Despite the shocking and inexplicable decision to omit Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Ruins from this year’s Film Festival (a disaster applicable only to me I think) the actual line-up is as good as everyone says. At least I think it is from surveying about 20 out of the 160+ titles in the programme – hardly a representative sample but when most of those 20 bring such joy and only a few land with a dull thud you have to think that the rest of the programme is similarly proportioned.
Last year the big Cannes winner, Of Gods and Men, was missed by the International Festival, a situation that was remedied at Easter’s World Cinema Showcase. This year, of the big Cannes movies, only Godard’s Film Socialisme is missing in action. The great Swiss iconoclast may well have produced his most interesting work in years but it will take a trip to Amazon to find out for sure. Even the redoubtable Aro Video are unlikely to take a punt on it without the Festival’s imprimatur.
As usual, I asked the helpful Festival people to point me towards the less likely, the unheralded, the little battlers, the kind of film that is easily missed when skimming the 80 page programme. Any fool can tell you that The Tree of Life is going to be interesting. Capital Times readers want more than that.
Firstly music: two documentaries impressed me and they worked so well together I wish they were a double-feature. Merle Haggard: Learning to Live With Myself is a biography of the outlaw country star as he settles in to an uncomfortable old age. Actually old age to Haggard is no less comfortable than every other age – I can’t think of a great star less at ease in his own skin.
Above the proscenium arch at the Embassy theatre, on either side of the screen, there are two flashing red lights. They’ve been there ever since the Return of the King refurb and I thought they were something to do with the security system – motion sensors perhaps – but after watching Michael Bay’s Transformers on Friday night I got the idea that maybe they are eyes, you know, winking at us.
The Embassy as sentient sentinel – protecting us from evil, ready to transform at a moment’s notice into a giant robot with a really deep voice: as a vehicle for justice, its no more preposterous an idea than the muscle cars, hot rods, tanks and 18-wheelers featured in the film and it might explain that feeling of security I get sinking in to the leather seats.
In the film, Earth has become the battleground for two warring races of robots: the good guy Autobots and the not-so-much Decepticons. The cube that is the source of all their power is hidden somewhere here and the only clue is a pair of antique glasses in the possession of horny high school kid Shia LaBoeuf who the Autobots enlist to help. As you might expect with 30 metre tall robots, keeping their presence secret proves challenging and the attention of the authorities (including a very hammy John Turturro) is soon in full force.
Transformers is big and loud and mostly fun but the age of its target audience seems to change from scene to scene and the more-than-casual racism of the characterisations (every non-white character seems to be a buffoon or a coward or both) is a sour note, thankfully rare these days.
Equally white bread, but not quite as insulting, is the latest incarnation of the Nancy Drew stories about the famous teenage girl detective. This time Nancy is played by Julia Roberts’ niece (and creepy Eric’s daughter) Emma and while she’s got a little presence she doesn’t seem to totally know what she’s doing. It’s a fish-out-of-water story as Nancy leaves her small mid-western storybook town for the wilds of Los Angeles and anyone who has ever seen an episode of Scooby-Doo knows what’s going to happen next.
The ubiquitous James McAvoy (Last King of Scotland and Becoming Jane) plays Brian Jackson, a working class boy on his way to Bristol University in 1985, in Starter for 10. Determined to get the most out of the experience he trials for the University Challenge tv quiz team, getting a massive crush on the beautiful but shallow Eve in the process. His two best mates are played by two actors from The History Boys which, as they were set at the same time and much of the music is interchangeable, feels like you are watching a weird alternate universe at times. Recommended, but unchallenging.
Two minor entries from Europe to finish. Eden is a fable about a brilliant but lonely chef who falls for the unattainable waitress at his favourite café: Food porn with a surprisingly ugly twist at the end.
Colin Nutley’s Heartbreak Hotel is about two 40-something divorcées in Stockholm who strike up an unlikely friendship as they try and navigate the world of the newly-single. Heartbreak Hotel itself is the name of the nightclub they go to, a neon cocktail of the worst aspects of the Courtenay-Blair combination on a Wednesday night.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times, Wednesday 4 July, 2007 (Eden and Heartbreak Hotel cut for space, Starter for 10 moved to the Picks section for the same reason).