Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Case for Rose Glasses

And now for the review of the second festival film, La Vie en Rose.

The life of Edith Piaf was always going to have one amazing thing to recommend it - the music. Dark, melancholy, passionate. And so was the story of Edith "the Sparrow" Paif, from her destitute beginnings and her meteoric rise to the heights of the French and International music industries, carried aloft through the strength and passion of her voice. Her tragic love life, and the rapid deterioration from sultry singing siren to hunchbacked aged performer was incredibly portrayed by the lead actress, and she was utterly mesmerising in a film where all the secondary characters really just faded into the wallpaper.

Also seemingly unimportant was the necessity for a coherent story. The "arty" technique of flashforwards and flashbacks were put to dizzying effect, with some changes in the timeline almost unnoticable until some time into the scene. The decision to concentrate on Piaf's love life also made her seem a cruel, heartless bitch that avoided the second world war by fleeing to the USA (though one of my co-watchers informed me that this was not the case).

But through all the confusion and the length of the film (2.5 hours), the central performance and of course the music held the film together. Not the best biopic I have seen (it suffers in comparison with recent films like Ray, Walk the Line), still the sheer strength, passion and depression of Piaf's voice was enough to make this a standout. Given the choice, I would get the soundtrack over the dvd of the film, methinks. And La Vie en Rose was not even sung in its entirety during the film...

Verdict: More peach than rose coloured, but the voice was pure gold - black gold, to be sure...

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Case for the Wellington Film Festival 2007

The Wellington International Film Festival is up there with Christmas in any movie-lover’s calendar as a festive season where people gather in a spirit of friendship to enjoy the good and the not-so-good international film offerings brought to Wellington by the Santa Claus-like head of the Festival Committee.

Of course, I am rarely here for these cinematic feasts as I don’t like winter.

This year though, I am about the place, and have scheduled two films on my “must see“ list. One I have already seen; the other is coming very soon.

The first film on my viewing calendar was the Homesong Stories, an Australian film starring the luminous Joan Chen and featuring, pre and post screening, a personal appearance by the writer of the film.

The film itself was an emotional affair, exploring the like of the writer and his mother, and the ups and downs of culture clashes arising from their Hong Kong origins and his mother’s self destructive behaviour. As the film was based on the writer’s memories of his childhood, some of the stories raised were left unresolved, the motivations of all of the characters were not always clear, and there were the occasional moments of sickening sentimentality, though these were few and far between. Overall, it was an interesting, entertaining film, showing a side of Australian life far removed from the white, homogenised Home & Away beaches. And Joan Chen, sumptuously dressed in beautiful Chinese outfits, was outstanding.

The true test of the film came after the screening when the writer answered questions from the audience. As so much of the life of his formative years had been exposed, some of the “unanswered questions” left by the film were asked directly to the source. It was an odd sensation, quizzing this man on his life and motivations. The film was so personal and covered such intimiate topics, that it had almost given the audience carte blanche to ask anything – but, come the time to actually pose those questions, I found that my own feelings of self restraint and boundaries meant I couldn’t ask the writer the questions I could so easily pose the person next to me. Others in the audience felt no such restrictions, and so asked away. One question did elicit a short pause and the response, “Well, that is a deeply personal question…”, but considering the subject matter of the film and the fact the writer was willing to use so much of his own life as fodder for the film industry, I found such a reaction almost hypocritical – like a Paris Hilton, upset with the same media coverage she otherwise so embraces.

So: one down; one more to go. And then the festival is over – and I will wait for the films I failed to obtain tickets for to (hopefully) get a general release…

Verdict: 4 Pork Buns out of 6

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Case for Order

It's not often I go and see the 5th movie in a series, but Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was number five of the promised seven, and it really did feel like it was just another number on the way to a final conclusion somewhere in the distant future.

Oh, it captured the main narrative threads of the book to be sure. There was a lot that needed to happen: a first kiss to be shared; a looney tune or two to be intoduced. But in the rush to transfer the most pertinent parts of the book to the screen, it felt like a whole lot of other things have been pushed into the background - like character development. There was barely a breath of Maggie Smith, Emma Thompsons large glasses loomed briefly, and Helena Bonham-Carter made the most of her brief screen time. However, Dolores Umbridge, played as Insanity in Pink, was an amazing character and stole every scene she was in - especially sipping pink tea.

But this is Harry's story to be true, and there was lots of him, and a bit of his friends as well. The special effects were magical, even as the tone of the story gets darker.

So over all, I didn't think of it as highly as some of the earlier instalments, but it did make me very eager to read book number seven and find out how it all works out in the end...

Verdict: Less than 5 out of 7

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Case for Man-Lationship Trouble

The other day, I was listening to 91ZM and heard one of those pop psychology "sign" lists that are mildly interesting. This one piqued my interest, especially considering the order in which the "reasons" were presented:

Signs your man-lationship may be in trouble

Now is a good time to examine your friendships and see if they're worth continuing. As we get older, even the best of friends can drift apart, and priorities and expectations can change.

According to New York Psychologist Adam Lynn, here are some signs you might want to consider ending a friendship:

He doesn't help you move

Guys do each other favors to express how much they care about each other. If your buddy is always too busy to help you, the friendship may be in trouble.

He calls you only when he's down

If the friendship is no longer a two-way street, and your friend only calls you to complain about his life, dump him or start charging by the hour.

He never hangs out anymore

Men base friendships on the things they do together. If your buddy no longer finds time to do things with you, the friendship may be in trouble.

His jokes aren't funny anymore

If he only talks about the "god old days" and still acts like a drunken frat guy, while you're moved on with your life, your friendship may be on life support.

He lies about small things

Guys base relationships on trust. When that starts to fade, so can the friendship.

He talks about how much more he earns

If your bud gets a higher-paying job and rubs it in your face, the friendship could suffer.

Your girlfriend thinks he's an idiot

"Women judge relationships by whether they're socially appropriate," says Lynn, "so she'll be able to tell right away if the only thing holding your friendship together is the past."

I was very interested to know why the last one came last. I would have thought that a new girlfriend would have been one of the biggest strains on any relationship, and probably the most common one too. But on this list, it appears almost an apologetic tag on, an "almost never" happenstance.

I also noted that, while more money is a no-no, rubbing sporting success in a friends' face is fine, as is anything else to do with sport, even with the bloody consequences supporting different sides in a sporting event can cause (albeit in extreme cases).

And finally, perhaps because these are 'men" relationships we are talking about here, the solution proposed to the symptoms of a (possibly) disintegrating friendship seems to be that one should actually to hasten that disconnection and end it as quickly as possible. Is this because men aren't supposed to be able to talk about these kinds of things and sort out their differences and discomforts rationally?

I am no great sage on the laws of human nature, but for me it is interesting to note the "male stereotpes" that come through in lists like this that are supposed to be compiled ostensibly to help people. Perhaps most people can be reduced to stereotypes and that this list is actually highly accurate. However, I choose to believe that I, personally, fit somewhere outside that square - for better, or for worse.

Verdict: Choosing not to examine my relationships that closely, just in case...

Friday, July 6, 2007

The Case for Ice Skating

Never has the purpose of ice skating been so clear as it is in the film Blades of Glory. The grace, the style, the athleticism, the interpretive dance – and the ease of mocking all of these things.

Into the valley of a Will Ferrell film I wandered, and I feared no evil (though some tedium), and while he was as loud and annoying as ever, the film was funny. Yes, I liked Blades of Glory, as it wallowed in its stupidity and the pomposity of its subject, and the “win at all costs” mentality that dominates competitive sports these days.

There were some truly inspired scenes. My favourites were brief snippets of events past that didn’t even contain the main cast. The video recording of the disastrous first Iron Lotus attempt had me rolling in the aisles (I can be a bit sick at times), while the highlights of the “arch-nemeses” routine that was inspired by the lives of John F Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe were so close to reality (“great use of props”) while being so completely tasteless that the line blurred between reality and satire as my vision blurred with tears of laughter.

And so, obviously, I found another movie I liked. What a great run! With the Wellington Film Festival just around the corner, the promise of less mainstream fare looms. In the meantime though, I will secretly smile to myself as I recall the fire and ice contrasting outfits, the routinely mutilated mascot, and of course John Heder’s hair.

Verdict: A 5.6 out of 6 from the New Zealand Judge

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Case for Meeting the Eye

What can I say about the Transformers that the Off-Black (1 July 2007) has not already said so eloquently? It was rubbish, but huge amounts of fun, with the improbably-named Shia LaBoeuf providing most of the entertainment for the first half of the film (how does he pull off playing a stuttering geek so well? What classes do they have for that?), and then Optimus Prime showing up, showing off, and the explosions doing the rest of the work.

There are, of course, major plot loopholes big enough to fly Starscream through that aren't obscured by the dazzling sunsets that form the backdrop of every scene. How the "Alien Robot" was brought from the Arctic circle to the middle of the desert in the early 20th century without it thawing out was never really fully explained. Why the Transformers' brains seem to be in their head units is also not really elaborated upon. And all the vehicles are now big American road hogs (though there is a great nod or two to Bumblebees teutonic origins). But, to be honest, this is the Transformers movie - it really is pointless trying to judge its credibility when it is a film all about giant robots.

And things go boom. In a good way. So what more could one want? Perhaps it could have afforded to be a wee bit more economical on the time (two and a half hours is a long time, though it did pass relatively quickly), but otherwise, it was a gas-guzzling monster truck of a ride, and I liked it!

Not sure if I could handle a sequel though...

Verdict: Megatron to the Optimus!