Thursday, June 27, 2013

NZIFF: Picks of the Fest

Tickets for the New Zealand International Film Festival go on sale tomorrow in Auckland, and if you've just been too busy to even look at the programme, here are a few films which I'm looking forward to...

Some years ago the NZFF screened a great doco on avant-jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler which I’ve been trying to see again without much luck. Ayler was one of two musicians John Coltrane said he would like to see play at his funeral. The other was Ornette Coleman. I’m hoping this once-hard-to-see 1985 doco by underground filmmaker Shirley Clarke will offer a similarly fascinating and impressionistic mix of context and perspective on this true genius of seriously out-there sounds. Clarke’s unconventional approach to the format -- supposedly as free as experimental as Coleman’s playing -- should appeal to anyone bored with routine hagiographic portraits.

Normally I’d wouldn’t make anything 3D a priority, but when you put Alfred Hitchcock into the equation, well, everything changes. I mean how often do you get to see Hitchcock in 3D on the big screen? Word is that Warner did a bang-up job restoring this smart, witty ‘54 suspenser starring Ray Milland and Grace Kelly, and the screening at Toronto International Film Festival last year sold out in TEN MINUTES. Reviews of the 3D have been encouraging, stating that Hitch wasn’t just about the gimmick, only employing it sparingly to enhance depth and emotion. Also: retro programming is easily my favourite part of the festival.

The New York Times on Leviathan: “a product of the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard, offers not information but immersion: 90 minutes of wind, water, grinding machinery and piscine agony.” You had me SENSORY ETHNOGRAPHY LAB. The rest is gravy. Critics worldwide have been bowled over by the visceral sensory wallop of Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel’s “doco” “about” the commercial fishing industry, which was filmed entirely on tiny cameras more commonly used to shoot extreme sports. From the startling images I’ve seen, Leviathan could be the darkest, most beautiful and terrifying experience of this year’s fest.

Andrew Bujalski hasn’t put a foot wrong yet. I still think his debut, 2002’s Funny Ha Ha is one of the best indies of the last decade, even if it spawned a movement with a much-maligned name (“mumblecore”) which he’s ever since been eager to sever ties with. It’s always heartening to see a filmmaker grow with each film, and with Computer Chess, Bujalski seems to be transitioning into a new promising phase of I’m not exactly quite sure what yet. Already a festival favourite stateside, its singular, retro-nerd-core video-vision of chess software programmers in the ‘80s sounds endearing and speaks to the geek inside me -- who also likes the fact that it was shot in the rarely used and unfashionably boxy Academy ratio.

Some others I've penciled in: Ilo Ilo, Camille Claudel 1915, Post Tenebras Lux, Blue Ruin, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, The Dance of Reality, Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, The Strange Little Cat... there'll be more to come no doubt!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Trailer: Jobs

When Joshua Michael Stern’s biopic of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs premiered at Sundance earlier this year it received middling reviews. The Hollywood Reporter said it played "like a two-hour commercial covering the first 20 tumultuous years of Apple’s development"; The Guardian called it "overly reverential and saccharine". Many praised Ashton Kutcher's performance as Jobs though, and as you can see from the trailer, the actor -- who's mostly done ephemeral rom-com/dumb-com roles thus far -- is acting with a capital A. Let's scrutinise the evidence, lest one isn't convinced of his dramatic abilities:
The Self-Questioning Mirror Stare
The Rage Drive
The Scream to the Skies ("Give me an OSCARRR")
The Triumphant Arms Outstretched (in a Field)
Bad Wig Alert: Dermot Mulroney and J.K. Simmons.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Trailer: The LEGO Movie

Okay I'm so DONE. The LEGO Movie trailer is here. The Hollywood machine that's obsessed with turning every established toy/board game into a movie will delight us next year with this feature-length version of the popular brand, which believe or not was first manufactured way back in 1949 (thanks Wikipedia). However before we prematurely declare "RIP Hollywood", the dudes tasked with directing this project offer a little hope that it'll be a wee bit more than a blatant toy commercial: Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who did Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street, two movies which definitely did not suck and were surprisingly good and funny.
For those who need to jump on the LEGO bandwagon now, we do have a selection of DVDs that might answer the niggling question of how you can actually transform interlocking plastic bricks into something narratively watchable.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Quick Thoughts: World War Z, Only God Forgives, Monsters University

I surprised myself last week by dragging my lazy ass to a staggering THREE preview screenings last week, none of which I had to review... But thought I'd share a few quick words here if anyone cares to read.

World War Z - It's not as bad as the negative pre-release press (ballooning budget, last minute rewrites) would have you believe, but meh, it's nowhere near as good as you want it to be either. I haven't read Max Brooks' zombie apocalypse novel which it's based on, but word is that Marc Forster's adaptation removes everything remotely interesting in favour of making a dumb, blockbuster action-centric thriller.
The decision to keep carnage off the screen where possible to get a PG-13 rating is crippling and laughable: there's a scene where a character whose hand has just been chopped off is bandaged up with not a drop of blood in sight. You really expect us -- adults -- to buy this? There are a few suspenseful moments, and I was moderately entertained in the moment, but as the film limped to its disappointingly scaled-down climax, I started to care less and less until walking out of the film feeling unsatisfied. World War Z opens on Thursday, and if you hate 3D, I recommend that you do not see it in its worthless 3D state.

Only God Forgives - I was surprised at how quick this got a screening here.. within a couple weeks of its booing at Cannes! It's not getting boos from me though, but nearly a week since seeing it I'm still yet to be able to formulate a coherent thought about it. Any Ryan Gosling fans casually heading along to see their favourite hunky Drive star act tough and cool will probably be in for a deeply unpleasant time at the movies: Nicolas Winding Refn's ultra-stylized neon-splashed noir, set in the sordid underbelly of Thailand, unfolds with the blood-curdling, unsettling tenor of a horror movie rather than your traditional crime drama.
Gosling's performance, all smoldering glances, is even more pared-down than in Drive; how many pages of dialogue did he have to remember, like two? Maybe less. If you don't mind pure style, visuals and atmosphere over plot and everything else, Refn's film might seduce you. Dig that Alejandro Jodorowsky dedication in the credits. Only God Forgives opens August 1st.

Monsters University - I for one would prefer if Pixar stuck to new stories instead of cashing on their existing franchises, but when it's as expertly conceived as this Monsters Inc. prequel, it's hard to complain. University definitely has a Pixar-by-numbers feel, as opposed to say, Toy Story 3 - but it's also another a smart, funny and visually dazzling demonstration of what they do best. Monsters University is out in theatres July 11.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Trailer: Snowpiercer

Elysium may be the most buzzed-about sci-fi blockbuster in the next quarter, but I'm equally excited for Snowpiercer, a post-apocalyptic train-set thriller starring Captain America's Chris Evans, John Hurt and Tilda Swinton. I'm especially hyped because it's directed by the talented Bong Joon-ho, who joins his fellow South Korean mavericks Kim Ji-woon (The Last Stand) and Park Chan-wook (Stoker) in making their English language debuts in the past year. Bong boasts an impressively consistent and versatile filmography, having done a crime drama (Memories of Murder), a black comedy (Barking Dogs Never Bite), a monster movie (The Host) and a character study (Mother), so there's a good chance Snowpiercer will maintain that level of quality. Here's the international trailer... quality's not so great, but it still looks damn cool:

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Goblin to Play Suspiria LIVE at the NZIFF!

Holy. Shit. That's the only reaction any self-respecting horror fan can have to this mind-blowing announcement by the NZIFF last night. I for one did not see this coming. Let's put it this way: it's basically a night where we'll be treated to legendary musicians playing the legendary score to a legendary film! Have a listen to the Suspiria theme here and imagine it cranked up and played LIVE at the Civic Theatre: THE event of the year of any kind.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Trailer: The To Do List

Aubrey Plaza's modest 2012 sleeper hit Safety Not Guaranteed might not have given her much room to explore her comic range, but it looks like Maggie Carey's The To Do List will remedy all that. A  female twist on American Pie (Lazy Analogy™) and its raunchy ilk, this comedy stars Plaza as a virginal valedictorian who decides to tick off a list of sex acts to do before going to college. Also in the cast: McLovin and Agent Coulson! Check out the raunchy Red Band trailer below, and feast on the hilarious terribleness of early '90s fashion. No local release date for this yet.