June 29, 2012

New Zealand International Film Festival: My Picks (Wellington edition)

It's really getting into winter now which can mean only one thing for film-lovers: the annual New Zealand International Film Festival is once again on its way around the country.

Which of course means there are previews upon previews for upcoming films. And with the launch of the Wellington programme last night, I would be remiss if I didn't also offer my picks for 2012. Where possible, I've included links to trailers.

Hold onto your butts, and here. We. Go.

The opening night film is Beasts of the Southern Wild. I first heard of this coming out of Sundance and, aside from watching the magical trailer, I have avoided reading too much about it. It's one of those films I want to be a surprise.

Other films I've heard about but not read about to preserve as much of the discovery as possible, include the weird Cannes hit Holy Motors, the new film from Ben Wheatley Sightseers, the horror anthology V/H/S and Brit Marling (whose Another Earth I really, really didn't like) and her other low budget sci-fi Sound of my Voice. And, of course, the film rescued 
by Ant Timpson and the Festival from a direct to DVD release, Cabin in the Woods. One film I have seen but think everyone should see (everyone. I mean it), and with as little knowledge beforehand, is Klown. There's only the one showing in Wellington so make sure you get your tickets in early. 

The Festival is also chock full of great documentaries, with ten feature-length New Zealand docos this year! There's mad maestro Werner Herzog with a basket-full of films interviewing death-row prisoners (Into the Abyss and various Portrait of... films), the Keanu Reeves produced investigation of film vs. digital Side by Side and Bully which will no doubt be an emotionally traumatic (but rewarding) experience.

The classic films lined up for this year are a truly delicious bunch. I'll be seeing, for the first time ever and on the big screen, Stanley Kubrick's horror classic The Shining. I'm going to be falling in love with Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell all over again in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and I'm sure to fall for Jean Seberg in Bonjour Tristesse. And the Live Cinema event this year is the Clara Bow starring Mantrap.

This year the Festival has done something slightly different, when it comes to their selection of New Zealand shorts. In previous years there have been collections under the banner Homegrown. This year, in association with Madman Entertainment (who's logo I'll be seeing a lot of at the Festival) they're holding their first ever competition: New Zealand's Best. Other Kiwi films I'm looking forward to checking out are the two Wellington features Existence and How to Meet Girls from a Distance; a post-apocalyptic dystopia sci-fi and a twisted romantic-comedy respectively. Costa Botes makes his return with The Last Dogs of Winter,  his documentary exploring the endangered native Eskimo dog the Qimmiq. There's also a number of other great looking documentaries and a selection of Maori and Pasifika short films.

And then there's all those other films that I've been hearing about for the best part of a year, coming out of other film festivals or having small, limited runs overseas. Films starring big-time Hollywoood actors in dark roles, like Rampart with Woody Harrelson as a violent, intolerant LA cop or Killer Joe with Matthew McConaughey as a killer for hire or Bernie with Jack Black as a suspected murderer with the creepy moustache to prove it. I was honestly not expecting Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom to be in the Festival as I'm sure it already has a general release secured. But hell, I'm certainly not complaining about getting to see it early!

Looking over my scribbled notes, lists and spreadsheet I could quite easily keep writing about the great films on offer. The new Studio Ghibli film Up on Poppy Hill, the delightfully charming looking I Wish, the bizarre and amazing looking double feature Far Out Far East (featuring body horror and time travelling), the Joel Edgerton and Antony Starr, um, starring Wish You Were Here. I've been a fan of Mads Mikkelsen since Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself and his performance in The Hunt earned him Best Actor at Cannes. Mathieu Kassovitz's Rebellion about the French response to an uprising in New Caledonia should be intriguing and visceral. How I Met Your Mother's Josh Radnor directs Martha Marcy May Marlene's Elizabeth Olson in Liberal Arts, which should at least be funny and sweet. Sean Penn goes super intriguingly weird in This Must be the Place and Gael Garcia Bernal features in No as an ad man attempting to defeat Pinochet in Chile's referendum and The Loneliest Planet as an adventure tourist travelling with his girlfriend through the Caucasus mountains. Ken Loach has the sweary Scottish comedy The Angel's Share, Micahel Haneke ponders love and death with the Palme d'Or winning Amour and... see? I've just gone on and on and on. I was supposed to be wrapping it up in this paragraph.

Ok. So, I've given some of my picks but one of the true joys of the Festival is discovering cinematic gems yourself. Do yourself a favour: pick up a programme, flick through a few times and just pick some films. Pick something that you might otherwise never get the chance to see; don't just go to the big nights. Get along to the documentaries, the small indie charmers and shockers. Surprise yourself.

So, what are your picks so far?

June 17, 2012

Why I love movies

There was an article put up over at BadassDigest a few months ago by the FilmCrit Hulk about why he loves movies. It's a pretty great list and there's even more positive greatness in the comments section (how many times can you say that about an internet article?) and you should totally read it. After seeing The Good, the Bad & the Ugly at a screening last week it got me thinking again about all of the things that make me love movies. I'd also love to hear from anyone who wants to comment as to why they love movies - what is it about them that fuels your passion; that makes you want to watch everything, or make movies or just talk about them.

So here, in incomplete form, is why I love movies:

Because of Eli Wallach's run through the graveyard in The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Because of Eli Wallach's introduction in The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Because of Eli Wallach in The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Because of Grace Kelly

Because of Lauren Bacall

Because of Bogie

Because of Cary Grant

Because of Ed Wood

Because of Ed Wood

Because I have been lucky enough to see the following classic films, for the first time, on the big screen: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Once Upon a Time in America, An American Werewolf in London, Manhattan, Badlands, Lawrence of Arabia, Steamboat Bill Jr, The Lost World, Bambi, Metropolis, Touch of Evil, The Adventures of Robin Hood, It Happened One Night, The Asphalt Jungle, Rebel Without a Cause, In a Lonely Place, The Big Sleep, The African Queen, North by Northwest, The Freshman, Safety Last, M, Singin' in the Rain, Blue Velvet, A Streetcar Named Desire, Gone With the Wind and The Apartment

Because I've also been lucky enough to see these classics on the big screen: Alien, Die Hard, The General, Gojira, Taxi Driver, Blade Runner, The Sound of Music, Rocky, 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, Jurassic Park, Enter the Dragon and Some Like it Hot

Because of the little kid who got freaked out in a screening of the silent horror classic The Cat & the Canary and the rest of the audience knowing exactly what that felt like

Because of live cinema events

Because of the Back to the Future triple feature at the Embassy Theatre earlier this year

Because of the New Zealand International Film Festival, every year

Because seeing a movie in the cinema is still the best way to experience it

Because I cry like a little child at the end of The Iron Giant every. damn. time.

Because of the
FilmCrit Hulk and how he has made me a better film watcher and writer

Because of those great soundtracks and themes that call to mind entire films with a few chords

Because of the work of Drew Struzan, Richard Amsel, Renato Casaro, Vic Fair and other amazing poster artists (check out the astounding Film on Paper)

Because of Mondo

Because of The American Astronaut, Rejected, Boy A, Donnie Darko, Winter's Bone, Cell 211, A Town Called Panic, Milocrorze: A Love Story and many more great, surprising and astounding films I've seen at film festivals

Because of Fantastic Fest

Because they combine visual, aural and chronal components in a way no other art-form can

Because of Terrence Malick

Because of Edgar Wright

Because of P.T. Anderson

Because of Paul Verhoeven

Because of David Lynch

Because of Martin Scorsese

Because of Steven Soderbergh

Because the Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino and Diablo Cody all continue to make dialogue better

Because Sigourney Weaver rising four feet above the covers in Ghostbusters made me hide behind the couch as a kid

Because I had a VHS with RoboCop and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom when I was a kid and it blew my mind

Because of the enthusiastic first night crowds I saw Spider-Man, X-Men 2 and The Avengers with

Because Rocky and First Blood are actually really, really good (also Conan The Barbarian)

Because of film noir

Because of Danger: Diabolik

Because of Jim Henson

Because of Buster Keaton

Because of Jackie Chan

Because of Arnie

Because of Marilyn Monroe

Because "Nobody's perfect!"

Because of Matthew McConaughy talking entirely in grunts in Reign of Fire

Because the first reveal of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park is still awe-inspiring

Because of stop-motion

Because of musicals

Because of the musical numbers, car chases and massive pile up in The Blues Brothers

Because, back in 1999, The Matrix blew my freaking mind

Because I've subsequently had my mind blown by There Will be Blood, The Fountain, Badlands, Animal Kingdom

Because, even now, when I see a truly drop-dead phenomenal film I feel it as a very physical thing

Because High Fidelity has helped me through some rough times

Because movies can still utterly destroy me and leave me a quivering, emotional wreck

Because movies can still utterly destroy me and leave me a laughing, gasping mess

Because there's trash and masterpieces... and sometimes they're the same film

Because of movie days/nights with my friends

Because of movie marathons

Because they're my autobiography

Because every single year sees the release of more amazing and surprising films that get added to my absolute favourites list

Because I still have so many great films to see


Because Back to the Future is a perfect film in every aspect

Because of Christopher Reeve in Superman

Because The Princess Bride is still gloriously romantic and adventurous and hilarious and a little bizarre

Because of Bruno Lawrence in Utu

Because Gordon's alive!

Because of the school holidays I spent watching Hot Shots Part Deux! At least 15 times in 2 weeks

Because of Jimmy Stewart

Because of the cult of Bruce Campbell

Because I've seen Dirty Dancing a few times and I still don't get it. But I see why others do

June 10, 2012

Film review: PROMETHEUS (spoilers)

Poster by BLT Communications
Just in case you missed it right up there in the blog post title, this will be a SPOILER filled review of Ridley Scott's Prometheus
That covered, we can move on. 

And yes, hello. Welcome back. It's nice to come back and write about movies again and what better one to kick back in with than the highly anticipated prequel/side-quel/whatever to Alien? Lets get down to it shall we? Brass tacks as it were. Prometheus, celebrated director Sir Ridley Scott's return to the petered out Alien franchise, is really rather stupid. 

Yep. Stupid. For a film nominally about the search for the beginnings of human life, helmed by one of the smartest and visually interesting directors still working, Prometheus is monumentally bone-headed. The script, by Damon Lindelof from a draft by Jon Spaihts, is riddled with plot-holes and peopled by barely sketched and needlessly contradictory characters who blunder about and occasionally find themselves running into barely explored themes.

I barely even know where to start with talking about this. Before I saw Prometheus, I'd heard chatter that it wasn't all it was cracked up to be. But still, I went in with my high hopes. Slightly dampened, but still. C'mon, right? This was Ridley Scott returning to Alien territory. Alien is still the best all of the various Alien films and sequels; much like the horrific xenomorph that stalks the corridors and ducts of the Nostromo it's a sleek, fierce and deadly film. There's no fat on Alien's bones and it is still a remarkable, frightening film. Prometheus has no idea what it is. It tries for drama, dread, thrills, deep questions and more and comes up short on all accounts.

Let's start with the characters. The ship Prometheus is peopled with a huge array of extraneous barely seen characters who are summarily beaten and chewed and killed to absolutely zero effect. They're barely there as cannon fodder. Our main characters fare little better. Noomi Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw is a barely defined muddle of a generic "scientist". At various points she is an archaeologist, astronomer, xenobiologist and more. Oh, and she's also vaguely religious too. 'Cos science and religion y'know, man? Woah. Her partner/husband is even less well defined, seemingly only to serve to get infected with the space-worms they find and then knock up Rapace with an alien space baby. Yeah. Sure. Okay. Whatever.

Similarly wasted are Rafe Spall and Sean Harris as a stupid biologist and oh-he's-a-geologist? respectively. Spall is a nerdy biologist who, at his first sight of a (dead) alien body decides he wants to scarper back to the ship. But, after he and Harris get lost (again, stupid stupid plot-hole. Harris is the geologist for fuck's sake! Not to mention there's a big ol' holographic map back on the ship detailing all of the explored caves and where everyone is. And they all have nifty gadgets on their suits that provide them with co-ordinates. It is unforgivably bad writing that they get lost) and they find some mutated-alien goo worms that look exactly like penis eels with vaginas for faces, Spall wants to give it a cuddle. Freaked out by a long-dead alien but totally ok with a living alien creature.

Coming out slightly better off are Charlize Theron as the calculating boss, Meredith Vickers and Idris Elba as the charming, working-class pilot Janek. But they're not really given enough to do and the film would have benefited from focussing on them more. In fact, I would have much rather followed Theron's icy corporate type than Rapace's poorly defined scientist; she's a better character and Theron is a markedly better actor. Oh, right - and Guy Pearce shows up in old-man make-up as an elderly Peter Weyland 'cos... there are no old actors in Hollywood? And he's Theron's dad - which is just thrown out there arbitrarily and entirely un-revelatory.

It's Michael Fassbender, as the android David, who really comes out the best. Fassbender's performance is great from beginning to end; some of the best stuff is in the first 20 minutes and is just David hanging out, shooting hoops, watching (and cos-playing as) Lawrence of Arabia during the crew's cryo-sleep. He's fascinating to watch and you get the feeling Fassbender has been tricked into thinking he's in a much better film than he actually is.

Almost ironically, David is the most human of all of the characters. He really is more relatable than any of these other dunderheads. Upon discovering alien life - honest-to-gods proof or alien life and civilisations, not to mention being the things they had set out to find in the first place - there is almost uniformity in how the crew reacts: meh. Dead or not, this marks the most significant discovery in human history and no-one really gives a shit. Because Scott wants to hurry up and get to trying to scare you.

This seems like a lot of bitching, and a lot of bitching at surface details at that. Apologies but it's just, the more I've been thinking about it, the more pissed off and disappointed it's making me. 
This could have been, and really should have been, something more. Something larger than any of the Alien films, grappling as it does with the very beginnings of mankind. There was the chance for Prometheus to be an elegant, moving science-fiction film with some great terror thrown in. But  Scott obviously no longer even cares about things like story, characters and themes. He's all about the visuals. And, to bring in some positivity, the visuals in Prometheus are suitably staggering. They are images of strange, otherworldy beauty; vast alien landscapes (some right here on Earth) that stretch to the stars. But now, much like his brother Tony, Sir Scott only seems to give a damn about how it all looks. 

It just, aaggh! It's all so monumentally stupid. The second scene of the film has Rapace and her partner man finding a series of cave paintings on the Isle of Skye in Scotland - except the cave paintings are lifted directly from the Chauvet cave already and recently explored by Werner Herzog in Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Sure, your average movie-goer will probably skip right over that but to me it is a perfect example of the lack of ambition inherent to the film. Scott and Lindelof aren't interested in exploring questions any further than just asking the questions. And by asking the questions, I mean they have characters, at various times, asking these questions directly.

Prometheus is a visual marvel, I cannot call attention away from that. It looks absolutely phenomenal - quite possibly the best looking film of the year. But there's nothing really going on underneath that. The film is all surface, desperately pretending to have hidden depths but failing to engage in any meaningful way. It doesn't hold a candle to the original beast and Alien still stands tall as the greatest of them all. 

As a bonus: I think I've solved the riddle of Prometheus. In the film, the Engineer's (the space jockey creators of human life) are killed off some 2,000 years ago, just before they're readying to wipe out life on earth. And the question is asked (often but, again, barely explored): why? I think I have the answer. What happened 2,000 odd years ago in human history? Why, Jesus Christ of course. The Engineers got wind of this and that's where the decision came from. King of the Jews? Can't be having with that! The Engineers are inter-galactic anti-Semites. YOU'RE WELCOME.