Thursday, July 30, 2009

Trailer: District 9

This Peter Jackson-produced South African sci-fi flick about aliens living in Johannesburg slums has been generating a bit of buzz lately and looking at the trailer you can see why. The film is done in a semi-documentary style with impressive CGI effects and no name actors, kind of like Cloverfield, though not in the sense that it's completely shot from the POV of someone's handycam. Most surprising is its budget of $30 million, relatively tiny compared to usual Hollywood blockbuster standards, but visually, and effects-wise, it seems to be on par with the big-budget finish of a Transformers 2 or Terminator: Salvation. District 9 is out August 13th.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Final NZFF Round-Up

Here's the last batch of films I saw last week...

Paper Soldier - Anyone expecting cool retro space travel stuff from this look at the Soviet's role in the '60s Space Race would've been disappointed, possibly like I was. I wanted geekier stuff, maybe training sequences or something, or at least some sense of wonder in watching astronauts prepare for a trip to the moon. But instead it left me cold (possibly intentionally so?). Plodding, dramatically uninvolving viewing, but some nice widescreen lensing of the dreary Kazakhstan locations kept me watching.

Dogtooth - Greek flick caused many to flee from the cinema with its creepy, morbidly comic story of children who've grown up completely shut away from society by their parents. Goes to places that few films would dare. Brilliantly shot, edited and acted. Utterly demented. The real surprise of the fest, the kind of movie you walk in expecting nothing and walk out totally blown away.

Spies - I wished I was more awake* through Fritz Lang's 1928 silent classic (it's often considered "the granddaddy of all spy films") because what I saw of it was thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining. Neil Brand was on hand to provide the live piano soundtrack and he was amazing; as great as the film was, I found myself veering away from the screen just to watch this virtuoso play (which he did non-stop for nearly 3 hours). There was also another guy on the side of the stage doing a voice-over translation of all the intertitles, a bit of a clumsy move I think - the monotone heavily-Kiwi-accented reading made things seem hokier than it ought to be. Ideally, they should have got someone with a European (German!) accent to do it!

[*I should add that I've been nodding off through a lot of these films mainly due to exhaustion]

Love Exposure - Totally wild Japanese film was FOUR HOURS LONG, but not a dull moment. Somehow combines Catholic guilt and upskirt pornography into a funny, moving, original, just simply entertaining movie unlike any other. Hopefully Madman or someone will pick this up for a DVD release. Surprise of the fest #2. Here's the trailer:

Antichrist - Ok, this was the one I - hell, most of everyone I know - was waiting for all fest long. Lars von Trier's arthouse shocker probably equally spooked and amused a lot of people (apparently a woman ran out, visibly disturbed, from the SkyCity Theatre screening I attended, while at the Civic screening the following night, a man let out an angry rant outside the theatre lobby). I'm still not quite sure to make of it except that I admire the hell out of him for making it even though it didn't always work for me. Charlotte Gainsbourg was incredible in a psycho-batshit grieving-mother performance that forces her do some pretty heinous things - both to herself and hubbie Willem Dafoe - which I shall not divulge here. The end shot has really stayed with me.

Unmade Beds - Gahhh. Boring, undistinguished New Wavey indie navel-gazing was a bit of a snoozer to the end the fest on. Director Alexis Santos did a Q&A after, and his reedy, nervous/jittery, disheveled appearance was quite hilarious.

Anyway, that's it for another year. Click here to see some Top 5 picks!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Trailer: The Book of Eli

Is it just me or does Hollywood currently seem hellbent on feeding us with more and more images of the world's destruction? I can't recall the last time when there have been so many apocalypse/post-apocalypse-themed films in such a short period of time. We've had things like Children of Men, I Am Legend and Cloverfield in the last couple of years, all projecting none-too-optimistic outlooks on the future, and this year there's already been Terminator: Salvation and Knowing, and forthcoming are The Road and 2012, the latter already shaping up to be the ultimate word in end-of-the-world porn.

We can another one to the list now with Warner's The Book of Eli, due early in 2010, starring Denzel Washington as a lone warrior who holds the answer to humanity's survival. Interesting to see the return of the Hughes Brothers, who haven't directed anything since From Hell in 2001. While their films have always been kind of uneven, there's no questioning they're visually adept filmmakers, and the trailer for Eli looks like the movie will look pretty sweet if nothing else. The shots of Denzel looking extremely badass and throwing some killer moves add a bit to the anticipation too.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Melbourne International Film Festival Gets Loach-ed!

Fiercely political Brit filmmaker Ken Loach has withdrawn his film Looking for Eric from this year's Melbourne International Film Festival in protest over Israeli funding. The Wind That Shakes the Barley director has long been an outspoken opponent against Israel's occupation of Palestinian land and its actions in Gaza, and back in May, had already pressured the Edinburgh International Film Festival to return a 300-pound grant from the Israeli Embassy - a demand which the festival bowed to. However, MIFF's executive director Richard Moore said in a statement that he would not bow to "blackmail", and added "MIFF understands that that this issue is a particularly emotional one for people, but we will not participate in a boycott against the state of Israel, just as we would not contemplate boycotting films from China or other nations involved in difficult long-standing historical disputes" (read more here).

I generally like Loach's work, even if he tends towards the didactic side on occasion, and this situation is rather unfortunate - but I admire Moore's steadfast stance in maintaining his festival's integrity. Here's a trailer for Looking for Eric, which I missed at NZFF (it'll no doubt find its way to the Rialto in the next few months):

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Harry Potter Weaves Box Office Magic

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which opened last Thursday, has broken opening weekend box office records in New Zealand. Grossing a hefty $2.4 million, the film now stands only behind Lord of the Rings: Return of the King as the highest opening weekend earner ever in the country (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a close third). It's also doing great business around the world, globally reaping around $600 million in its first 5 days, and the critics are generally singing praises too (its current Metacritic rating is sitting at 78). All great news for Warner of course, who announced soon after the film's release that the studio has passed the $1.5 billion box office mark in the US, and that they're the only studio to have done so for nine consecutive years. The mind boggles.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

NZFF: 5-Day Round-Up

Sorry for the lack of film fest udpates, haven't had the time to blog about them in detail, so here's a brief round-up of what I've seen in the last week or so (though if you're following fatso on twitter you might have been enlightened by the occasional NZFF-related tweet):

Winnebago Man - Funny, very touching documentary, truly one of the highlights of the festival so far. Almost left me in tears. Director Ben Steinbauer and producer Joel Heller were in attendance and did a great Q&A after the screening where they called Jack Rebney! Amazing.

Goodbye Solo - Ramin Bahrani's intimate, bracing two-character drama contains some of the finely nuanced writing and acting in a film this year. Kind of like Happy-Go-Lucky by way of Taste of Cherry. Depressing subject matter, but not depressing at all. And it doesn't cop out.

Embodiment of Evil - Brailizian horror maestro Jose Mojica Marins returns to the character that made him famous, Coffin Joe. Third film in the series which began in the '60s; lots of midnight movie yucks in this one, including skin-munching and meat hook-hanging and rats crawling into vaginas, but I fell asleep through most of it (mainly due to the late hour/fatigue).

Birdsong - Still not sure what to make of this piece of IMMENSELY slow cinema from Albert Serra, a minimalist re-telling of the nativity story, but there's something about its mix of the absurd and the spiritual I found quite hypnotic and beautiful. I counted two or three walkouts.

Mother - Bong Joon-Ho's new darkly comic mystery-drama isn't as great as The Host and Memories of Murder, but it's still pretty solid work from a master storyteller whose films I'll always look forward to. Awesome main character and lead performance. Opening and final shots are killer.

The Horseman - Low-budget, DV-lensed Aussie revenge thriller might be the most violent and brutal thing I've seen this year. Father goes on a rampage to knock off porn-peddlin' baddies who killed his daughter. I love a good B-movie revenge flick, but the violence here gets numbing and repetitive after a while.

Blind Loves -A wonderful Slovakian film which follows the lives of four blind people and their relationships. Droll, moving doco with fictionalised elements, another festival winner.

Yes, Madam Sir - Megan Doneman spent 6 years documenting India's first policewoman Kiran Bedi and the result is this stunning, inspiring, illuminating portrait of one woman's resilience and determination to forge ahead in a bureaucratic system that wishes nothing more than to crush her. Must-see.

In the last week of the festival now, and only 5 films to go!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Trailer: Power Kids

Here's a fun little trailer for this somewhat slooow Friday afternoon... Power Kids looks like the next Muay Thai movie sensation from Prachya Pinkaew and Panna Rittikrai, the producers of Ong-Bak and Tom Yum Goong. This time round it's the kids who're doing all the kicking and knee-ing. It's currently playing at Montreal's FanTasia Film Festival, and the plot's being described as "Die Hard in a hospital". While the novelty of watching young kids beating the crap out of older bad guys has an undeniable draw, I'm skeptical as to whether the Muay Thai choreography - as seen in the trailer - will contribute anything new to the current pool of similar films. Still looks fun though.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

NZFF: A Lake

As an aficionado of so-called "slow cinema", I'm particularly amused by and grateful for NZFF's new 'In Praise of Slow Cinema' section. It's probably the section most geared towards hardcore-arthouse-with-a-capital-A cinephiles, patient viewers who worship the films of Bela Tarr or Andrei Tarkovsky, and don't mind long, long takes and languorous, lulling pacing. With that in mind, I trotted along to Phillipe Grandrieux's A Lake expecting an austere, beautifully hypnotic entry in the slow cinema canon, and it more than delivered that vibe.

It's a minimally plotted (so minimal, that I hesitate to even use the word 'plotted') tale set in some undefined snowy, woodsy landscape and centering on a handful of characters whose motivations and dynamics are deliberately obscure. There's a little cottage, an epileptic young man named Alexi, his sister, his mum, and then there's the arrival of a stranger, then later the father. Dialogue is sparse, elliptical, rarely revealing much about what's going on. But from the very first shot - the camera shuddering with each breath of Alexi cutting down a tree - it's clear Grandrieux's out to express his vision and ideas solely through means of subjective, experimental audio-visual textures, not standard narrative storytelling.

Two people walked out during the screening I attended, so if you don't know what you're in for, there's a high chance it'll be one of the most painfully boring movie you'll ever see. But If you need something to zone out to at the fest, this hermetic, chilly, intense and deeply atmospeheric work will certainly do the trick.

Trailer: 2012

Maybe the only other film this year with enough bloated sensory chutzpah to topple Michael Bay's throne of obscene blockbuster excess that is Transformers 2, Roland Emmerich's upcoming 2012 looks like it's nothing less than the Disaster Film to End All Disaster Films. Which says something, since the man's pretty much the go-to-guy if you want to see civilisations levelled, having built a career out of staging glossy CGI-rendered catastrophe of biblical proportions such as Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow. One can't help but laugh at the OTT-ness of this thing:

Also, have a look at the terrific spoof edit (I think it sums up the essence of Emmerich's cinema quite well):

Monday, July 13, 2009

NZFF: The Cove

The first weekend of NZFF's just been and all in all it was a solid, albeit exhausting, start to the fest. I used to be able to sit through 50+ films in two weeks, now seeing 8 in the space of two-three days has become a bit of a slog (chalk it up to age? burnout? This kind of thing is bound to happen when you're in the business of watching movies 24-7, 365 days a year). The snooze factor sunk in during Bright Star and Double Take, but I stayed very much awake through the likes of Troll 2 (funnest screening yet), Still Walking, Red Cliff, Ponyo, Drag Me To Hell, and especially The Cove - which I want to plug a little here.

If you love animals - heck, LIFE - and are free tomorrow at 6:15pm, I urge you to go catch The Cove at the Civic Theatre. I saw this doco on Saturday morning - with a disappointingly small crowd - and it packed a tremendous wallop. Directed by top National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos, this riveting work of activism exposes the heart-breaking, though little-known atrocity of dolphin killing in the small seaside village of Taiji, Japan. Ok, so you might be thinking "I'm squeamish, I don't want to see dolphins being killed on film" - and rightly so: when the massacre unfolds, it's as upsetting and disturbing as anything you'll see in a theatre this year. But why The Cove is so effective is that it's not just about that; it's not only about Man's inhumanity to Nature, it's also about Man's inhumanity to Man (dolphin meat made toxic by mercury knowingly being sold to school children for lunch - how wrong can you get?).

And despite the heavy-duty subject matter, Psihoyos has also made a film that's thoroughly accessible and ultimately hopeful. It works as a spry Mission: Impossible-style thriller - the stuff with the crew gearing up to infiltrate the cove is riveting - and the concluding message instills optimism in the viewer, suggesting individuals have the power to bring about change. So go see it, and spread the word! Follow The Cove on twitter here and check out their website here.

Wall-E in the Flesh!

Spotted this over at SciFiSquad - a real-life Wall-E!! Or at least something close enough. It's called a DustCart, and is part of a research program to clean up the streets of Italy. Click here to check out more photos. Pretty cool.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Festival Anticipation

The New Zealand International Film Festival is beginning as I type this, with the New Zealand Premiere of Jane Campion's new romantic period drama Bright Star. Opening night is always a high-class affair, and it's always great to get the red carpet out for the first screening of a picture by one of our leading cinematic lights.

The blogging team are all warmed up and ready for two-and-a-half weeks of the best new cinema from around the globe. We'll report back here with mini-reviews and reports of mental states & retina damage we sustain in the line of duty.

The Top Five Films We're Looking Forward To This Year Are*:
5. Moon
4. Winnebago Man
3. Best Worst Movie
2. Troll 2

And the film we're most anticipating at this year's Film Festival is:

(*decided by "democratic process")

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

MJ and Brett Ratner Kicking It

Since we're at the height of MJ fever - memorial day and all - here's another MJ clip (also makes a change from all the Nazi stuff below). Someone's unearthed this video of hack director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) and Jackson bobbin' their heads to an R. Kelly song in a car. I didn't realise they were best buddies, but I guess the neat thing about this clip is showing super-celebs in a very relaxed, human light, away from all the media attention (in what appears to be a traffic jam?), even though Ratner still comes across like a douche as he always does.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hitler Finds Out...

I think this Hitler clip from Downfall is too played out by now to be really effective, but here are the latest spoofs, one where he learns of MJ's death and the other of Sarah Palin's resignation. (WARNING: contains offensive language)

The best still remains this Blu-ray vs HD-DVD one:

PS: The subject matter link to the Dead Snow Nazi zombies below is purely unintentional...

Funny Incredibly Strange Film Festival Press Release

Head Incredibly Strange Film Festival programmer Ant Timpson issued a hilarious press release today, bestowing the films in his section with tongue-in-cheek awards categories. "I already know these films are very special," he says. "I don't need a jury to tell me what I already know. I'm giving these films awards in advance because 99% of the public don't care what films win awards AFTER they've screened, they want to know BEFORE they screen. Call me a ground-breaking loose canon if you must but maybe, just maybe, the public would prefer to know what films win awards before a festival has finished!" (Click on the film titles to watch the trailer)

And the Winner is Winnebago Man.

And the Winner is Best Worst Movie.

And the Winner is Grace.

And the Winner is Dead Snow.

And the Winner is Drag Me To Hell.

And the Winner is Embodiment of Evil.

And the Winner is The Horseman.

And the Winner is Thirst.

And the Winner is Troll 2.

And the Winner is Love Exposure.

You can also check out an interview with Timpson here on the 3News website.

The New Zealand International Film Festival opens this Thursday in Auckland!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Trailer: Inglourious Basterds

The new international trailer for Quentin Tarantino's defiantly mispelled WWII flick Inglourious Basterds has hit the web, and it looks fab, though it may be a misleading representation of the film itself. This trailer reveals much more varied footage than previously seen - including some neat cinema scenes (which apparently play a huge part) - and makes it look like a rollicking good ol' men-on-a-mish adventure in the vein of The Dirty Dozen. But online chatter since its lukewarm Cannes debut indicates the film's actually more dialogue than action (not that surprising really, since dialogue's always been QT's thing). Anne Thompson of Variety noted on her blog that Basterds is "an art film, not a calculatedly mainstream entertainment", while the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw said in his one-star review that "everything is just so boring". My love affair with Tarantino ended a while back, but I must admit that this trailer got me a little excited: