Match Frame

Thoughts from an American editor and filmmaker in New Zealand about film and video production and post-production. Plus whatever else I feel like talking about.

Location: Balmoral, Auckland, New Zealand

A work in progress.

Friday, July 20, 2007

NZFF report #2

okay, lots to catch up with, so these might be terse. Ask me about anything you're curious about if you want more info.

THE TRIALS OF DARRYL HUNT: One of a string of documentaries presented in the wrong aspect ratio (in this case, a letterbox 4x3 master squished to 16x9), this film nonetheless is a gut-punch of first-person testimony in the lengthy attempt to overturn the conviction of a man accused of rape. Very strong, incredibly moving, recommended.

RESCUE DAWN: I'm as big of a Werner Herzog fan as they come, but this was a pretty big disappointment. Christian Bale's performance and the stirring patriotic end (complete with symphonic music) strike me as the two most problematic elements, but there's also lots of basic storytelling issues - finding the sole, for instance, doesn't mean anything because you've barely registered that they don't have shoes and/or that not having shoes is a problem. Some beautiful images and nice passages, but gimme WILD BLUE YONDER any day.

DEEP WATER: A stunning documentary about the first sailing race around the world. While there's seven competitors, it focuses largely on two: a relatively inexperienced inventor and a French philosopher. The story, augmented massively by footage shot by the sailors during their travels, is one that you're best knowing nothing about going in, as the twists and turns are increasingly stunning and heartbreaking. Even more highly recommended.

TALES FROM EARTHSEA: in which the first movie by the son of famous animator Hayao Miyazaki (MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, etc.) fails to even remotely escape his father's shadow. I've never read the original source material, but this is just a mish-mash of some fantasy gobbledy-gook and a lot of gabbing, along with some unlikeable characters, and very few cute Ghibli creatures to at least keep things interesting to look at. My second least favorite film of the fest so far.

TV JUNKIE: Bizarrely presented in a perfect square in the middle of the screen, which was annoying. Rick Kirkham is a tv presenter who obsessively filmed himself, and this film after a brief prologue is basically a long first-person account of his descent into drug abuse and self-destruction. There's something bizarre about how acutely aware Kirkham seems to be of his situation, despite the fact that he just keeps falling deeper. I am a bit unsettled by how his children feature into this, particularly given the ending.

HELVETICA: Yes, it's a documentary about the font, and I'm tempted to argue that it's so much more but I'm not sure that it is. But I'm also not sure that matters, because what this really is about is hearing legendary graphic designers speak passionately about the pros and cons of Helvetica (and, by extension, alternative fonts), and it emphatically proves the point that hearing intelligent, passionate, articulate people talk about their field of knowledge is generally fascinating no matter what the field is if you have any curiosity about the world. And you'll definitely look at the streets around you with different eyes after this. Highly recommended.

AUDIENCE OF ONE: Presented in the same screwed-up format as TV JUNKIE. This fly-on-the-wall documentary follows a pastor who decides to lead his rag-tag congregation into making a $50 million epic sci-fi retelling of a Biblical story. Wisely, the film holds some of the more extreme aspects of the church til the end, but there's no stopping the subjects from digging their own grave when it comes to their pie-eyed optimism/extreme ineptitude at filmmaking. (This article should give you some sense, if yr. curious.) The final slide presentation by the pastor is thus far, I believe, the most jaw-dropping moment of the festival.

ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE: A 70's classic that I'd never seen, partially because I thought it was porn-related. Couldn't be more wrong - Electra Glide is a brand of motorcycle, and Robert Blake is the not-very-tall man riding it as an Arizona highway patrol man who wants to be a homicide detective. It's shocking to think that a feature this inventive and accomplished was by a first-time director James-William Guercio, who never directed after this (apparently it was derided as "Fascist" at Cannes, I guess for daring to suggest that policemen are human and some criminals actually are bad people). Plus, great Conrad Hall photography. A must-see!

A DIRTY CARNIVAL: This year's Korean gangster film is a step up for me from last year's stylish but sluggish A BITTERSWEET LIFE, perhaps because it's actually two interweaving stories (the second being of the filmmaker who went to school with the lead character, and now wants to research his life to make a gangster film). It's perhaps not as stylish or as relentlessly violent as some other Korean films of note, but for that it hurts all the more.

SMILE: Another 70's film that I'd never seen, by director Michael Ritchie, who I thought I was unfamiliar with - little did I know he directed both the Lee Marvin film PRIME CUT and FLETCH. This film is in the Altman mode, profiling the "Young America Miss" contest with a mix of humor and pathos but mostly staying on the funny side of the fence. Fans of Altman definitely should check this out.

RETRIBUTION: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (CURE, PULSE [KAIRO]) is one of my favorite directors working, and his sense of atmosphere - from his choice of crumbling locations to the infinite shades of grey he uses in his production design to his pervasively oppressive sound design - is so striking to me that I'm disposed to like most everything he does. A number of other people were unimpressed by this film, and perhaps it's not as good as CURE or PULSE, but I can't think of many directors who can sustain a two-hour feeling of dread and unease this strong and (apart with mild dissatisfaction with some of the digital effects) I came away fully satisfied in that disquieted kinda way.

BELLE TOUJOURS: While not as unremittingly awful as I had heard in the pre-screening gossip, it certainly stretches mightily to make its 69 minute running time. A sequel to BELLE DE JOUR of sorts, there's some nice moments of rumination on identity and aging, and it did more to sell Paris to me than PARIS, JE T'AIME ever did. And near the end, there's some nice Bunuelian elements that seep in. But by and large, I can't imagine most people would get much from this, and the actor who plays the bartender gives the worst performance I've thus seen this festival. At the end, I discovered that it's the director's grandson. Go figure.

THE BOTHERSOME MAN: If you've ever felt that IKEA might be a sort of hell, this is the film for you. A quietly surreal expedition into an afterworld that seems perfectly agreeable only by its lack of any disagreeable elements, this is visually striking in its portrayal of terrifying blandness. Sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing, ultimately sad, and I'm not really sure what to make of it overall but definitely think it's worth seeing.

STILL LIFE: I've seen three films by Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke now (the others being UNKNOWN PLEASURES and THE WORLD) and I feel like I'm missing the boat a bit - they've all been good, but by many he's been anointed as one of the greatest filmmakers working, and I just don't see it. As an editor, I'd probably be less bothered if he didn't rely on the intermittent use of very naff visual effects - some of them may meant to be charming, but some are just sloppy. That said, I did enjoy this story of two people coming to the area around the Three Gorges Dam to re-connect to a past that's in the process of being washed away, and Jia definitely takes advantage of a visually striking landscape for moments of quiet absurdity and sadness. I like it more as I write about it, which is certainly a good sign.

THE LOST: If David Lynch was less weird and more mean? Set in a location out of time, this adaptation of a crime novel justifies its brutal and gory finale by devoting a lot of attention to character development - while I certainly can't recommend it for those with weak stomachs, I would definitely recommend it for anyone who likes horror, and it's an amazing accomplishment on a low budget. Some minor storytelling lumpiness aside, very impressive.

DESERT/MEX: My least favorite film of the festival, from the hand-held largely out-of-focus photography to the incredibly unlikable characters. I'm more than mildly baffled by all the praise this is getting, and I would've walked after twenty minutes if there had been anything else on to see; as it was, I only stayed to see if I could figure out what the appeal was. Yes, I suppose the acting's good, and points for telling a non-linear story in an unobtrusive manner (though why it has to be non-linear other than to be showy is markedly unclear to me), and maybe you'll like the endless stream of characters with anger-management issues better than I do. If so, good on you! But if not, don't blame me.

MANDA BALA (SEND A BULLET): A gut-punch of a documentary about life in Brazil by a former Errol Morris assistant, this doc manages to be pretty independent of Morris's style - while the free-associations of a frog farm, a kidnap victim, a corrupt politician, a plastic surgeon specializing in ear reconstruction, and a paranoid businessman might seem out of FAST CHEAP AND OUT OF CONTROL, in fact they're glued together at a much more primal level. Not for the squeamish, but highly recommended.

TEKKON KINKREET: The latest animation from Studio 4C, who did last year's mind-blowing MIND GAME, this effort is slightly more traditional narratively speaking, but pushes the envelope even further as animation goes. The use of animation as camera is stunning here, from soaring city-scape shots to lots of "hand-held camera" that works shockingly well to "steadi-cam" tracking shots to even getting drops of water on the "lens" when near the water. A must-see for anyone who is interested in animation.

And today I rested! Tonight: EXILED!


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