Saturday, October 27, 2018

A Kid Like Jake

Jake is the only child of professional parents in the suburbs of New York City. He's five and his parents are looking for a primary school for him. The kind of primary school they'd like to send him to probably costs more than they can afford, and only takes a limited number of children anyway, so it's quite a source of anxiety.

One of the significant things about Jake is that he's quite effeminate for a small boy. He likes to dress up, has moderately long hair and likes pastel colours and movies about unicorns. His kindergarten principal suggests that his parents should emphasize this in their primary school applications, since schools like to think they're accepting a diverse range of students and that he might even get a scholarship as a token gender-diverse child.

A Kid Like Jake is about his parents response to this idea and the effect that this has on their relationship with each other, their friends and with Jake.The dilemma of how much emphasis to put on an aspect of your child's personality and identity is portrayed convincingly and is easy to relate to. Life can always throw something at you that you weren't expecting and it's interesting to see a couple dealing with the unexpected.It's quite a talky movie but it is entertaining and it's nice to look at, especially since Jake's parents are played by Claire Danes (Alex) and Jim Parsons (Greg). And although Alex and Greg don't agree on everything, it's not at all harrowing to watch.

Anne's rating 4/5 Ian's rating 2.5/5

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Three Identical Strangers

A good documentary should tell you stuff you didn't know and be engaging while it does it. This film has a pretty interesting premise,  triplets separated at birth who grew up not knowing they were triplets, who meet at the age of nineteen.

Once this basic scenario has been played out, the story just gets more interesting. It becomes apparent that the adoption agency hid the fact that these children were triplets from their adoptive parents. I won't go into the reasons now, because you may wish to watch the movie yourself, but it's fair to say that your jaw will be on the floor quite often.

We meet the two surviving triplets, and many of their friends and relatives. We meet people who worked for the adoption agency (which specialised in Jewish babies) and child psychologists and researchers.

Adoption is much rarer in the twenty-first century than it was in the nineteen-sixties, at least in the western world and is much more regulated and transparent. Once you've watched this movie you'll probably think this is a good thing.

Anne's rating 3.5/5

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Insult

Two political Lebanese courtroom dramas in one festival sounds like more than a coincidence.

The Insult opens with a Christian Phalangist Party rally celebrating election victory. Tony Hanna, who owns a car repair garage is a keen party follower. The next day he gets into an altercation with Yasser the Palestinian foreman/engineer doing renovation work on the apartment building, which quickly escalates into Tony smashing a new drain pipe and Yasser calling him a "fucking prick" (or some Arabic equivalent). The situation escalates between the two stubborn and proud men leading to a worse insult ("I wish Ariel Sharon had wiped you all out"), a punch, court cases and a national political drama, with rock throwing and burning tyres.
The court case is a device to provide not only more tension between the two sides but also allows explanation of the past (including Black September and  the Damour massacre). Tony's lawyer, in particular, is an even more ardent supporter of the Maronite Christian cause than Tony is. He resents that Palestinian suffering at the hands of Zionism shelters them from criticism and sees the case as yet another opportunity to undermine their reputation (to what end is unclear as there is no way that Lebanon can ever get rid of Palestinians, since that depends on the Israelis).

The Insult makes the point that what we identify with gives us strength but also makes us a target. Also that emphasising one difference prevents us from seeing what makes us similar in other ways. It does a good job of explaining a small part of Lebanon's history. The personal tension between the two men is very well depicted with Yasser smouldering quietly and stiffly while Tony's agitation is more physical. Similarly the legal dispute is in the long tradition of cinematic courtroom tactics.
As the lawyers wrangle over the case the two men at the centre of it begin to feel left out and try solve their differences outside the courtroom. At about this point there are a couple of scenes that don't fit with the plot and how Yasser and Toni appear to feel at that moment. Both scenes have dramatic appeal and from that point of view I can see why they are in the film, but both feel jarringly out of place at that point. One, involving the President of Lebanon, might have fitted better earlier in the story and the other involving a car that won't start perhaps nearer the end.

Politics in Lebanon is a high tension game. A country which divides its electorates not only geographically but also between 18 religious groups. Where political parties have militias. A country which has had a civil war. On top of that Lebanon has hosted refugee camps for 70 years and where at the moment 1 in 3 people are refugees from conflicts in neighbouring Syria, Israel or Palestine. Neighbouring countries that show no sign of accepting their refugees back. There is no lack of bitterness and no lack of causes to join. Despite that The Insult is a hopeful film. There are an abundance of peace makers among the minor characters: Yasser's boss and his wife, Tony's pregnant and photogenic wife (played by Rita Hayek) and the President of Lebanon.


Ian's rating 4.5/5 Anne's rating 3.5/5

The World Is Yours

This year's French comedy is the crime caper The World is Yours which, strangely, has two French titles Le monde est à toi and Le monde ou rien. If you want a nice, polite, politically correct French farce you should move along, there is nothing to see here.

Our protagonist longs to go straight and dreams of opening a Mr. Freeze franchise in North Africa and owning a small house with an outdoor pool. Unfortunately, his family and friends are the criminal underworld of the local Parisian housing estate and his career so far has been committing, aiding and abetting crime. Even when he thinks he has saved enough for a down payment on the franchise his mother's gambling habit intervenes. So he reluctantly accepts the job of driving to Spain to pick some drugs from a Scottish drug lord. Accompanied by his mother's dopy ex-boyfriend, 2 stoned gangsters both called Mohamed and a gold digging semi-girlfriend what could possibly go wrong? And who are you going to call when things do go wrong? Well, mummy of course (played in top scenery chewing form by Isabelle Adjani).

While not the funniest or craziest film at the festival, it has a flare that is missing in the rest of the films I saw in this year's festival. Reminiscent of both Tarantino and Sexy Beast, The World is Yours has us rooting for the underdog as he digs himself deeper and deeper into trouble.


Ian's rating 3/5 Anne's rating 2.5/5

Wednesday, August 22, 2018


I went to Disobedience because I enjoyed the book, which isn't always a good idea but worked out all right on this occasion. It probably helps that it's quite a few years since I read the book, so I wasn't hung up on the details.

Ronit  (played by Rachel Weisz) is  the central character. She is a rabbi's daughter and grew up in London in an orthodoxe Jewish community but now lives a secular life in New York City working as a photographer. Having heard the news of her father's death, she heads back to London, where she finds out that Dovit (who was her father's spiritual protege) and Esti (her best friend with whom she had a clandestine lesbian relationship when they were teenagers) are now married to each other which is a big surprise. The other big surprise waiting is that her father has left his house to the local synagogue and not to her.

Despite Esti being married, she and Ronit's feelings for each other haven't diminished with time. So the story is about what effect that has on each of their adult lives and how Ronit comes to terms with the death of a man she loved, but from whom she was estranged. It's a very tense movie and the tension comes from the impossibility of having or acknowledging a lesbian relationship in such a religious community. Disobedience is a fairly satisfying watch despite everything in it (including the weather) being gray or brown.

Anne's rating 3/5.

Monday, August 20, 2018


Ava is an sixteen year old high school student in Tehran. She plays the violin, hangs out with her friends, experiments with make up and has a bit of thing for her friend's brother, with whom she plays duets. The high school she goes to is girls only and somewhat repressive. A harmless afternoon spent with the aforementioned brother results in her being taken by her mother to the gynaecologist for a virginity assessment, which she's naturally pretty upset about, particularly when she discovers that her mother was pregnant when she got married. Her supportive and seemingly fairly liberal parents are suddenly part of the repressive and paranoid regime that operates at her school.

So Ava the movies paints a picture of a society that most Westerners are uncomfortable with. We mourn that Ava has to go through what she does, and that her parents are complicit in putting her through it. Unfortunately, Ava the girl isn't a very charismatic character and the whole film is a bit grim. Watch the trailer so you get the gist, but don't bother to go to the film.

Anne's rating 1/5

Sunday, August 19, 2018


Capharnaüm or Capernaum is a confusing title. Merriam Webster defines capharnaum as a confused jumble or a place marked by a disorderly accumulation of objects. While chaos is an apt description of the situations the title really doesn't do justice to this political film about the effect on children of poverty and poor parenting decisions.

Ostensibly Capharnaüm is a courtroom drama as approximately 12-year-old Zain sues his parents in a Lebanese court. But this is just a framing device for telling the story in an extended flashback. The story of a few weeks of Zain's life and family and by extension the story of the bottom rungs of Lebanese society, especially its children. Zain's parents can't remember what year he was born. He has a lot of siblings and being the eldest still at home he feels responsible for the others, especially his 11-year-old sister Sahar. The family lives in a small, dirty apartment owned by a local shopkeeper who has the hots for Sahar and for whom Zain works for as a delivery boy. Zain's mother runs a small-time drug smuggling operation involving the kids, who also sell juice to commuters at rush hour. Zain's father's occupation is not mentioned.

As bad as the initial situation is it gets worse when Zain runs away from home in anger after an unsuccessful attempt to protect Sahar. Eventually, Zain ends up living on the streets trying to look after a refugee toddler when its mother disappears, presumably arrested.
Much of the cast are not previously professional actors and Zain, in particular, who is in almost every scene pulls off an amazing performance. His character's resourcefulness, cynicism, anger and compassion drive the story. While the subject matter is depressing, this is not really a depressing story. Zain's go-with-your-gut instinct approach to life is too much fun to watch. I can only dream of coping with the bad things in life with the aplomb that he does.

Other reviews are divided into those that say that Capharnaüm is too sentimental and emotionally manipulative and those that say it is unsentimental and gritty (and in defence point out that emotional manipulation is at the core of filmmaking). I wonder if the divide is actually between those that were made uncomfortable and wanted to dis the film and its message versus those who accept the dual attack on parents and the system that leads to poverty and refugees. I presume that director Nadine Labaki (who has a bit part in this film and previously started in 2008's Caramel) made this film for a Lebanese audience, a country with 4 million Lebanese and 2 million refugees (mostly from Syria). We are not used to hearing from Lebanese about refugees, which contrasts with the endless reports crisis caused by 1 million Syrian and African refugees arriving in the EU with its population of 500 million.

Ian's rating 5/5 Anne's rating 4/5

Saturday, August 18, 2018


It was back to Israel for Foxtrot, but this time for was a Jewish Israeli film, Like Wajib it was a family drama, but unlike Wajib it features Jewish Israelis and we're talking a funeral rather than a wedding.

Foxtrot centres on a middle-aged Israeli (Michael) who lives with his wife  (Dafna) and two young adult children (Jonathon and Alma) in a high-rise apartment in Tel Aviv. Jonathon is currently serving in the IDF and is stationed in the north of Israel. The film opens with a knock on the apartment door and it's two soldiers, announcing that Jonathon has been killed. They're coy about the details, and suggest that viewing the body is unnecessary and undesirable. They act with impressive efficiency - you get a sense of the IDF being an unstoppable well-oiled machine

So we view the family's different reactions to the news, get to meet a few other relatives and get to know people a bit better. Michael's mother is a holocaust survivor who's losing her memory, Michael served in the IDF himself.

Then the first plot twist - the soldiers are back, announcing they got things wrong, and although a Jonathon Feldman has died, it isn't their son. So now there are different kinds of angst to go through. Initially Michael and Alma are fighting, later they find some  mutual consolation in their joint confusion and anger.

Then it's off to the north of Israel and seeing Jonathon's  day-to-day existence. He and three fellow solider live in a container and monitor an isolated checkpoint. There's very little going on but there's some drama when they're inspecting a carful of young Arabs and they mistake a beer can for a grenade and open fire, killing all the occupants. In an almost surreal scene, the ever-efficient IDF sends a massive truck with a bulldozer on the back and the car and everyone in it is buried
 forthwith.And then we have a second plot twist which you can see for yourself if you go to the film.

One of Foxtrot's main messages is that serving in the IDF is bad for you - mentally and physically. You get caught up in. it, and it changes you forever. A sub-message is that surviving the holocaust blights your relationships. And while these are not the cheeriest messages, it was a pretty engrossing watch. Foxtrot was directed by Samuel Moaz who directed Lebanon (set inside an Israeli tank in the 1982 war with Lebanon) which we have also seen,

Anne's rating 3.5/5


Girl features a teenage boy in the process of becoming a girl. She's called Lara (previously Victor) and has just moved cities along with very supportive father and much younger brother. She's been provisionally accepted into the local and very prestigious ballet school. She's taking puberty-delaying medication and will soon be old enough to take hormone replacement therapy. A raft of supportive medical professionals are accompanying Lara and her Dad on this painful journey.

It's hard to think of a more physically and emotionally demanding course of action than changing
gender while attending a ballet academy which is physically and emotionally demanding in itself. So watching the film, we're experiencing the journey even if we don't understand it.  I imagine that's how Lara's father felt - that he was experiencing the journey form the outside. Lara clearly wants to be a girl very badly and she dislikes her male body and is prepared to go to great lengths to change it. I can support that want and that aim but I don't understand it. I don't know why she feels that way, and I was hoping that Girl might give me an insight and it really didn't, so that was a bit disappointing. Perhaps it's a bit much to expect a teenager who is having hard time to articulate why they want something so badly. There are times that I want what I think being a physically imposing man would give me (especially when I'm in a business meeting) but I don't want to be a man. I'm interested in why someone would want to change sex rather than change they way they're treated, especially when transgender people aren't treated in exactly the same way as cis-gender people.

I'm digressing from the film itself which is very, very well acted and compelling. It is somewhat traumatic, and I didn't read about the self harm aspect in the NZIFF programme because Girl hadn't been rated by the censor when the paper version was printed. If I had known I may not have gone.

When I was talking to a friend about the festival and what we'd seen, he said "the best film that I saw that you probably shouldn't see because it's too upsetting was The Cleaners" And that's how I feel about Girl - a good film that you probably shouldn't see.

So no rating on this one. I could give a zero because cleaning the oven would have been more fun, but that would be denigrating the acting and the film-making in a most uncharitable way.

Wajib- The Wedding Invitation

Like "The Reports on Sarah and Saleem", Wajib is a film that features Arab Israelis. A family story set in Nazareth, it uses the familiar scenario of adult child visiting the family home to illustrate the life of Arab citizens in Israel.

Shadi is an Arab Israeli architect who lives in Italy. His father (Abu Shadi) and his sister live in Nazareth, which is where he grew up. His sister is about to get married, and Shadi is home for the wedding. Their mother lives in America having left her husband and Israel when Shadi and his sister were children.

Most of the  film takes place over the course of a day. Shadi and his father are driving around Nazareth hand-delivering wedding invitations. As result we get to meet many of their family and friends and see inside many homes. Shadi and Abu Shadi have lots of opportunity to talk while they're in the car. As is often the case when you spend time with family, they find each other both irritating and endearing. Shadi is trying to give up smoking, and Abu Shadi, who has heart trouble and is supposed to be giving up, shows no interest in doing so. We learn that Shadi's mother leaving her husband continues to be an embarrassment, and we learn that Shadi was sent to Italy when he got into some political trouble when he was younger. He's much more anti-Israeli than his Dad ,and is outraged when he discovers his father is proposing to invite one of his Jewish friends to the wedding. We learn that Arab tradition is still important, and that delivering wedding invitations in Nazareth is  a parking nightmare and that you'll be forced to drink enough coffee to keep you awake for a week.

Wajib is a pretty gentle film that's illustrative without packing much of an emotional punch. The characters are like-able and they have a relatively pleasant lifestyle compared to their counterparts in the West Bank and Gaza but there are constraints  to that lifestyle

Saleh Bakri who is an Israeli-born Arab himself, rejects the Israeli label, preferring to describe himself as a Palestinian - you can read about  Saleh has been described as the sexiest man in Israel and if you're looking for a reason to go and see the film, an extended opportunity to admire him is a valid one. There's a nice  inter-generational contrast between Shadi the son who wears a floral shirt and his hair in a topknot and Abu Shadi who wears muted colours and a flat cap.

Anne's rating 2.5/5

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Mega Time Squad

Mega Time Squad is a slightly fanciful tale set in Thames. Antony Tennet plays John, the feckless employee of local crime boss Shelton. John is prevailed upon to stage a heist against the local triad, and he agrees in order to impress Shelton's sister. A Chinese bracelet stolen along with a tyre-full of money gives John the ability to duplicate himself and travel backwards in time, and this leads to many a comic moment and general silliness. There are car chases, guns, violence and swearing but this film  comes across as benign and life-affirming.

Mega Time Squad was sequestered in the incredibly strange section of the film festival programme, which seems like a potentially audience-limiting decision. While not as main-stream or high budget as, say, Sione's Wedding, it was at least on par with How To Meet Girls From a Distance and shared many qualities with both those films - especially how the characters talk, behave and interact. A more accurate description than incredibly strange would be fast-paced , off-beat comedy. Despite the film festival's categorization, it's coming out on general release later in the year.

Director/Writer Tim van Dammen says "Mega Time Squad celebrates Kiwi-ness, particularly the way Kiwis speak" and that was a very enjoyable aspect of the film. The scenario of the self-confident obnoxious individual who surrounds himself with  self-effacing conflict-averse characters is one we're all familiar with  and Jonny Brugh does an excellent job playing the obnoxious Shelton.  I liked the escapist element and the recognisable setting. We've spent a lot of time in Thames and it's always fun to see somewhere you're familiar with on screen.

It's fair to say I loved Mega Time Squad. I really can't think about it without smiling

Anne's rating 4.5/5. Ian's rating 3/5

Woman at War

Hella is a much-loved choirmaster and secret eco-warrior. She also has a 3 piece band that appears wherever she is to provide a soundtrack for her life and when they aren't available there are 3 Ukranian women in national costume to sing instead. These are slightly surreal aspects to Woman at War, this year's Icelandic comedy. Hella's eco-warrior activities mostly revolve around shorting out high-voltage powerlines feeding a steel (or aluminium) plant. Her life is complicated when an application to adopt a Ukranian orphan four years earlier is suddenly accepted. Our quixotic heroine is undaunted by the forces of the government and nature.
This is a laid back, light hearted shaggy dog story, which will teach you a couple of new uses for dead sheep and how to shoplift a typewriter. There is also an unfortunate Spanish speaking cycle tourist who is always in the wrong place at the wrong time and you will see and hear a Helicon.


Ian's rating 3.5/5


Tina works in customs at a Swedish ferry terminal. She is a valuable member of the team because she has an amazing sense of smell. Tina is particularly ugly. One day she processes a passenger she finds fascinating and the attraction is mutual. This has a knock-on effect on Tina's relationships with both her boyfriend and her dad. Tina, who has been bullied all her life, blooms as a result of this encounter. Border is another film that should have been categorised in the NZIFF's Incredibly Strange section and I can't say much more about what happens without giving too much away.
Border is a film about the marginalised in society and different strategies for those people to deal with the rest of society. It is also brings some old Scandinavian ideas up to date, by incorporating them into a modern story.

After reading other reviews I see that some reviewers are shocked by seeing ugly people having sex on screen.

🎥 🎥

Ian's rating 3.5/5

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Ancient Woods

 Nature documentaries are a staple of television channels, so obviously you don't have to go to the theatre to see them. The best nature documentaries provide a kind of immersive experience, and are free from annoying voice-overs or ad breaks. They should be the next best thing to being there and sometimes they're better than being there because a camera can go where humans can't.

The Ancient Woods takes the viewer to Lithuania, where there's an incredible diversity of wildlife. Moose and mice, owls and vultures, snakes and deer, crows and capercaillies, ants and bees. The footage is stunning, and often quite funny. It was a little slow but the I have forgiven the slow bits because the good bits were so good. There was very clever camera positioning, and I enjoyed being fearful for the life of the dormouse until I realised that snake that was pursuing it was very tiny.

Being in the woods, even vicariously, is definitely an immersive experience, especially when it comes to sound. It seems European forests are noisy places, and some of the creatures make surprising sounds. When I went to the exhibition at Zealandia and saw the animated moa models and heard them growling, I thought this was completely fanciful but now that I've seen the western capercaillie  (an incredible bird that's like a cross between a turkey and a cassowary, pictured below) I think that moas may well have growled.

I think on the whole I prefer my stunning visuals to be accompanied by stirring music but I can see that without its current soundtrack The Ancient Woods would be missing something important.

Anne's rating 3.5/5

The Reports on Sarah and Saleem

We've seen quite a few movies about Palestinians who live in the West Bank (Paradise Now, A Wedding in Ramallah, Omar, Private, The Zoo) but few about Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. So  The Reports on Sarah and Saleem broke some new ground in terms of both that and interaction between Jewish and Arab Israeli citizens.

So in this movie, Sarah is a Jewish Israeli cafe owner, and Saleem is a Palestinian who delivers croissants to her cafe. They move in different circles but they both live in Jerusalem. They both have distracted spouses - Sarah's husband David is an officer in the IDF and is often away and Saleem's wife Bisan is pregnant and is declining sex because it's bad for the baby. So they have motive, proximity and opportunity for the affair they embark on. The bakery van provides a handy venue. You could say their affair was bound to lead to trouble but it seemed harmless enough initially.

The event that really starts the trouble is a late-night trip to Bethlehem. Despite the plan to pretend Sarah is foreign by having her only speak in English, she's rumbled as Jewish and some unhappy Arabs not only give Saleem a hard time, they report him to the authorities, and things escalate from there.

Any affair has potentially troublesome ramifications and I guess the plot revolves around the many ramifications that this affair had, in this politically and racially charged part of the world. Many of them were unexpected, and I was never bored and never knew quite what was going to happen next. This movie is quite woman-centric for a Middle-Eastern film and I liked how Sarah and Bisan didn't just roll over and do what their husbands wanted. I liked how interesting and well-acted some of the lesser characters were - Saleem's lawyer Maryam and the bald Israeli security guy in particular..

Jerusalem looked beautiful as always and the similarities and differences between Jewish and Arab Israelis were nicely highlighted.

Anne's rating 4.5/5 Ian's rating 4.5/5