Monday, 27 June 2016

NZIFF Preview - Weiner, Wide Open Sky, Lo and Behold, Swiss Army Man

NZIFF Preview - Weiner, Wide Open Sky, Lo and Behold, Swiss Army Man

The annual cinematic smorgasbord that is the New Zealand International Film Festival has signalled its intentions with the release of the Auckland programme.

With a new Animation mini-season thrown in as well as a healthy selection from Cannes, there’s no sign the festival is in anything other than rude health.

From the Palme D’or winner I, Daniel Blake to the joyous looking Red Turtle (you should always make a beeline to the Civic for any animation), there’s more than enough to satiate the cinematic appetite.
Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World

Much anticipated is Werner Herzog’s Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, in which the German director takes a look at the internet and all that it entails. With his usual breezy voiceover and slightly unusual line of questioning, Herzog’s view of what electronically lies ahead is fascinating and engaging viewing. And his debate over whether the internet can dream of itself is both terrifying and curiously enticing – it’s much Herzog’s MO that makes this doco such an intriguing watch.

Equally enticing and with a title that both simultaneously describes your perception of its subject and names him, Weiner is perhaps one of the stand out docos of the festival.

A fascinating look at New York mayoral hopeful and Democratic congressman who torpedoed his own chances by tweeting some less than helpful pictures, Weiner manages fly on the wall mixed with schadenfreude and hubris with equal aplomb. While the director never really gets to ask the central question of why Weiner did such a thing, the fact the cameras continue to roll both demonstrate director Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s raison d’etre. Much like the fascination of a burning fire, this threatens to explode everywhere and presents more questions than answers, but it’s a documentary that demands to be seen.

Aussie doco Wide Open Sky arrives at the festival with an audience award from Sydney in tow, and in this crowd-pleasing piece that mixes both Young@Heart with a School of Rock sensibility, the story of teacher Michelle Leonard’s desire to get youngsters in the poorer parts of NSW onto the stage and finding their voices is as uplifting as anything witnessed thus far at this year’s festival. Simply shot and doing exactly what you’d expect given its subject matter, Wide Open Sky is nothing short of joyous; a testament to those who do the right thing, and a platform for the under-appreciated, if it doesn’t leave you feeling like there’s dust in the cinema that’s attacking your eyes, there’s something clearly wrong with you.
Wide Open Sky

Talking of things wrong with you, Swiss Army Man should, in theory, be about as wrong as it can get.

Paul Dano’s Hank is washed up, all at sea, literally and figuratively. Abandoned on a desert island, and with no hope, he’s about to hang himself when Harry Potter’s corpse washes up on the beach. (There’s a delicious irony that the film festival is bringing us a dead Harry Potter when so many of their previous years have seen their runs plagued by the latest outing from the Boy Wizard hitting the box office).
Swiss Army Man

Believing this to be a sign, Hank’s despair rises when Daniel Radcliffe’s Manny offers only flatulence which Hank utilises to jetski off from the island.  Mixing what seems like a puerile idea with some wonderfully crafted moments of profundity, Swiss Army Man is tremendously affecting. There’s no denying it’ll be a polarising experience in many ways, but with some truly wonderful leaps of imagination from Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, it’s actually one of the most original films on the programme, both a simultaneous celebration of life itself and an examination of one man on the brink of life, Dano and Radcliffe make a truly wonderful odd couple on a wonderfully odd journey that’s one of a kind.

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