Category Archives: films

Movie Character Interactions by XKCD

Crazy, fascinating, confusing and somewhat pointless… but nevertheless very cool.
Check out XKCD’s ‘charts’ of Movie Character Interactions.

(click on image or link to embiggen)


Some ‘adult’ films to watch out for

Although the use of the word ‘adult’ may seem dubious, I struggle to find a better term. I’m not talking about R-rated films or the kind that come in red DVD cases. And these aren’t ‘mature’ necessarily. Not obviously comedies, although probably funny. Just unusual films, not designed for kids. Yes, I am trying to shake the idea that I, like my sister, have a penchant only for films with talking animals. I have diverse taste. Really.

The Coen Brothers. A Serious Man
A film the Coens quietly made after the glitzy (cast of) Burn After Reading. This film seems to have slipped under the radar of mainstream media. It looks like true Coen Brothers comedy.
To blatantly steal their own synopsis (I can’t make sense of the story let alone try to describe it):

A Serious Man is the story of an ordinary mans search for clarity in a universe where Jefferson Airplane is on the radio and F-Troop is on TV. It is 1967, and Larry Gopnik (Tony Award nominee Michael Stuhlbarg), a physics professor at a quiet Midwestern university, has just been informed by his wife Judith (Sari Lennick) that she is leaving him. She has fallen in love with one of his more pompous acquaintances, Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed), who seems to her a more substantial person than the feckless Larry. Larrys unemployable brother Arthur (Richard Kind) is sleeping on the couch, his son Danny (Aaron Wolff) is a discipline problem and a shirker at Hebrew school, and his daughter Sarah (Jessica McManus) is filching money from his wallet in order to save up for a nose job.

These really should have a paragraph each but were released so soon after each other, and by the same director, I can’t help but lump them together. One is a low budget film best-known for featuring the first ‘proper’ film performance of porn star, Sasha Grey. The other stars a chubby Matt Damon and Sam from Quantum Leap. One involves sex and politics. The other espionage and, well, an informant.
The Girlfriend Experience is a low-budget drama with mixed reviews, which should be out on DVD soon. I have my doubts, but I’m willing to give it a go as Steven Soderbergh directed. Don’t blame me if it’s no good!
The Informant! (exclamation mark included in title) looks hilarious. But it may be guilty of overuse of gratuitous punctuation. It should be out in cinemas now (in NZ, not until 20th November in UK).

Finally, this trailer needs to be watched. It can’t be explained really. Just watch it.
The Men who stare at Goats (or in glorious quicktime… on Apple).

Kiwi’s done good

Just a quick little heads up to a couple of kiwi film makers done good.

Louis Sutherland is a former colleague (all talented film makers need a pay cheque once in a while!) whose latest film, The Six Dollar Fifty Man, has done well at festivals around the world. Hopefully it’s paving its way to Oscar glory, which will ensure a wider release here, which will mean I actually get to see it!
Louis and film-making partner, Mark Albiston, are also behind the short, Run. Which I have seen. And which is very good. It captures a unique kiwi setting and is thoughtful in that unique way that only short films are.
More info here: Sticky Pictures

The ‘kids movies to watch out for’ October 2009 list

There’s been a flood of nostalgic kids books (and one film) turned into films on the cusp of being released. And predictably, they’ve been releasing trailers to get the buzz going. Here’s my brief selection of what to watch out for…

Where the Wild Things Are – October 16th (US) / December 3rd (NZ)
Where the Wild Things Are has already been seen in the US and is getting rave reviews. Despite a wobbly start with rumours of casting issues, Spike Jonze’s effort seems to have developed into a stunning masterpiece about childhood, if not actually for children (although I’m sure braver parents would happily take their kids to see this). I can’t wait to see this!
Ponyo (Gake no ue no Ponyo) – out now in Wellington and February 12th 2010 (UK)
The latest feature from Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, this could be amazing like some of his previous works (Spirited Away, Howl’s moving Castle, Princess Mononoke). Inspired by his won son and Anderson’s The Little Mermaid. I’m hoping the trailer doesn’t do it justice (cos let’s face it, the trailer is a bit weird). It has attracted a talented pool of dub-voice actors (Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Liam Neeson, Tina Fey, and more) so I’m taking that as a sign of promise.

Fantastic Mr Fox – ‘Thanksgiving’ 2009 (US) / January 7th 2010 (NZ)
Wes Anderson meets Roald Dahl. This could be great. It’s deliberately ‘old-fashioned’ (i.e. not the beautiful smooth magic of Coraline, but more jerky) stop-motion. And the characterisations are deliberately 60’s/70’s in style. George Clooney and Meryl Streep voice Mr and Mrs Fox. This is another film which isn’t intentionally pandering to the school holiday audience, but will appeal (possibly) to those who knew and loved Roald Dahl’s books as a kid – which should make for a pretty diverse audience. To be honest, I’m not a fan of the style, but the trailer wins me over despite this. It’s got that old school kind of charm and humour which were the very essence of Roald Dahl’s books. And I did love his books.
Toy Story 3 – June 18th 2010 (US)
Who has not seen and loved the first two Toy Story movies?!? Please, leave the room right now if you haven’t seen them. Go to your nearest store and buy them. Call in sick to work, stay home and watch them. At least three times! Or go watch them when they’re released in 3D somewhere near you. I’m not talking to you again until you’ve seen them!
These two films come very close to being the ‘prefect’ film (a discussion Mike and I sometimes have). It’s very hard to fault them. They’re not amazing works of science-fiction, tear-jerking dramas, or heart-breaking true-stories. But they’re good. Very good. And damn hard to fault. Hopefully the third instalment will carry on this fine tradition.

District 9 – Mike’s Review

After months of hype, a box office bonanza, almost universal praise and a flame war that started because one critic dared to give it a negative review, Hilleke and I finally got around to seeing District 9.

Now without a doubt District 9 is a good film, the best of the summer in fact. Granted this has to be one of the worst summer movie seasons in recent history (I’m looking at you Terminator Salvation, Wolverine and Transformers 2) but that shouldn’t distract from the achievements of the film.
District 9 is a smart action film that unlike most, has an actual message. Adapted from director Neil Blomkamp’s own short film “Alive in Joberg“, District 9 deals with issues of segregation and xenophobia and uses extra-terrestrials as a thinly veiled analogue for the historical treatment of the black population. The title and the premise of District 9 were inspired by historical events that took place during the apartheid era in an area of Cape Town called District 6.
In the film, aliens arrived in Johannesburg in 1982 in a large spacecraft which hovers over the city. The aliens were found to be unhealthy and hungry. The creatures (referred to in the film by the derogatory term “Prawns”) were taken from the ship and housed in a government camp called District 9. Two decades later the people of Johannesburg are sick of the prawns and want them out, so the company that manages the facility MNU builds a new camp District 10, 240 km away to house the 1.8 million aliens.
Wikus van der Merwe is the field agent assigned to lead the relocation and begins by trying to get the aliens to sign eviction papers. Whilst in the camp Wikus unwittingly stumbles upon illicit activity and the film builds from there. I won’t give much else away because I hate spoiling films.
District 9 begins very well. The film is shot documentary style, as a film crew is following Wikus and the MNU during the relocation of the aliens. Wikus (played by first time actor Sharlto Copley) is a stereotypical bureaucrat getting his first taste of power. He is also incredibly racist, constantly referring to the aliens as prawns and seeming to revel in humiliating them. He even gets very excited when they burn an alien nest to the ground, pointing out how the burning eggs sound like popcorn.
Wikus is not a likable character at all and it’s says a lot of Copley that he is able to keep you from hating him. Most of his dialogue in the opening scenes is improvised and very funny.
Copley, a director and producer himself, is a longtime friend of Blomkamp and in fact gave him his first job as a graphics designer at the age of 14! Blomkamp was able to hire Copley to play Wikus, as the film had a small budget and was pretty free from studio interference.
He may not be an actor by trade but as I said Copley he is very good and I hope he keeps at it (he’s rumored to have signed on to play Murdoch in the remake of the A-Team).
Neil Blomkamp has created a very impressive looking film for a modest budget ($30 million or roughly 1 tenth the budget of Transformers 2). The aliens (the only other characters of merit in the film) are very impressive (and gross) and are photo real. The alien spaceship is visible in most shots, hovering in the background and also looks completely real. And the big robot gunfight at the end is amazing and according to those that have seen the other big robot gunfight movie this year, better than anything in it (are three pokes at Transformers 2 in one review too much?).
The film is not perfect though. I for one found it un-necessarily gory. Seeing one person explode after being shot by an alien gun is cool but after the 5th or 6th time it’s just OTT (and there were a lot more than that). As I said earlier, the film starts off well with the doco-style but halfway through the film this is dropped almost completely and I missed it. And although the script is very tight and clever it’s a shame that in the third act it becomes a dumb action film and focusses far too much on the above mentioned robot gunfight.
But the biggest criticism I have is the film’s treatment of the Nigerian gang members. I’m not the only one who has pointed out the inherently racist way they are presented. They are shown as superstitious, criminals who want to eat the aliens to steal their power (I’m not making that up). I understand the gangs inclusion in the film but I think for a film about racism, indentifying them specifically as Nigerians was a mistake.
It may seem like I’m being a little harsh on the film and don’t get me wrong I think it’s very good. I just don’t think it’s the second coming of Star Wars that some people have made it out to be. The criticisms I mentioned keep it from being a great film.
I think it says more about the current state of films in general that when a smart film with a message comes out (especially a summer blockbuster) people get so excited about it. I mean big action films don’t really have to be dumb.
for more about the film go to:

NZ’s favourite lesbian yodeling comedy twin duo

This one might just be for the kiwi’s but the trailer looks pretty darn good. For those of you outside of NZ, the Topp Twins were around long before Flight of the Conchords, but may well have inspired their tag-line!
It recently won the Audience award for Top Doc at the Toronto Film festival. Awesome.

Trailer for Leanne Pooley’s “The Topp Twins,” about a New Zealand lesbian C&W singing duo:

Hilleke’s Movie Preview – end of 2009

Earlier this year I optimistically listed all the films I was was looking forward to seeing this year. Some of these we have now seen, and mostly enjoyed (Watchmen, Milk, Benjamin Button, and especially Coraline). Others, like Up, we are still anxiously waiting for, although much of the rest of the world has already partaken of the Pixar magic. Dr Parnassus (29th October) and The Lovely Bones (11 Dec) are also due out later this year, as is Where the WIld things Are (11 Dec). Some I sadly lost interest in as time flew by and film-going budgets shrank (Vicky Christina Barcelona, W.). But a few other films have since appeared on the edge of my radar and are, I think and hope, worth mentioning.

Mike has already written a detailed review of Moon, a throwback to traditional sci-fi, ala Alien or Bladerunner, directed by first-timer Duncan Jones (yeah yeah, he’s David Bowie’s son, but I think soon enough he’ll be a name to remember in his own right, if he continues along this track at least). Sam Rockwell spends three long isolated years alone on the moon, slowly going crazy, with only Kevin Spacey’s voice (as computer GERTY) for company. ‘Nuff said. Brilliant old-fashioned sci-fi/suspense/drama. We’ve already seen it obviously, but as it will be traveling the art-house circuit for a few months yet I thought it worth adding to the list! If in doubt, watch the trailer (go on, click on large!)

A film getting a lot of attention from various note-worthy internet reviewers (aintitcool, Empire and Roger Ebert have certainly become the ‘go to’ sites for movie reviews) is The Hurt Locker. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, known for Point Break (amongst other cult hits) and once being married to James Cameron, this is the film to watch out for come Oscar time. While it is destined to be an arthouse film, it sounds impressive, and will hopefully get the audience it deserves. The story follows a bomb disposal squad in current day, war-torn Iraq. Not the safest job in the world, the drama and tension easily build, and the situation gets to some of the squad. Roger Ebert’s review is worth reading for more info – he’s actually seen it, I just hope to sometime soon. The inevitable comparison to Transformers 2 has been made; Transformers 2 received the most support from all 4 branches of the US military of any film ever. And when asked about it’s realism, a US general replied that if the world were attacked by giant transforming robots that is exactly how the military would respond. In contrast, The Hurt Locker, which received almost no help from the military, depicts a very real situation. No glamour or heroics for the stars of this film, it’s all sand, sweat and damned scary situations. It sounds like one of those painful to watch, edge of your seat, no break to pee in movies which will haunt you for days or weeks after. Can’t wait!

District 9 is obviously a biggie. Produced by Peter Jackson after his project with newbie film director Neill Blomkamp, Halo, fell through. District 9 is based on a short film made by Blomkamp, available on youtube, called Alive in Jo’burg. Aliens land on earth, but the leaders of their hive-like society are all killed and so the drone-type population are at a loose end and don’t know what to do. They have the technology and ability to destroy humans but lack the leadership. So they get interred in apartheid style camps in Johannesburg, where humans taunt and interrogate them. MNU agent, van de Merwe, gets to know the aliens a bit better than he would like.

Looks amazing, effects are – as always when it comes to PJ – brilliant, and it has a interesting story and story-telling technique. Even the website is pretty cool. It even had a 100% positive feedback rating on Rotten Tomatoes, until troll-critic, Armond White, gave a predictably bad review (see here the whole saga, and see here the list of films White does and doesn’t like – you can make up your mind whether he’s nuts or just messing with people). And yes, several of my friends/former colleagues were involved in the production so I might be just a little biased. I’m not saying it’s ‘the best film ever’ yet, but I am excited about seeing it.

A slightly less serious but curiously interesting film, Julie and Julia, is coming out soon. Based on the book of the blog based on the book of cook(?)/author Julia Childs. The trailer shows two parallel stories – one of Julia Child who follows her diplomat husband to Paris, where she takes up cooking lessons as a hobby. The French are appalled at this American woman’s lack of grace, skill, etc as they would be in the 60s/70s when this took place (and probably still would be today). But she fumbles through the lessons and at the end of it writes and publishes her hit book on Mastering the Art of French Cooking – now unsurprisingly on the bestseller charts after 40 odd years. Cut to the 2002 where New Yorker Julie Powell finds her life unfulfilling, and decides to embark on a year long mission – cooking every one of Julia Child;s recipes in one year. And writing about it. This was back when blogs were a fairly new concept (and not flooded with muppets like me sharing every boring detail of their lives and or opinions!). A pretty tough challenge on a good day/year and bound to result in many humorous, inspiring and possibly poignant situations. Trailer looks good. Even the boys at aintitcool like it, so it can’t all be silly chick-flick drivel. Plus I’ve found a newly undeveloped desire to learn to cook, so this may yet inspire me! Hope it’s playing on the flight home next week 🙂

Another short film to gain enough notice from the right people (TIm Burton and Russian director Timur (?) are good names to have on your call sheet) is ‘9‘. The short is available on youtube and is now being developed into a feature length film. It’s a touching animated tale of a professor who creates 9 puppets each with a part of his soul in them to protect humanity from complete extinction (at least that’s the way I read it). Crazy Bosch or steam-punk inspired machines roam the earth seeking the last traces of humanity and attempting to destroy them. The flimsy stuffed dolls seem no match for these evil devices. The animation is stunning – watch the short film to get a sample – and the online viral campaign has very passionate followers (see facebook group). It’s one to watch out for.

A wee bit further into the future, but starting the promotional drive already, is Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (March 2010). Predictably it stars Burtons’ best-friend-for-life-Johnny Depp (Mad Hatter) and wife-Helena Bonham-Carter (Red Queen), but also attracted a couple of British comedy acting talents; Stephen Fry (Chesire Cat), Matt Lucas (Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle Dee), American Anne Hathaway (White Queen), and newbie Australian Mia Wasikowska as titular Alice. The film apparently combine Lewis Carroll’s two Alice novels – Through the Looking Glass and Alice in Wonderland, and features a teenage Alice returning to Wonderland after loosing all memory of having been there before. So far only production stills and promotional shots of the cast have been released, but the crazy costumes and combination of talents are enough to whet my interest.

I’m sure I’ve overlooked plenty of exciting films coming out soon (I haven’t even mentioned the new Twilight film…), but this should at least keep me going for a wee while. Any thing else worth looking out for will, of course, be added to the blog in due course. In the meantime, enjoy your popcorn!

Moon – Mike’s Review

Moon is fantastic…

Lets just get that out of the way first up. It’s easily the best film I’ve seen this year and one of the best films I’ve seen in a long, long time.

First time director Duncan Jones (formerly Zowie Bowie, son of David) has, with a small budget, very little special effects and a relatively small star, crafted some thing quite special.
In interviews Jones said that he misses the kind of science fiction that he used to watch as a kid. The smart kind that made you think. Films like Bladerunner, Alien or 2001.
When I read this I realised how much I’d missed those kinds of films too. Sci Fi these days just seems to be about giant jive-talking robots or an excuse to show lots of ‘splosions.
Thankfully Moon is one of the former. It’s intelligent and thoughtful and stays with you long after you’ve seen it.
Unfortunately I can’t tell you too much of the plot without spoiling it. Many reviews have spoiled a specific plot point and I had it spoiled for me. Although it didn’t ruin the film for me at all and isn’t even really a twist as it happens in the first act of the film. Duncan Jones has even revealed the “twist” himself in interviews as he didn’t want it turning into a thing. However I think it’s more fun if you go into movies clean and I’ve already done too much just saying that there is a twist because now you’ll be looking out for it…. Oh no I’ve gone and hyped it too much and made it into a thing ahhh….
Anyway… What I can tell you about Moon’s story is this;
Astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) has been stationed alone in a mining facility on the dark side of the moon for almost 3 years. The facility which mines Helium-3 is almost completely automated and Sam is really only there in case anything breaks down. A communications failure means that the only contact he has with the earth is by way of occasional recorded messages from his wife. The only company Sam has is a computer named GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey). With just a few weeks to go before he can return home, Sam is in bad shape. The isolation and loneliness has taken it’s toll and he has begun hallucinating.
During a routine excursion to collect the helium-3 from a mining machine Sam hallucinates again and crashes his rover into the miner.
Sam wakes up in the infirmary and GERTY tells him that he is recovering from his injuries. He receives a message from the company back on Earth telling him that a rescue crew is on the way to repair the miner and take him home.
It is at this point that Sam’s life becomes very strange indeed. If you want to know what happens next go and see the bloody thing.
On to the cast, what little of it there is. Sam Rockwell is pretty much the only person in the film and is in every scene. He is a revelation and manages to carry the film all by himself. I would not be at all surprised if he gets a few nods come awards season.
Kevin Spacey’s GERTY is the only other character in the film and his voice is a perfect match for the computer. Spacey does his best HAL 9000 impersonation but is able to display life and emotion despite the monotones.
Duncan Jones has done a superb job with Moon. His direction is simple and to the point. There is nothing flashy or OTT about the film. Instead he lets it’s ideas speak for themselves and as a result has ended up with a sci-fi film that does that rarest of things in this day and age, it makes you think.
He even uses models instead of CGI and it’s great to see their return.
And best of all, he’s able to tell and engrossing, complete story in just 90 minutes. That’s right, in a day and age where most films seem incapable of being shorter than 2hrs 30min, Moon is a full hour shorter than that. In fact it took less time to watch than it did to write this review.
I really can’t say anything more to recommend this film. Just go out and see it. And if you like it as much as did make sure you keep an eye on Duncan Jones. If his next films are anything like Moon then he’s got a great career ahead of him.

Pixar vs Dreamworks

I’d love to know where this picture came from originally (please comment if you know), but I think it illustrates quite nicely what Mike and I thought of Kung Fu Panda!

(click to embiggen)

Cloud Atlas: The story continues…

Earlier this year it was announced by Tom Tykwer, that the Wachowski’s had bought the rights to Cloud Atlas, a novel written by David Mitchell. Tykwer is adapting the screenplay of the award winning 2004 novel, although it is unclear who is set to direct, at this stage.

This news got Mike and I very interested. The Wachowski’s are of course best known for The Matrix (one of Mike’s favourite films) and the hugely underrated but very entertaining, Speed Racer. Tykwer’s Run Lola Run is, amongst others, one of my favourite films. The combination of filmmakers was sure to be an intriguing and successful one.

So, we kept an eye out for the novel at the heart of this collaboration, and I’ve recently finished reading it. There’s just so much going on in this book, that I want to get it all straight in my head, and the best way to do that, is to put it down on (blog-)paper. So here goes…

Wikipedia has a very nice plot summary, so I won’t go into too much detail here – best read it (or the novel) for yourself. The basic gist of it is this: Six seperate stories are nested within one another. Starting with an Amercian notary aboard a ship in the Pacific, set in the mid-19th century, followed by an English musician fleeing debtors to Zedelghem, Belgium to work (and hide) with a talented composer, then a journalist investigates corruption at a nuclear power plant in 1970’s California. The next story finds us in early 21st century England, where a book publisher finds himself trapped in a nursing home, then the novel takes a spin to the future, with the futuristic story of a fabricant (clone) in what-was-once-Korea who realises there is more to life than enslavement, and finally it goes post-apocolyptic with a campfire tale on Hawaii about a tribesmen meeting one of the last ‘civilised’ people left on the world.

Sounds like six completely different stories then. Why are they bound in the same cover? Well, this is where it gets clever. Yes, they are very different stories; not only are the characters (with the exception of one who is mentioned in two stories), the setting, and the time period completely different, but so is the genre for each story and the ‘mdeium’ in which it is written. But we discover, as we continue reading, that the stories are all linked. A character in the second story finds a copy of the ‘diary’ of the first character. He describes this in letters to a friend, who then gives these letters to the journalist in the third story. The journalists story is turned into a novel and this manuscript finds itself in the hands of the book publisher from story number four. He in turn, talks about how his life would make a great film, which, not surprisingly, it did – and the fabricant watches it before telling her tale to an ‘orison’ (holographic video recorder), and after the apocoplypse this orison falls into the hands of the tribesmen on Hawaii.

Sounds complicated, and on the upwards ride it is. But luckily, there is a downhill slope where it all becomes just that much clearer. The tribesmen ‘plays’ the second half of the orison, as we read the rest of her story. She in turn has a last request to finish watching the film about the book publisher, who at the end of the film sits down to finish reading the manuscript, etc. The whole novel becomes quite more-ish as you get caught up in each story, only to be abruptly ripped from it into a new world. I found the whole thing quite hard to put down.

So how would this work as a film? The film would have to remain faithful to the structure of the novel, or it would miss the point. Can you fit six different stories, each a different style, tone, pace and genre, with different characters into one film? Will the audience sit through it??? I have no idea.

As a novel it melds into one continuous arc. Despite the story within a story structure it feels like one story. There is a hint at the main characters all being the same reincarnated soul (except the last story, where it isn’t the main character). David Mitchell has confirmed this in an interview:

“All of the [leading] characters except one are reincarnations of the same soul … identified by a birthmark. … The “cloud” refers to the ever-changing manifestations of the “atlas”, which is the fixed human nature. … The book’s theme is predacity … individuals prey on individuals, groups on groups, nations on nations.”

And this brings me neatly to the next point… The novel’s scope covers the full circle of modern human society and it’s destruction. And it does seem destined to be cyclic in nature. At some point humanity will reach such a high point in technology and power that it will have nowhere to go but back down. This is illustrated in the fabricant’s story, where clones are created and manipulated to be agreeable drugged slaves. Much like the slave-trade alluded to in first story in the Pacific – of course by this point in history keeping slaves was frowned upon, but teaching Islanders to smoke – and become addicted to – tobacco was still fair game. The futuristic world of the fabricant seems to be the height of what human society can achieve, and we discover in the next story that not long after her escape from enslavement, her whole society fell, along with most of the civilised world.

“Yay, Old’uns’ Smart mastered sicks, miles, seeds an’ made miracles ord’nary, but it din’t master one thing, nay, a hunger in the hearts o’ humans, yay, a hunger for more… Human hunger birthed the Civlize, but human hunger killed it too”
(Cloud Atlas, “Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After”, p. 286.)

There are as many messages to be taken from this novel as there are readers of it. It’s cleverness lies in how stories are incorporated into the previous story, especially on the downward spiral. Are they real or are they all fiction? Are some more real than others? Are we just another part of the story, and by writing this and referring to the book I am now part of it???

Books don’t offer real escape but they can stop a mind scratching itself raw.
(David Mitchell in Cloud Atlas, “Letters from Zedelghem”)