Friday, 19 August 2016

New Zealand International Film Festival

Lately most of the films I have seen have been at the film festival. Here are my opinions listed from worst to best, I haven't included the animated shorts, which will get a post of their own.

Heart of a Dog 
I hate to say it but this film is lunacy at its finest. It comes across as if the director wants to put us through philosophy 101 without having ever taken a philosophy class. The whole movie consists of the camera zooming onto something and putting an ugly filter on it while Laurie Anderson gives narrative that is supposed to make you ask deep questions about life. Instead it simply left me wondering where she got her education.

I hate to shit on someone for doing something different but I cannot give a pass to something this stupid, ignorant and pandery. I am sure plenty of people will give it good reviews but that is only because most people watching it will not be academic so may not realize how dumb the whole thing is. Of particular annoyance is when she decided to weigh in on the NSA (a certain sabotage quote comes to mind, which was unintentionally hilarious) and 9/11. I guess as a non-religious skeptic, I am not the right crowd for this movie but honestly, surely being Buddhist is not synonymous with being stupid.

The Road

- Trailer not available
I found The Road fascinating in that it was all over the place. Filmed in China it may have appeared as though they pretended to be pro communist in order to get close to the negative effects of the communist party. They, however seemed to have forgotten to take the pro-government aspects out. What you are left with is a confused film that is on one hand following the construction of a road and showing off how the government did not care who they hurt in making it. While on the other hand you also have a film  championing the great achievement of the road (especially in the final moments of the film).

On top of this the pacing could be a bit slow in parts and it had a habit of needlessly repeating itself, Ultimately though, it was not a complete failure, there were some good moments and I did learn from it.

Jim: The James Foley Story

 - Trailer not available
The James Foley story is in many ways an important story but in other ways a story we all knew very well. From the word go it was kept quite a long ways off Jim as a person. This is probably for his own privacy but I felt like I did not get to know who he actually was particularly well throughout the film. It would have also been nice to get a little bit more of the other side of the story - why the US would not help much with his release. There was also little to no mention of a failed rescue mission, which certainly occurred.

There were many interesting and informative pieces of the story. It was especially engaging during talks with the others held hostage along with Jim. These were, however, somewhat degraded by poorly staged and unnecessary reenactments. Overall it is a film that had to be made. It was put together by the books and felt a little too safe but it was still informative and gave you some insight into the whole situation. 

Land of Mine
Do not get deceived by how low on the list this is. From here on everything I saw at the  festival was great and they could easily be rearranged as I have time to ponder them over the coming months. I put this lower than some other films only because this was the film I forgot I had seen when I came to make this list. While in hindsight I thought it was really terrific, this must , to some extent, mean it had less impact on me.

Regardless this film is shot very well and tells a balanced, informative, and at times even touching, story. The acting is all superb, the tone is set wonderfully and I absolutely believed in every single character.

The Red Turtle
This internationally produced film looks and sounds absolutely gorgeous. I came to the red turtle expecting something much more storyline driven (such as something Studio Ghibli would have made themselves) and this is definitely not that. The actual story in the red turtle is relatively light. Instead it puts a major focus on metaphor, poetry (in the unspoken sense) and beauty. Fully enjoying the red turtle requires a lot of thinking but it is worth it. If you are with the right crowd it is also an excellent conversation starter.

Swiss Army Man
I hate having to put this such a long way down my list too. Swiss army man is wonderful. It is touching in the most bizarre way. While the film is also very funny (and this is a lot of what people will be talking about after getting through the abnormality of the whole thing), concentrating on the humor is sort of missing the point. At its core, Swiss Army Man is a creative way to ponder the arbitrary rules we have set up in our society, which governs the way we act. 

I do not want to spoil the ending in case some poor, unsuspecting fool happens upon this blog, but while the ending is left up to interpretation, you absolutely believe in the wacky friendship that our two leads build throughout the course of the film. I should say, HOLY SHIT is Daniel Radcliffe good in this. It is probably the best work he has ever done and Paul Dano (who is always wonderful) matches this perfectly. Also to be noted is the absolutely gorgeous cinematograph, which will probably go unnoticed by many, and the wonderful original music, which will almost certainly not. This film comes thoroughly recommended for anyone can cope with entirely wacky.

I, Daniel Blake

Made to highlight the difficulty and cruelty of the welfare system in the United Kingdom, "I, Daniel Blake" is a tough watch. It does get right to the a major aspect of why film festivals exist "to showcase films that highlight real issues with the aim of making change". The script is put together in such a way that I was constantly engaged and you are always rooting for the main character. It is not, however a fun time at the movies. It is tough to watch and extremely sobering, however enlightening and necessary.

The actors all do wonderful jobs (together with everyone else involved) to create such well-rounded real characters to the point that it often feels real. It is shot in a simple, non-intrusive way as it should be to keep the emphasis on the characters and not on the film. Hopefully films like this will continue to be funded and help people to take notice of issues in our society to bring about change.


I was always interested in Anthony Weiner as a person because he has, in my opinion, always been a good guy who stands for good things and is the right person to bring about change when change is needed. He just did a few very dumb things. I was, therefore, interested in this documentary but I did not expect it to be this good! No matter what I say I will not be able to sell this documentary well enough.

It is one of the most personal documentaries I have ever seen, to the point that large parts of it taking place inside his home to see what he is like as a normal human being. Together, this and the unique, almost manic way it is put together give the film a modern, refreshing feel to it. It also manages to be very informative about a life in politics and what that entails without feeling boring or draggy. Ultimately, I think this will do very well because people will take from it what they want to take from it. I can come out feeling I have got a really good feel for a brilliant but somewhat unstable man, whereas others may come out feeling they are glad he is no longer in politics.

Toni Erdmann
While I struggled to order the 2nd to 4th best on this list, from the moment I had seen this I knew nothing would top it. I could say that Toni Erdmann is easily the funniest film I have ever seen, however it is one part of what makes it so brilliant. The film blew me away at how it could talk about depression, discontent and family relationships (along with what can happen when kids leave home) in such a lighthearted tone, yet be so effective. There are so many layers of depth going on but they are all buried beneath hilarious comic relief characters carrying out cray skits. The happenings are also, simply said, extremely engaging. It never once felt boring or slow even with a long running time and very few locations.

The two lead actors are absolutely fantastic (I certainly hope that Peter Simoneschek gets some recognition for his fantastic work in the title role) with characters drawn up so intelligently by writer-director Maren Ade. It is a hard film to sell but almost two weeks later I am still in shock at just how great it really is. At this stage it may well be sitting atop my best of the year awards.