Friday, July 31, 2015

NZIFF 2015: Film 25; LOVE 3D

Gaspar! remember what the Beatles said? "All you need is LOVE, LOVE is all you need". Take note...


Whats it about? Murphy gets told by his girlfriend she is pregnant with their second child, which sends Murph into a deep funk as he realises that he still hasn't gotten over Electra - his Parisian ex-girlfriend. Next thing, Electra's mother calls to say that she hasn't heard from her and she's extremely worried about her mental state...

When I heard that this provocative, boundary pushing explicit drama filmed by Gaspar Noe was headed for the festival, my first thought was, I can handle films like this, films that push at the very thin edge of what is acceptable (or not!) for mainstream audiences.

How bad? Or good? Could this be?

Hmm....

From what I thought I was going to see, and from what I experienced, I gotta admit, there was a gulf in expectation and the hard-core reality. I'm not gonna lie, I may have seen the odd thing or two on the internet over the years, so viewing something like this wasn't going to be hard to watch. What intrigued me was to see how the potentially explosive combination of hardcore sex, (in 3D no less!) and a conventional drama, would be handled by the person I anticipated would add his signature visual flourishes to create a work of art that would stand the test of time.

Hello reality. Reality is a cold harsh mistress sometimes, sharply reminding you of just who is firmly in charge. Gaspar, I gotta say this - A golden opportunity missed. At 134 extremely long minutes, we had to suffer through one of the most excruciating characters ever committed to film, well pixels in this case. Murphy is unequivocally, without question, one of the most narcissistic, self-centered, whiny, repulsive, obnoxious, repugnant and thoroughly unlovable screen characters. Ever. He so needed what you gave the guy in "Irreversible" - a beating to death with a fire extinguisher. Considering though, that is exactly how you intended the character to appear on screen, then I really am scratching my head wondering if you decided to title your movie "LOVE", where the f*%k was it?

Lets call a spade a spade here. Even the f&$%ing wasn't that great. It was mechanical, perfunctory. Sure, thanks for seeing what sex looks like from the inside of a woman (tick that off the list of things seen), and seeing a few jazz shots here and there. I've seen more humanity in an internet video where the passion, sex, and lust is patently obvious, it's written all over the faces of the real people who love to share their most personal and intimate experiences with a few billion others. That's something you sorta tried to recreate, but fell incredibly short of. By a country mile in fact.

In summing up, I'm happy that at least I can write with some degree of knowing what I'm talking about, I've watched the film from to start to finish. Gaspar, mate, I say this as someone who thinks you are a vital part of this industry, consider this next thought seriously.

Here's a suggestion for your follow up into this foray of 'sex-as-a-mainstream film' business.
  • Title: The Joy of Sex (Sex is Joy!). Something expressing the positive joy of sex is a good place to start.  
  • No "Murphy" type characters whatsoever. 
  • Real people shapes, flabby-ish, untoned bodies.
  • Average looks.
  •  No more than 90-100 minutes.
  • Real passion, real lust. 
  • Maybe use internet amateurs who are already well established in this type of practice. Trust me on this point - there's plenty out there! I could give you some suggestions... (wink wink, nudge nudge!).
I didn't hate LOVE, but equally, I didn't love LOVE either...



Thursday, July 30, 2015

NZIFF 2015: Film 10; DEATHGASM!



Whats it about? Hell descends upon a small town when a Metal lovin' dude unwittingly records a song that turns the good townsfolk into zombies!

It is no exaggeration to say that as of right now, we are experiencing a golden period of Kiwi film making. For so long we've made made ok-ish features, with a few exceptional films justifiably gaining international acclaim and awards. The weakest perceived link was the writing, which often couldn't match the stunning cinematography, consistent great performances, and assured direction.
With films like Housebound, The Dead Lands, The Dark Horse, What We Do in the Shadows the writing, however, has been elevated to another level.

Make no mistake, the script/storyline on Deathgasm is damn near note perfect, with first time Writer/Director Jason Lei Howden (ex Weta Workshops) drawing from his own heavy-metal loving past to assemble a rip-snorting tribute to the horror-comedy genre that is both affectionate and funny as hell! The cast are up for the task at hand, delivering performances which totally complement the onscreen action. It's patently obvious to all that they're having a blast with their roles, taking their characters on one hell of a wild joyride.

But you don't want to hear about the writing, what you really need to know is the following aspects.

  • Its got GORE by the truckload!!! Blood, blood, guts, brains, and pretty much most body parts are reconfigured, quite messily! 
  • A crunching, LOUD raucous soundtrack that is all things metal! Death to false metal!
  • For us Kiwis - plenty of real Kiwiana-laden jokes that might be slightly lost in translation! 
  • A Holden Kingswood - driven at speed! You beauty! 
  • Some of the funniest, goriest death and dismemberment scenes ever created for film!
  • Beatings and death by BIG BLACK DILDOS! Very very funny scenes indeed! 
I could go on. And on. But I wont.

Go view this movie.

NOW!!!



Wednesday, July 29, 2015

NZIFF 2015: Film 12; EX MACHINA



Whats it about? Search engine company employee Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a lottery to visit the remotely located HQ/home of it's founder Nathan (Oscar Isaac) to start conducting tests on a highly secretive project that could be a game changer...

For a whole variety of wide-ranging reasons, this film has only now just made it to these shores for a few cinematic outings over the course of the festival run throughout New Zealand. In the lead-up, I've had to listen to others express their unbridled enthusiasm for the debut directing feature from Alex Garland, best know for writing with Danny Boyle amongst others. They've already viewed it on aircraft flights and 'other means' (you know what I'm hinting at...).

When Caleb lands via the company helicopter at the remote location, he is immediately met by his fabled genius boss Nathan who baffles him initially with his unconventional behaviour that takes Caleb a little while to figure out. Once attuned to his wavelength, Nathan then reveals the real purpose for his week long visit. To conduct the Turing test on his ultimate creation, the very human-like A.I. named Ava (a mesmerizing Alicia Vikander)

With the film mostly confined to one location, Ex Machina starts to slowly exert an ever increasing sense of dread and tension as we watch to see which of the three are the most honest with their stated intentions about this week long assignment. All three leads are uniformly excellent with their respective roles. Perfect casting decisions were made with these actors. The eerie score by Geoff Barrow (Portishead) & Ben Salisbury complement the visuals with a very assured resonance.

Essentially, the most compelling reason why Ex Machina works is down to one very key aspect. It feels believable. Chillingly so. The necessary questions this movie raises are timely and pertinent. We know that humanity is not too far away from attaining singularity. Its 'not if', only 'when' it happens. In our lifetime? Certainly seems all too possible...

Was the wait worth it? Definitely! It is, in my mind, already a contender for the best Science-Fiction movie of the year. In fact, it's brilliant. If you have any opportunity whatsoever to view this on the big screen, and you call yourself a Sci-Fi fan, then you need to make every effort possible to see it.

If you can't get to see it on a cinema screen, then do what you need to do to view it.

Brilliant. Masterful. Classic.

A very worthy addition to the pantheon of great science fiction movies...

NZIFF 2015: Film 13; RED ARMY



Whats it about? A frank, funny and hugely entertaining documentary charting the complete domination by the Soviet Ice Hockey Team during the latter half of the twentieth century...

Some sports stories are just meant to be told to a wider audience than their dedicated fan base. Red Army is more than just a mere 'story'. It also encompasses the social and historic climates which bred the conditions for the rise of this sport to something of major national pride. Indeed, Kiwi's can totally relate to the Soviet mindset. Think of the iconic status Rugby has on the New Zealand psyche. Hard to imagine the All Blacks position being downgraded anytime soon.

In retelling a story of this nature, it also helps a director if you have interviewees who have interesting stories to tell, and these people are reasonably interesting subjects themselves. Director Gabe Polsky struck gold by focusing mainly on one of the five key players who, when playing together, were both feared and revered whenever they played. Captain Vaicheslav (Slava) Fetisov is an absolute riot, with his blunt and candid ruminations on just why they were so damn good. You don't get too many interviewees who interrupt filming to take a personal phone call on their mobile - and then give the middle finger when the beleaguered directors asks them (not entirely unreasonably!) to focus on the task at hand. Slava reveals that amongst the seriously brutal training regime imposed on them, the team also studied ballet, dance and chess to gain disciplines and insights they could then utilize in their quest for continued improvement and match winning consistency. Watching period era footage is a thing of wonder as these magnificent warriors glided, danced, and weaved their spellbinding magic on a hockey field many times over. Indeed, when they compare to the American style of playing, the differences couldn't be more stark. The Yanks prefer to use violence and intimidation to bludgeon the opposition into submission. Well, that's the way they illustrate that point, fair or not.

The end result of having a sports team being world champions is the rise in the national mood as the successful results continually serve to remind the country of how great your nation is, and when your country is a communist state, well propaganda pretty much writes itself. 'Ha! Soviet system produces only winners! Pathetic Capitalism!' The Communist Party wasn't slow to highlight this fact whenever the opportunity presented itself either.

Yet again, Red Army is another outstanding documentary that rises well above the confines of its genre, and delivers a story that is both massively entertaining and informative.


NZIFF 2015: Film 15: SUNSHINE SUPERMAN

I want to fly like an eagle, Let my spirit carry me,  I want to fly like an eagle, Till I'm free...


Whats it about? A heartfelt tribute to daredevil Carl Boenish, a skydiving filmmaker who is credited with inventing BASE Jumping.

For certain movies, everything you need to know can be found in the title. A clear concise title can immediately signal to a prospective audience exactly what they are going to be seeing. 'Sunshine Superman' was one description applied to pioneering 1970's BASE jumper Carl Boenish (rhymes with 'Danish'). That description fit him to a tee. Certainly after listening to family and friends recall how his boyish charms and continuous contagious enthusiasm struck all of them in such a positive manner means that, although his fate is already known, we cannot help but admire this genuine and remarkable man for his groundbreaking work in the risky business of jumping off places and things which hadn't been attempted previously.

One of the key aspects of his career was that in trying to convey his bubbling enthusiasm for skydiving, he wanted many others to be able to fully understand and experience what he got out of making so many jumps from an aircraft. He achieved this by pioneering the use of filming as many jumps as possible with crude, but effective head-mounted cameras that gave others the opportunity to actually see what a skydiver sees.

Successful with bringing skydiving to a wider audience, he and fellow skydivers, after many thousands of jumps, soon began to think of trying a jump off something other than a moving aircraft. The first place they tried was 'El Capitan' in Yosemite National Park. When the Park Rangers finally put a brake on that activity, Boenish's group then tried a variety of other tall landmarks such as Radio/TV towers, bridges, then ultimately buildings. Looking to give their fledgling movement a name that best reflected their wide range of jump sites, one of the members came up up with the perfect acronym - BASE (Buildings, Antenna, Spans, Earth). Now armed with a credible brand name, base jumping skyrocketed in popularity as the various base jumpers (inevitably lead by Boenish - and his with Jean) upped the stakes by increasing the risk factor with the incredibly daring assaults on many seemingly unthinkable options.

The culmination was a world record attempt in 1984 off a daunting mountain range in Norway, the formidable 'Troll Wall' near Andalsnes. Successful and fully documented by David Frost, that should have been that, but a few days later Boenish felt the urge to try for another descent on a previously rejected jump point. As is invariably the case, the desire to keep on pushing to conquer your elements, can lead to somewhat questionable decision making. Alas, this decision in retrospect was to prove fatal, thus ending Boenishs' life prematurely.

I've read some reviews where the writers criticize the film for not giving a more rounded picture of Carl Boenish, to my mind, they've missed the point. His life was BASE Jumping/Skydiving. That was his passion, he died doing exactly what he loved. That really is all we need to fully understand the mindset of this most passionate man who lived for one reason alone. To feel truly alive.

Inspirational, absorbing, and absolutely exhilarating, "Sunshine Superman" is testament to one man's lust for life...

NZIFF 2015: Film 11; THE ASSASSIN



Whats it about? A beautiful female assassin is sent by her master to kill her cousin (whom she was once betrothed to) as punishment for failing a recent assignment...

A major reason for my enthusiasm and enjoyment of film fest is the annual chance to see these works of art on the big screen, right where they belong. Anything smaller than that would  for me severely diminish the scale, you lose so much detail, the sense of grandeur is then completely underwhelming, to say the least. When it comes to Chinese movies, their Martial Arts and Historical dramas belong only on the big silver screen. Why? Because nobody does these genres better, the brilliant use of colour, costumes, and sets are unparalleled with their mastery of knowing exactly what these will look like once they're all combined together.

My only criticism, and this is purely down to my own failings, is that you can't watch a film like this with any lazy-ish intent. You are better served by paying strict attention to the story, and in particular, the relationship between the various characters. With any lapse in concentration, you will be scratching your head trying to figure out why certain events play out the way they do when the script and storyline, expertly written by the director, Taiwanese master filmmaker Hou Hsaio-hsien, consistently compliments the visual magnificence on display.

"The Assassin" is a glorious, colour-saturated work of art that glistens like a freshly painted canvas, bathing us in rivers of unrivaled luminescence, see it on the big screen if at all possible.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

NZIFF 2015: Film 9; HAEMOO



What's it about? A desperate Korean fishing Trawler Captain drags his unwitting crew into the illegal people smuggling trade - with disastrous consequences...

Korea is one of my now favourite film-making countries.  In over 16 years of viewing them, I'm struggling to remember a really bad Korean movie. Is it something in the water? Who knows, what I do know is this: they make damn great movies!

Haemoo is adapted from a 2007 stage play of the same name, but it is based on a factual incident that took place off the Southern Korean coast in 2001. Where the film differs wildly is the fates of both the human cargo and the crew. 25 Chinese-Korean's actually died, but another 35 survived, along with all of the crew. By depicting a far more grim scenario, Haemoo attempts to portray what happens to ordinarily level-headed humans who are put into intolerable situations which not only creates severely stressful environments, but also examines the mindsets which lead them to make their rash decisions, decisions of a magnitude they could never conceive of ever being placed in in the first place. What happens when greed, ignorance, and genuine raw fear generate a climate of major stress?

The cast are all excellent, making their associated characters both believable and very human. The production design & sets creates a realistic view of life on a chaotic, dirty, aged and very ragged trawler that has clearly seen better days.

Fist time director Shim Sung-Bo, ably supported by co-writer Bong Joon-ho (Director "Memories of Murder"/"The Host"/"Snowpiercer"), has fashioned a morality tale that resonates clearly in this day and age. Haemoo is by turns, dramatic, tense and gripping, successfully examining what can happen when an already difficult situation threatens to change into something beyond the comprehension of those involved.




NZIFF 2015: Film 8; 808

Ladies & Gentlemen, May I present to you, the one, the only... Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer!


Whats its about? This documentary traces the origins of this iconic musical instrument and it's undoubted influence on many musicians who created history with its singularly unique sound.

You may not have ever heard directly of the Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer (Drum machine), but it's a device that shook the foundations of so many different musicians who found that it's theoretical limitations were in fact, the very reasons why they not only adopted the 808, but made it the foundation stone for a huge slab of songs that define the word 'classic'. Sexual Healing by Marvin Gaye, Planet Rock by Afrika Baambaataa, Licence to Ill (Album) by the Beastie Boys, Face Value (Album) by Phil Collins (alongside real drums - obviously!) are a few examples. Where it really took hold was with the Rap/Hip-Hop and Dance communities, who loved one key sound in particular - the ultra-low bass sound that added an x-factor to their recordings. Indeed, it's well argued by more than a few of the interviewees, that ''No 808? No Rap. No Hip-Hop. No Dance"

By reversing a cliched saying, "never let the story get in the way of the undisputed facts", here are a couple of them that make things even more interesting. The 808 got it's distinctive 'non-drum-like' sound from faulty transistors that were throwaways due to them not meeting the manufacturing minimum standard. That changed almost overnight when the manufacturing process improved, sending the defect rate from a then acceptable 3% to almost 0%! And considering that vital component was the key to the 808's sound meant its lifespan was over within 3 years. Only 12,000 TR-808's were ever built.

With over 50 different musicians, producers & artists attesting to its unique charms, the 808 has amassed a cult following which has now created both huge demand & high prices for anybody lucky enough to score themselves an original unit.

This informative and highly entertaining documentary delivers a tale that needs to be told, reminding us not only of the key people, but key instruments such as the 808 which are indisputable to their place in musical history...

Monday, July 27, 2015

NZIFF 2015: Film 7; The Duke Of Burgundy

The Penalty for Non-Compliance is... More of the Same! Oh, if you Really Insist then...


What's it about? Dominance & Submission between two exquisitely dressed European ladies in a secluded villa with a definite seventies Euro-Softcore porn vibe!

When you first read the description of this film, one immediately thinks that you'll see exactly what you expect upon first viewing; copious amounts of naked flesh, but... artfully shot. What you get though, is something quite different. I'll freely admit that in amongst all the serious, angst-laden films I've planned to see at the festival, this one appealed for one reason alone. The chance for a bit of 'light relief', free from the rigours of both scripted and unscripted dramas. C'mon people, who's not adverse to a bit of titillation every now and again?

Interestingly though, the nakedness wasn't that plentiful, what did catch my eye was just about every other aspect of this sumptuous surrealistic erotic fantasy. Stunning light filtered cinematography, an eerie, haunting and melancholic score, gorgeous costumes, wisteria covered crumbling villas that oozed faded elegance. None of this would have mattered though if the performances weren't good. The two principal actresses, Sidse Babett Knudsen & Chiara D'Anna were both outstanding, giving subtle, but finely nuanced roles that revealed a depth and presence to their potentially shallow characters at first glance.

The Duke of Burgundy is a film that many (including myself initially) quite wrongly attempt to pigeon-hole as being of a certain genre when in fact, it is that rare beast - A film that transcends its theoretical limitations - by offering a tale that gives so much more.

Not just something for the raincoat brigade then...

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

NZIFF 2015: Film 6; '71

'71



Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1971. When a young British soldier is separated from his squad, the race is on from both friend and foe to find him first.

Tense? Beyond belief! '71 feels less like a recreation than a ringside seat into the hell on earth that Belfast might have resembled to many during this violent era that captured the worlds headlines in no uncertain fashion. Jack O'Connell is fantastic in a near wordless performance that conveys his abject fear and rising confusion about exactly who he can or cannot trust on this increasingly nightmarish evening.

From the innocent opening scene where our soldier is saying goodbye to his younger brother to the ending where a bus is carrying these two away into a glorious golden sunset, you have simply no preparation for the edge of your seat night from hell that private Hook struggles to survive in between these reference points. Every single turn could potentially be his last. Who exactly can he trust? The young but wise beyond his years kid who drags him into a bar? The doctor and his daughter who carry him home - and then call a 'friend'? You feel like you're only a few steps behind him, wanting to shout out, 'NO! not that way! Don't trust him! Go with her!'  

This movie is brilliantly executed, flawlessly portraying the ultra-turbulent period with a visceral rawness that is heartpoundingly real, intoxicating all your senses as you, like soldier Hook, realise that the imminent danger lurking on these dangerous streets is not a bad dream, but a hell you must negotiate as quickly as possible if you want to live longer than this very bad and very long night.

Quite easily, '71 is one of the finest thrillers I've watched in a very long time, and this is down to one key element. It feels absolutely real.

Unmissable...