Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Case for the Whole Truth

I am unable to take a large part of Wellington’s World Cinema Showcase, as I m busy for the week most of the (in my opinion) truly unmissable films are on. Fortunately, however, I was able to make it to one of the screenings of the documentary Forbidden Lie$.

This Australian film attempts to find the real truth behind the “non fiction” book, Norma Khouri’s Forbidden Love, the tale of an Honour Killing in Jordan that became an international best seller. The writer was welcomed into Australia after the release of the book and quickly became a sensation following the heart-wrenching story of her experiences. However, investigation into her background revealed some inconsistencies with the story and led to her being branded a fraud. This documentary attempts to present both sides of the story, from exposing the inaccuracies and untruths in Norma’s tale and allowing Norma to address those accusations and provide proof of the book’s veracity.

Norma does not come out looking the best. Her willingness to cooperate with the documentary makers does not extend to providing them with full disclosure of the identity of the murdered Dalia, thus making proving the existence of her friend impossible. Her inaccuracies in the descriptions of life in Jordan and her own life are dismissed as “artistic license”, with the truth of the death of her friend and of Honour Killings themselves the only real purpose for the book.

The motives of some of Norma’s critics themselves were not really given the same scrutiny. And, first and foremost, this was an Australian film, with the work and research of Jordanians and Americans taking a very second fiddle to the discoveries made by Ockers. The use of re-creations and “amusing” graphics to illustrate particular points or issues discussed actually cheapened the integrity of the film itself, with true humour and wry laughter from the audience I was with coming really from some of the more ironic or revealing scenes. Similarly, some sources were presented as “secret’ (such as Norma’s video confessions of not providing Dalia’s real identity and her possible love affair with her “body guard”), but how the film makers got access to this video, or if they ever really identified the body guard as a ‘”real” one or a fake were never gone into, thus leaving credibility holes in their material.

However, despite its flaws, the documentary, the issues discussed and the participants themselves were all fascinating. There is nothing quite so fascinating as trying to discover the motivations and truths behind what people tell us. A tangled web indeed, but wherein lies the real truth?

Verdict: Besides the unnecessary tricks, a fascinating insight into the world of the truth and those who profit from bending it just a little. 7 novels out of 10.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Case for the Classics: Gandhi

My story of Gandhi goes back a few years to a long haul flight, where I managed to watch the first half – and then the tape snapped and so I was unable to complete the spectacle. Fast forward a few years and rewind a few months and I finally saw the whole epic in one go – or close enough – this time on DVD.

It is huge. The history, the personalities, the events. The story of one man who preached passive resistance, convinced others of his conviction and freed India from Empire. And the shattering of that dream as India split apart into states separated by religion that even today simmer with tension, and his own assassination.

The story itself is incredible enough, and it is told in a slow, methodical way. Even the 15 minute intermission was “lovingly” kept in the DVD, though the insane people at the DVD Chapter Making Club decided to put the chapter break in the middle of the pitch-black intermission “scene”.

What can I say? It is a classic. A bum-numbing 3 hours, but engrossing and incredible nonetheless. And now there is even a statue to the great man outside Wellington train station. How cool is that.

Verdict: A great movie in every sense – 5 reincarnations out of 5

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Case for Categorising Music

A while ago on 91ZM (yes, I do admit to listening to it), the morning crew published a list of the 10 gayest songs.

Which got me to thinking. What would be included on the 10 whitest pop songs (besides “Tie a
Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” or anything by the Carpenters)? The 10 greenest? The 10 blackest? The top 10 transsexual? The 10 straightest?

I am not going to tackle any of those. No, I thought I would tackle a different sort of list: the 10 Current(ish) Most Covertly Satanic Songs, starting with:

1) My Heart Will Go On (Celine Dion)

It’s sung by Celine Dion and so there are instant warning signs there. But this one is all about immortality and putting Jack before the joys of heaven. That’s not just your brain melting as Celine hits the high notes – it’s Lucifer redecorating.

2) Since You’ve Been Gone (Kelly Clarkson)

Read the subtext: this song encourages you to embrace newfound freedom by casting aside Jesus and following the egotistical path of selfishness – and to Hades

3) Who Painted the Moon Black (Hayley Westenra)

Well, Satan did of course.

4) Slice of Heaven (Dave Dobbyn)

Classic Kiwi black anthem, encouraging the defacing of the pearly gates for ones own benefit.

5) Unbreak My Heart (Toni Braxton)

Not only did this song unleash the concept of “unbreak” upon the non-English speaking world (have you tried to explain what it means to a non-anglophile?), but this is a song that, if you read between the lines, says that the Lord will abandon you. Reach for the razor blades: there is only one, dark way out.

6) I Want It That Way (Backstreet Boys)

“You are my fire / my one desire”. Putting an icon before the Lord has never been more boy bandy.

7) Crazy Frog

A given really.

8) Bob the Builder

Bob can’t fix it. Only the Lord can. And perhaps Chuck Norris.

9) It’s Too Late (New Republic & Timberland)

It’s never too late to apologise and to turn towards the light. That is the dark side talking. Plus the lead singer is obviously being tortured in the song’s music video, screaming as he is with the barbs of Beelzebub on his butt.


Well, what do you think should make number 10? Or do you have a list of your own to contribute? Leave your comments and let me know…

Verdict: Grouping music by a theme is pretty pointless, but can be quite fun too – especially when having to justify one’s choices. 6 out of 10 on the “way to pass the time in traffic” scale.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Case for an Ice Age

I am no expert on the ancient world, but I am pretty certain that Woolly Mammoths were located in cold climates (say Ice Age Europe), Sabre Tooth tigers and Terror Birds in South America, and Africans and Egypt in… well, Africa; and that the continents themselves were pretty much in the same positions they are now. I am also fairly certain that the economics of the time would have made a slave gathering expedition that went from desert plains through tropical jungle over mountain ranges and through the lands of many, more easily apprehended locals fairly impractical in a cost-benefit analysis.

But then, 10,000 BC doesn’t really purport to be a historically accurate or plausible rendering of life a long time ago. What it does claim to be is an action flick high on special effects. That it isn’t is pretty unforgivable.

Early on, we are introduced to a tribe of mountain dwellers hunting Woolly Mammoths, though they have fallen on hard times. The tribe’s priestess has a vision that they will be saved, and promptly dies. Well, actually, she doesn’t, but by her 7th fainting spell, you kind of wish she had, or at least would. After a dull 30 minutes (or 30 hours), a bit of plot happens, so a quest is undertaken by our young, buff hero and Cliff Curtis (and some other young-but-less-buff cannon fodder), and off they go around the world.

And there is walking. A lot of walking. In some films, the trek would be an excuse for character development, but not in this one. We did learn that ancient man spoke English, but because it was ancient times, their English lacked pronouns and prepositions and had to be spoken in a deep voice and with the odd grunt thrown in for good measure. The main actors kind of gave up on their accents at one point, the American twang and Nu Zild accent creeping into the manly pronouncements. The baddies spoke another language entirely, and seemed to have their voices digitally lowered to sound even deeper than the heroes, probably to emphasise their badness. The fact the baddies also look fairly Arabic is (I am sure) purely keeping with historic fact, though the fact the big baddie seems to be a white dude is an interesting twist.

I thought possibly I was being too harsh, until I realised my movie companion, along with most of the laddish moviegoers around me, were similarly disenchanted with the film. A guy next to me began a “Die old witch!” chant, and the rows in front of me barely waited for the lights to come off to run screaming into the lobby looking for the mouth of the nearest Sabre Tooth Tiger into which to stick their heads after the truly awful ending.

Verdict: I was not expecting a masterpiece, and I did not get one. I did expect a bit of a thrill ride, and was disappointed to find a merry go round in its place. So bad, it was just bad. Two Woolly Mammoths out of ten (for the scenery).

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Case for an Era's End

Well, it is gone. Hoyts Lower Hutt is now closed for business.

I visited the dying facility as it entered its terminal final week. I strolled past the boarded up ticketing offices that I had lined up many a time over the years; past the glowing display of the current movies and their session times that in a few days would shine no more; past the movie-of-the-week cardboard cutout display; up to the candy bar manned by two smiling attendants to order my final ticket to be issued from that dispenser and paid for using that EFTPOS machine (though perhaps I will encounter that EFTPOS appliance, unawares, again).

I climbed the steps to the first floor, past Coming Attractions posters for films that will never screen at this theatre (like Indiana Jones IV), wandered along the near deserted “waiting area” where I had occasionally queued (again) to get into the more popular features back in the day, opened the heavy doors into Cinema 3 and claimed a seat (unallocated) to be mine one final time.

Sitting in the near blackness, running my finger around the ridiculously large rim of the soft drink holder that only held the largest of cup sizes, struggling to find a comfortable position in a row where the leg room was just too short for a person of my average height, I remembered the crunch of discarded popcorn or sticky sensation of soft drink residue lining the floor from busier times. There had been good times spent here (if not in this particular theatre).

For some reason, I can recall some of the details of my first encounter with Starship Troopers with eerie clarity: the session was full, I was sitting on the right hand side of the row in about the middle of the theatre, and I was roaring with laughter most of the time, and the oppressive leg room never really got to me. Likewise my viewing of Rumble in the Bronx, Jackie Chan’s film: I sat in almost the same spot but in a less crowded cinema, laughing away at all the serious bits with a young lady behind me completely bamboozled as to why I found the more earnest scenes the most hilarious. Some other films come to mind for other reasons, like Mel Gibson’s Ransom film, which I saw as a “back up” film and will remember with horror for all time as an awful movie but also one where my distaste could not be hidden from my companion (the leg room was never more oppressive than that day).

Groups of young philistines coming in to sessions to have loud conversations were replaced in later years by groups of young philistines coming in to sessions to spend the entire film sending text messages to friends they evidently wouldn’t be seen dead with. Rigid adherence to a seating plan was eroded to a “sit where you like” policy as the crowds stayed away. Late night sessions popular with those who liked to avoid the crowds were phased out as the evening sessions themselves were avoided.

So, with all these memories of the place, am I sad to see it go? Let’s be honest here: the Lighthouse and Sky City cinemas are far superior to anything Hoyts Hutt offered. At the time it was built, it was evident the cinematic experience was playing second fiddle to sardine packing. No attempts were really made to revamp the place in the face of more comfortable competition from Readings, the Lighthouses and Sky City. And the Mall in which it is located has always seemed a death trap for small businesses anyway.

But, truth be told, I am a fairly sentimental person, so there is some small part of me that will admit that, for memory’s sake if nothing else, I will miss it.

The Val Morgan cinematic programme (love that it is called that; not “advertising” but “programme”), including a preview for a tired looking Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, brought us to the movie, and the movie come and went. The cinema remained. The screen faded to black.

All was not silence though, of course. That was not the final day. There were still movies to be shown and patrons to be ushered. But next week, I know, I will not be able to go back.

Verdict: Adios, Hoyts Hutt. But you were just a 3 star cinema...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Case for Woolly Jumpers

The tag line should have read “Take a Jump!”.

But it didn’t. Because Jumper isn’t that kind of movie.

What kind is it? It is pretty action, never mind the consequences or motivations. The “heroes” (main man Hayden Christensen portraying all the style and flair that made his outing as Anakin Skywalker so… memorable) are meant to be the Jumpers but their casual disregard for property rights or the lives of non-Jumpers really makes them quite unsympathetic. The “villains” are the cattle-prod wielding Paladins, led by a blond Samuel L Jackson who seems to get around just as quickly as the Jumpers do.

The plot and backstory promise more: there is a history to the Palandin/Jumper conflict that is never entered into; there is a science behind the Jumping talent that is kind of taken as a given; there are atrocities committed by Jumpers that have never made it into the history books (though the Paladin exploits had); Diane Lane’s character’s story. But what is delivered is just an excuse for some fairly cool action sequences and fairly decent special effects.

Samuel L Jackson plays the hard, bad man out to save the world. His character would have had some extra panache if he had a random bible quote to intone along side his cries of “abomination against God!” as he slaughters Jumpers, but perhaps that ended up on the cutting room floor. They probably ended up beside most of Diane Lane’s scenes, as she is criminally underused and appears for a total of about 2 minutes.

This is really Hayden Christenson’s film. It’s just a pity the character he plays is the same whiny, spoiled brat I came to know and loathe in the Star Wars films. I wondered sometimes what his character was thinking: “I know, I now realise I am being hunted by a powerful, resourceful opponent hell-bent on killing me – a perfect time to woo my high school crush”; “This place is closed but I am going to refuse to come back tomorrow because they are Italian and therefore unreasonable”; “I really need this guys help because… well, actually, I’ll do it all on my own”. Most of the time though, my brain stayed off.

The film is meant to be based on a book, but one assumes a lot of that ended up out of the script too (screenplay writer’s thinking: “Jumpers and Paladins. Great idea! Don’t need the book anymore…”). Taken as a bit of light froth, it is a fairly fast-paced action film coming in at a brief 90 minutes length. But that’s about it.

Verdict: Never mind the story, show me the special effects. Five jumps out of ten, with some extra points for giving Diane Lane a bad arse entry with a “means business” haircut and outfit – that is then criminally wasted.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Case for Technicality

The other day, I decided to get myself an “extra” keyboard that would be a bit more comfortable and flexible to use than that of the laptop. And, being the sucker for kitsh objects that I am, when I spotted a flexible, bendy one, I had to go for the gold.

Practicality-wise, it is appalling. While it offers unhindered performance even in the bleakest of sandstorms, the fact it is flexible means that one needs a fairly even surface upon which to attempt tapping. The “full size keyboard” is impervious to spilled hot liquids, but its sheer breadth means most coffee mugs cannot be located anywhere near it. These bold exclamations of the keyboard’s amazing endurance and usability are kind of undermined by the fact that the keyboard itself is fairly useless with a much more fragile (and less likely to be taken out into a ferocious sandstorm) computer.

Likewise, the instructions are an interesting affair. They are a fascinating mix of highly articulate and completely incomprehensible. The Health & Safety warning (well written) should contain a clause cautioning readers to seek psychiatric assistance should other parts of
the booklet cause too much confusion.

Purchases like this reinforce the melange of forces that influence our consumer goods these days. Almost anything is catered for in a variety of ways, even if the resultant product ends up as an object of ridicule.

Verdict: I know it is fairly rubbish. And it makes me love it all the more. A QWER on a QWERTY scale.