Latest NZ Film Festival reviews: Week one

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Wondering what to see at the International Film Festival? Here's our updated page of reviews from the Auckland leg of the nationwide event.
Read our reviews of films from this year's NZIFF.
Read our reviews of films from this year's NZIFF.

Thursday, July 24: Pulp: a Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets



A scene from Pulp: a Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets.

There were several moments of hilarity at last night's screening of this most unconventional rockumentary, both on screen and off.

Kiwi director Florian Habicht was on hand to introduce his film, telling the wonderful story of how the film came to be (he emailed Jarvis Cocker out of the blue), and his first impressions of the band's home city Sheffield, where the film was shot ("It was like arriving in Hamilton in the middle of winter").

Cocker himself was also on hand after the film, via Skype, from Portobello Road in London, to answer any questions the crowd could shout at him with eccentric flair, which deserved a 4 star rating on its own.

His love of dancing was discussed ("You've made me want to go to a disco now, but I don't think I'll find one open at 11am in London"), as were his favourite British and Kiwi bands (he likes The Chills), advice for musicians (finding a different angle from anyone else), his hopes to make a film himself (not about Pulp), and whether he thought Pulp would succeed if they started up now ("I think we're a relic from a bygone era").

The film still provided the best bits though. The concert footage is shot from all manner of unusual perspectives, with an eye for the surreal and magical aspects (100s of rolls of toilet paper being thrown, streaming through the crowd for example), and all of Cocker's vogueing and thrusting and angular movements are a wonder to behold.

Then there's the warm, occasionally poignant, and genuinely compelling interviews with all the band members. From reflections on their history, to discussion on what it means to be a common person, why they broke up and reformed, it's all imbued with a contemplation of ageing, and a fond eye for Sheffield - even if they were a little nervous about performing for their home crowd.

But it's the people of Sheffield themselves who come across as the stars. Their enthusiasm for the band, and the music is wonderful, but their ability to be so open with Habicht on personal level is quite lovely.

From kids talking about their dreams, to Terry the newsagent who likes Cocker's moves, sweet solo mum Melina who's travelled all the way from Atlanta for the concert, the amateur singing groups who perform Pulp's work with such genuine feeling, the women who make their own Pulp underwear, Josephine - a mum of seven with some great life advice, and young Bomar, who has found Pulp's music has often helped him through tough times: they capture everything that Pulp is about, while being definitively down to earth.

It's a film for both fans and those who are simply curious, and is guaranteed to leave you smiling.
- Lydia Jenkin

Watch the trailer for Pulp: a Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets below:

Director: Florian Habicht
Running time: 90 mins
Rating: TBA

For more showings of Pulp: a Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets click here

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Thursday, July 24: Welcome to New York



A scene from Welcome to New York.

If you plan on seeing Welcome To New York, be sure and allow time in your festival schedule for a shower after the screening, because you're going to leave the theatre feeling very icky. Every film festival, there is a movie that appears determined to ruin sex for its viewers, and Abel Ferrara's unofficial chronicling of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal is this year's "winner". The first thing on screen is a convoluted disclaimer relating the film to the events that inspired it. Then we see lead actor Gerard Depardieu talking about taking on the role with a bevy of journalists. The credits play out, and we are then presented various images of capitalistic opulence before we joining 'Deveraux' (Depardieu) for the first of several extended "party" sequences. Subtlety does not have a role to play here, but subtlety has never been Abel Ferrara's thing. He dives headlong into the film's carnal aspects, offering up some of the grimmest sex scenes in the history of cinema, including two incredibly traumatic rape scenes. Despite these almost-impossible-to-watch sections, the film remains oddly captivating. Depardieu may have reached the self-parody part of his career, but he doesn't shy away from the film's presentation of the priapic monster he portrays and Jacqueline Bisset shows some of the old magic as his mortified wife. A thorny film currently being actively ignored in France, Welcome To New York is as equally difficult to dismiss as is it is to recommend.
- Dominic Corry

Cast: Gérard Depardieu, Jacqueline Bisset and Marie Mouté
Director: Abel Ferrara
Running time: 125 mins
Rating: R18

For more showings of Welcome to New York click here

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Thursday, July 24: Winter Sleep



A scene from Winter Sleep.

Ceylan's films are always fully embedded in their environment. In Winter Sleep, characters are seen travelling through or living in the spectacular rocky pillars and snow-covered landscape of touristy Cappadocia in central Turkey. Here a wealthy middle-aged hotel owner Aydin is faced with the negative impact that his ownership and influence has on the surrounding community.

Protacted scenes of intense and perceptive dialogue with, respectively, his impoverished tenants, his retainer, his sister and also his young wife, expose the festering resentment that those around him have towards his privilege. These are powerful scenes that reveal a shallow vanity in Aydin immuring him from the lives of those dependent on him.

The last hour opens on to a wider landscape suggesting an epiphany for our hapless protagonist, culminating in an interior monologue on his connection to home and wife, somewhat in the manner of John Huston's The Dead, which also has a snowy ending. Winner of the Palme D'Or, Ceylan has cited Chekhov as an influence, though this major work is very much a Ceylan dissection of Turkish society's patriarchy. While it may appear merciless, I found myself in fits of laughter on more than a few occasions, an added pleasure from another visually luxurious Ceylan film.
- Richard Dale

Watch the trailer for Winter Sleep below:

Cast: Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sözen and Demet Akbag
Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Running time: 196 mins
Rating: M

For more showings of Winter Sleep click here

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Wednesday, July 23: The Rover



A scene from The Rover.

After turning the Aussie crime family on its head for his 2010 breakout hit Animal Kingdom, writer/director David Michôd subverts another Ocker tradition - the post-apocalyptic film - for this searing follow-up featuring a revelatory performance from Twilight star Robert Pattinson.

Ten years after an unspecified "collapse", a mysterious man played by Guy Pearce has his car stolen by some desperate Americans. The film follows his attempts to retrieve the automobile (those Aussies and their cars, right?), which entails taking a hostage (Pattinson).

Pearce and Pattinson generate an ambiguous chemistry which keeps the tension high. Pattinson's unvarnished performance is the just the kind you'd expect from an actor trying to distance himself from his status as a teen idol, but he pulls it off - his firey ball of mumbles; moans and half-spoken words is quite something. The inherent menace of the outback locations has rarely been better employed - the world Michôd creatres here is all too believable. Still, despite all the grimness, hope has a role to play.
- Dominic Corry

Watch the trailer for The Rover below:


Cast: Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson
Director: David Michôd
Running time: 105 mins
Rating: R16

For more showings of The Rover click here

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Wednesday, July 23: Jodorowsky's Dune



A scene from Jodorowsky's Dune.

This deeply-nerdy-but-highly-accessible documentary succeeds equally as a portrait of a unique artist - visionary filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo; The Holy Mountain); a fascinating glimpse of an unrealised masterwork - his ambitious adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune; and as an ode to the collaborative nature of filmmaking. The maniacally charismatic Jodorowsky is joined by his "spiritual warriors" (i.e. creative collaborators) and other acolytes in describing and revealing (via extensive artwork and story boards) a film that had the studios been brave enough to finance, could've boldly defined the contemporary space opera as a much more artistic beast several years before Luke Skywalker came along. There are many pleasures here, both spiritual (Jodorowsky could easily get a cult going I think) and aesthetic (animated Chris Foss paintings!). Once the credits roll, we are left to ponder an alternate modern blockbuster landscape where it was Jodorowsky's Dune, and not George Lucas' Star Wars, that changed movies forever in the '70s.
- Dominic Corry

Watch the trailer for Jodorowsky's Dune below:


Director: Frank Pavich
Running time: 90 mins
Rating: M

For more showings of Jodorowsky's Dune click here

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Tuesday, July 22: 20,000 Days On Earth



Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue in 20,000 Days On Earth.

Fans of Nick Cave may think they know pretty much everything about the Australian singer-songwriter, but there's a freshness and candour in this beautifully shot and edited film which captivates and intrigues, and deserves to attract a wider audience than Cave-ophiles. It opens with Cave lying in bed watching his alarm clock. Come 7am, it rings and he's out of there, so much to do, leaving his wife Suzie behind as a tussle of dark hair on the pillow. We never see her face except in photographs. He describes their pact as one in which he torments her, then magnifies the drama in the songs. I don't quite believe that.

Cave, based in Brighton, is obsessed with the weather, to the point that he has long kept a journal about it which allows him to ruminate about the events and mood of each day.

In one extract he writes (then talks) how terrified he was when his wife was about to give birth to their twin sons.

He writes, he draws, he cracks jokes, he drives around in his low-rumbling Jag. He drinks cups of tea with his band-mate Warren Ellis where they reminisce about an encounter with the terrifying Nina Simone. He chats with a shrink about girls, sex and the celestial thrill of performing, and about his father who died when Cave was 19. His clothes are immaculate.

The sequence when Ray Winstone plays passenger in the car chattin' about nuffin' doesn't add up to much, but the ride with Kylie Minogue in the back is a short, tender moment, as is the reunion with former bandmate Blixa Bargeld. Best of all, 20,000 Days shows rehearsals, the song-writing process, and his huge archive of photos and documents, including an early will in which Cave requested that all his earthly wealth (of which he had none) go towards the creation of a small Nick Cave Memorial Room.

The film ends with a truly heart-stopping live performance at Sydney Opera House of Jubilee Street, from the Push the Sky Away album, complete with orchestra, a children's choir and stunning intercut footage of the band in all their earlier incarnations. And there was Cave at the centre of it all, leaping like a lion, from when he was in his early 20s right through to the man he is today, at 56. Back in Brighton, in the evening, Cave walks down to the water's edge, his voiceover urging people to act, do something with their lives, no matter how small. The film makes you appreciate how much he has done with his.

- Linda Herrick

Watch the trailer for 20,000 Days On Earth below:


Directors: Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard
Screenplay: Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard, Nick Cave
Music: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis
Running time: 98 mins
Rating: TBC

For more showings of 20,000 Days On Earth click here

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Tuesday, July 22: In Order of Disappearance



Stellan Skarsgard in In Order of Disappearance.

Revenge might be a dish best served cold but there's really no other option in this deadly funny Scandinavian thriller set in a spectacularly wintry Norway where local snowplough driver Nils Dickman (Stellan Skarsgard, and yes his character's name is a joke in Norwegian too) goes on his own Death Wish mission after his innocent son has died at the hands of a local drugs ring.

IOOD offers up a veritable smörgåsbord of vengeance as Skargard's otherwise upright small-town good bloke - he's just won an award for being a citizen of the year - works his way through the local underworld.

That sets off an avalanche which drags in the Albanian rivals (led by Bruno Ganz) to the local mob, led by the amusingly unhinged "The Count" (Pål Sverre Hagen, last seen playing Thor Heyerdahl in Kon-Tiki) whose malevolent mood isn't being helped by divorced-Dad issues with his son and ex.

Watching Dickman carving his way across the countryside in his juggernaut plough and snowblower, you might think you've walked into Snowpiercer instead.

And of course the setting - and the consonants - bring to mind a certain Coen Brothers movie-turned television series. Its mordant humour is frequently laugh out loud funny, especially a line about a certain psychological phenomenon which has local roots.

That said, it does go on a bit long and the visual gag it makes about its ever-rising body count isn't quite so funny by the end.

But Skarsgard is a compelling stoic centre to this Fargo-meets-Nesbo outing.

In Order of Disappearance isn't to be missed by those who like their Scandi-crime served deadpan with a side order of guffaws.
- Russell Baillie

Watch the trailer for In Order of Disappearance

Cast: Stellan Skarsgard, Bruno Ganz, Pal Sverre Hagen, Jakob Oftebro, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen
Director: Hans Petter Moland
Running time: 116 mins
Rating: TBC

For more showings of In Order of Disappearance click here

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Tuesday, July 22: 52 Tuesdays




Tilda Cobham-Hervey in 52 Tuesdays.

Captivating and at times shocking, 52 Tuesdays documents the relationship between mother and daughter, as mother, Jane, transitions into James (Del Herbert-Jane). Ambitiously, the film was not only set, but also filmed on each Tuesday every week for a year. Reading like a diary - the film delves into ideas of gender, sexuality and vulnerability. The cast are brilliant, notably Tilda Cobham-Hervey as daughter Billie.
- Rachel Bache

Watch the trailer for 52 Tuesdays below:


Cast: Tilda Cobham-Hervey and Del Herbert-Jane
Director: Sophie Hyde
Running Time: 110 mins
Rating: R16

For more showings of 52 Tuesdays click here.

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Monday, July 21: We Are The Best!


Liv LeMoyne, Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin in We Are The Best!

In 80s Sweden disco may be in full swing, but for spikey-haired 13-year-old, Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin), punk is far from dead. The pair enlist the help of the conservative, but talented, Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) to join their newly formed punk band ... and to teach them how to play their instruments. We Are The Best! is a hilarious, heartfelt and flawless story of friendship, music, boys and navigating the world as a pre-teen-punk-girl with a mohawk.
- Rachel Bache

Watch the trailer for We Are The Best! below:

Cast: Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin and Liv LeMoyne
Director: Lukas Moodysson
Running Time: 102 mins
Rating: TBC

For more showings of We Are The Best! click here.

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Monday, July 21: The Armstrong Lie


Lance Armstrong in The Armstrong Lie.

When Lance Armstrong asked film maker Alex Gibney (best known for making We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) to document his come back in 2009, he was still a golden boy.

Sure, rumours of doping had swirled for years, but Armstrong seemed invincible to them, and his story of surviving cancer and becoming such a mind-boggling athlete (and charity champion) was exactly what the world wanted to hear.

So Gibney began filming his build-up in detail, and was given almost total exclusive access. The 2009 Tour de France itself provided even more compelling material, and it looked like Gibney would have an impressive and insightful, yet feel-good doco on his hands.

And then it all fell apart. The truth came out, Armstrong was disgraced, Gibney felt betrayed, and it was a big mess. Fortunately, Armstrong felt like he owed Gibney something, and permitted further filming and a final interview.

The resulting film is an intriguing insight into the relationship between power and corruption, a portrait of delusion, and explains how a good story can convince many to turn a blind eye.

There are compelling interviews with former team mates (including Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton, George Hincapie, and Frankie Andreu), his notorious trainer Michele Ferrari, and various biographers, writers, and pundits.

There's some spectacular footage of various tours, there's archival footage, clips, filmed testimony from various investigations, all wound together with some fairly up-close details of Armstrong's life as a cyclist.

The only problem is, because the chronology is all over the place, some of the drama is lost. It's also not always clear whether an interview is taking place before or after Armstrong was outed, which can be frustrating, and there's a lack of footage from anyone really close to Lance - his former partners, family, his soigneur Emma O'Reilly, from anyone inside the Live Strong foundation, or officials.

All of which is understandable of course, and the documentary still offers some of the most direct, and possibly honest answers that Armstrong has given. So debate will certainly be stirred, and it's a well-crafted tale of downfall and disgrace, but it doesn't feel like the whole story.
- Lydia Jenkin

Watch the trailer for The Armstrong Lie below:

Director/screenplay: Alex Gibney
Running time: 123 minutes
Rating: M

For more showings of The Armstrong Lie click here.

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Monday, July 21: Story of My Death


A scene from The Story of My Death.

This is the real deal: a major work of art cinema on 35mm and the only film print in the festival. The film is of the so-called ''slow cinema'' type, set in France and Spain in the Age of the Enlightenment, shown in gorgeous imagery conscious of Eighteenth Century painting. Its measured style serves a complex meditation on human appetites, depicting the predatory nature of instrumental reason, embodied in Casanova (dominating the film as an ageing, delusional and mesmerizing philosopher) and his irrational complement, Dracula, both of who are at odds with their respective impulses. This is Serra's most developed work to date, a moral tale perfectly suited to our times: a world in transition, with hope for the future that by the end of the story is overtaken by dark bloodsuckers.
- Richard Dale

Cast: Vincenc Ataio, Lluis Serrat, Noelia Rodenas
Director: Ablert Serra
Running time: 151 mins
Rating: TBC

For more showings of Story of My Death click here.

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Monday, July 21: God Help The Girl


Olly Alexander, Emily Browning and Hannah Murray in God Help The Girl.

Crowd-funded musical, God Help The Girl, follows the journey of Eve (Emily Browning), a young girl trying to overcome her issues with depression, while venturing to start a band with new friends James (Olly Alexander) and Cassie (Hannah Murray). Inspired by director Stuart Murdoch's indie-pop band Belle & Sebastian, the film features an array of sweet and sometimes silly songs that created some fun moments - but were mostly forgettable. Olly Alexander was stand out as James, whose goofy charm brings humour to the film.
- Rachel Bache

Watch the trailer for God Help The Girl below:

Cast: Emily Browning, Olly Alexander and Hannah Murray
Director: Stuart Murdoch
Running Time: 111 mins
Rating: M

For more showings of God Help The Girl click here.

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Saturday, July 19: Under The Skin


Scarlett Johansson in Under The Skin.

Well I suppose it makes a nice change from aliens probing the folks living in the USA's fly-over states.

But this is still a dour experimental exercise of a film. Its slight story follows an extraterrestrial in the guise of Scarlett Johansson, driving a van while doing a part-Borat act on the citizenry of Scotland.

Having offered the blokes a lift (with benefits), she then relieves them of their epidermes for reasons unclear.

Yes director Jonathan Grazer's film may remind of Nicolas Roeg's alien- Bowie escapade The Man Who Fell to Earth and feel like a throwback to the grim old days of British sci-fi.

But strip away the austere atmosphere and the Johansson striptease act and you've got a slightly grainy very grim and lonely episode of Torchwood. Only without quite as much happening.

Yes it is unsettling (its soon-to-be-infamous baby on beach scene shows that this a movie with a very dark soul) and it offers a unique outsider's view of life in all its glory on Planet Scotland.

But this seems to rely on dare-factor of having a Very Big Star attempting something provocative - an alien tart with no heart in a series of close encounters, mostly with blokes who, ironically, have had a skinfull. And that's really just not enough to make it as sexy or interesting as it thinks it is.
- Russell Baillie

Watch the trailer for Under The Skin below:

Cast: Scarlett Johansson
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Running time: 108 mins
Rating: R13

For more showings of Under The Skin click here.

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Saturday, July 19: The Dark Horse


Cliff Curtis in The Dark Horse.

Phew. You might want to take some tissues, because The Dark Horse packs one heck of an emotional punch. Based on the true story of late speed chess champion Genesis Potini, it follows his battle with bipolar disorder and his involvement in the local chess club as they head to Auckland. Enhanced by superb performances from Cliff Curtis and James Rolleston, it will keep you entranced from beginning to end. Sniff.
-Chris Schulz

Watch the trailer for The Dark Horse below:

Video

Cast: Cliff Curtis and James Rolleston
Director: James Napier Robertson
Running Time: 124 mins
Rating: M

For more showings of The Dark Horse click here.

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Friday, July 18: The Skeleton Twins


Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig in The Skeleton Twins.

After 10 years of not speaking, siblings Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig) are thrust back into each others lives after Milo's suicide attempt. In this equally honest and hilarious dramadie, The Skeleton Twins tackles death, depression, life's disappointments and the true bonds of family. Luke Wilson is endearing as Maggie's unwitting husband, Lance and Saturday Night Live duo Wiig and Hader feed off each other marvellously throughout the film, making for many laugh-out-loud moments.
- Rachel Bache

Watch the trailer for The Skeleton Twins below:

Cast: Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig and Luke Wilson
Director: Craig Johnson
Running Time: 88 mins
Rating: M

For more showings of The Skeleton Twins click here.

- nzherald.co.nz

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