Sunday, 31 July 2016

NZIFF Classic Film Review: "Safety Last!" (1923) and "An Eastern Westerner" (1920).


With Safety Last, "You're Going to Explode With "Safety Laughs" when You see This Fun Bomb." This 1923 American silent romantic comedy film directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, and written by Jean Havez and Harold Lloyd. A boy moves to New York City to make enough money to support his loving girlfriend, but soon discovers that making it in the big city is harder than it looks. When he hears that a store manager will pay $1,000 to anyone who can draw people to his store, he convinces his friend, the "human fly," to climb the building and split the profit with him. But when his pal gets in trouble with the law, he must complete the crazy stunt on his own.

One of the most iconic moments in the silent era, and cinema, was achieved with a certain amount of film trickery. Lloyd first tested the safety precautions for the clock stunt by dropping a dummy onto the mattress below. The dummy bounced off and plummeted to the street below. Lloyd performed most of his own stuntwork, but a circus performer was used when The Boy hangs by a rope, and a stunt double – sometimes Strother, who played "Limpy." In the television documentary, Hollywood (1980), Stuntman Harvey Parry revealed for the first time that Lloyd was not as far from the ground as he appears. The building on which he climbs was actually a fake wall constructed on the roof of the International Bank Building, at Temple and Spring Streets, and skillfully photographed to maintain the illusion. Parry also revealed that he doubled for Lloyd in the long shots of him climbing the building in the distance. Up until then, even the Time-Life version of the film that was aired on PBS contained an opening title declaring that Lloyd climbed the building himself and without the use of a stuntman or trick photography. The stuntman chose to suppress this information until Lloyd's death, and yet, he did not want to detract from the danger of Lloyd's actual stunt work. The stunt did not offer much of a safety net, and there was the risk he could have tumbled off. The film proved highly successful when first released, and it cemented Lloyd's status as a major figure in early motion pictures. It is viewed today as one of the great film comedies. In 1994, the Library of Congress added the film to its National Film Registry. The film is included among the American Film Institute's 1998 and 2007 lists of AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies, 2000 list of the 500 movies nominated for the Top 100 Funniest American Movies, and 2006 list of the 50 Greatest Comedies Of All Time.

The film stars Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Bill Strother, Noah Young, and Westcott Clarke. Spectacular performances were given by the cast, especially Mr Lloyd who performed one of the greatest stunts in cinema history. The spectacle was comedic, terrifying and awe-inspiring all at once.

Safety Last! is a treasure that still stands as one of the greatest comedies ever made.

Simon says Safety Last! receives:




Hal Roach presents Harold Lloyd in An Eastern Westerner. This 1920 American short comedy film directed by Roach, and written by Frank Terry and H.M. Walker. Blase eastern boy is shipped off to a ranch in the 'wild west ' by his father.

Throughout his career, Lloyd performed most of his own stuntwork. In 1919, shortly before this film was made, Lloyd was handed what he thought was a "prop" bomb, which he lit with his cigarette. It turned out to be real and exploded, blowing off Lloyd's right thumb and index finger, and putting him in the hospital for months. When he recovered, he went back to making movies, the Goldwyn family had a flesh-coloured prosthetic glove made for him so that he could continue his movie work and, while on screen, hide his damaged right hand. He did his stunts in this film and Feet First (1930), dangling from ledges, clocks and windows, using only eight fingers. In many scenes in this movie, you will note that Lloyd's right hand is deliberately not being used. Furthermore, with some of the stunts Lloyd performs, it's difficult to tell that he is handicapped at all.

The film stars Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Noah Young, Sammy Brooks, and Wallace Howe. Solid performances were given by the cast, especially from Lloyd as a naïve character who just wants to fit in the American west. Lloyd, along with Chaplin and Keaton, perfectly embodied the can-do energy of the 1920s, and few things are quite as funny as his bespectacled, apple-pie face twisted by a panic that was always justified. Lloyd's performances, including this one, were prose, where Keaton's were poems. But gag for gag, Lloyd was the funniest screen comic of his time.

An Eastern Westerner is Lloyd's silent film satire of the American west, not quite one of his best-remembered and well-crafted films, as well as one of his most successful effort. Mr. Lloyd could be funny playing an undisturbed mummy. Simply this: An Eastern Westerner is not so funny as earlier of the comedian's adventures. The plot is a cliche now, but at the time must have felt fresh. And even though modern viewers have seen its like perhaps dozens of times, it somehow does little to diminish the film's charm. This is a regular Harold Lloyd strip of fun, which is made all the more hilarious by introducing something like suspense in the sequences on the football field. In a comedy of emulation, idolizing and popularity, the flimsy mannequins of maleness stand out as Lloyd gives the old cowboy try to becoming a cowboy. Flawlessly executed and edited for maximum impact, the gags have timepiece precision, but Lloyd always sells his mishaps as things that just kind of happen to his character works because it keeps viewers rooting for its hero. It matriculates enough to earn a passing grade. Rarely less than wonderfully entertaining and involving. A treasure that still stands as one of the greatest comedies ever made.

Simon says An Eastern Westerner receives:



Also, see my NZIFF review for Julieta.

NZIFF Film Review: "Julieta" (2016).


From the director of All About My Mother and I'm So Excited comes Julieta. This Spanish drama film adapted and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, and based on three short stories from the book Runaway by Alice Munro. A chance encounter causes a woman to reflect on the tragic circumstances surrounding the disappearance of her daughter.

In 2009, Almodóvar bought the film rights to Munro's three short stories, Chance, Soon and Silence, from her 2004 book Runaway. He later said he specifically asked for the rights due to the pivotal scenes that take place on a train. Almodóvar originally thought the film would serve as his English-language film debut, with American actress Meryl Streep in the lead role, playing three versions of the character at twenty, forty and sixty years old. He met with Streep, who agreed to the concept, and found locations in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, where Munro based her stories. But he eventually shelved the idea, unhappy at the prospect of filming in either country and uncomfortable with his ability to write and film in English. Years later, members of his production team suggested that the script should be revisited but, this time, setting the film in Spain and making it in Spanish. In January 2015, in an interview with the Financial Times after attending a preview of the musical of his film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown at the Playhouse Theatre, London, Almodóvar the film's original title, Silence. However, during post-production, the film's title was changed to Julieta to avoid confusion with Martin Scorsese's Silence (2016). Almodóvar stated that the film was a return to drama and his "cinema of women", but claimed that the tone was different to that of his other feminine dramas like The Flower of My Secret (1995), All About My Mother (1999) and Volver (2006). He explained that he had finished the script, but was in the process of casting. By late May, Emma Suárez, Adriana Ugarte, Darío Grandinetti, and Susi Sánchez were cast. In preparation for the film, Almodóvar encouraged Suárez and Ugarte to read Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking (2005), a book on mourning, and Emmanuel Carrère's Other Lives but Mine (2009) for inspiration. Almodóvar also recommended Suárez watch Louis Malle's Elevator to the Gallows (1958) and Stephen Daldry's The Hours (2002), and that she contemplate Lucian Freud's paintings. Suárez also watched Almodóvar's complete filmography and stayed alone in Madrid to prepare for the character. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in early August. Filming took place throughout Madrid, Aragón, Andalucía, and Galicia, Spain.

The film stars Suárez, Ugarte, Grandinetti, and Sánchez. This is a woman's picture in the best sense of the term, anchored by bravura turns from Suárez and Ugarte. Something of a departure for the Spanish auteur, it also seals his status as a cinematic master. Never that this was much in doubt.

Almodóvar's tribute to a mother's pain is overflowing with the anguish and ecstasy of life.

Simon says Julieta receives:



NZIFF Film Review: "Endless Poetry" ("Poesía Sin Fin") (2016).


From the director of El Topo, The Holy Mountain and The Dance of Reality comes Endless Poetry (Poesía Sin Fin). This French-Chilean drama film directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky. It is the second part of Jodorowsky's film autobiography, which began with The Dance of Reality (2013), which focused on Jodorowsky's childhood in Tocopilla, northern Chile. Through Jodorowsky's autobiographical lens, the film narrates the years of the Chilean artist's youth during which he liberated himself from all of his former limitations, from his family, and was introduced into the foremost bohemian artistic circle of 1940s Chile where he met Enrique Lihn, Stella Díaz Varín, Nicanor Parra... at the time promising young but unknown artists who would later become the titans of twentieth-century Hispanic literature. He grew inspired by the beauty of existence alongside these beings, exploring life together, authentically and freely. A tribute to Chile's artistic heritage, Endless Poetry is also an ode to the quest for beauty and inner truth, as a universal force capable of changing one's life forever, written by a man who has dedicated his life and career to creating spiritual and artistic awareness across the globe.

By early July 2015, Jodorowsky with his sons Adan and Brontis Jodorowsky, and grandson Jeremias Herskovits, with Pamela Flores, Leandro Taub, Felipe Ríos, Bastián Bodenhofer, and Felipe Peña were cast in the second part of Jodorowsky's film autobiography, which began with The Dance of Reality (2013), which focused on Jodorowsky's childhood in Tocopilla, northern Chile. At the same time, principal photography commenced, anda wrapped in late August. Filming took place in Santiago, Chile and Tocopilla, northern Chile. The film marked Flores' last film as she died during the making of this film.

The film stars Jodorowsky with his sons Adan and Brontis, and grandson Jeremias, with Flores, Taub, Ríos, Bodenhofer, and Peña. The cast once again proves that there is no cast like a cast of a Jodorowsky film.

Endless Poetry is an arresting spectacle that is swathed in surreal mythology dream logic and instant day-glo legend, resembling Fellini, Tod Browning, Emir Kusturica, and many more. Sometimes it's gloriously entertaining, but at a hundred and twenty eight minutes the loose surrealism occasionally grows tiresome. Taken on its own merits, it is a thunderously weird and wonderful movie, filled with scenes and images that won't leave you anytime soon. The film may suffer from some indulgences, but one can't really blame Jodorowsky for indulging after such a long absence. This is the work of someone coming to terms with their past, transmuting the traumas of childhood into the building blocks of adult awareness. The film is a surprisingly moving, emotionally satisfying experience, which twirls you round in a warm, confident embrace, making sure to toss in plenty of its director's signature madcap moves. It is a wild ride and unlikely to bring Jodorowsky to the mainstream, although it is more disciplined than any of his previous films. But it is rich, warm and wonderful, and certainly a fine entry point into his oeuvre. Do see this.

Simon says Endless Poetry (Poesía Sin Fin) receives:

Saturday, 30 July 2016

NZIFF Classic Film Review: "Tokyo Story" ("東京物語") (1953).


"As long as life goes on, relationships between parents and children will bring boundless joy and endless grief." This is Tokyo Story. This 1953 Japanese drama film directed by Yasujirō Ozu. The elderly Shukishi and his wife, Tomi, take the long journey from their small seaside village to visit their adult children in Tokyo. Their elder son, Koichi, a doctor, and their daughter, Shige, a hairdresser, don't have much time to spend with their aged parents, and so it falls to Noriko, the widow of their younger son who was killed in the war, to keep her in-laws company.

Ozu's long-time collaborator and co-screenwriter Kōgo Noda suggested adapting the 1937 American film, Make Way for Tomorrow, which Ozu had not yet seen. Noda remembered it from its initial release in Japan. Ozu and Noda then wrote the script over a period of a hundred and three days in a country inn in Chigasaki. Both films depict an elderly couple and their problems with their family and both films depict the couple travelling to visit their children. Differences include the older film taking place in Depression era US with the couple's problem being economical and Tokyo Story taking place in post-war Japan, where the problems are more cultural and emotional. The two films also end differently. American film theorist and historian David Bordwell wrote that Ozu "re-cast" the original film instead of adapting it. For a film that sides with the parents, it's not so surprising to learn that Ozu never married and lived dutifully with his mother all his life.

Ozu used many of the same cast and crew members that he had worked with for years. Ozu, Noda and cinematographer Yūharu Atsuta scouted locations in Tokyo and Onomichi for another month before shooting commenced. Shooting and editing the film took place from July to October 1953. Filming locations were in Tokyo (Adachi, Chūō, Taitō and Chiyoda), Onomichi, Atami and Osaka. Most of indoor scenes were shot at the Shochiku Ōfuna Studio in Kamakura, Kanagawa. Like all of his other films, Ozu favored a stationary camera and believed strongly in minimalism. A distinctive camera style is used, in which the camera height is low and almost never moves. The low camera positions are also reminiscent of sitting on a traditional Japanese tatami mat. Ozu rarely shot master shots and often broke the 180-degree rule of filmmaking and screen direction. Characters, who often sit side by side in scenes, often appear to be facing the same direction when speaking to each other, such as in the first scene with Shūkichi and Tomi. During some transitions, characters exit a scene screen right and then enter the next scene screen right. Therefore, all the sets had to be constructed with ceilings. Film critic Roger Ebert noted that the camera moves once in the film, which is "more than usual" for an Ozu film. David Dresser has compared the film's style and "de-emphasized plot" to Zen Buddhism and the modern world's fascination with surface value and materialism. Many of the transitional shots are still lifes of non-human subjects, such as smokestacks and landscapes. Like all of Ozu's sound films, Tokyo Story's pacing is slow. In his narrative storytelling, Ozu often had certain key scenes take place off camera with the viewer only learning about them through the characters' dialogue.

Released in Japan in 1953, it did not immediately gain international recognition and was considered "too Japanese" to be marketable by Japanese film exporters. The original negative was lost soon after the film was completed, due to a fire at the vault of the lab in Yokohama city. The film had to be released using prints made from a dupe protective negative. It was screened in 1957 in London, where it won the inaugural Sutherland Trophy the following year. Unlike Rashomon (1950), Ugetsu monogatari (1953) and Jigokumon (1953), the film didn't receive a U.S. release until 1964, after Ozu's death. It received praise from U.S. film critics, even after a 1972 screening in New York City. Tokyo Story is now widely regarded as Ozu's masterpiece and is often cited as one of the greatest films ever made. In 2005, it was voted #7 in Total Film's 100 Greatest Movies Of All Time list. In 2012, it was voted as the 3rd greatest film of all time in Sight & Sound's 2012 critic's poll. It is also included in Ebert's Great Movies list, and among 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, edited by Steven Schneider. Themes in the film include the break-up and Westernization of the traditional Japanese family after World War II and the inevitability of children growing apart from their parents. The film takes place in 1953 post-war Japan, a few years after the new Civil Code of 1948 stimulated the country's rapid re-growth and embraced Western capitalist ideals while simultaneously destroying older traditions such as the Japanese family and its values. Ozu was very close to his own mother, living with her as a surrogate wife and never marrying. Ozu called Tokyo Story "the film that tends most strongly to melodrama." It is considered a Shomin-geki film for its depiction of working-class people.

The film stars Chishū Ryū, Chieko Higashiyama, Sô Yamamura, Haruko Sugimura, and Setsuko Hara. The performances given by the cast were immensely affecting—gentle, loving, amusing, thoughtful and heartfelt beings. But this is also due to Ozu's profound respect for the characters' and their privacy, for the mystery of their emotions. Because of this—not in spite of this—his films, of which the film is one of the finest, are so moving.

Although released in 1953, this infrequently-seen example of the cinematic mastery of Ozu compares more than favourably with any major Japanese film. Tokyo Story is a heartwarming and very worthy cinematic effort. A transcendent and profoundly moving work rivaling Late Spring (1949) as the director's masterpiece. Ozu’s greatest achievement and, thus, one of the ten best films of all time, for both Japanese cinema and cinema in general.

Simon says Tokyo Story (東京物語) receives:



Also, see my NZIFF review for Songs My Brothers Taught Me.

Friday, 29 July 2016

NZIFF Film Review: "Songs My Brothers Taught Me" (2015).


The Hollywood Reporter called the film "strong notes of hope and of bone-deep identity." This is Songs My Brothers Taught Me. This drama film written and directed by Chloé Zhao, in her directorial debut. The film follows Johnny and his sister Jashuan, who live with their single mother on a reservation. When their absentee father dies, Johnny feels compelled to strike out for a new life in LA, but fears leaving his sister behind.

Zhao initially developed the film at the Sundance Institute workshops. In regards to the film's tight budget, light plotting, and neo-realist style casting, "We're capturing truth - because truth is the only thing we can afford." The production used mostly local residents as actors, and, according to Zhao, 80% of the story depicted is true to the actual life of the young man playing Johnny Winters. The house that Winters lives in is the house that Reddy lived in, and Reddy, also one of twenty-five children to one father, has many of his real family members playing members of his family. In fact, the man shown delivering the eulogy for Winters' father is Reddy's actual father.

The film stars John Reddy, Jashaun St. John, Travis Lone Hill, Taysha Fuller, Irene Bedard, and Allen Reddy. Reddy proves a charismatic draw, even if some of the supporting non-actors struggle with naturalistic performances. Reddy, rarely raising his voice above a murmur, takes us on an emotional journey, figuring out his own way forward. The plains go on forever; so, we hope, does hope. Reddy, acting opposite his equally solid cast members, disappears into a role largely based on his own experiences, oozing empathy from his pores. The performances given by the cast reminds us of the dignifying power of work and purpose in human existence, even as it ponders the meaning of life when these things are taken away. A projection of the most organic feelings that ends up as a direct path to the heart of the public.

Songs My Brothers Taught Me's hard-hitting drama is only made more effective through writer-director Chloé Zhao's use of untrained actors to tell the movie's fact-based tale. The film's style, its sense of light and landscape and mood, simultaneously give it the mesmerizing force of the most confident cinematic poetry. It is a little film and its plot takes a familiar path, yet it offers rewards in its peek inside this special world, in the warmth of family, and in its quietly glorious Western scenery. The sort of deep, meaningful film that reminds us why we are so lucky the independent film industry exists in the first place. Cinema that's challenging and offbeat is always in danger of being overlooked. But the film deserves to be seen. Zhao's film serves as a testament for why making the extra effort to tell underrepresented stories matters. A remarkable film in many respects, and Zhao works wonders with a non-professional cast. Bold, heartfelt and, most importantly, unafraid, this is a remarkable film. 

Simon says Songs My Brothers Taught Me receives:



Also, see my review for Paterson.

NZIFF Film Review: "Paterson" (2016).


"Beauty is often found in the smallest details" in Paterson. This drama film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. A quiet observation of the triumphs and defeats of daily life, along with the poetry evident in its smallest details.

In April 2014, it was announced that Jarmusch would write and direct a film about a poet living in Paterson, New Jersey. By Fall 2015, it was revealed that Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani had been cast in the film. Driver went to bus driving school for his role in the film. Production crew was arranging for Driver to get a bus license, and while they were trying to organize it, he on his own figured it out and was already in the school. Driver became a licensed bus driver. He wanted to be able to be on "auto pilot" while driving the bus. It also meant that the film could feature more authentic footage opening up the possibilities for a greater variety of camera shots. He was taught over a period of three months in Queens, New York City, passing the test one week before filming began. William Jackson Harper, Barry Shabaka Henley, Masatoshi Nagase, Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, Method Man, and Sterling Jerins rounded out the film's cast. Around the same time, principal photography commenced, and was shot over thirty days. Filming took place in Paterson, New Jersey and throughout New York.

The film stars Driver, Farahani, Harper, Henley, Nagase, Hayward, Gilman, Method Man, and Jerins. Driver shows us that what was behind his early-period raging youth persona was a sincere and sensitive man. After a career of extreme raging, Driver's impassive performance is still fresh, funny, sympathetic and restrained. Driver's performance is a highlight in a very entertaining drama. Like Murray, in Driver, Jarmusch has found his quintessential actor.

Driver's subtle and understated style complements Jarmusch's minimalist storytelling in this quirky, but deadpan comedy. Funny, bittersweet, its understatement yielding surprising depth charges, Paterson is a triumph of close observation and telling details. Many will relish the film's refusal to serve up a resolution; others will find it frustrating. Inevitably, that's Jarmusch: like Driver's character journey, the rewards lie in the small moments that fade as much as the ones that linger. Insightful, entertaining, and a worthy addition to the filmography of one of America's more interesting modern directors. Poignant, disciplined, and acted with great skill and warmth. Each encounter is a finely observed and beautifully performed vignette in its own right, but together they sketch out a past from which our grey Lothario has been irrevocably set adrift. A film of wry humour and wry observations. Subtle, warm direction from Jarmusch and an Oscar-worthy performance from Driver - will the Academy just give him a statue, already? It's about questions, not easy answers, and its refusal to provide them might frustrate some viewers unaccustomed to Jarmusch's elliptical style. However, the film, coming from a postcode of its own, doesn't quite deliver. A marvelous film, with Driver scoring in the realm of drama. It throbs with compressed emotion.

Simon says Paterson receives:



Also, see my review for Gimme Danger and Everybody Wants Some!!

Thursday, 28 July 2016

NZIFF Film Review: "Everybody Wants Some!!" (2016).


"From Writer/Director Richard Linklater Comes The Spiritual Sequel To Dazed and Confused" with Everybody Wants Some!! This comedy film, written and directed by Richard Linklater. In Texas in the fall of 1980, college freshman Jake Bradford, a hotshot pitcher in high school, moves into an off-campus house with other members of the college baseball team. He meets several teammates, including his roommate Billy, who has been nicknamed "Beuter" because of his Deep Southern accent. He joins Finnegan, Roper, Dale, and Plummer cruising the campus by car, looking for women...

The film was inspired by Linklater's school years as he himself did in fact play baseball. He always remembered how everyone in his team were competitors and would compete at just about anything to prove who was better. A lot of this film is autobiographical like many of his films and just like in this film, he remembered what was great about those days wasn't just about the baseball games but mainly the things he and his team mates got up to. In mid 2005, Linklater wrote the first draft of the script. In 2009, Linklater tried to gather financing, but could not get production off the ground until Annapurna Pictures became involved. In August 2014, Linklater ceased involvement on the Warner Bros. film The Incredible Mr. Limpet, saying that he wanted to concentrate on a university-set, 1980s baseball film under the working title That's What I'm Talking About. The project is considered a spiritual sequel to Linklater's 1993 film Dazed and Confused, which was set on the last day of high school in 1976. Linklater also considers the film a "spiritual sequel" to Boyhood. By mid October 2014, Blake Jenner, Zoey Deutch, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, Glen Powell, Will Brittain, and Wyatt Russell were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in early December. Filming took place throughout Texas.

The film stars Jenner, Deutch, Guzman, Hoechlin, Powell, Brittain, and Russell. Very little actually happens but - like life - it's not always the events that define a time but the characters in it. And the film is bursting with wonderfully drawn and completely credible characters. Manages to not only unfold in to a fun narrative, but also builds a myriad fascinating characters you'll either love or hate.

Linklater's cinematic flashback Everybody Wants Some!! captures a rich pageant of high-school life, circa 1976, in a mere a hundred and sixteen minutes, leaning on nostalgia without wallowing in it.
 It is a nostalgia film and a coming-of-age film. In some ways, it is every Bildungsroman and in some ways, it is like no other. The film transcends the common barriers and becomes a living spiritual entity, encompassing the essence and tone of an era. It may have seemed like a movie that was out of time, but it turned out to be perfectly in sync with the restlessness of the early 90s as well. Plenty of having 'fun' with very little consequence.

Simon says Everybody Wants Some!! receives:



Also, see my reviews for Boyhood and Johnny Guitar.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

NZIFF Classic Film Review: "Johnny Guitar" (1954).


"Gun-Queen of the Arizona Frontier ! . . . and her kind of men!!!" This is Johnny Guitar. This 1954 American western drama film directed by Nicholas Ray, adapted by Philip Yordan, and based on the novel by Roy Chanslor. On the outskirts of town, the hard-nosed Vienna owns a saloon frequented by the undesirables of the region, including Dancin' Kid and his gang. Another patron of Vienna's establishment is Johnny Guitar, a former gunslinger and her lover. When a heist is pulled in town that results in a man's death, Emma Small, Vienna's rival, rallies the townsfolk to take revenge on Vienna's saloon - even without proof of her wrongdoing.

Despite its initial negative reception upon its release on 23 August, 1954, the film has since gone on to become a quintessential classic of the western genre, as well as American cinema. The film is included on Roger Ebert's Great Movies list, and 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, edited by Steven Schneider. In 2008, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congressas being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." Joan Crawford and Ray were scheduled to make a film called Lisbon at Paramount, but the script proved unacceptable. Crawford had bought the film rights to Chanslor's novel, which Chanslor, a former journalist turned screenwriter, had dedicated to her, and brought it to Republic Pictures and hired Ray to direct it. This was Ray's first project after leaving RKO Studios where he had been under contract for seven years. At the time, Republic was considered the most prestigious of the minor studios and Ray's contract with them gave him a great deal of creative freedom despite the film's modest budget. One of the first things he did was hire Philip Yordan for a complete rewrite of the script. Although Yordan is credited as the screenwriter on the film, his contribution to the screenplay actually was written by the blacklisted Ben Maddow. Credit for the blacklist allegory seems to go mainly to Yordan, who substantially altered Chanslor's story, the theory that blacklisted writer Ben Maddow might have written it seems to be largely discredited. Robert Mitchum was considered for the title role, but RKO wouldn't loan him out. Ultimately, Sterling Hayden was cast. Hayden was an unusual choice for the title role since he didn't know how to ride a horse, play the guitar or shoot a gun. By most accounts, Hayden was always difficult to work with. Crawford, not the easiest person to work with, called Hayden "the biggest pill in Hollywood." Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Claire Trevor were among Crawford's top choices for the role of Emma Small, but were either too expensive or unavailable. 

Ultimately, Ray brought in Mercedes McCambridge, and was cast. Principal photography commenced in October 1953, and wrapped in December. Most people claimed Crawford was easy to work with, always professional, generous, patient and kind. But issues between the two women cropped up early on, but Ray was not alarmed – at first. He found it "heaven sent" that they disliked each other and felt it added greatly to the dramatic conflict. However, Ray was quite unhappy during the filming and later admitted, "Quite a few times, I would have to stop the car and vomit before I got to work in the morning." Ray also said of that time, "Joan was drinking a lot and she liked to fight." Crawford and McCambridge fought both on and off camera. According to Penny Stallings' Flesh and Fantasy, the crew broke into spontaneous applause after one of McCambridge's powerhouse scenes, which infuriated star Crawford. According to Ray, he then began shooting the younger actress' scenes in the early morning before Crawford got there. After the star witnessed one of these early shoots she flew into a rage, broke into McCambridge's dressing room and scattered her costumes along an Arizona highway. Cast and crew had to collect the outfits. After filming, McCambridge and Hayden publicly declared their dislike of Crawford. Hayden said in an interview, "There is not enough money in Hollywood to lure me into making another picture with Joan Crawford. And I like money." McCambridge labeled Crawford, "a mean, tipsy, powerful, rotten-egg lady." McCambridge also blamed her next two years of inactivity on Crawford's repeated attempts to blacklist her. The reasons for the feud appear to date back to a time when Crawford had once dated McCambridge's husband, Fletcher Markle. According to some of the other co-stars, McCambridge needled Crawford about it. McCambridge also appears to have disliked that Crawford and Ray were in the midst of an affair. Crawford, on the other hand, disliked what she perceived to be "special attention" that Ray was giving to McCambridge. In addition, Crawford herself forced the issue of her own cross-dressed character by picking a well-publicised fight during the production with McCambridge. Crawford threatened to quit if Yordan didn't come out to Sedona to rewrite her part so that it would be bigger than Hayden's-even demanding a climactic shootout with McCambridge, with which Yordan obliged her.

The film stars Crawford, Hayden, McCambridge, Ernest Borgnine, John Carradine, Ward Bond, Ian MacDonald, and Scott Brady. The cast, especially Crawford, Hayden and McCambridge, gave powerful and profound performance that spoke volumes on man-woman and woman-woman relationships, as well as the bitterness that has manifested out of those relationships.

Here is a fairly exciting, suspenseful and provocative, if also occasionally far-fetched, melodrama of bitter romance. Johnny Guitar is violent, brutal and disturbing. It looks and sounds so good it makes your heart thump. Ray milks the western elements for all it's worth, and the shootout was staged surprisingly well by a director mainly known for his gritty dramas. It contains some extraordinarily good acting by Crawford, Hayden and McCambridge. Ray's direction is outstanding. A superb study of bitter romance that still retains its power despite the number of inferior rip-offs that followed in its wake. If not Nicholas Ray's greatest movie, then surely the rapturous culmination of his palpable desire to do a western.

Simon says Johnny Guitar receives:



Also, see my NZIFF review for Chimes at Midnight.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Film Review: "Star Trek Beyond" (2016).



"Captain's Log... A little under three years into our five year mission. The more time we spend out here, the harder it is to tell where one day ends and the next one begins... We continue to search for new life-forms in order to establish firm diplomatic ties... As for me, things have started to feel a little episodic. The farther out we go, the more I find myself wondering what it is we are trying to accomplish. But if the universe is truly endless, then we are not striving for something forever out of reach..." From the words of Captain James T. Kirk as he sets on his next adventure in Star Trek Beyond. This science fiction action film directed by Justin Lin; written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung; based on the series Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry. It is the thirteenth film in the Star Trek film franchise and the third installment in the reboot series, following Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). The film follows the USS Enterprise crew as it explores the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a new ruthless enemy who puts them and everything the Federation stands for to the test.

J.J. Abrams declined to return to direct the third film because of his directorial obligations on Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). Abrams stayed on as a producer for the third film while Roberto Orci, one of the writers for the first two films, was initially chosen to direct the third instalment but later dropped out due to creative differences. In an interview, Orci stated that the film would have been more original and wanted the film to stay in the classic Trek world. Filmmakers Edgar Wright, Rupert Wyatt, Morten Tyldum, Daniel Espinosa and Duncan Jones were all considered before Justin Lin took over. Simon Pegg replaced Orci as writer along with Doug Jang. In May 2015, Pegg revealed, on his website, the official title of the film: Star Trek Beyond. By August 2015, the original cast were announced to reprise their roles, with Idris Elba and Sofia Boutella added to the cast. Filming began in June 2015 and concluded in October 2015. Unlike the previous films, the film was primarily shot in Vancouver, British Columbia and not in Hollywood. In December 2014, Paramount Pictures announced that the film was to be released on July 8, 2016 to coincide with the 50th anniversary celebration of the original series. In September 2015, the film pushed back to July 22, 2016. Sadly, the film is Anton Yelchin's final Star Trek film before his death on June 19, 2016 at the age of 27.

The film stars Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba and Sofia Boutella. Another spectacular round from the cast with fine additions from Elba and Boutella.

Though failing to reach the cinematic heights of its predecessors, Star Trek Beyond remains an entertaining sci-fi adventure and a fitting end to the classic trilogy.

Simon says Star Trek Beyond receives:



Also, see my review for Star Trek Into Darkness.

NZIFF Classic Film Review: "Chimes at Midnight" (1965).




Orson Welles once declared the character of Falstaff as "Shakespeare's greatest creation", a character from the classic film Chimes at Midnight (otherwise known as Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight))This Shakespearian drama film directed by and starring Welles; based on William Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2, Richard II, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Raphael Holinshed's Holinshed's Chronicles. The film centres on Sir John Falstaff, the hero in this compilation of extracts from Shakespeare's five plays, made into a connected story of Falstaff's career as young Prince Hal's drinking companion. The massive knight roisters with and without the prince, philosophizes comically, goes to war (in his own fashion), and meets his final disappointment, set in a real-looking late-medieval England.

Welles said that the core of the film's story was "the betrayal of friendship." The script contains text from five of Shakespeare's plays; primarily Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2, but also Richard II, Henry V, and used some dialogue from The Merry Wives of Windsor. The narration by Sir Ralph Richardson was taken from Holinshed's Chronicles. Welles's inspiration for Chimes at Midnight began in 1930 when he was a student at the Todd School for Boys in Woodstock, Illinois. Welles tried to stage a three-and-a-half-hour combination of several of Shakespeare's historical plays called The Winter of Our Discontent in which he played Richard III. School officials forced him to make cuts to the production. Welles then produced a Broadway stage adaptation of nine Shakespeare plays called Five Kings in 1939. In 1960, he revived this project in Ireland as Chimes at Midnight, which was his final on-stage performance. Neither of these plays was successful, but Welles considered portraying Falstaff to be his life's ambition and turned the project into a film. Throughout its production, Welles struggled to find financing and at one point, to get money, he lied to producer Emiliano Piedra about intending to make a version of Treasure Island. Welles shot the film throughout Spain between 1964 and 1965, and premiered it at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival, where it won two awards. Initially dismissed by most film critics, Chimes at Midnight is now regarded as one of Welles' highest achievements, and Welles himself called it his best work.

The film stars Welles as Falstaff, Keith Baxter as Prince Hal, John Gielgud as Henry IV, Jeanne Moreau as Doll Tearsheet and Margaret Rutherford as Mistress Quickly. The ensemble gave terrific and viscerally intense performances thanks to Welles' unquestionably brilliant vision and direction.

Chimes at Midnight is a haunting and eccentric piece of work that was hampered by budget constraints, but Welles delivers both behind and in front of the camera. With his peculiar mixture of Shakespeare's and Holinshed's texts maybe be a ragged text to us all, but Welles's genius never fails to impress. As Shakespearean scholar Kenneth S. Rothwell commented: "Welles goes beyond mere tinkering with Shakespeare's scenes; [he] massively reworks, transposes, revises and deletes, indeed reconstructs them." He does indeed.

Simon says Chimes at Midnight receives:



Also, see my review for The Lady From Shanghai and Variety (Varieté).

Sunday, 24 July 2016

NZIFF Film Review: "Gimme Danger" (2016).


"The story of The Stooges." This is Gimme Danger. This documentary film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. Emerging from Ann Arbor, Mich., amidst a countercultural revolution, The Stooges' powerful and aggressive style of rock 'n' roll blew a crater in the musical landscape of the late 1960s. Assaulting audiences with a blend of rock, blues, R&B, and free jazz, the band planted the seeds for what would be called punk and alternative rock in the decades that followed. Jim Jarmusch's documentary presents the context of The Stooges' emergence.

Jarmusch began working on the documentary almost a decade prior to the film's release. The project began after Osterberg expressed that if a film were to be made about The Stooges, he would prefer Jarmusch to make it. The film mixes archival photos and footage and cutout style animation alongside reunion-era interviews with the surviving band members and footage of their 2010 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The documentary is titled after a song on the 1973 Raw Power album.

Jarmusch gets nothing out of his interview except the band members and manager repeatedly telling us how long and how well the group works together. If you don't like the music, forget it. But, if you're like me, a The Stooges fan, this is great inside stuff. I'll never understand how The Stooges won the heart of Jarmusch. While a little Jarmusch is a good thing, a lot can be a bit much to take. At least when he's in this mood. Much like the subject himself, Jarmusch's film is decidedly not smooth and mellow, but it has the kick of a mule. It cuts right to the savage heart of it all, thrusting the music center stage and leaving the rumors and anecdotes (most of them, anyway) to the biographers. Fans will freak and the curious will be rewarded by indie film legend Jarmusch's doc of The Stooges. If you love the music, you'll adore the film. It rocks! The boys don't have much to say but it's oddly fascinating watching them try. Both a quirky little movie and a monument to one of rock 'n' roll's greatest noisemakers. A pleasant but uncompelling historical curio. If you've ever liked The Stooges songs, you'll probably be hooked early on. The interviews with the band members and the behind-the-scenes footage make for an entertaining and illuminating experience. This is an intimate, lyrical yet incendiary film, and it will please fans of The Stooges and Jarmusch. A far cry from some of the better 'rockumentaries' out there. Plays like This Is Spinal Tap made from anti-matter. Both films are about aging rockers, but the film removes the humor and energy. What's most singular about the project is that in addition to providing access to the creative process and deepening the album experience. Jarmusch generally manages to illuminate the art and experience of a sometimes reluctant subject in a way that is enlightening, where it could have been painfully intrusive.

Simon says Gimme Danger receives:



Also, see my reviews for Only Lovers Left Alive and Variety (Varieté).

Film Review: "Batman: The Killing Joke" (2016).




"The madness begins" in Batman: The Killing Joke. This animated superhero film directed by Sam Liu; adapted by Brian Azzarello; based loosely on the graphic novel of the same name by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. Produced by Warner Bros. Animation, the film is the twenty-sixth film in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series. As Batman hunts for the escaped Joker, the Clown Prince of Crime attacks the Gordon family to prove a diabolical point mirroring his own fall into madness.

The movie originally went into production in 2009, but it was canceled after Watchmen (another R rated DC Comics movie) failed at the box office. In 2011 during San Diego Comic-Con International, after the release of Batman: Arkham Knight (2015), Mark Hamill stated that, due to the strain it put on his vocal cords, he would never voice The Joker again unless The Killing Joke was adapted into a film. Since then, a Facebook page titled "Petition to get Mark Hamill to play the Joker in animated Killing Joke" was set up by his fans. In 2013, Bruce Timm also expressed a desire to create the project. So when he was offered to reprise his role for the film, Hamill gladly accepted. Later on, he changed his mind after he and Kevin Conroy agreed to reprise their roles in the upcoming Cartoon Network show Justice League: Action. In July 2015, during the Justice League: Gods and Monsters panel at San Diego Comic-Con, Timm announced that an animated film based on the novel was in development and slated to be released in 2016. Sam Liu will direct and Timm will executive produce the film. The film was originally made to be released straight to video, but since its popularity had grown so much after its announcement that Conroy and Hamill would be reprising their roles as Batman and The Joker, Fathom Events and Warner Brothers announced that it would be getting a special one-night theatrical release on July 25, 2016. This was the second DC Animation's film to ever hit theaters, with the other being Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993). In January 2016, Timm revealed that the film would be screened at San Diego Comic-Con in July.

It features the voice talents of Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong and Ray Wise. The cast gave another set of terrific performances with Conroy and Hamill once again proving that they are the only ones to perform their iconic roles. Conroy's brooding presence with Hamill's manic personality have always complimented each other ever since working on Batman: The Animated Series.

From first glance, Batman: The Killing Joke has the image of an exciting and serious adult entertainment that would satisfy longtime fans and newcomers as well. However, after the viewing, it feels as though it was brought dead on arrival – a lifeless bore with stale voice work and a disjointed, sporadic narrative that was best kept on the pages of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's stellar graphic novel.

Simon says Batman: The Killing Joke receives:


NZIFF Classic Film Review: "Variety" ("Varieté") (1925).


"Gripping, Dramatic, Sensuous, Thrilling, Powerful." This is Variety (Varieté). This 1925 silent German drama film directed by Ewald Andre Dupont, adapted by Dupont and Leo Birinski, and based on the novel Der Eid des Stephan Huller (The Oath of Stephan Huller) (1923) by Felix Hollaender. The film tells a tale of jealousy, obsession and murder, set against the backdrop of the circus. Carnival owner "Boss" Huller used to be a talented acrobat. Now he owns a lowbrow sideshow act with his wife. When he meets a beautiful young woman, he runs off with her, abandoning his family. But a strapping trapeze artist soon lures away Huller's new lover. Huller then realizes he has swiftly moved from cheater to cuckold.

Upon it release in the United States on 27 June, 1926, the film was heavily cut and censored (except in New York) as it was not made with the intent to pass the newly established MPPDA's "Hays Code", which had been introduced the year before with hopes of mollifying the more than 100 local and state censorship boards around the United States. These boards quickly took an ax to the film, cutting, on average, enough footage to fill two film reels. The film had to excise the entire first reel, "thus destroying the motivation of the tragedy, implying that the acrobat was married to his Eurasian temptress." New York made the fewest cuts, removing slightly less than the other American cuts.

The film stars Emil Jannings, Lya De Putti, Maly Delschaft, and Warwick Ward. Although beset by sensuality and tragedy, by a doomed couple and, amongst a remarkable carnival backdrop, by drama generally, is so sheerly, dominatingly dramatic and gripping that sensuality and tragedy hardly seems an issue.

A deliciously sordid soap opera. The tragic romance doomed with tragedy by the deleterious effects of sensuality and jealousy man remains one of the most haunting synergies, especially in this silent classic. Full of striking imagery which, once seen, will stay with you forever, this is a highly accomplished piece of work which brings together some of the greatest talents of the era. With Variety, you forget that two hours have gone by. You forget because it's completely one hundred per cent gripping and involving in a modern sense. The movie's horrifying and beautiful conclusion becomes more poignant and powerful with each passing year. One of the classic films of the German silent era. Variety is a German silent film that any couple could relate to. They wouldn't like the way it ends, though. Dupont was a psychologically astute filmmaker, but it's the shockingly sensual, charismatic leads that make the picture. More than a little overbaked and frequently veering from the artistic to the artsy. Neither an exposé of social conditions nor a psychological case study and certainly not a moral parable the film is a tour de force of tragic cinema. One of the great films about the mysterious allure of the female form and the destructive power of the male gaze that's inflicted upon it.

Simon says Variety (Varieté) receives:



Also, see my NZIFF review for Bleak Street.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

NZIFF Film Review: "Bleak Street" ("La calle de la amargura") (2015).


From the director of Seduction and Deep Crimson comes Bleak Street (La calle de la amargura). This Mexican crime film directed by Arturo Ripstein, and written by Paz Alicia Garciadiego. In the early morning hours, two elderly whores go back to their hovels. They are not tired from working. They are tired of not doing do. One has problems at home with her teenage daughter and her cross dressing husband. The other, with her loneliness. But that night, they have a date to celebrate the victory in the ring of two wrestlers, twin midgets wearing masks. At the hourly hotel, in order to rob the tiny men of their earnings, they drug them with eye drops. But the dose proves fatal. They murder them unintentionally. Scared and confused, they decide to hide from the police and run away together to live, as they always have, on Bleak Street.

The film stars Alberto Estrella, Silvia Pasquel, Arcelia Ramirez, and Patricia Reyes Spíndola. Pasquel and Ramirez treat the heroines' atonements and friendships with great feeling, but there's a dark side to the film's poignancy, because the Woman's every encounter may be her last.

Bleak Street doesn't cover any new terrain for Ripstein - which some may complain about - but its terrain that he knows well. Ripstein applies his usual degree of cinematic imagination to the sordid tale. This monstrous love story serves up film noir at its most darkly authentic: it plays for keeps. This is a chilling tale by one of Mexico's most respected directors. The overriding fault for this art-house film was that it is not poetic. There are more virtues than debits to Bleak Street, and Crime fans should be relatively satisfied. The film turns the showdown narrative of so many oaters into an actively intelligent, darkly funny and no less suspenseful rumination on the pull of the horizon versus the ill wind at the back. On the whole, sharp dramatization and direct performances suffice to put the story's themes across more urgently than expected. It's a swift slow burn of a film, the story of a man who once got pushed too far with terrible results now getting pushed too far again, with results that are, as the title suggests, sure to be worse. At once repellant and enthralling, exotic and familiar, but never anything short of fascinating. Ripstein is more interested in the women's relationships with the people outside of work than with their clients, though we do get to see them living out some of their patrons' kinky desires. It's about forcing us to think about people we never would otherwise and seeing their struggles and humanity. What gives the film its haunting pull, as well as its feminist undercurrent, is the filmmaker's palpable compassion for these women. There's plenty of flesh on display but the stories are far from erotic. It emphasizes setting over character and plot; and it casts a mood that's both eerie and entrancing. Overall, the film is worthwhile, but more interesting than good.

Simon says Bleak Street (La calle de la amargura) receives:



Also, see my review for One-Eyed Jacks.

Friday, 22 July 2016

NZIFF Classic Film Review: "One-Eyed Jacks" (1961).




From the original marketing campaign, One-Eyed Jacks was sold as "the motion picture that starts its own tradition of greatness". This Western film directed by Marlon Brando (his only directorial effort); written by Guy Trosper and Calder Willingham; based on the novel The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones by Charles Neider. After a Mexican bank robbery gone wrong and being abandoned by his partner Dad Longworth, Rio was captured. Five years later, Rio escapes from the prison where he has been since and starts to hunt down Dad for revenge. However what it is not known to Rio is that Dad is now a respectable sheriff in California.

The novel was a fictional treatment of the familiar Billy the Kid story, relocated from New Mexico to the Monterey Peninsula in California. After buying the rights to the novel, producer Frank P. Rosenberg contacted writer Rod Serling to write a draft. Serling's draft was ultimately rejected. Rosenberg next hired Sam Peckinpah to rewrite it. Peckinpah finished his draft in November 1957. Brando's Pennebaker Productions signed a contract with legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick to direct. Peckinpah handed in a revised draft in May 1959. Kubrick, Brando and Rosenberg then fired Peckinpah and brought in Calder Willingham for further rewrites. But due to creative differences, Brando and Rosenberg fired Kubrick and Willingham, and brought on Guy Trosper for rewrites. Ultimately, Brando took over as director. The production ultimately suffered from being extremely over schedule and extremely over budget. Filming began in late 1958, and did not wrap until late 1960. Brando's inexperience behind the camera was obvious on set. He shot six times the amount of footage normally used for a film at the time. He was indecisive and ran extremely overlong in getting the film finished. Brando's first cut of the film was allegedly five hours long. Paramount eventually took the film away from him and recut it. On a budget of $6 million, the film was a commercial flop at the box office. To help offset the costs, Brando persuaded Universal to pick up the tab. In return, he agreed to make five films for the studio: The Ugly American (1963), Bedtime Story (1964), The Appaloosa (1966), A Countess from Hong Kong (1967) and The Night of the Following Day (1968), all of which were also commercial flops.

The film stars Brando, Karl Malden, Katy Jurado, Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens and Pina Pellicer. The cast gave superb performances thanks in large part to Brando, who is undeniably one of the greatest actors who ever lived. He knew how to guide them.

Brando obviously didn't know how to direct or edit, but he respected the material and his fellow performers enough- and that's good enough with me. Yes, it's stale at times, but One-Eyed Jacks exudes confidence in its dullness. And it never actually treated the subject as light or inconsequential. Don't get too hopeful for the "greatness" it was trying to sell. Ultimately, it is an ambitious but generic western movie.

Simon says One-Eyed Jacks (1961) receives:



Also, see my NZIFF review for Land of Mine (Under dem Sand).

Thursday, 21 July 2016

NZIFF Film Review: "Land of Mine" ("Unter dem Sand") (2015).


"They survived World War II. Now they have to survive the clearing." This is Land of Mine (Unter dem Sand). This Danish-German historical drama war film written and directed by Martin Zandvliet. The film follows a group of German prisoners of war who are forced to dig up millions of Nazi land mines with their bare hands along the coast of the North Sea in Denmark.

It is believed that more than 2,000 German soldiers were forced to remove mines, and nearly half of them lost their lives or limbs. In July 2014, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in August. Filming took place at the historically authentic locations, including in Oksbøllejren and areas in Varde. The use of the historical beaches led to the discovery of a real mine during the production. Prior to filming, the actors were trained in mine clearance 'anno 1945' at the Military Training Compound 'Oksbøl'. During training they found a 'live' mine. It had been there for seventy-plus years - and was in fine working condition. The mine was removed and disarmed by the danish de-mining experts.

The film stars Roland Møller, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Laura Bro, Louis Hofmann, and Joel Basman. The cast here, especially the young ones, are superb at conveying the young, world-weary minds pummelled, or blown to pieces, by the horrors of seeing their fellow soldiers die by either war or land mines.

This striking, slow-building drama from Zandvliet uses graphic imagery in order to reflect the horrors of the soldiers against the land mines in an unfamiliar landscape. If everything the soldiers left to dig up the land mines have been taught this. A beautifully crafted film, it may be, but it is by no means a bourgeois film. It is a rebuke to expected notions of World War II, as well as a formidable work in its own right. Zandvliet's film proceeds like a long-ago pseudo dark-hued documentary drama grounded in real-life 20th-century horrors. The sins of the Fatherland sent German soldiers to dig up death in Zandvliet's vividly rendered and terrifying drama. With a soldier's perspective on war, the film deserves comparisons with Platoon (1986), and with young German soldiers as its protagonists, it stands virtually alone. The film is not a pretty story, but it is a good and sadly believable one. Zandvliet's tough, moving film is shot with great intimacy, driving home the idea that great horrors are ultimately a personal responsibility. Zandvliet has created a moving, intriguing and complex film, which provides one of the most intelligent and honest approaches to both Nazism and the aftermath of World War II seen on screen in recent years. A raw, urgent yet contemplative tone infuses every moment and, courtesy of cinematographer Camilla Hjelm Knudsen, Zandvliet uses the country's vast, devastated landscape to stunning effect. The film's textures and colours evoke equal parts wonder and horror. Remarkable, raw, and disorienting, it never bothers to tell you what it can instead show.

Simon says Land of Mine (Under dem Sand) receives:



Also, see my NZIFF review for The Red Turtle.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

NZIFF Film Review: "The Red Turtle" (2016).


"Presented by Studio Ghibli, the people who brought you Spirited Away, Ponyo, and The Wind Rises" comes The Red Turtle. This animated fantasy drama film directed by Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit, written by Pascale Ferran, and produced by Wild Bunch and Studio Ghibli. Through the story of a man shipwrecked on a tropical island inhabited by turtles, crabs and birds, the film recounts the milestones in the life of a human being.

Hayao Miyazaki saw Dudok de Wit's short film Father and Daughter (2000) and wanted to make a feature film with him. In 2008, Vincent Maraval, head of Wild Bunch, visited Studio Ghibli and met with Miyazaki. Miyazaki showed him the short film and asked him to find Dudok de Wit, with the prospect of co-producing a feature film with Dudok de Wit as director. Maraval approached Dudok de Wit in London and convinced him to take on the project.

The film stars the voice talents of Emmanuel Garijo, Tom Hudson, Baptiste Goy, Barbara Beretta, Maud Brethenoux, Mickaël Dumoussaud, Elie Tertois, and Axel Devillers. While the characters feel very simplified at times, there are scenes that put great weight on performance and subtle expressions, in a way that's nearer to the classical American tradition than most Japanese animation.

Everything in it exudes a special magic that emanates in a slow and leisurely narrative rhythm, that transports us unfailingly to another time. The result is a pleasing, if bloated and simplistic, experience destined to be overpraised because of its lauded creative team. The material might be fantastical, yet due to the universal themes of womanhood and true happiness, the film's story is exceptionally grounded. A great, grounded realist with a firm eye but a light touch, Dudok de Wit's leisurely feature film directorial debut has a rare serenity and grace. In an era where anime films seem to blend into each other aesthetically, Dudok de Wit's impressions seems marvelously alive - its modesty in images makes them feel as if they're being created before our very eyes. There exists a compelling experiential satisfaction of the closure of a mythical character journey full of ebbs and flows, complexities and emotional introspection, all expressed fully in the compassionate drawings of Dudok de Wit. Flurries of expressiveness swirl into subtle shifts in style; it's these fiercely elemental illustrations of one girl's forbearance, defiance and longing which mark Dudok de Wit's film as one of Studio Ghibli's final masterpieces. A hauntingly mesmeric masterpiece that creeps beneath the skin and truly transports the viewer into an enchanting world of myth and magic. A poignant gem, very different in tone to the studio's most celebrated works, Grave of the Fireflies and Spirited Away, but no less worthy of praise and admiration. No one goes to Studio Ghibli for incident. This is a film-making model that favours contemplation over manufactured climaxes. The Red Turtle is one of the most beautifully animated films of this or any other year. A mezmerizing display of impressionist animation.

Simon says The Red Turtle receives:



Also, see my NZIFF review for A Touch of Zen (侠女).

Film Review: "Ghostbusters" (2016).




"There's something strange in your neighborhood. Who you gonna call?" This time round, Ghostbusters (2016) answers that call. This supernatural comedy film directed by Paul Feig, and written by Feig and Katie Dippold. It is a reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise. Following a ghost invasion of Manhattan, paranormal enthusiasts Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates, nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann, and subway worker Patty Tolan band together to stop the otherworldly threat.

Since the haunting of Ghostbusters II in 1989 and before the reboot haunted screens, various scripts and ideas for a third film in the Ghostbusters series had long been planned. These ideas included one in which Bill Murray's character died and became a ghost, and another in which the Ghostbusters went to hell. But due to Murray's reluctance to commit to the project and the death of Harold Ramis in 2014 resulted in the decision to reboot the franchise instead. The project was officially announced in 2014, with Paul Feig slated as the director. By January 2015, a female cast, that included Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, were officially announced through a picture tweeted by Feig. Both the announcement of the reboot and the cast attracted significant controversy, which consisted of critical and sexist remarks. The controversy escalated even further when the first official trailer was posted on line in March 2016. By May 2016, it became the most disliked movie trailer in YouTube history, with 221,400 likes and 649,900 dislikes.

The film stars McCarthy, Wiig, McKinnon, Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Cecily Strong, Neil Casey and Andy García. Out of the ghost wranglers, McKinnon and Jones emerged as real comedic dynamites. Thanks to the sweetly earnest and the gracious generosity of McCarthy and Wiig about giving the show to them. McKinnon and Jones obviously regard their characters as an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop their cinematic chops. This is a female-driven comedy that tries to admirable prove that females can do as much as males, if not more so, and where Chris Hemsworth emerges as a genuine surprise as a comedic star. Not only can this man be a superhero, but he can also be one of the funniest people on the screen. The four women have definitely proven that women have equal power as men to become stars and icons of major tent-pole franchises. Love him or not, Paul Feig is consistently makes movies about women and girl-power.

Thanks to its female cast, Ghostbusters is somewhat an amusing delight, but it lacks the charm, wit, and energy of the original. The film did not try anything new and like many remakes and reboots, merely re-treated the first film. The film took little comic risks. It looks as if the filmmakers, particularly the writers, simply didn't try to do anything special. They just simply filled it overblown nostalgia for the original and forgot to create its own original story. This all female reboot only merely makes us long for the threequel that should have taken this film's place.

Simon says Ghostbusters (2016) receives:



Also, see my review for Spy.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

NZIFF Film Review: "High-Rise" (2016).


"Welcome to the high life..." in High-Rise. This British dystopian horror film directed by Ben Wheatley, adapted by Amy Jump, and based on the 1975 novel of the same name by J. G. Ballard. Life for the residents of a tower block begins to run out of control. As the residents break into tribal factions, Laing finds himself in the middle of mounting violence.

As with Ballard's previous novels Crash (1973) and Concrete Island (1974), High-Rise inquires into the ways in which modern social and technological landscapes could alter the human psyche in provocative and hitherto unexplored ways. Since its publication in 1975, British producer Jeremy Thomas had wanted to make a film adaptation of Ballard's literary classic, with Nicolas Roeg as director and Paul Mayersberg to pen the adaptation. However, the project fell apart in the early stages and ultimately entered into development hell. In early 2009, Thomas began developing the project again with Vincenzo Natali as director and Richard Stanley to pen the new adaptation, with the film intended as a loose adaptation of the novel. Natali was very happy with Stanley's script. However, the project fell apart once again. In 2013, Wheatley started looking into who held the rights to the book, which led him to Thomas and was ultimately hired to direct, with Wheatley's wife, Jump, hired to pen the new adaptation. In February 2014, Tom Hiddleston was cast in the lead role. By July 2014, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy, and Stacy Martin rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place in Belfast and Bangor, Northern Ireland.

The film stars Hiddleston, Irons, Miller, Evans, Moss, Purefoy, and Martin. The film is about characters who entranced by each other sexually. Wheatley has made a film that is pornographic in form, but not in result. High-Rise like a porno film made by a decadent pervert: It unapologetically monologues about class and sex, it discovers our twisted and minds towards class and sex, and it combines them in a mistaken speech. The result is challenging, courageous and original—a dissection of the philosophy of pornography. I admired it, although I cannot say I "liked" it.

Despite the surprisingly distant, clinical direction, High-Rise's explicit premise and sex is classic Ballard territory. It is necessarily disturbing and equally profound inquiry into class and human desire, however self-destructive. Unlike Crash (1996), it's the polar opposite logic of Darwin, where libertarians refused to leave their past behind as if it were dead. The film is a violently rare exception to the continually careful stride of film, and few films have been made with such a conviction to such inherently controversial material. With High-Rise, Wheatley pushes arthouse cinema off the balcony. The film is a mutant work of art - a bracing splash of champagne and cocaine with ice. It's a dark, disturbing, languorous movie, as ludicrous, hermetic and repetitive, perhaps, as Ballard's original, but admirably assured and true to itself. A stylish, intriguing and typically warped vision that hybridises the imaginations of Ballard and Wheatley.

Simon says High-Rise receives:



Also, see my reviews for Sightseers and The Eagle Huntress.

Monday, 18 July 2016

NZIFF Film Review: "The Eagle Huntress" (2016).


"The spellbinding true story about a 13-year-old girl on an epic journey to gain victory in a faraway land." This is The Eagle Huntress. This Kazakh-language documentary film directed by Otto Bell, and narrated by Daisy Ridley. This spellbinding documentary follows Aisholpan Nurgaiv a 13-year-old nomadic Mongolian girl who is fighting to become the first female eagle hunter in twelve generations of her Kazakh family. Through breathtaking aerial cinematography and intimate verite footage, the film captures her personal journey while also addressing universal themes like female empowerment, the natural world, coming of age and the onset of modernity.

The film premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, where it was purchased by Sony Pictures Classics for the US and Altitude Film Distribution in the UK. Afterwards, international distribution was handled by Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions. Following the film's premiere, Daisy Ridley agreed to join the film as an executive producer and provided the narration, comprising approximately five minutes' total time in the 87-minute film. Bell said of Ridley: "Like so many other theatergoers around the world, I was blown away by Daisy's recent portrayal of an empowered female protagonist [Rey in The Force Awakens]. I'm thrilled she'll be bringing that same energy to supporting a real-world heroine who is also on an epic journey to win victory in a far away land."

Unique, mild glimpse into the life of a thirteen-year-old nomadic Mongolian girl, who just happens to be the first eagle hunter. How wonderful it is to encounter a film like this, with its sweet simplicities and its quiet observations. Here, it's 'progress' the girl rebels against. There's a sense her existence, which is unencumbered by PlayStations or balsamic vinegar, is undermined. That idea, like everything else in this low-key charmer, is expressed in simple terms. It is a gentle film, leisurely of pace and nicely shot. To me, it seems more like a National Geographic special than the sort of thing I look for in cinema. At the same time, Bell also concentrates blissfully on those fleeting moments of life that most movies excise in favour of forwarding the plot. This gentle, observant storytelling is perfectly appropriate for kids. It must also be noted that each of Nurgaiv's hunts are extraordinary and that she is among the most captivating creatures captured on film. A truly touching tale which patiently paints a simple tableau while ever so subtly highlighting an undermined lifestyle deserving of recognition from the onslaught of her own civilisation. It exudes a sweetness and easygoing charm that make it hard to resist despite its lackadaisical quality. Thanks to some ace photography, the beautiful Mongolian wilderness also has a strong presence. The film is very beautiful and also very slow, mostly due to the relatively primitive setting. Damn me for an unreliable cynic, but the film is a remarkable movie: touching, honest, and unassuming, without a hint of irony or false motive. Add in a wisecracking sidekick with a Brooklyn accent, and the film could be remade as a Disney cartoon. 

Simon says The Eagle Huntress receives:



Also, see my NZIFF review for McCabe & Mrs Miller.