeffrey (within the first 10 minutes no less), has the boys pose for photographs in their underwear and, in Jamie's case, nude. Elizabeth has no idea of this horror perpetrated on her boys by a man she trusts, and who lives across the street no less. This is when John Bunting enters the picture. An informal "support group" springs up around the family's kitchen table and Bunting emerges as something of a fixer, a problem solver. He spends more and more time with the family, rarking up Jeffrey and vandalising his house. Bunting becomes a fixture of stability for the family and a charming alpha male prepared to stand up for them, in his own violent way.

The first hint that Bunting is someone approaching the torrid rapids of psychopathy is when Jamie awakes one morning to find him chopping up kangaroos to toss at Jeffrey's house. John Bunting is nothing more or less than a charming, controlling full blown violent psychopath. He sees himself as ridding the world of evils: paedophiles, homosexuals, weirdos, junkies... they're all lumped together in his worldview. Into his twisted orbit he brings Jamie, slowly building a connection with him and becoming a mentor-oppressor to the young man. Jamie is similar in a lot of respects to J, the protagonist from last year's Festival great Animal Kingdom; they're both young men, struggling to find a way out of their situation but barely communicating with anyone and remaining something of an enigma. But where J finds a way out for himself, on his own terms, Jamie is forcibly pulled into Bunting's world.

That is the first feature film for a large part of the cast and crew; director Justin Kurzel, writer Shaun Grant, the producers and the entirety of the main cast bar Daniel Henshall as John Bunting, is nothing short of staggering. This is a supremely confident film, Kurzel assured in his craft. The film itself is disturbing and disconnected; large swathes of time and events are skipped over and you really have to pay attention to keep up. Significant events are alluded to but not explicitly mentioned and character motivations remain muddy at the best of times. The disconnection, and suggestive gruesomeness (Bunting and his "associates" had their victims leave recorded messages telling any loved ones good-bye and to not come looking), only serves to make Snowtown more disturbing, more unsettling; you are constantly having to re-orient yourself and find your feet. A day or so removed from the film, I'm still not entirely sure what I make of it. A confident, well-made film that attempts to examine true, horrific evil I struggled to make a connection to it. Whether that is because the choices by the filmmakers left me removed, or if I removed myself from it, shying away from the nature of proceedings, I am unsure.