Monday, 30 July 2012

Latest reviews from the New Zealand International Film Festival

Latest reviews from the New Zealand International Film Festival

We're into week 2 of the festival now - and here's a wrap up of what we got up to at the weekend.

The Shining 
Kubrick's snowbound psychological horror gets a big screen revamp for the film festival and the remastered version certainly looks impressive. You all know the story by now; caretaker brings his family to the Overlook Hotel to look after the hotel during the winter break - and then proceeds to try and murder them with an axe after going a bit mad (or being possessed by the spirits of the Indian burial ground that the hotel's built on). Jack Nicholson's as impressive as ever; starting out relatively grounded and then going totally ballistic at his wife Wendy (a goggle eyed and constantly hysterical Shelly DuVall) and moppet haired son, Danny. The thing is with the Shining is that even if you know the film backwards, it still manages to entertain and keep you enthralled as it spools out; it's also worth checking out Room 237 which is playing at the festival too and expands some of the hidden meanings in Kubrick's classic

Amour
Haneke's Palme D'Or winning film is a heartbreaking delve into a relationship and bond strengthened by years and devastated by illness.Geroges and Anne are in their 80s and living a life of retirement. But when Anne's struck by an illness which is debilitating, their lives are irrevocably changed as Georges is reduced to carer.You can't help but be moved by this tale which is poignantly and sensitively told with two compelling central performances.Subtly layered and shot beautifully, it really gets under your skin as it plays out.It's a haunting film, which leaves you wondering what you'd do if it happened to you-and the final act's shocking denouement elicited many a gasp from the audience.Haneke's on good form in this painful to watch film(which is only painful because it powerfully pushes emotional buttons)- Amour (aka Love) is about devotion and a bond - and it's a tragic and empathetic piece which will affect you more than you may realise.


From Up on Poppy Hill
The annual Studio Ghibli outing at the NZFF this times focuses on Japan in the 1960s with a group of Yokohama teens look to save their school's clubhouse from the wrecking ball in preparations for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. It also focuses on the attraction of Umi and Shun, a pair whose lives may be entwined in ways they could never imagine.As ever, FUOPH is gorgeously animated and recreates the era very well, but unfortunately this latest SG outing's story doesn't quite have the resonance of prior cinematic fare-the story's nicely told, quickly resolved and lacks some of the emotional core of others.Sure, there's heart aplenty and humour,but this latest is more of a nostalgic piece than a showcase of SG's best. Not a disaster by any stretch, and great to see whole families there but FUOPH doesn't have the longevity of the studio's previous output and while gorgeously presented and with a beautiful OST ,it's a little lacking, which is a crying shame.

Toons for Tots (Guest reviewer Jacob Powell)

My pick? French short Alimation created sequences out of cake decorations by filming spinning cakes! But enough from me, I interviewed guest reviewer Emily (aged 3.11) whom I accompanied to the screening:

JP-Jake: Did you enjoy Toons For Tots?
Emily: Yes! It was fun the movies.
JP: Tell us about it.
E: The Gruffalo saw a little mouse but it looked like a Big Bad Mouse. I liked the man dressing like a tiger.
JP : Which was your favourite?
E: Trying to find the lion one. [aka Rumours] Because the lion was laughing and they were all laughing.
JP : Which was your least favourite?
E: Orange being a pineapple [aka Orange O Despair] because I like oranges and don't want it to be a pineapple.
JP : What was the funniest part?
E: Little mouse was roaring.
JP : The scariest part?
E: The old pineapple was trying to be a banana.
JP : Would you like to see more movies like these?
E: Oh, yes, yes, yeeesss! We can watch the same one again. Can we go tomorrow?

Emily's verdict: Toons For Tots = #win!

Sound of My voice (Guest reviewer Jacob Powell)
Less sci-fi than lo-fi, Sound of My Voice has lodged firmly in my brain. The debut feature from director Zal Batmanglij (brother of Vampire Weekend guitarist/songwriter Rostam Batmanglij, who incidentally scored the film) tracks the divergent responses of a sceptical couple who infiltrate a cult with the intention of secretly filming an exposé documentary. Cult leader 'Maggie' is played by magnetic co-writer Brit Marling who is firmly stamping her mark on the current indie cinema scene. As well as sharing subject matter with Sean Durkin's excellent Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) the filmmakers cleverly opt to leave key issues ambiguous, letting the viewer's imagination take whichever path fancy or logic dictates. Despite a few glaring missteps (e.g. a slightly weak premise + some terribly written, exposition heavy scenes) Sound of My Voice proves a succinct, smartly directed film with a compelling central performance from Marling and enough dramatic exploration to make it a must see

Into The Abyss (Guest reviewer Jacob Powell)

Mad master of documentary turns his camera on the death row experience. Unlike the West Memphis 3 documentaries - Paradise Lost trilogy + West of Memphis (also playing NZFF 2012) - Werner Herzog's Into The Abyss does not seek to advocate for or against a particular case. Rather the filmmaker attempts to explore the impacts of a death row sentence on all related parties: convicts, convicts' friends & family, victims' family, staff of the 'death house' facility etc. Intrinsically fascinating Abyss holds an audience without trouble but is a lesser Herzog work in terms of technical merit. The production has a made for TV feel, unsurprising perhaps as Herzog also filmed the Death Row Portarits series as TV length companion pieces. Herzog's trademark bluntness and humour both break through but inbetween times it feels as though he's working a little too hard to elicit emotional responses from the interviewees. Herzog's middle may exceed others' bests, nevertheless we've come to expect more.

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