August 15, 2012

NZIFF 2012: Wrap up (Wellington edition)

The two most glorious weeks of the year have, once again, concluded.

The total number of films I saw is about half of what I got to last year (27 in total) and largely due to my low key presence during the first week (working on that all important second draft) the whole fest felt like it just whipped right on past me. I missed far more than I saw.

I had a lot of fun with films like The Angels' Share, How to Meet Girls From a Distance and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

How to Meet Girls From a Distance was particularly impressive given the limitations placed on the filmmakers. These guys were the winners of the inaugural Make My Movie competition, with a prize of a $100,000.00 production budget. Which, as anyone involved with making a film can tell you, is not a lot of money really. And then they only had a limited time to actually make the film and even less time to cut it, ready for the Festival. Chuck in the fact that they decided to make a romantic-comedy about a stalker and you can see that they weren't short of challenges.

I am so pleased I went to the Far Out Far East double feature of Henge and Young Gun in the Time that played at the same time as Moonrise Kingdom. Henge was a low-key body horror that morphed through oddity to domestic drama to mild conspiracy to murderous relationship to kaiju. Every time I thought I knew where it was heading, BAM! It went somewhere completely unexpected. And Young Gun in the Time is the follow-up film from the director and star from Invasion of Alien Bikini. It's a (very) low budget Korean time-travel film about a broke private detective. It wasn't incredible but it had a strange charm to it, and I had to respect them for making what they did with the budget they had.

As always, there were a couple of bum notes in the festival. While Beasts of the Southern Wild was in no way a bad film, and I absolutely enjoyed it... I was expecting more from it. I was expecting, nay hoping, to be grabbed by it; for the film to reach out to me and move me in some profound fashion. And while there was a lot to like about the film (seriously. See it if you get the chance), for me it just didn't have that indefinable "oomph".

V/H/S though was an entirely frustrating, boring and slightly painful experience. An anthology of found footage horror films, too many of them became about the gimmick than anything truly frightening. There were a couple of neat ideas in one or two of the segments but it was, overall, the low point of festival. Also: just about every single character/victim in these films were complete douchebags. I didn't really feel bad that any of them died in the end. Contrasted completely with Cabin in the Woods.

I am so damn thankful that I got to see Cabin in the Woods on the big screen. After all of the hoo-hah with MGM's finances going down the gurgler, a delayed release in the States and a threatened direct-to-DVD status in Australia and New Zealand I thought I would never get to see this wild ride of a film with a packed audience. But I did. THREE times. Every time was amazing. Every time was with a packed, fun-loving, appreciative audience. And one of those sessions was a weekday day-time screening and the other was a late addition that packed out in less than three days. That's at the Embassy Theatre in Wellington - a cinema with a 700-odd capacity. And boy-howdy the film delivered. Fun and crazy and inventive and intelligent and bursting with ideas and great performances. I want to see it again. Right now.  I had a lot of fun in the Cabin.

I also had a helluva time with Ben Wheatley's Sightseers. I went in utterly blank on what to expect. I have heard good things about Wheatley's Kill List (which I'm still hoping to see soon) and just went in blind. And I loved it. A strange, darkly comic British camping trip with two (somewhat) lovable and messed up people, I had a ball with it and encourage everyone to see it. It's an off-kilter film in the absolute best way possible.

Your Sister's Sister and Liberal Arts carried a gentler sense of humour to them and I enjoyed them enough, and they were finely made with some charmingly watchable performances, but they're not on the list of stand outs.

In addition to Marilyn and her diamonds and Gentlemen, the classics at the 2012 NZIFF were: 
The ShiningBonjour Tristesse and Mantrap. All of these films were my first ever viewings. I enjoyed the hell out of Gentlemen and Mantrap - I find Marilyn a fascinating actress to watch (in addition to, yes, being drop-dead gorgeous) and Mantrap was the live cinema event for Wellington. A Clara Bow starring silent from the 20's it was a lot of fun, even if it took a few odd turns. But boy, that Clara Bow was full of some popping zest! 

In her second low-budget scifi, Brit Marling told us to listen to the Sound of My Voice, Mads Mikkelson's falsely accused paedophile tried to evade The Hunt and Woody Harrelson stormed the Rampart in a racist haze of alcohol and cigarettes. All were fine films but, as with Beasts, they didn't quite grab me at the visceral, emotional level.

That task was left to the utterly devastating documentary Bully and the profoundly disturbing Compliance. I saw Bully the morning after Compliance which, as you will soon read, may have fed into my emotional response. Because that emotional response was... well, it was quite emotional. I'm not, generally speaking, a big crier at the movies. I'll get choked up from time to time, but I tend to hold the tears back or just not quite get to that emotional point. Bully had me weeping openly, profusely and often. The crew just spend time with these kids who are being bullied, with the families of the kids and with the families of kids who have taken their own lives due to bullying. The school system and the authorities are shown to be, at best, ignorant and, at worst, lazy and just not giving a damn. It should be noted, that Bully focuses on the extreme examples of bullying; these go beyond school-yard taunts and become physically and mentally aggressive. There is criticism to be levelled at the film and the possibility of different approaches untaken (really, it should be called "Bullied"), but this documentary hit me on an emotional level like nothing else.

But the film that really had an effect on me, the film that I am choosing as my pick of the fest, was Craig Zobel's Compliance. There are few films that have got under my skin as much as this one did. Based on true events, the film details the horrible and horrifying systematic degradation of a young fast-food restaurant employee. A man phones the manager, claiming to be a police-officer and accusing the pretty young blonde girl of stealing from a customer. Over the course of the day she is humiliated and violated by the manager and other people. I'm not the only one that was affected by the clinical degradation of the film: there were a number of walk-outs; people who could no longer stand to see what was happening to this innocent girl. And part of that comes from the (to us) patently outrageous commands and requests coming from this bodiless voice on the phone but that, over the course of the day, these people are berated and placated into following.
Compliance sent me out of the cinema angry, dizzy and spiraling into a weird, dark mental place. 

I may not have seen as many films at NZIFF 2012 as last year, but I can say that there will be a number of ones I did see that will stay with me for a long, long time to come. And that's why I go the festival every year.