Friday, July 24, 2009

Warping to reality and back again

My drive to watch ten movies waned after my sixth film and life got so much more exciting and busy. How can life be so crowded? But with the end approaching, I saw a slot of time and a movie marked tentatively as: maybe, and launched myself into motion once more and made it up to nine.

We Live in Public

This is the first true documentary of my festival and it was well-worth it. The reality of the individual in the film, Josh Harris, is odd; but the film swallows you up so that half-way through the film, some of the unquestioned assumptions seemed not worth challenging at all. Only once the curtain came down did I marvel at how amazing such a person could create such enterprises and pull so many people into his life-vortex of creation.

Like many of the biopics I see, I had no clue about Josh Harris before seeing it, and but this time that would go for most of the audience who crowded into watching this movie. He is "the greatest internet pioneer that you've never heard of" after all! Before the bubble burst he was consistently two or three years ahead of technology. He is a definite odd-ball, beyond the normal sense of the word. He probably is the one we can blame for the Big Brother tv series through his extraordinary concept of Quiet: We Live in Public, which for him was "a study of Cultural History", for others it was the ultimate Orwellian / Anarchic experiment. His quirkly life is what is intriguing, where a man with a bent becomes a millionaire, loses it all and becomes just a man with a very odd bent.

This was the third film where the creator made an appearance. I give full kudos to the director for not trying to be an element in the film despite the chance to. I usually dislike the 'documentaries' at festivals often have their creators having significant screentime and roles. The drama behind the scenes was fascinating; while answering the questions a lot of this came out. Her filming process is fascinating as she starts filming without really knowing what will happen and then finds the purpose of the film, and years will often pass while she films more and finds how the story 'fits'. For her, the advent of Facebook was highly analogous to Quiet, and for that it perhaps is a salutory film to watch. This film won the Sundance festival and she is the only director to win that twice!

The screening though was plagued with technical issues. Firstly, the sizing was wrong meaning captions were half off screen; the film ceased at one point; then another time, the screen went dark while the audio intriguingly kept going (and what's more the audio at that point had started to refer to the nudity and sex at one particular 'world' he created, teasing the voyeuristic part of the mind with hidden fancies); at that point, they stopped the film all together. The director of the festival was there in person at the end to express his apologies to the audience and the director in person, and there might be an opportunity to re-watch the film with my ticket stub if anyone is interested due to the botched screening. Another of my picks, the Limits of Control was not screened at all at my preferred time due to technical issues in a previous screening. I hope that the only problems.

All Tomorrow's Parties

Music "documentaries" come in many flavours, and this is simply chocolate! With virtually no narration, it launches into performances at the All Tomorrow's Parties music festival, interspliced with fly-on-the-wall scenes of attendees getting up to mischief, performing, mixing and living. It is a 90-minute sonic experience.

The principle for ATP music festival is that it is a festival curated by a particular band, done without sponsorship, usually in a sea-side town with many attending bands and artists from the obscure to the well-known. The well-known were some of my favourites: Nick Cave, Grizzly Bear and Portishead; whereas there were also a few bands I want to know more about (Animal Collective and Battles). But all of the performances dazzled. The opening by Battles transcended music completely. Nick Cave performed Snoop Dogg's favourite song (of a few years ago), The No-Pussy Blues. Portishead, characteristically, outdid their studio recording in a blasting rendition of We Carry On. But some of the odd things was how so unlike any concert it really was. The bands and the audience were mixing closely, staying in the same accommodation. Performances were often done in the immediate lawn of the holiday inn. A character who I've never heard of The Lightning Bolt, in a courtyard, dressed in a gimp-suit with extra masking tape, at a drum-set, was surrounded by fans demanding him to perform a particular song: "Thirteen Monsters!"; "Mrrrmrrr Mrrrmrrr?" he clarified. The fans yelled again; he still seemed unclear; One fan put up tried to put display thirteen fingers yelling the title, before he suddenly showed comprehension and launched into the fastest drum-sequence, sending them into ecstacy. Grizzly Bear took a group at sunset to the water's edge with instruments to perform Deep Blue Sea to close the movie. All footage was taken not as some deliberate recording but as incidental, by fans and others. All told: Wow!


Oh, Christ! was perhaps what many people uttered, instinctively and without any irony, during this film. I committed myself to watching it, too, solely on the director, Lars von Triers. I've seen many of his movies and have huge appreciation for his range. Only with Dogville and Mandalay did he repeat a technique. Dancer in the Dark, the first movie of his that I saw, remains one of my favourite movies and may well be the reason I have so much patience with his movies, just as Mulholland Drive gave Lynch a mile of leeway to exploit.

Once committing though, any reading into this piece could only give one the heebie-jeebies. Just with the synopsis and an accidental spoiler listed with the movie's rating (as they need to state the objectionable things in the rating, it did allude to some of the undescribables that would arise), I went into the cinema and was immediately absorbed into this story of grief, evil and madness. The acting was magnificently good: Charlotte Gainsbourg won the best actress award at Cannes for her role (she was Stephanie in The Science of Sleep); Willem Dafoe must've been a good contender in his category. (And interestingly, they are two thirds of the whole cast!) For the first half of the movie they were the relationship; I could even relate to some aspects of it from life experiences; it breathed reality. As the movie progresses into physical and psychological isolation, the sounds and sights become more distorted. At one point I noticed that in amongst the bird-song and tree-cry of the forest, there was a background beat to quicken your heart. The screen image seem to bend occasionally; images flashed from nowhere. The pace was deliberately slow, but only to give you a sense of balance before it pummels you to the ground in a lightning attack, psychological or physical.

The movie made attempts at a greater meaning that I'm still trying to make sense of. And it also almost fell into the ridiculous with the intrusion of a fawn, a fox and frenetic crow as an allegory straight into the plot of the movie. Both Dogville and Mandalay had attempts at greater meaning too, and both strained to do so. Mandalay helped itself in this regard by having archival photos of Blacks in poverty and oppression backed to David Bowie's song The Young Americans just to make its point clear. My feeling is that it is meant as an some sort of an artistic redress for misogyny: the burning of witches, the oppression of women, and for the deeming of feminine nature as evil or corrupting. The film reaches into the guts of this idea and the turns the creature inside out, creating the embodiment of feminine evil as almost a mockery, as a woman Christ to be crucified, to be what the men had said the witches were - evil for the sex, and to be burnt for it. And then take this embodiment and inflict it on a pure man of reason, knowledge and chivalry tempting him into sin. And as I try to hold the movie in my head to write this, it is perhaps only then I can take the significance of the title: Antichrist.

Despite the trauma, I'm glad I saw this movie. I might be wrong with my interpretation and might have rolled my eyes at the intrusion of the symbolic fauna, but it was a true cinematic experience (surpassing Birdsong in its uniqueness), and a great way to cap off the festival. It was, for me, the best film of the nine I saw. (Regardless of my praise here, only go to see this if you are truly broadminded about film, truly tolerant of gratuitously inflicted cinematic pain and patient to let a film open itself slowly to you.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Only two things are infinite

A week ago when shooting through a health shop I got some LSA, which, to those unacquainted with health food, is not some trendy drug but a blended mix of linseed, sunflower seeds and almonds. It can be thrown into smoothies or baking. I only got it because it was on special, but the reason most vegetarians would buy it is that it has lots of the oils that are in fish, but not in a great deal of plant foods, namely, Omega fatty acids, which, incidentally are good for the brain and focus. I had some in a smoothie yesterday morning but it either cursed me or was expired and had the opposite effect.

It all started after a good samaritan morning when I was being shouted lunch for my good deed. As I came back from the restroom and I was about to sit down, I attempted to remove my wallet from the back pocket (I hate sitting on my wallet) and found it wasn't there. A brief search of the cafe revealed it had been standing crease-up near the counter, completely unmolested by evil-doers. What a pleasant surprise!

Then later in the day, I left my home to go vege shopping, drove about 1o minutes, perused the odd vegetables at Mt Eden vege, bought some and headed back to the car, when the car demanded the keys and I was found wanting. I turned to find the cashier charging down the footpath after me, keys glinting in the sunlight. Service and dedication supreme!

Lady luck had insulated me from the worst aspects of my stupidity twice. But the third time she was utterly charmless. I got back to my car and drove a hundred metres down the road when something hit me: fortunately it was just a thought; unfortunately it was a disturbing thought. You see, I'm fond of saving time and also home cookery, which I must say is a bad combination. Before I had left home I thought that I could prepare for a dinner guest that evening by putting a small amount of lentils in a pot, covering them with water, turning up the heat to boiling, and then turning off the heat before leaving. This was the lentils can absorb water and cut cooking times in the evening. I had done this before. And regrettably I had nonchalently done it again: sans the very last step. I had left the lentils in less than a centimetre of water on the stove and full heat... for at least 25 minutes... and I was about 10 minutes from my apartment. I jolted myself out of shock and U-turned my way back homeward. I called both my landlord and flatmate to see if they were close enough to scream home and do whatever could be done, but I was the closest one.

A few months ago, there had been a fire alarm at our apartment complex. A smouldering in an underground carpark had set off the alarms for all the apartments (most of which would not have been in any conceivable threat), so I had visions of burly firefighters using a big ramrod to burst through the door and attend to my overcooked cooking. I pulled up opposite my apartment grounds, dashed across the road and while traversing the parking areas, detected in the air a whiff of one of those dreaded burnt odours, while still 30 metres from the door. I was pleased by the lack of alarm bells and a munted doorway as I shot up the stairs into my smoky lounge. I dashed to the stove-top, threw the smouldering pot into a full sink of water and opened all the doors, windows and extractor fans. But the main crisis was averted, and a jittery Daniel could collapse into a chair with a strong cup of tea.

I can tell you my lessons: lentils exposed to direct heat are reduced to a tar-like substance that will certainly doom any pot the process is carried out in; apparently white vinegar absorbs the burnt smell; my flatmate is completely unflappable; and the universe is certainly boundless.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Playing it straight

The next three movies I saw have been of a totally different flavour: all historically recreated films. There is a lot of merit to such films: they're educational, thought-provoking and, at times, challenging.


As a historical moment, the partition of India has always interested me. Gandhi really did interest me in this respect to show the sheer power of politics, allying themselves with religion, to wrench a whole intact civilisation apart. Firaaq documents another piece of the aftermath to the division, the 2002 Gujarat Massacre. The plot follows several ficitional families and individuals, based on real accounts, as they wrestle with the collective trauma after the incident. Only the first scene and the occasional background TV reports make any direct illustration of the true carnage of the days of violence; the viewer can only feel the residual fear and anger the permeates the whole film. The film was well done, although I'd say that some of the less savoury characters in it do seem more caricature than character. There seem to be clear distinctions the virtuous and evil, the perpetrators and victims, the saints and the sinners, that one feels that it might not necessarily be a fair depiction. One can only pursue the information for themselves.


Che was, in fact, two movies in one: a whole 260 minutes of film for the price of a ticket! That in itself was a tempting proposition. The director (Soderbergh) is acclaimed, the subject of the film a significant personage and icon, it was an opportunity too good to skip. And so the first movie began on how Che was involved in the Cuban revolution. History dictates the flow, so all we can see is the nuances of his personality and life, a man of resolute principles, of humanism above all. The second film starts after he returned from nuturing revolution into the Congo and in complete secrecy slipped into Bolivia. History dictates his demise here and so we see how circumstance brought his life to an end. I remember a review after watching The Motorcycle Diaries saying that it was more a hagiography than a biography. This may apply to these films too in that without personal research it is hard to know whether Che is as virtuous as he is presented; indeed in the film his only shortcoming seems to be asthma. This may or may not be the case. The two films put flesh on the bones of knowledge that I had; the story was presented well with style and technique. It was a wholly worthwhile movie to watch.


"Before the first screening I told the audience that my movie was the most unique movie of the festival. But I hadn't read the festival programme. So since then I've read the programme and I can say with certainty that this is the most unique movie in the festival. It may also be the best movie in the festival. Well, we can discuss that after you've seen it. Regardless, it'll be a true cinematic experience." So said the director of Birdsong, Albert Serra.

Of all the movies so far Birdsong was the first arthouse movie. And as such, it needs to be approached with an open mind, infinite patience and a sense of beauty. This is the "historical" story of the three wise men coming from afar to visit the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. They are devoted a mere three lines in the Bible, which Albert decided to inflate to just over 90 minutes. What it seeks to do is provide real humans and humanity to an arduous journey that has become something sanctified, holy and totally devoid of humanness. We follow the through valleys and deserts as the bicker and navigate, go silent and quest forward, never mentioning their goal (the plot is known to all, there is no need to use their speech to indicate where they're going). Joseph and Mary are recuperating after the birth, Mary with baby, and Mary with her goat. And that is the simplicity of it. I did enjoy it, although even I would have wanted him to use time less as a tool.

"That is the most terrible film I've ever seen." So said the ill-tempered hypocritical woman I sat next to after enduring it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Passing and fading

The news of the two trampers perishing was delivered by my last student for the day. It is sad to hear, as all deaths are. Death in the mountains is always a salutary warning to those with alpine proclivities.

Meanwhile, closer to sea level, I’m yet again proving the Daniel Paradox to be true; namely, the less busy I get the more careless I become. Yesterday I had assumed a student had moved his lesson rather than swapping with another student setting off a flurry of student-bothering texts; then I went to an evening lesson that wasn’t even scheduled. Today I arrived at work to find all my lesson plans were still on the printer at home. Am I even functioning?

Perhaps I am, maybe not, but my broadband certainly isn’t: it seems many separate factors are against me. Fingers-crossed tomorrow resolves the last issues. It has hampered my job search, while the Film Festival has siphoned off time I’d be using to redo my CV. I’ve informed one client about the possibility of my departure, which they were very sad about. They also said that there was very little chance of any more students for me.

Recently, I’ve chewed through many books in my low-gear way, Lolita being the current gristle. Two books before that I read Heart of Darkness by Joseph Konrad. How can two classic English novels be written by people without English as their mother tongue? Genius does truly transcend language, and once it seeks the tools in any tongue, it glistens like a gem. My gosh! I would love to write like either.

With the impending arrival of my new flatmate, I detonated upon household duties: spring cleaning the fridge, reordering the pantry, discarding all my previous housemate’s leftover food, and putting all the rubbish and recycling out. It gave me a whole look at all whole range of foodstuffs I possess; and when I go, what shall I do with it all? So, henceforth I shall consume, empty, share and produce in a grand stock clearance. But my flatmate didn’t come yesterday or today as first thought: his car broke down in Wellington and will be delayed till Friday. Well, he’ll have to wait to receive my generosity!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Scream and Shout

The Film Festival has arrived and I am happy. After the disappointment at my lean pickings last year, I have now the opportunity and the desire to indulge in the movies I want to see. And with time in my hands, I've set the goal of watching ten! Here are reviews for the first few. (Don't worry, no spoilers!)


Despite my disgust at most modern branding, I seem to strongly, and perhap hypocritically, follow particular bands, writers and certain products to extreme levels. Whether it be my complete collections of some musicians whom I consider genius, to buying 4-packs of Phoenix Ginger Beer to drink at home (and in cinemas!), there are some names that sparkle to me as if I were a magpie in a tree. When I saw Park Chan-Wook had a movie in the film festival guide, it was the only movie to earn an emphatic Yes! without consideration for content. Considering Almodovar, a well-regarded director didn't earn more than a cursory look, it should show my dedication. Park Chan-Wook earnt my adulation with Old Boy. He always brings a creatively violent, humorously gory take on what he does. Thirst is a vampire-priest tale - but one creatively and warmly done. How he came to be a vampire might have been a little unbelieveable, but how he deals with his problem, trying to avoid sinning in the process is amusing. Love enters, and love corrupts, and then there is no end of evil that can unfold. Moral: Being a vampire is not as fun as it first appears to be, and you'll be waiting for the other shoe to drop. A lot of blood is ceremoniously spilt. I love his characters too, the old matriarch of the family in particular.

Drag me to hell!

Horror is a genre that I rarely dip into. I was exposed to a good deal of horror movies in my childhood: my eldest sister indulging her fascination with it and, in doing so, filling my nightmares. Well, that is probably overstating it, but the truth is that I've always been of a jumpy, nervy disposition, and despite enjoying the thrill, I tend to spasm in shock at even a ruffle of paper on screen, and sometimes will seek leave of the room when there is an impending shock. The director cues me up with a soundtrack and a sense of foreboding, and I dance.

It was probably over 5 years since I last saw a horror in the cinema - and within the first five minutes of Drag me to hell, I was reminded of the usual way that I experience horror: in contortions. It was a proper horror movie, with all the traditional bells and whistles of horror. It was a sustained burst of adrenalin to the heart, enlivening, even though at times predictable.


As mentioned, I'm a name-dropping viewer. Sam Rockwell's name was my sole reason for watching this. He has dynamism on screen, and I've enjoyed him in other movies. Moon is about one man, Sam Bell, operating a Helium mining operation on the moon. And apart from the robot, Gerty, he is alone, bleakly isolated from Earth, his wife and daughter with two weeks remaining till he goes home, a long two weeks. He hallucinates; he talks to himself and his plants; yet messages from home drive him on. However, while on a routine trip in a moon buggy to a rock harvester, he has an accident and makes a rather astonishing discovery.

I enjoyed this movie. It never seemed to slow despite it essentially being the same actor on screen all the time. It also touches on many ethical issues about what technology could bring to us.

There is an odd background in the movie too: the director is David Bowie's son, christened Zowie Bowie (although apparently he changed his name since). David Bowie, of course, was made famous by the hit Space Oddity ("Ground Control to Major Tonk") and has other songs about life in space. An influence, perhaps?