With this year’s festival now a rapidly diminishing memory — and my recovery from that event (plus another magazine published, some “live” podcast recordings, a few Q&A’s, some director interviews and a Big Screen Symposium) almost complete — I return to the commercial cinema and what do I find? Twenty-three new films have been released since my last set of reviews. Twenty-three! I only turned my back for a second. So, bear with me while I try and do some catching up. Some of these films deserve more space than they are going to get here (and some of them don’t) but you can’t have everything, am I right?
[pullquote]R‑rated these days appears to mean lots of unnecessary cursing and comic male nudity.[/pullquote]Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 was a surprise smash-hit in 2009 and his follow-up, Elysium, is what we call ‘eagerly awaited’. Watching it I was reminded of the great strengths of that first film: a vividly created future society, dysfunctional yet plausible; a great plot setup with a genuine dilemma for the central character. Then I remembered the third act of District 9 — one long fight/chase/fight. And so it proves with Elysium. Wasted potential as — like so many films this year — the film is resolved by who can punch harder rather than who can think better. I have lots of other problems with it but that’s the main one.
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Now, I’m risking the ire of the extremely helpful and generous New Zealand International Film Festival team here, but I’m going to recommend an approach to festival-going that will probably reward you more than it will them. Here goes: don’t book for anything. Don’t plan your life around any particular screening of any particular film. Especially, don’t book for anything because that’s the one all your mates are going to.
Try this instead. Wake up on any given morning during the festival, feel like watching a movie, have a look through the festival calendar in the middle of the programme (or the handy-sized mini-guide, available soon) and pick a something you fancy based on the title. Or the cinema closest to you. Or the cinema furthest away. Or close your eyes and jab a finger at the page. Either way, step out of your comfort zone and try something new. You won’t regret it. Well, you might, but probably not for long.
Every year, this is kind of what I do when I ask the festival publicity team for help with this preview. Give me a stack of screener DVDs, I say, or those new-fangled internet links where I have to watch a film sitting at my desk. No, don’t tell me what they are. Let me guess. Some of my favourite festival experiences have come watching films I knew nothing about, but for those of you who are going to ignore my advice and, um, take my advice, here are some notes on the films I’ve already seen, in no particular order.
I’m a radio-head from my childhood. I love radio, listening to it, appearing on it, making it. I love looking at studios, perving at microphones, the red lights that go on when the mics are live, the silently ticking clocks. Watching Nicolas Philibert’s The House of Radio, I was a pig in shit. I don’t think I’ve been as blissed out as this watching a film for ages. It’s one day in the life of Radio France, where seemingly dozens of stations share a giant Parisian cathedral dedicated to the wireless. News, talk, culture, music — classical, jazz and hip-hop. Philibert’s polite camera peers into their studios and their offices, even the Tour de France correspondent reporting live from the back of a motorbike.
In The Bourne Legacy, Matt Damon’s amnesiac super-soldier Jason Bourne is a shadowy figure, looming invisibly over a plot that for contractual reasons can’t accommodate him. It’s as if he’s in the sin bin — after a yellow card for demanding director approval — watching the clock tick down until he can take the field again.
The director that Damon objected to is Tony Gilroy — co-writer of all the Bournes and writer-director of Michael Clayton — and next time someone should listen to Damon’s instincts. He said he wouldn’t do another Bourne without Paul Greengrass (director of the last two, Supremacy and Ultimatum) and the weird compromise concocted by Gilroy to keep the franchise alive will probably only satisfy the studio and the Robert Ludlum estate. Bourne is on life support but no more than that.
Time to clear the summer holiday backlog so that the next time it rains you’ll have an idea of what you should go and see. There’s plenty to choose from — for all ages — and there’s a bunch more to come too.
Best thing on at the moment is Martin Scorsese’s first “kids” film, Hugo, but it took a second viewing for confirmation. It is a gorgeous love letter to cinema, a plea for decent archives, a champion of the latest technology — all Marty’s current passions — but it’s also about something more, something universal.
Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is a little orphan ragamuffin hiding in the walls of a great Paris railway station, winding the clocks and trying to repair a broken automaton that he believes contains a message from his dead father (Jude Law). While stealing parts from the station toy shop — and its sad and grumpy old owner — Hugo meets the old man’s god-daughter (Chloë Grace Moretz) and between them they try and unravel the mystery of the automaton and why Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley) is so unhappy. Hugo is a moving story about repair — the kind of redemption that comes when you don’t write off and discard broken machines — or broken people.