Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cult Classic Trailer: For Y'ur Height Only

If you had told me, 7 years go (when I started working here), that we'd be stocking For Y'ur Height Only in our library, I'd probably think you were punkin' me. This Filipino midget-spy-spoof insanity was one of the treasures from the days of Pete Tombs' Mondo Macabro (the DVD label released it in 2005) and I never thought I'd see the day when it'd be getting a local release. So props to Vendetta Films, whose October 19th release of this nutty gem (and its sequel The Impossible Kid) will be getting my award for Most Surprising Local DVD Release of the Year. Check out the trailer:

Also worth checking out is Machete Maidens Unleashed! a documentary about low-budget Filipino filmmaking in the '70s from the director of the superb Not Quite Hollywood. Long live Weng Weng!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Death Delivers: A Quick Spoiler-Free Word on Final Destination 5

Caught a screening of Final Destination 5 last night, and to put it simply, it delivered. After the cruddy, lazy fourth one, this entry felt very much like a reinvigoration of the franchise, an attempt to put things right and round off the series in a way that would satisfy both fans and newcomers. Much credit must be given to director Steven Quale*, whose staging of the film's gruesome, Grand Guignol set-pieces - the series' raison d'etre - is spectacularly well-executed, especially the jaw-dropping opener, which is just as good if not better than FD2's. I tend to switch off if too much CGI is used in horror splatter and there's still a bit of that here, but the CGI is also subtly, almost invisibly applied in this opening sequence without losing the scale of the devastation. Of course, the 3D bits are gimmicky as usual, though strangely I didn't mind it as much as FD4, perhaps 'cos everything about this movie is just better overall. It's the funnest horror film I've seen in a theatre in a while - and I wouldn't even count myself a FD fan. Opens this Thursday, go see it!

(*Quale hasn't done much by way of feature directing, but he's served as second unit director for James Cameron on Titanic and Avatar, so it's not inconceivable that he's picked up some of Cameron's chops for staging spatially coherent spectacle. Keen to see what he does next.)

Roadshow's screening invite

Friday, August 26, 2011

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Melbourne: Adventures in Film, Part 2: The Astor

Auckland needs an Astor Theatre. Pronto. While we still have a few single screen theatres around such as the Lido, Civic, Academy and Hollywood Cinema, they fall short of being a complete film buff’s dream house. Lido’s elegant and done up nicely, but they tend to stick to showing lite “granny-vision” “arthouse” films - same/similar stuff you’d find playing at Rialto; Hollywood is perhaps closest to Astor in feel, and they show occasional retro but it’s mostly second-run mainstream, and usually only comes alive when it’s time for the annual 24 Hour Movie Marathon. Likewise the Civic’s a once-a-year visit, when the NZFF comes round. To put it simply, things can be so much better......

OK now imagine if you had a theatre to go every week where there are cult double features, 70mm print screenings and old classics playing alongside cool second run films - that’s the Astor Theatre. Visiting the Astor was perhaps the highlight of my trip. I love being able to rock up to a theatre and catch a 35mm print of John Frakenheimer’s The Train on a Sunday night, and then the following night, a 70mm of Pink Floyd - The Wall. When you walk into the lobby it feels like you’ve travelled back in time. The old, art deco look has been maintained beautifully and the ushers even wear vests and bow ties for that extra special touch. You’ll find spots in the theatre that look like this:

There’s also a cat named Marzipan who roams around and has been known to sit on the laps of patrons during screenings.

Anyway the films were great. The Train has been sitting on my rental queue for a long time now, but when you get an opportunity to catch a film like this on the big screen, you don’t pass it up! Such an incredible, thrilling, muscular movie made when Frankenheimer was at his artistic peak churning out masterpieces like The Manchurian Candidate and Seconds. And Burt Lancaster impressively does all his own stunts! It was my first time with The Wall as well, and it was quite a spectacular psych-out treat. The screening was way more packed than The Train, which was mostly attended by senior citizens who probably saw it when it first came out (or even fought in World War II). The 70mm print wasn’t the most colourful but was fairly clean and it sounded superb.

“Fine films and atmosphere” indeed! Man, there's a Two-Lane Blacktop/Zabriskie Point double coming up...

Breaking Bad as a Sitcom

To quote one of the youtube comments, this turns "one of the most badass TV shows into an episode of Mr Bean". Or Full House... Worth it just for the opening credits, too funny. (Maybe slightly spoilerish for those who haven't seen this episode - "The Fly" - but it doesn't reveal major plot details in the grand scheme of things)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Chaos Cinema: The Decline and Fall of Action Filmmaking

This terrific, well-presented video essay by film scholar Matthias Stork basically looks at how crappy action films have become today. Although there is a time and place for chaotic editing and visuals, this essay convincingly argues that most contemporary Hollywood action films are lazily shot, bludgeoning experiences that don't really care about the viewer.

Chaos Cinema Part 1 from Matthias Stork on Vimeo.

Chaos Cinema Part 2 from Matthias Stork on Vimeo.

(via Press Play)

Melbourne: Adventures in Film, Part 1

The idea of travelling to another city to spend most of your time watching movies might seem crazy and a waste of time to a lot of people; after all why not take in the rich, foreign surroundings of a different country instead of engaging in such a passive indoor activity as sitting in a darkened theatre, which kinda looks the same in every part of the world? The simple fact of the matter is, if you’re a rabid film buff, it’s a lot of fun. It's also a lot more physically challenging that you might think.

My August trip over to the Melbourne International Film Festival was less intense than the last two times I went over for there specifically for the fest (circa ‘07-’08 I think) - I was only there for its last few days. But it was the same sort of experience: duckin’ in and out of theatres, going for a snack in-between movies, shopping (mostly window), catching up with friends/family, and much walking and tramming. Every little thing adds to the overall experience, particularly the unfamiliarity and novelty of a different locale (although frequent visits here have made it less special...).

Before I get onto the films, here are a few things to note for those thinking about flying across the Tasman for the MIFF in the future:
  • Their programme is much larger, and goes for 17 days! I also tend to find their programming a tad more adventurous than NZ’s.
  • Movie tickets here are expensive: AU$15-18, so convert that and do the math... and weep.
  • Tickets are easily bookable over their site, with the handy option to print them from the comfort of your own home.
  • They have barcode scanners upon entry - no ripping of tickets - so it’s pretty flash. But I  sometimes wonder how fool proof it is. Ushers often ask if your ticket has been scanned, you could just say "yes" and waltz in with a fake ticket.
  • Seating is general admission. It's a good idea to arrive early because, there are queues, and the theatres aren’t massive like the Civic. Sessions sell out fast.
  • The theatres: Greater Union is kinda dingy, and needs a facelift, but has that stuck-in-time dampness that is not without charm; Forum is closest to the Civic in its oldey look and feel, but watch out for vertigo when you climb those very steep steps to get to your seat; ACMI looks the cleanest and newest and the seating is spacious (it's also worth looking around the building).
  • There are ads before the films (including MIFF’s own art-film spoofs), so it gets a bit annoying seeing the same ones if you’re seeing a lot of films.
  • Audiences here love to CLAP and WALK OUT.

Forum theatre, Flinders St.
Here’s what i caught (my picks reflect a conscious decision to avoid seeing films that were playing at NZFF, just so, y’know to make it all the more special):

DAY ONE (04.08.11)

Maybe it was post-journey exhaustion setting in or whatever but the first day didn’t get off to a shining start with a double feature of Stephane Lafleur’s Familiar Ground and Alexandr Mindadze’s Innocent Saturday, the latter being the film that I was most hyped about. I picked Familiar Ground (which translates to Familiar Grounds on-screen) on the basis of its time travel element, and Lafleur’s supposedly droll take on it, but it turns out that it plays such a small part that it almost barely warrants a mention. This is NOT a time travel or sci-fi film. It’s a fairly standard deadpan, deeply mundane family-dysfunction indie that’s nice to look at and occasionally dryly amusing, but overall kinda ho-hum.

Innocent Saturday jumped out at me for two reasons: (1) it’s shot by Oleg Mutu who shot the stunning 4 Months, 3 Months & 2 Days, and (2) its Chernobyl setting. In the film Chernobyl’s just happened, and we follow a Communist party member who’s learned of the explosion, but instead of quickly getting the hell out of town (he does try), he ends up getting drunk at a wedding party and playing drums for the wedding band while his girlfriend sings. This film had more walkouts than any other film I’ve seen this year, maybe ever. People were dropping like flies. It was almost exhilarating to experience. Blame it on Mutu’s non-stop vom-inducing hand-held cinematography, and the lack of anything that actually happened. It felt like the entire thing was one long, unforgettably boozy wedding night. Although undeniably electrifying in spots (the ominous opening, the centrepiece band performance), the film will definitely wear you down. I think I was expecting something more predictably apocalyptic, but I admire it for taking a less obvious approach.

DAY TWO (05.08.11)

Started the day early with The Ugly Duckling, a delightful, faithful Russian adaptation of Hans Christensen Andersen’s classic fairytale. 69-year-old stop-motion animator Garri Bardin spent six years making this - his feature debut - and it’s easy to tell from the wondrous results that it’s a project that’s been nurtured with a lot of heart and care. A beautifully executed, absolutely worthy version of an oft-told story. The theatre was half-filled with school kids, who were pretty well-behaved and seem to be engaged.

Second film was a late-nighter, an 11:30pm screening of Lucky McKee’s The Woman (played NZFF but I missed it). It’s a horror flick that’s caused quite a ruckus around festivals (see this now infamous youtube video of a visibly perturbed audience member), but for the jaded, it’s not as extreme as some of the buzz have suggested. There’s some warped stuff in the there, but McKee’s essentially going over-the-top in satirical fashion - it’s not something that gets under your skin and stays there for days. The tone is all over the place, but it’s never boring, and the cast give thoroughly committed performances. Still not as good as May though. McKee and Pollyana McIntosh (The Woman) were in attendance for a Q&A (questions were a mix of the usual ‘what was your inspiration’ cringe and filmmaker ass-kissing, including a guy who shamelessly hogged the mic for what seemed like forever).

DAY THREE (06.08.11)

Most satisfying, wildly different double feature of the MIFF so far. Essential Killing is a top-notch survival thriller from Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski, whose 1970 coming-of-age flick Deep End is an all-time favourite of mine. In a wordless performance of pure, animal physicality, the substantially bearded Vincent Gallo very much looks the part of a Taliban fighter on the run from US soldiers. Starts off a bit bumpy - some of the peripheral characters feel a bit too broad - but when it settles down to Gallo solo, alone in the wild, on the move, eating bugs and hallucinating and stuff, it’s a strange, gritty little trip that doesn’t outstay its welcome.

The Hollywood Complex might be the most entertaining film I’ve seen all festival season long. Funny, heartbreaking, and more than a little disturbing, this doco looks at a group of child actors who make their way to Hollywood during “pilot season” in the hopes of becoming the next Miley or Dakoa Fanning. It’s both a cautionary tale about breaking your kids too early into the limelight and sacrificing their adolescence for career pursuits, and a testament to their radiant, uninhibited spirit.

DAY FOUR (07.08.11)

Festival time ended with a late morning “surprise screening” of Mike Cahill’s super-low-budget no-fi effort Another Earth, which I’m thankful for since it sold out earlier on and only played Wellington in NZ. It’s a familiar study of grief and redemption that’s freshened by its surreal central concept: the discovery of a twin Earth (doubling as a metaphor for second chances etc). Brit Marling gives a star-making performance as a cleaner beating herself up over killing two-thirds of a family in a car accident - and that’s creepy Ethan from LOST as the sole crash survivor whose life is in tatters. Not exactly polished work, but the film does offer a few striking images, and I dug its bluesy, sombre, ethereal feel. Cahill knows how to effectively make the most of his budgetary limitations. Would make a cool double feature with Lars von Trier’s Melancholia.

Next up... a trip to the Astor Theatre.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

West Memphis 3 Free!

Incredible news today that the West Memphis Three have been freed! If you've never heard of them, their story has been a truly heartbreaking one, brilliantly captured in two documentaries by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, Paradise Lost (1996) and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000) - both which sadly, have yet to be released on DVD in our part of the world. It has also come to light that Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh had a hand in helping them, contributing everything from paying legal costs and hiring private eyes to look deeper into the case. A third doco is also on the way - with an ending that no doubt will need to be changed - here's a brief clip from it:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Silencio, old man!

Admittedly all these fan "super-cuts" popping up these days can get rather tiresome/repetitive after a while, but they're usually worth a laugh or two, and this compilation boasts an impressive 172 films (under 4 minutes!) of characters saying SILENCE! Extra bonus points for including legendary crapfest Manos: Hands of Fate in there.

Thanks, Ebert.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Before They Were Stars: A Mega-Mix

25 fresh-faced pre-celebs in some rather embarrassing, perhaps best-forgotten roles you might have missed...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Directors Be Hatin'

Flavorwire's put together a pretty funny list of the Top 30 Harshest Filmmaker-on-Filmmaker Insults in History. Hard to pick my favourite, they're all gold, but I do love the succession of FOUR nasty Vincent Gallo insults, plus the Godard-hating by Welles, Bergman and Herzog ("Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung-fu film" is an all-timer).

PS: Apologies for the lack of posts recently, I've been on leave the last two weeks...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

NZFF '11: Wrap-up

The Auckland Film Fest has wrapped, and as usual, the saddest realisation for me is thinking "damn, that'll be the last time I'll be at the Civic for another year". But I'm pleased my last session there ended mind-blowingly well with Lars von Trier's Melancholia. It was one of those weird synergies where time (the festival's end), location (Civic's starry dome) and content (the film's apocalyptic themes) worked towards creating an utterly memorable cinema-going experience that probably can't be replicated. The film itself is a beautiful work by von Trier, maybe his most polished and 'friendly' in a while, but still unmistakably his (what would a LVT film be without a few walkouts?).

Other last films seen: Julia Leigh's much-ballyhooed Sleeping Beauty, a pretentious, sophomoric bore of a film - not aesthetically uninteresting, and Emily Browning is good, but just felt like an empty (s)exercise in arthouse provocation; Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, a Turkish police procedural which took its sweeeet time in getting anywhere (it lingers better in memory); Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog's doco of the Chauvet Caves where some 32,000-year-old (!) cave paintings are housed (not top Herz, but fascinating all the same; the 3D wasn't all that).

Best film? That award goes to Wild River, Elia Kazan's glorious 1960 Depression-era romance about the Tennesee Valley Authority's attempts to relocate rural folk to build dams around the flood-stricken region. Wonderful performances by Montgomery Clift, Lee Remick and Jo Van Fleet, a poignant, sensitively told story, and the Technicolor print looked ravishing and otherworldly. The sort of movie that reminds you why 35mm FILM still = BOSS.