Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Case for FilmFest 2010 Part 2

The third and final flick of my FilmFest season and another packed house at the Embassy had a title that reminded me of cigarettes, though I don't recall anyone in the film really smoking:
I Love You, Phillip Morris.

The title is a bit deceiving though because the actual story has very little to do with Phillip Morris, or the love for said man. It's actually to do with the person who utters these romantic words, Steven Russell (though I kind of wanted for him to be called Terrence), played by Jim Carrey.

It has to be said that Jim Carrey is a very versatile actor, as he can make complete tit of himself in some utter rubbish (for example,
Liar, Liar) and also be quite soulful in some thought-provoking films (such as Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind). I Love You Phillip Morris lies at the "thought-provoking" end of the spectrum, though it definitely gives Carey the chance to let loose every so often.

Because Steven is a con artist. Carey's charms and physical comedic gifts are put to great use, and you can believe that his (as one person I know wonderfully summaries the phenomenon) "bulls#!t baffles brains" strategies completely win over those he meets. When dealing with people one-on-one, he is smart enough to understand how the system works, personable enough to win people over, and then cunning enough to let those he deals with form their own assumptions and make the next move.

It all reminded me of
Catch Me If You Can a few years ago, with Leonardo DiCaprio playing the devious man who scammed millions on the back of a keen intellect and then ended up working for those very same companies he conned as an anti-conner. Of course, that was back then. Now, computer checks and the like means people tend to target the weakest chink in the security armour, people's gullibility, and that kind of personal humiliation is not often rewarded with cushy jobs.

No, Steven is a criminal through and through. He gets caught, gets out, gets into trouble, goes back in, and the cycle repeats itself. But he is not motivated by personal greed: the film shows Steven as a man wanting to shower gifts on his family and lovers, with only his lack of an honest job getting in the way. So, to get overcome the difference between his working reality and lifestyle aspirations, he gets some dishonest ones.

Most of the situations he gets himself into are hilarious. There are odd moments of reflection and sorrow, but the predominant wind is breezy and warm. Ewan MacGregor as Phillip is fine, and his scenes with Carey have a fair amount of chemistry, but really he is not give a huge amount to do. This is Carey's film, and he takes us along on a great ride of amoral yet (relatively) harmless behaviour.

The only bum note I thought was the sideswipe at "Governor Bush" that comes over the films credits. There seemed little point crediting the ex President as the "persecutor" of the real life lovable rogue. Sure, the film is obviously going to attract a very liberal audience (gay charmer swindles stupid corporate bosses to give ex-wife and child and the loves of his life the luxuries he thinks they deserve), but this guy is still a crook. He may be smarter than the average bear, or Texan, but criminal activities like his do deserve punishment. It's just a pity when bigger criminals are able to get away with far more serious crimes.

Verdict: I Love You Phillip Morris has a really good role for Carey, playing to his strengths and letting the audience laugh along with him and his character's wily ways. Light and charming, there's not a huge amount of depth to the whole thing, but that is really not a problem at all. 7 years in a pale yellow prison outfit out of 10.

If you have not done so already, make sure to check out the Not Kate's review of The Room from the other night. Glorious.

And for a fairly comprehensive overview of the FilmFest's offerings, check out Mr Anderson's movie matrix.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Case for the Filmfest 2010 Part 1

What a weekend: dinner in a “thematically appropriate” American diner (Laurenorder really does have a way with words), and three films as part of the International Film Festival to see.

First off, the sold out Agora, was the story of the first recorded female mathematician, Hypatia, in 4th Century Alexandria. At least, that is what I was expecting of this Spanish-funded film that did nothing to dispel the notion that aristocracy in the ancient world spoke received pronunciation English. But, while there was a bit of the lovely Rachel Weiss as that character, I was never convinced the story was all about her. Instead, through the eyes of several of the city’s citizens, linked by their love of Hypatia, the film focused on the upheaval in the Roman Empire as Christianity replaced paganism as the state religion in a not altogether bloodless way.

While Hypatia was off pondering the mysteries of the universe (the “setting” shots, that zoomed in and out of the atmosphere to give some perspective to Alexandria’s place in the universe were amazing, though they did occasionally interrupt the flow of the narrative), people were choosing their religion, taking sides and, in some cases, taking arms to make sure the “right” way was the only way.

Depressingly, the extreme idiocy of the extremists, defending their way of life through the annihilation of any other, is a common enough story even in our own times. Pagan versus Christian versus Jewish battles have an impressive body count, with the words and will of Serapis, Jesus and Yahweh inspiring their followers in the least noble of ways. Sure, at first, the rather lovely “meek shall inherit the earth” message swiftly converts the Alexandrines to the Christian faith, but, as the faith becomes more powerful, the whole misogynistic myopic anti-science stance – designed to shut down any opposition to the faith – comes through, and things get very hairy for our heroine.

I am not altogether sure how accurate the portrayal of Hypatia’s contribution to the philosophical world is (I will leave that up to Off Black to investigate), but there is not a huge stretch of the imagination required to believe the ease with which people can be manipulated into violence, and indeed can find any excuse with which to justify their violent actions. Logic and thought don’t get a huge amount of say when words from books written and interpreted to suit particular agendas are so much easier.

All in all, Agora has beautifully recreated the world of Alexandria (using Malta as a template – makes me want to go there!), but I thought the characters themselves got lost in the bigger picture of the social changes going on. Rachel Weiss is always lovely to watch, as is her bottom which makes a few cameo appearances, and the actor playing her slave is rather successfully “aged” in the course of the film, but the others fade into the scenery – though again, the scenery is still pretty impressive.

Verdict: Incredible in scale, though perhaps a little unfocused on the lens of Hypatia, Agora is a really interesting film that shows how mankind struggling to find its place in the vastness of the universe. Well, honestly, the majority of mankind seems to be satisfied to let others tell them what their place is and then beat up others who don’t share that world view, something that hasn’t really changed since those ancient times. And Rachel Weiss has a great bottom. 290 days out of 365.

Later that night, it was time for an Incredibly Strange Film Festival offering. Inspired by Agora, the walk there gave me the chance to look up at the sky and ponder the mysteries of the universe, but I could only see one star and the moon through the cloud – though the JudgeNot the NotKate insisted there was another half star that eluded my limited vision. That contemplation cleared my mental palate for The Room, reputedly one of the worst films ever made.

Another full session, I was puzzled by the number of people who came in sporting bags of plastic spoons. The film is a cult hit, as illustrated by the 20 to 30 people who, before the film, identified themselves as having seen the film before, and this I took as a promising sign: that this film could be seen more than once and still enjoyed.

And enjoyed the film I did. I don’t think I have laughed so much in a movie theatre since I saw Starship Troopers or the original Clerks film (and also the original Jackass, I will admit). I would like to say that all the laughs were intentional, but it seems more likely that Tommy Wiseau’s homage to himself is actually just excruciatingly bad, as a lot of the humour in the scenes can only work with incredible earnestness and conviction on the part of the actors.

Tommy Wiseau is the star, director, writer and almost everything else on this movie, and his cast includes friends and (possibly) family. A well built European of unspecified origin, the acting ability of his frequently flashed muscular buttocks far outstrips anything his face tries to emote, and his timing is off by about 10 minutes. In comparison, the rest of the cast at least appear to have attended at least one acting class, though I am not convinced that wasn’t Porno 101.

Yup, there are a few, ponderous “love” scenes, filmed through layers of lace and a small water feature. The majority of the film though takes place in the small living room – though I am not convinced that this is actually “the room” either, as I choose to see this as the little shed that dwells on the rooftop of the San Francisco apartment.

You know it is San Francisco because of the numerous “scene setting” shots. You know the basic plot because it is reiterated (though does not necessarily progress) every few minutes. And you know all these “actors” should never be allowed to work again, as I am sure nothing could compare with appearing in this… masterpiece.

The dialogue is… something else. When being seduced, lines like, “What’s with the candles? The music? The sexy dress?” are fairly standard, though of course it kind of helps to have those things actually present when commenting upon them. There are a few choice lines that I would love to repeat here, awful in their construction and delivery, but I won’t because that would rob people of the joy of experiencing them in context.

The characters are a bit more describable: Tommy plays Johnny, a banker up for promotion; there’s his girlfriend Lisa; his best friend Mark; and a very creepy young neighbour called Denny that Johnny seems to have taken under his wing. There is a variety of other colourful characters that migrate in and out of the story with various degrees of impact, back story and relevance, all bound by a terrible script and sketchy motives.

And, in a room full of people who appreciate the absurd masterpiece being shown, the film is absolutely hilarious. Will I go again? If they screen it again, I will be there with spoons in hand.

Verdict: This truly is the Citizen Kane of bad movies. The Room is a masterpiece of the medium in every way conceivable in entirely the wrong way, and it is a huge amount of fun that should be enjoyed. 4.5 plastic spoons out of 5.

For some classic The Room movie quotes, check out the imdb link.

And for a fantastic review from JudgeNot the NotKate, make sure to check out her blog.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Case for Kiwi Culture

New Zealand has come a long way.

An amalgam of local Polynesians and recently arrived Europeans got together to make a nation for good keen men (and women). As the 20th Century dawned, the Man Alone ethos (the John Mulgan sort) continued to be held as the epitome of the "sweet as" Kiwi (as opposed to the "fair dinkum" or "true blue" Aussie).

Then, after the second World War, and abandonment by Mother England when she ran off to start a new family with those swarthy Europeans as part of the European Union, things changed. Sure, there had been signs of progress, in women getting the vote, and increased interest in Maori and Pacific Island rights - major steps definitely. But things went a bit mad, with anti Apartheid protesters, Whale warriors, Nuke busters, homo-normalisation, bra burners, anti smackers, prostitute legalisation, and the election of our the first transgender Mayor and Member of Parliament... well, what a deluge.

But, at heart, New Zealand still seems to pride itself on its good keen man (and woman), nuclear nurturing family, and tolerant but still apart image. How else can one explain the fact Michael Laws is still allowed to roam free, and indeed hold a relatively high office?

"Wanganui will win the Shield because the Stags are too poofy", indeed.

I am not sure that "poofiness" is, by definition, mutually exclusive of athleticism and the instinct and ability to win rugby games, and the fact the All Blacks are, these days, better looking than most male models (although these days an All Black may, by definition, be a male model), but one should obviously not let logic get in the way of a good stereotype...

Verdict: Oh. Mr Laws. Here's hoping the poofs win. Or perhaps the more poofy ones. 3 pairs of gumboots out of 10.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Case for Filmfest 2010

Well, International Film Festival 2010 is upon us.

Some, like Moosetastic, appear to be rediscovering the joy of the cinema through their filmfestic experiences. Others, such as myself, are still indulging, though my movie dance
card is a bit more empty than for last year's event.

At any event, I am really looking forward to those films I am planning to see, as well as catching up on a few that I have my fingers crossed will get a general release at a later date.

I liked last week's Jitterati for another reason to get along to the cinema:

Verdict: Love my filmfests, and I am looking forward to attending - and
reviewing - a few flicks this upcoming weekend. A popcorn packet of anticipation.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Case for Wrestle Me This

What to do on a Friday winter's night in Wellington?

For a dose of theatricality, you really can't go past a bit of professional wrestling. The melodrama, the shifting alliances, the vendettas and backstabbing, the outfits, the hair - and of course the physicality and violence. Yeah, it is pretty much the
Bold and the Beautiful for boys.

Well, the American version is. The New Zealand version, Kiwi Pro Wrestling (with the wonderful acronym which I read as KAPOW!) which I had the fortune to see on Friday night, is not quite at that level yet, but it is definitely a huge hit with the kids.

Wellington High played host to the event, but unfortunately Wellington winter made their school hall a tad on the chilly side. Of course, the wrestlers themselves didn't notice. Despite their apparently different levels of wrestling skill, acting ability, and success at playing to the crowd, they all jumped in (literally) with a huge amount of enthusiasm and energy. And some of the athleticism was inspiring - though, obviously not inspiring enough to get me into the ring.

There were heroes and villains, partisan commentators and interfering managers, and most importantly of all, a good old girl fight. And of course there were some fantastic "signature moves", my favourite belonging to the criminally dressed Johnny Juice (noone felt bold enough to tell him he was flying low for his 20-minute and innovative fight against his old team mate Inferno) with his deadly Simply Squeezed maneouver.

And there was of course, a smattering of good old homoeroticism, though, as a family-friendly event, there was no alcohol and definitely no Bruno levels of man-on-man "reconciliation". Refreshingly, while some of the guys involved were quite buff, they looked (if not were) steroid free.

In the end, the dastradly Technician battled it out with Max the Axe for the KPW crown (well, belt). Unfortunately, while the face-painted Axe was evidently meant to be the crowd favourite, the rock star hair, expert (well, to mine eyes) technique, and dashing grin won us around, and so in the end, we were right behind his deserved - if not popular - victory.

Overall, it was heaps of fun, and a great way to wind up a week. And of course, the kids loved every minute of it - and I enjoyed every other minute as well. Next week, there is roller derby, though the International Film Festival will be entertaining me instead.

Verdict: Going to Kiwi Pro Wrestling was a great night out, and takes me back to the heyday of Superstar Wrestling in the 1980s - though scarily, some of the wrestlers don't look like they had even been born then... 3 bodyslams out of 5.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Case for One Night Out Hunting

I like Topher Grace. Besides the quite quirky name, he managed to bring life to a two dimensional That 70s Show character and managed to score the red-headed Amazonian to boot, and he manages to inject a world weary youthfulness to almost every role he inhabits. It's a pity that has agent hates him. You can tell this because he appears in Predators.

Of course, Laurence Fishburne and Adrien Brody appear as well, so the film is not lacking in star wattage. But then, no amount of star power can really rescue what is a fairly dire film.

The original Predator was, of course, quite awful. It was full of macho posturing, ridiculous one liners and Jesse the Body Ventura. And of course Arnie. And lots and lots of guns. All of which turned an awful product of 1980s macho nonsense into a work of enduring filmatic beauty - albeit not one to everyone's taste.

Predators harkens back to that original, putting everyone back in the jungle and arming a lot of them with some pretty impressive firepower. But gone are steroidally enhanced bodies (though the egos are still as big as ever) and in is the slimmer, more athletic look, though Brody does lather up in heat signature-reducing mud in homage to Arnie's impressive physique, and even tries out the old "come on" taunting line as well. Another point of difference is that the characters are no longer gung ho soldiers, but instead a rag tag bunch of mercenaries and less monetarily-minded murderers.

So far, so full of potential. But then the ludicrous plot twists of the already fairly flexible logic applied to this imaginary universe start to grate: how long does it take the group to look up at the sky and realise something is different? The Predators may be ultimate warriors, but why is all their technology controlled by remote control - and why do all of them have a key to the car?

The ultimate travesty though is that the film tries to add things like plot at the sacrifice of the most valuable commodities in an action film: movie length and pacing. Yep, it drags in places, unfortunately mainly at the end, when the writers appear to have decided that the group of humans that has not been blasted into tiny pieces or eaten by toothy dogs is now small enough to try and develop into fully rounded individual characters - a huge mistake when all the audience wants is the final confrontation or seven.

On the plus side, the tension does build, especially at the beginning, and there is the much anticipated Predator-patented "death by rapid spine removal" scene, which had me thinking that they really missed an opportunity by not filming the whole thing in 3D.

But, at the end, the full session packed up and went home, either muted or muttering about some fairly off colour dialogue. I was in the more muted camp, the tedious pacing of the final leaving me closer to the land of nod than to the edge of my seat. It met most of my expectations in its awfulness, which was good, but it let itself down by trying to be more, even if it didn't try very hard.

Verdict: Predators is a film to watch purely if you like the Predator film franchise, and even then, it will probably turn out to be less than you expected. 2 saliva-covered mandibles out of 5.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Case for Eclipticism

First off, the story so far - and so yes, this will contain spoilers:

Bella, the most popular girl in school because she is mopey and self indulgent, also does not think a lot, which has attracted Edward, the mopey and self indulgent hundred year old vampire from a local band that has sworn off feasting on humans but has never passed the final year of high school. When Bella starts to feel the same way, Edward runs away so that she will forget him, but not before planting a post hypnotic suggestion that reminds her of him any time she is about to have any fun. Meanwhile, local boy Jacob also pines for Bella, and decides to compete with Edward for Bella’s affections by getting all buff and losing his shirt a lot in her presence – which happens even more when he becomes a clothing-averse werewolf. Bella is almost turned by Jacob’s highly convincing six-pack/argument, until Edward comes back… which is where Twilight: Eclipse comes in.

Eclipse shows graduation time in Bella's world, meaning her lifelong bestest friends at school can officially fall off the face of the planet and Bella's life can revolve around becoming a Vampire while still stringing along the Werewolves. The ads may say there is a choice to be made, but there isn't - you know how this is going, but Bella keeps the wolves in reserve any way, quite selfishly really as it turns out her mopey self indulgence has brought down the wrath of a few vamps (in all senses of the word), and so the men in her life spring to protect her in their undead and partly clothed way.

So, the "real" story may be as obvious as the abdominal muscles on Jacob's stomach, but then the attraction to the series is probably based in large part on the attractiveness of the cast. Bella may be all about Edward, but the appreciative grunts that emanated from the Embassy cinema crowd when Jacob finally appeared sans shirt showed that the audience was mostly Team Jacob.

And really, visually is the only way to really appreciate these movies, as the attempts at deep dialogue between the main actors had me torn between falling asleep and ripping my ears off. There are a few attempts at humour, but the ones that work tend to be theose poking fun at the movies themselves; those that try and breath life into the characters are just painful.

Luckily, the third installment also has a few supernatural scrapping scenes, vampire versus werewolf versus vampire and the like, and these keep the movie entertaining. There are also a few interesting (relatively speaking) backstories told, though the vampires are still too cool for school to actually be likable, and the werewolves stay firmly on their side of the story river. The film has a 2.5 hour running time, but it feels closer to 5, dragging as it does as the attempts at character development weighs it down.

The enjoyment of the film can be enhanced if you don't take it too seriously, plus wait in anticipation of the reaction of the louder members of the audience whenever Jacob turns up. I think the fact I viewed this at the Embassy also enhanced how much I enjoyed Eclipse, because really, it is quite a bad film in almost every way. Well, almost every way.

Verdict: I am not sure whether to recommend this or not, but then, I think Eclipse is one of those films that people will already know whether or not they want to see it. Moments of humour, quite a bit of action, and a lead cast of mainly unlikeable characters with dreadful dialogue - these are elements that could make a great film, though Eclipse gets the proportions all wrong. Not that this has had any impact on its box office. It's a money making machine, and that in itself is worth a point or two. 6 new moons out of 10.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Case for Parade Lost

Out in town for a 9th 25th, the NotKate and I decided to go to have a drink at the Parade Cafe. Much to my shock, we discovered the following sign posted to the cafe building:

Upon closer inspection, it looks like another institution has been closed.

Well, relocated. But still, Parade Cafe was my favourite spot on Lambton Quay - inside anyway. The inside may have been cramped and getting to the counter when there was more than one person in the queue or trying to look at the menu was an act in gymnastics, but, when you could find a seat either inside or outside, it was a wonderful place to sit and watch the world go by, or just natter, and it was one of the places on my "things to do in Wellington" list. And the food was great too.

Not so sure how much I will like it across the road, but perhaps I shouldn't be too quick to get too upset. But for now, I will mark the passing of another landmark. Perhaps later, I will mourn.

Verdict: I really liked this cafe - where it was too. Shame that things change. 2 coffees out of 5.