Saturday, September 03, 2011

How my Film Festival turned out (I liked 6.5 out of my 7 films)

Cave of Forgotten Dreams:

What I said before the film: I've always wanted to see the paintings in Chauvet-Pont-D'Arc, and a 3D tour guided by Werner Herzog seems like my best bet to achieve this dream.

My take: A thought-provoking, poetic, slightly challenging guide through the cave paintings of early cro-magnons. The experience was so vivid that a few times I totally drifted off and imagined what it would have been like to have lived 35,000 years ago. I'll definitely see this again.

Recommended to: John-Paul

13 Assassins:

What I said before the film: Takeshi Miike does a samurai film that's better than his best film? That's some hype I need to check out for myself.

My take: This film has a great set-up that examines how duty and honour collide with morality, when you serve a really loathsome villain who happens to be related to the Emperor. I was a fan of how most of the movie unfolded, but I felt the start of the epic final battle was far too comic-book (in the sense of being detached from a sense of reality). However, that soon faded and that final action sequence was a really brutal and satisfying series of slugfests and murders.

Recommended to: Pearce (who has surely already seen it), Chuck, Dean, Keane, Wayne.

Taxi Driver

What I said before the film: I really disliked this the first time I saw it, but I suspect I completely missed the point. Seeing a restored print in 35mm seems like the best way to determine what I think of it.

My take: A great portrayal of a place and time (1970s New York), and of the mind and POV of a mentally unstable man.

In fact, it made me think about how effective the script-writer and the editor can be in a highly-POV based movie: selecting what to show the viewer and what emphasis to place on it. Nearly every scene contained an element of sex, race, or violence that reinforced Travis' world-view.

As for that ending: Scorsese is on the record as saying it's literal, that Travis survives and is hailed as a hero (but that he'll probably do it again, and next time he won't be so lucky). I don't think the film supports that, though: when I look at the trouble Travis caused the presidential campaign on three separate occasions, I can't believe that Cybill Sheppard would treat him the way she does at the end - and if I can't believe that, then it undermines the reality of the ending for me.

Recommended to: ... a hard call. Perhaps Jennifer, given that it's a landmark 70s movie.

Another Earth

What I said before the film: Seeing the trailer after Sundance sold me on the tone it looks like this film's going for: introspective, melancholic science-fiction.

(This trailer contains spoilers, but they're so good that I think it's worth watching.)

My take: Far more of an indie movie than a science-fiction film. It's maybe 95% indie to 5% science fiction. In its indie A-plot, Another Earth focuses on two wounded people - one of them trying to find a reason to live; the other trying to atone. However, its B-plot (of a second identical Earth suddenly appearing in the night sky) contains four spectacular scenes.

All the way through watching this, I thought the film had another gear that it was going to shift into, a gear involving spaceships and Michael Bay-esque slo-mo training montages. Instead the film goes in a radically different direction - one that I enjoyed just as much because it was so true to the characters.

The film's premise makes a promise to the viewer, and Another Earth totally delivers on that promise. It delivers on it in such an understated way that I was still having realisations about its implications a day later. The ending strongly implies that Brit Marling (who's fantastic as both a script-writer and an actor, and I hope we see a lot more of her) has really been (and will continue to be) a hero, and that her choices involving William Mapother's character were right for a lot of reasons.

Recommended to: Chris

Martha Marcy May Marlene

What I said before the film: my must-see of the festival due to the subject matter: a young woman trying to leave a cult.

My take: Aaaahhhh. High expectations - you almost always screw with me.  Yes, this is a fantastic film, at least for the first hour. It's subtle, it feels psychologically accurate, and John Hawkes (as the cult leader) and Elizabeth Olsen (as the newest member of the cult) give great performances where you completely understand everything they're doing without needing to spell it out with dialogue.

The script also uses an flashback structure that immediately gets us into interesting situations in both the present day and the past. Another benefit of the structure is that it allows Olsen's character to make some really inexplicable, potentially audience-alienating decisions which then get explained and well-motivated later on when we see the same situations repeated with other characters.

The film has a major flaw, though, that meant I increasingly couldn't buy into it. The major relationship in the present-day story is between Olsen and her big sister (Sarah Paulson). There's a lot of good material in there: a sense of history and emotional baggage between the two of them, which is only aggravated by Olsen's refusal to explain what happened to her. But the problem is that the structure of most of their scenes together is identical - Big Sister tries to find out what happened, Little Sister blocks her, Big Sister gets increasingly frustrated.

I found myself rewriting that aspect of the film as I watched it (never a good sign). In my rewrite, the older sister is more proactive in trying to find out what had happened; she tries different techniques and approaches to opening her sister up. She wouldn't necessarily need to succeed, and I'd keep all of the other pressures in the older sister's life that are stressing her out, ... but making the older sister smarter and more focused makes her an antagonist for Olsen (and makes her silence even more meaningful).

Recommended to: Luke, Debbie, Matt, Svend, Morgue, Mike, Sophie and Simon (if you want to re-capture some of that Phoenix or Apocalypse World vibe.)

Troll Hunter

What I said before the film: Actually, I'm a little suspicious of this one. I fear that a mocumentary about troll disposal experts in Scandanavia might actually be a little too silly to be good, but I'm prepared to take a chance on it.

My take: So much fun. The film makes the masterful decision to play things pretty conventionally for a long long time, making it a character study/surveillance of a weirdo recluse ... and then, when things start to get into potentially silly territory, the film leavens it at every stage with touches of horror, suspense, and pathos. And some pretty cool action sequences.

Recommended to: Gino

Overall: I give the 2011 New Zealand International Film Festival a 6.5 out of 7.


Simon said...

I loved the shit out of Troll Hunter. So good. I think it was the way it took its premise totally seriously, and let the jokes kind of slip in around the edges.

Martha Marcy etc. looks interesting. Reviving interest in your culty game?

Unknown said...

I think you've nailed why Troll Hunter worked.

And yeah, I'm gunna take a look at the Cult game again. MMMM was interesting in the way it showed you how a cult functioned without spelling it out directly. There was a point where I was asking myself why any of the young guys would stay ('cos there didn't seem to be anything in it for them), and then the film kicked up to another gear and suddenly it became incredibly obvious why they'd stay.