Tuesday, 28 July 2009

NZFF Reviews - 2009 Archive

NZFF Reviews - 2009 Archive


Morphia is a dramatic slice of life in an isolated town. Set in a brutal Russian winter, an inexperienced doctor in the turn of the century is called in to help the pregnant and heal the sick. A gory but yet realistic life during 1917 sees the doctor question his own life as he is accidently introduced to morphine. This addiction spirals out of control as he begins to seek ways to continue his habit while jeopardising the safety of the community who has he been charged to look after. This addictive love story with the back drop of a winter that continues on forever makes this film dark but fascinating - especially if you love Russian history and culture and of course vodka! Dark and moody, gripping and fascinating, Morphia is a great entry into Russian cinema.

Valentino - The Last Emperor

An insightful doco film about the live and loves of Valentino, Valentino: The Last Emperor begins with an opening statement that “Valentino loves beauty and it’s not his fault”.
This man was born to design clothes for beautiful women, as he has a vision; when he touches a piece of fabric to sketching the design to his merry team of dress makers then creates the dream.
This private man opens up his business and his personal life to the film before taking to journey of retirement(which was forced upon him rather than him choosing it), making you gasp at the designs and the flamboyant life he leads in the often cut throat and fascinating world of being one of the world’s leading designers.
The perfect film to finish off a wonderful film festival in Auckland. Here's to 2010!

My Year Without Sex

An Aussie comedy drama about a family whose lives are forever changed when the mother has an aneurysm and nearly dies, My Year Without Sex follows them as they deal with the fallout over a 12 month period. It's a film about faith in many ways - be it faith in the church as the mother tries to find some kind of spiritual bent after the brush with death, faith in those around you who support you through troubled times and faith in the future.The film's divided up into monthly set pieces with each one titled something to do with sex - ie missionary - and this framing doesn't work as well as it could do (appreciate it's supposed to be about how everything's become sexual)as it has little to do with what's going on onscreen. It's not a bad film overall - some unexpected laughs here and there - it's a gentle piece which has a sly humour and warmth and may find you leaving with questions about what your own life has amounted to.

OSS 117 - Lost In Rio

Sure the spy spoof genre's been done to death but OSS117, the latest entry-sacre bleu, a Frenchie- is pretty damn good.Actor Jean Dujardin is Hubert de la Bath, a post war spy, who's part racist, part sexist and all funny - he even resembles a French version of Sean Connery- it's 1967 and despatched to Brazil to retrieve a microfilm, de la Bath ends up in a series of (mis)adventures which appear to channel Clouseau at times and which show he's a relic of a world gone by. However, whereas this could lapse so far into parody, it consciously stays away from that and lets the sheer nincompoopery of its agent showcase the comedy.It's a bucketload of fun, complete with Brazilian bikini babes, a blistering Bossanova soundtrack, devilish Chinamen (as he calls them)Saul Bass style film-making and a stellar performance from dujardin. I hope pretty soon we get to spend more time with Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath - because the whole film is a joyous spoofy romp -and far superior to Austin Powers.

Samson and Delilah

This film about two outcast Aboriginal children who flee their reservation and hardly speak throughout has had all of Australia talking.And judging by the packed Civic Theatre in Akl it's likely to be the same here in NZ.What a film-Warwick Thornton's pulled together various threads from his life in Alice Springs and what he saw around him,you almost wonder how anyone could live in a place such as this.Both the leads are mesmerising in a heartbreaking sort of way as you watch the way their non-verbal tender relationship grows as well as feeling sick to your stomach at the times when the real shocks hit.Watching the duo(who are first time actors)suffer is at times bleak and painful to watch but you are glued to the screen and left fully aware that for some, this is the daily reality of their life.There's light at the end of the film but even without that ray of hope glistening, the entire film is still compelling - and sickening - in equal measures

Mary and Max

An Australian 8-year old girl, Mary, socially outcast and awkward, decides one day to start a pen friendship with a random name she pulls out of the phone book. That person is Max, a 40something clinically obese and diagnosed with asperger's syndrome, NY resident. Mary and Max is a beautifully dour piece of claymation animation, tinged with a sadness and dark(at times bleak) humour narrated by Barry Humphries and voiced by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toni Collette - it's hard to pin down exactly what it's appeal is-whether it's the aussie nostalgia which colours everything brown in the animation and grey in NY - or because there's humour in unexpected places - laugh out loud funny in some. Granted the animation's not exactly smashing the mould for originality-in fact the characters look like the Cadbury ads which used to be on before Coro - but it's just a sweet and oddly engaging film - and a real celebration of the simple joy of unadultered friendship.


A Greek film, Dogtooth is about a severely (and I mean severely) dysfunctional family who have no contact with the outside world.A mum, a dad and 2 girls, 1 boy live in their house- the kids are permanently grounded and controlled by their father - he feeds them misinformation on what things are - it's his attempt to eliminate any views of the outside world. Quite why is anyone's guess-there's never really any explanation of motivation.Dogtooth is one of the more shocking films to hit this year's festival(maybe not as much as AntiChrist) and to be honest, it's a wild ride from the blackly humorous to the ferociously sickening in parts-while it's a semi plausible take on Daddy Knows Best, the lack of context as to why may leave many cold -and certainly some of the violence will sicken some.I found this perhaps the hardest film of the festival to watch-and yet at times I found it extremely funny.But the over-riding view is that it's a challenge to watch- and some may not be upto it.


Ah the American coming of age film - it is in its own rights becoming a rites of passage for movie makers. Adventureland from Greg Mottola is set in the 1980s and followis Jesse Eisenberg's James who's about to go to college in NYC when he learns his dad's job's changed and they can no longer afford for him to go.So to make ends meet, he heads to the local craptacular fairground Adventureland to score some work - there he has the summer job we can all recognise from our teen years - coupled with aching lust for fellow carny worker Emily (Kristen Stewart - from Twilight). Adventureland is great fun -wrapped full of humourous well timed lines and pitch perfect performances (including Bill Hader as the carny boss complete with horrendous tache). It's a nod back to the 80s and despite the somewhat tired out genre, Adventureland is a welcome entry - it's fresh, amusing and strangely recognisable. A soon to be cult classic.

Coco Before Chanel

Coco Before Chanel is a biopic of the famous designer.
It begins with Gabrielle before she was nicked named Coco (after a song) being delivered at the orphanage by her father – it’s an issue which plagued Coco all of her grown up life, that of abandonment and no position in society.
Father, lover, husband - all of these roles were never stable in Coco’s life but played an important part in her growth as a designer and the drive to become her own master.
French actress Audrey Tautou was the perfect choice for this role; the way she moved in the shapeless gowns that made Chanel famous and facial expressions - incroyable!
You could see how the designs developed with her understanding of women’s bodies and how the garments were restricting - all of these were fascinating insights into the master.
This likable film was slow in parts but in other areas flowed like the fabrics used by Chanel herself. A must see to any follower of fashion and culture.

Looking for Eric

The king of gritty drama makes a comedy/ fantasy of sorts? Ken Loach brings the philosophical genius(cough) of Eric Cantona to a postman whose live has gone down the gurgler since his family fell apart- this Man U postie finds solace in weed and chats with Cantona as he tries to get his life back on track.And for the most part, it works - but then Loach, formerly the king of miserable realises he may have lightened up too much and halfway through a big slab of unhappiness is thrown into the mix-which endangers the film by making it feel like two flicks tacked together - even Cantona(imaginary or otherwise)disappears when the reality hits. However, a crowd pleasing comedy finale sees the sunshine overthrow the grime and suddenly like a flash of footballing genius, the film's won over in the dying minutes. It's an odd mix but strangely rewarding.

Dead Snow

This film's very easy to sum up - Dead Nazi zombies attack a group of holidaying students high in a cabin in the Norwegian snowy mountains. But what that doesn't tell you is this is a horror splatterfest which is quite humorous in plenty of places - it also covers every single horror cliche in the genre; the gang are a randy bunch - and movie nerds- and the ones who have sex are the first to be picked off(didn't they see Scream?); there's a crazy man wandering the land warning of danger in them thar hills - yes every single cliche is present and correct but in a throwback way and an acknowledgement of what's gone before in the genre.The Nazi zombies themselves are a strange bunch with their motives only really present at the end - but films like this don't lend themselves to sustained analysis.Tremendous fun, gore-tastic and black humour abound - and even odes to Evil Dead..can't fault it- check yr brain at the door(well the zombies would only want to eat it)

Winnebago Man

What do you do when you become a youtube phenomenon? And more importantly who were the phenomenona before youtube? This doco takes a look at Jack Rebney, who gained notoriety after a series of outtakes (taken during the filming of a winnebago commercial) gained a cult following on the underground video sceene - quoted in hollywood, and seen by millions, Rebney was an icon. However, as this doco sets out to find out-what happened to the man whose lowest moments were made so public?Austin based filmmaker Ben Steinbauer tracked him down and found out - the results are surprising and oddly touching - watch the star in its ascent and see what happens next (you can't really say without spoiling it)- an astonishing portrait of an innocent man whose life was changed by factors out of his control. Screening in Auckland has the filmmakers present for Q

The Strength of Water

Sensationally simple and heartbreakingly direct, Strength of Water is perhaps one of the best films I've seen at this year's Festival.Set in the Hokianga, it's the story of two 10-year-old twins Kimi and Melody whose lives are irrevocably changed by the arrival of drifter Tai to their small community.A terrible accident follows and the community is ripped asunder by the shocking turn of events. It's hard to say too much about this without spoiling it-but what I can say is although the cast are relative newcomers and first timers, Strength of Water is a stunning debut for those involved-Hato Paporoa's performance as Kimi is the stand out of the film- just the right amount of sadness, cheek and loneliness for the character and his life.Director Armagan Ballantyne's captured perfectly the beauty and desolation of the coastal villages- the whole film is unflailingly subtle and beautifully shot- a story of bonds, community and heart, Strength of Water achingly raw and is not to be missed.


Michelle Pfeiffer as a courtesan in Stephen Frears's adaptation of Collette's Cheri...it's an odd choice but in this tale of the old tart gets a heart and falls in love, it only just works. Pfeiffer is Lea, who believes it's time to settle down from the nightlife, and who inadvertently falls for Cheri(Rupert Friend) son of fellow former courtesan Madame Peloux (Kathy Bates)-trouble is after six years together, Cheri is torn asunder and to be married off.Cue Lea's mourning and heartbreak...can the pair get back together?Cheri is on odd film, it's very faithful to its literary form and there's a lot of banter and concentration needed for the subtleties of the language - but despite Frears' direction and the sumptuous costuming magnificently evoking the era, this drama feels oddly lacking in substance and is quite shallow.Bates is catty throughout and never sympathetic but there's something oddly compelling in Pfeiffer's performance as she channels her last chance for love.

Flame and Citron

Based on actual events and eye-witness accounts of two of the most active resistance fighters in the Holger Danske resistance group during World War II,Flame and Citron is a tense thriller of betrayal, conscience and violence.One of the most expensive films to be made in Denmark, it's also one of the most compelling I've seen for a while as you try to guess who's betraying whom - the contrasting views of the duo are an interesting way to portray their eventual questioning of what exactly they're doing-Citron (the mavellous Mads Mikkelsen)is a reluctant killer and Flame (a mesmerising Thure Lindhardt) is all steely determination as they try to pick off the collaborators. About half way in, I realised I was hooked and gripped by the film's vice-like take on the reality some faced during the War.By turns, thrilling and callous, Flame and Citron is compulsive viewing.


I had pretty much never heard of LA nightclub Largo until seeing this film but sometimes being ignorant wields the best results - basically the club has a drop in policy for anyone who wants to appear on stage.This doco is black and white and features an array of acts on a dark stage - musical and comics - including those Conchords, Bic Runga, Greg Proops, Sarah Silverman, John C Reilly, E from the Eels, Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), Aimee Mann - to name but a few.The only problem is because of the lack of on screen captions, you don't always know who's on the stage-and if you're discovering something new which you love (as I did with the stunning Andrew Bird and his rendition of Nervous Tic Motion of The Head To The Left (youtube it) then it's hard to pick up.That said, I was transifxed and I guess it reflects the intimate and random nature of the club itself-Largo is really entertaining music film-and one of those rare music docos where you end up wanting to see more of the acts

An Education

A coming of age film as 16-year old Jenny(an outstanding turn by relative newcomer Carey Mulligan) who begins a questionable romance with a man twice her age as she yearns to shake free the shackles of a dull English life in the 1960s swinging London. It's about experience of life over reading it in books and burying your head in study. Written by Nick Hornby and based on Brit journo Lynn Barber's memoir An Education doesn't shine as much as it could - it's patently clear the man she starts seeing is a bit of a sleaze - but Jenny is so in awe at being part of the world she dreams of, she doesn't care. The recreation of 60s London is exhiliarating - and Carey Mulligan is superb as the teenager who's older than her years - she's been much lauded for this role and it's easy to see why as she lifts the slightly average TV movie out of the predictable mire.

The Chaser

A Korean thriller which steals liberally from Silence of the Lambs but is never derivative because of it. A former cop turned pimp is convinced his girls are being stolen and sold off by someone on the streets - but he suddenly realises that one of his ladies of the night is in real danger from a serial killer who abducts the women and deals to them in a very haphazard way. I was shocked as to how tense this was - there are moments when your expectations are completely confounded and the direction moves you to a completely different place. Also it's one of the few films I've seen where the fight scenes and chase sequences are random, haphazard and messy - this is a gripping film which is sadly being remade for hollywood - worth seeing the original now rather than reading about the debate over how America (potentially) ruined it.


Studio Ghibli animation is always a delight - and this latest offering from the stable of Miyazaki Hayao is no exception. A 5-year-old boy, Sosuke, adopts a goldfish (the titular Ponyo)when she emerges from the sea one day - however their friendship is torn apart as quickly as it's begun - and then Ponyo works a way out to become human and return to her friend - but her desire could signal the end of the world...Sweet and quite beautifully animated in many ways – Ponyo is simplistic and childish (not in a bad way) but accessible to all.In fact the children in the audience were entranced by the vivid animation and beautiful score as they sat spellbound - and the adults were equally as excited!Ponyo has a pure heart and joy about - even when a tsunami threatens to engulf a town, the visual of Ponyo, in her human form, skipping over the waves brings a smile to your face.A work of fantasy and one which shows there's plenty of life left in Studio Ghibli


Sam Rockwell is a genius - much underrated and oft ignored - If there's any justice Moon will change that. Rockwell plays the sole inhabitant of a mining moon station (well aside from Kevin Spacey's emoticon voiced robot GERTY) who's nearing the end of a 3 year stint and looking forward to going back home. Awash with alienation, depression and the loneliness, he's definitely looking forward to heading home - but one day he suffenly realises he's not alone on the station...Moon is wonderfully minimalist, full of whites and greys - yeah, there will be comparisons to 2001 - mainly due to Kevin spacey's monotoned robot (whose output is solely emoticons on its screen)but that's doing it a disservice - Rockwell puts in a powerhouse performance and carries the film all by himself - it's a stunning feat of filmmaking as Rockwell's character deals with issues of identity and humanity with gravitas and grace - don't miss this one at all costs!

The Six Dollar Fifty Man

Not strictly an entry on its own to the programme this year, this delightful little short film played before the film An Education and was quite the unexpected treat. Decked out in a red tracksuit and entranced in the world of Steve Austin (the Lee Majors one, not the wrestler), 8 year old Andy (played wonderfully by Oscar Vandy-Connor) is a Raumati Beach schoolkid who lives in his head more than in the playground - he amuses himself by performing astonishing feats of physical prowess (jumping off buildings)but when he gets into trouble, he's forced to face reality. Funny and touching in places, the $6.50 Man reminds me of my schooldays and how I didn't always fit in but how i got by - Oscar is great as the kid stuck between life in his head and real life- he's a real talent to watch and the short went down a treat before the main feature. More like this please!

Drag Me To Hell

Seriously all I should say about this is Sam Raimi returns to horror films - and that should be enough for you really. DMTH is a great return to the slightly wacky, very funny horror comedy a la Evil Dead- Alison Lohman is a bank loans manager who turns down an old woman one day and is cursed as a result (talk about yr bad karma)- trouble is, that curse will see her pursued by an invisible demon and ultimately have her soul taken from her. Very darkly funny in places and some real gross out moments, DMTH has a crazy spirit to it and is a lot of fun. It's played 100% straight and as a result, the gross out moments are even funnier for it - it's horror by numbers and will leave you slightly agog at the end. The soundtrack's great as well - very manipulative and over loud in places - I loved it!

Big River Man

This is the story of the most insane endurance swimmer I have ever seen - hard drinking, hard living Martin Strel, a Slovenian man in his fifties who takes on the Amazon. Despite advice to maybe tone down some of the excesses while on the swim, Strel decides he knows best and tackles the 3274 mile swim in his own indomitable style. This doco filmed by his son, follows him as he basically descends into some kind of madness - I actually didn't think a film like this would be as gripping as it is - but Strel Jr manages to capture the sprial down in an at times hallucinogenic way as both of them negotiate the Amazon.
I can't recommend this film enough - and I reckon it's one of the top picks of the entire festival - if you ever thought the kind of people who take up endurance sports are a bit nuts, this may make you reconsider your opinion. Gripping and surprising in many ways

Best Worst Movie

Who knew that one of the films deemed one of the worst ever made would make such a good subject for a doco?Best Worst Movie is a study of how Troll 2, deemed the worst film on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes became a cult phenomenon and how that affected the lives of those who starred in it - Michael Paul Stephenson, the child star of the film had been hiding from its "success" but suddenly decided to embrace it one day as he began to document how the cult phenomenon was taking over the world.George Hardy, the main lead in Troll 2, is the star of this film as he tries to negotiate his way back into showbiz after a lifetime in dentistry - while he's the happier end of the spectrum, the film also catches up with the other actors(who have varying degrees of success)and the insane Italian director who refuses to believe he made a bad film.Heart warming, amusing and unexpectedly funny BWM is a joy.See it soon and join the cult! Altogether now -"You can't p*** on hospitality - I won't let you!"

Red Cliff

The first minor disappointment of the festival for me - John Woo returns to Chinese soil with millions of dollars and makes a historical epic about Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi), the scheming Prime Minister to the Han dynasty Emperor, who leads a massive Northern army to quell the ‘rebel’ warlords of the South. Don't get me wrong, it looks sumptuous and gorgeous - and is probably a dream film for those who want to study how wars were conducted in years gone by. But it's ever so slightly hollow - I wasn't quite sure whether some of the close ups of the evil Prime Minister laughing sinisterly were ironic - it's a good story which appears to have been told with a set formula in mind and that hasn't helped. That said, the battle scenes are quite stunning in places (even if it does come with Woo's trademark slow mo shots)- Red Cliff is an interesting film which doesn't quite engage 100% but as a spectacle it looks fabulous.

The Cove

Sometimes a film knocks you sideways in ways you couldn't imagine - from National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos The Cove is a remarkably restrained doco about the lengths gone to for the capture of dolphins to populate the world's dolphinariums. Granted a film which says it is unashamedly activist is likely to make some think it'll be a stringing together of sensationalist emotional material aimed at turning you against the Japanese - but you'd be massively wrong to think that. It "stars" former Flipper trainer Ric O'Barry who is now trying to stop the capture of dolphins in Japan for entertainment purposes - his eloquence and measured behaviour is a real jolt to the senses when you realise he spent 10 years training flipper before realising what damage he'd done.No really disturbing footage in the film - just a dose of reality. This is the NZFF's first essential film - you cannot afford not to see this -Check out the film's site http://www.thecovemovie.com/ and see it now!

In the Loop

Well once again the powers that be have forbidden me from talking fully about this film - but essentially it's a spin off from the TV show The Thick Of It (which screened on TV ONE) and written by brilliant satirist Armando Iannucci. It's about British politics and the satire thereof taking in Washington politics as well. What's great about this though is Peter Capaldi's spin doctor Malcolm Tucker - what a genius performance and what a foul mouth his character's got. Full of questionably quotable phrases (the majority of which involve the F word) it's really worth taking this film in and then seeing it again to catch up with what you've missed because you (or the rest of the audience) were laughing so hard at.

The September Issue

Sadly I'm not allowed to give you a full review of this doco as it's due for release very soon in New Zealand (even we reviewers have a code we have to stick to at festival time!!)- but what I can tell you is that if you love Vogue, the fashion world and want to know more about the tour de force that is Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, you could do no better than seeing this.
It's an interesting film which takes you into this at times seemingly unaccessible world of photoshoots - be interested to hear what you think of it!

Bright Star

The NZ International Film Festival kicked off in Auckland last night with a packed Civic theatre waiting in anticipation to see the very latest film from Jane Campion - Bright Star, which premiered recently in Cannes. Starring Abbie Cornish as Fanny Brawne and Ben Whishaw (brilliant in TV ONE's Criminal Justice earlier this year) as John Keats, it's the tale of their love affair. Campion's crafted another piece of beautiful cinema which is a story of love, yearning and sensuality. Whishaw's very good as Keats - he conveys the despair Keats felt as an "unsuccessful" poet during his lifetime - and Cornish is commendable as Fanny who is suddenly struck by the wonders of love. There's a playfulness to their courtship to start off with - but that's swiftly replaced by the harsh reality of English society - it looks sumptuous and may strike a chord with many romantics everywhere. Sadly this was its only screening - and it should be on general release in 6 months' time - will let you know

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