Archive by Author

Review: The Tree (2010)

27 Sep

The Tree is an adaptation of Judy Pascoe’s novel Our Father Who Art in the Tree. I can’t comment on the book or the success of the adaptation as I have not read it. What I did see in The Tree is a not particularly moving picture of a family’s grief. Perhaps something got lost in translation? Continue reading


The Strength of Water – Australian release

3 Dec

So, actually being in the NZ film industry has sucked my time away from AFR. But as this is in direct interest to my job, you get an update about the beautiful New Zealand film The Strength of Water. It opens today in Melbourne (Palace Como), Sydney (Chauvel) and Brisbane (Palace Barracks). Please check it out. Promise it’s worth it.

The Strength of Water - in Australian cinemas now


When a mysterious stranger arrives in their isolated coastal town, ten-year-old twins Kimi and Melody are forced apart. Kimi must find the strength to let go of what he loves the most.

Kimi and Melody live happily in an isolated Maori community until an enigmatic stranger, Tai, arrives, precipitating an accident which forces the twins apart. While others punish Tai, Kimi acts out his heartbreaking loneliness in destructive, angry ways, while looking after the Melody that only he can see. His family is concerned for him, but only Kimi’s belief in his sister can save him.

Here are some good reviews (that’s because I couldn’t find any bad ones. No, really.)

The New Zealand Herald

The Dominion Post


Link to the Official Strength of Water website

A piece about the director Armagan Ballantyne – who I have mentioned before in a previous blog

…and the trailer:

The Other State (Film news etcetera from New Zealand) – August 2009

2 Sep

The Export

This is more Kiwis do good outside of New Zealand – Jemaine Clement stars in the new film from Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) – Gentlemen Broncos. I had to add it. Flight of the Conchords is one of NZ’s most successful cultural exports. So watch as Jemaine channels Patrick Stewart. Plus frightened leaping ocelot.

The Big Picture

District 9 becomes a massive success in New Zealand, as predicted.

A gigantic success in the US with a $37 million opening weekend.

And Australia? Not so much. Australian crowds preferred to see the critically panned rom-com The Ugly Truth. Good taste guys.

The Talent

Armagan Ballantyne – director of the Strength of Water (really good – I will look into Australian release dates for you) gets some attention for her feature debut. Deservedly so.

Lily and Ra is a short Ballantyne created as a part of Art for the World, to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Ticket

The filmmakers of The Insatiable Moon have seemingly launched an appeal for lotto tickets to fund the production. The idea is that the public donates lotto tickets, and the production gets to keep any winnings. Interesting. Though the smart cookies at Flicks have pointed out that the filmmakers haven’t supplied any contacts to send your lotto tickets to… perhaps then just an ineffective stunt?

The Future Films

Predicament –Jemaine Clement (again), Aussie comedian Heath Franklin (Chopper – Harden The Fuck Up), Rose McIver (The Lovely Bones) and musician Tim Finn were recently announced as the cast of upcoming film Predicament. The film is described as a crime comedy involving black mail, adultery and murder. And I bet a fair amount of wacky hijinks. Read the press release at the NZ Film Commission site.

Under The Mountain is new adaptation of a classic New Zealand children’s favourite. This is not going to help my fear of volcanoes.

From Book... to TV... to Film

From Book... to TV... to Film

The Expansion Pack

One of my favourite music sites Cheese On Toast has expanded into film reviews. Sure, go ahead and read them, but just remember we’re your favourite film review site.

Until next time!

Morgan Stewart

The Other State: Film news and etcetera from New Zealand – July 2009

1 Aug
Because it wouldn't be 'Kiwi' without a sheep joke?

Separation City - because it wouldn't be 'Kiwi' without a sheep joke?

The Film

Separation City unfortunately looks like an average romantic comedy. But I will reserve judgement until I see it. Or rent it on DVD. Or catch it on TV…

The Trailer

The Vintner’s Luck is Niki Caro’s latest – a not very New Zealand tale of a peasant’s quest for the perfect wine vintage in 19th century France. The kiwi element, though not in the story is all over the film: it stars Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider), it is based on regarded New Zealand writer Elizabeth Knox’s novel and is in part funded by the New Zealand Film Commission. I’m going to see this film just for the wings…

The Talent

New Zealand film talent – this article is a short rundown of some of the Kiwis showing films at the NZFF. Though it only covers short films. To see some feature length filmmaking talent at work check out the team behind The Strength of Water: Armagan Ballantyne (director) and Briar Grace-Smith (writer).

And in a case of ‘Hey! I went to school with her!’ – Zoe McIntosh’s documentary Lost in Wonderland made its (film commission funding free) debut at the NZFF as well.

Miss Alice...or Rob.

Lost in Wonderland with Rob... aka Miss Alice

The Peter Jackson Empire

Peter Jackson is furthering his empire – though this time through fostering other filmmaker’s talents. His latest project is Neill Blomkamp’s feature debut – a Sci-Fi film about alien apartheid. It has a viral marketing campaign already in full swing, and Jackson is taking the buzz to San Diego’s Comic Con for maximum ‘geek exposure’. Having been made for a relatively modest US $30 million, I predict this to be a decent success.

The Festival

I’ll leave you with an interview with Bill Gosden, director of the New Zealand Film Festival – he’s been with the festival longer than I’ve been alive. He also seems to know what he’s doing, and rumour has it ticket sales this year at the Auckland Film Fest have been really positive. I helped and saw 5. I would have seen more films but for the work/schedule/bank balance conflicts and it’s the first time in 5 years I haven’t worked for a film festival. Anyway, I managed to catch:

Adventureland – Awesome soundtrack, but perhaps best viewed as a night-in DVD rental?

The Strength of Water – a surprising kiwi film about loss and grief. But with little pockets of humour which really made it for me.  Beautifully shot.

Cleo from 5 to 7 – new print of an Agnes Varda classic. A fun and thoughtful ride around 1960s Paris.

We Live in Public – an incredible documentary about a mad millionaire who spent his fortune on art/surveillance projects and ends up broke in Ethiopia. Director Ondi Timoner said she couldn’t write this stuff if she tried.

Antichrist – Hmm. I’m yet to find a point. The conversation post-film went something like this:

A: So basically Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character had PMS?

B: No, it was about Lars Von Trier’s hatred of women. I wonder what happened to him?

C: Maybe he just needs a hug?

B: I wouldn’t go near the guy. Every actress in his ‘USA’ films hates him.

A: And he’s never been to the States. He’s like Hitler in that regard – he had an obsession with cowboys.

B: did you just compare Lars von Trier to Hitler?

A: um. Apparently.

B: Hitler had lady issues too.

A: Yup.

B: Oh Lars, women aren’t the antichrist!

C: yeah, he probably just needs a hug…

Until next time!

– Morgan Stewart

MIFF Preview: The Girlfriend Experience (2009)

27 Jul

Tues 28th July (Sold Out)The Girlfriend Experience

Sunday 9th August (Selling Fast)

A weekend in Sydney had perfect timing for me as I got to catch the Australian Premiere of Steven Soderbergh‘s latest film at the Sydney Film Festival in June. Hailed by some as a return to his ‘sex, lies and videotape’ days of filmmaking – he has constructed a ‘temporal’ film that examines the politics, business and relationships of a ‘high class’ escort in pre-election New York, 2008.

The film follows ‘Chelsea’ (played by adult film star Sasha Grey) – girlfriend to personal trainer Chris by day, and girlfriend to an assortment of high paying clients by night. We are introduced to Chelsea as an escort – on a date with a regular client. More of her is revealed through journal entries, lunch dates with friends and a journalist who is interviewing her for an article.

The audience sees little of her personality – seeing her only as a seemingly detached girlfriend for hire. Initially I found Grey’s blank slate unaffected acting style slightly off-putting – the writing does not reveal much of the character, and neither does Grey. But this eventually pays off at the films climax as Chelsea’s human side is revealed – not in a dramatic sob-fest, or screaming match, but a constructed shift in the audience’s perception of her.

I was excited to know that Soderbergh had shot this film on the film industry’s super duper new toy the Red One camera, and had done so in the lead up to the 2008 US election. This gives the film a tangible temporal element. The audience laughs at a ‘vote for McCain’ comment and groans a little at a ‘Maverick’ joke. The stock market collapses around the main characters and Chris and Chelsea seem to be very business focussed people – a large part of the story rotates around Chelsea trying to grow her business, and Chris’s attempts to negotiate a pay rise.

It is a happy accident for the filmmakers that the crash happened during shooting – it draws parallels between the US economy and the high class escort – appearing indestructible and then broken from seemingly out of nowhere.

Ultimately though I read this film as a study of superficiality and construction. The camera often lingers on brands and restaurant names like sneaky product placement. The characters are money focussed and appearance based. This doesn’t look like it will work out for them, but we don’t know – the film and characters have no past nor future – their artifice is deconstructed and left for the audience to fill in the blank.

It is a topical, well constructed and good looking film and short! – at 77minutes it never feels laboured. It is enjoyable and at times a funny social commentary that delivers without overloading the message.

– Morgan Stewart

Other MIFF reviews:


10 conditions of love

North (Nord)


The Other State: Film news and etcetera from New Zealand – June 2009

29 Jun

The Short Film

Six Dollar Fifty Man

Six Dollar Fifty Man

Huge congratulations to the team (directors Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland) behind the NZ short film Six Dollar Fifty Man which won a special distinction at Cannes in May. This is only two years after winning the special distinction for the filmmakers previous short Run. Please someone give these guys a real budget – I want to see a feature! link

The Competition

Each year New Zealand’s filmmaking talent is put to the test during the 48 Hours Furious Filmmaking contest. This year’s competition took place over the weekend 8-10 May, with the Grand Final held on the 20th June. The concept is simple – make the best film possible in only 48 hours. All creative aspects of the film must be created in the 48 hours allotted; even genre and other random elements are provided just before the timer starts to prevent any cheating. Now in its 7th year, 48 hours has attracted the attention of Wingnut Films (Peter Jackson’s company) who now sponsor it and often enter a team to keep their talent on its toes.

Here is this years winner, Charlotte, from Dunedin based Team Line Men:

Charlotte is the first animated supreme winner. Here is my pick of the past winners. It’s called Jesse McCleod: The Journey from 2004, and has been described as “a friendly tale of family euthanasia”:

You can read more about the competition, and watch all of the previous winners here.

The Woman

This barely makes it as New Zealand news, as it relates to a British film (Bright Star) that premiered in France (at Cannes) starring an Australian (Abbie Cornish) – but it was directed by New Zealander Jane Campion (who lives in Australia). Whew. As with most ex-pat does good products the buzz in NZ was that Bright Star was set to win the Palme D’Or. While the film is receiving rave reviews from some, it also failed to set others worlds alight. One Little White Lies reviewer lists it in the best and worst: “Biggest Disappointment: That Jane Campion’s Bright Star, a turgid, middle-brow exercise in Quality Filmmaking, so successfully hoodwinked the general public.”

Bright Star will open the 2009 Auckland International Film Festival. I may go. I may also skip it and see Brüno which also comes out that day.

The Peter Jackson Empire

Peter Jackson has a lot on his plate – Lovely Bones is still in post-production, his Dambusters remake is still going ahead, and he is producing The Hobbit. This hasn’t stopped him from taking on a new role: leading a ministerial review of the New Zealand Film Commission. Jackson has been a vocal critic of the commission’s funding decisions in years past, this coupled with the brand new CEO might lead to a few positive changes down at the NZFC… {link}

The Film

Taika Waititi’s follow up to Eagle vs. Shark has just wrapped. The Volcano promises to be full of 1980s coming-of-age awkwardness. The buzz? – it’s gonna be ‘mean’. {link}

The Volcano

The Volcano

– Morgan Stewart

The Other State: Film news and etcetera from New Zealand.

20 May

The Man

nzfcAfter Dr. Ruth Harley left the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) for Screen Australia last year, one of the biggest roles in the NZ industry was up for grabs. It lay vacant for quite some time – until Graeme Mason was announced as her successor in March. The press release gives a slice of his CV and he’s had a solid international career and seems likely to bring a commercial eye to the industry. What gets me about the press release is the films he has been involved with – The Usual Suspects, Trainspotting, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Spice World – The Movie, and When We Were Kings – wait. Go back [rewind?]. Spice World? Either the NZFC publicist has a sense of humour or this may be a mark of things to come…{link}

The Buzz

The Strength of Water is a NZ/German co-production that is doing the rounds on the international film festival circuit – apparently to much acclaim. This is good news for one of NZ’s most established independent producers Fiona Copland (Topless Women Talk About Their Lives, The Price of Milk) and for the creative talent behind the film – first time director Armagan Ballentyne and playwright Briar Grace Smith. It tells the tale of two young Maori twins in a relatively remote North NZ town whose lives are interrupted when a stranger comes to town. Perhaps drawing obvious Whale Rider comparisons (coming of age/Maori youth/remote NZ) will benefit the film and help it turn a profit for the NZFC. And maybe nab another young Kiwi an Oscar nomination. Who knows?


The Peter Jackson Empire

I can’t really talk about New Zealand’s film industry without mentioning Peter Jackson. Well I could, but might have my citizenship revoked. Jackson has released a pretty pic from his upcoming film adaptation of The Lovely Bones. I’m thinking this one’s going to be more Heavenly Creatures than Meet the Feebles…{link}


Lovely bones

The Quick Link

The Quiet Earth. I love a good kiwi post-apocalyptic film. Now available on DVD it seems. [God knows we all need a cheerful distraction from the GFC -Ed] {link} 

The Rant

And whilst the NZ film industry may be flourishing, making money from US investors and getting recognition from overseas festivals – back home we seem to be stuck in a screen culture stasis. Auckland in particular lacks any kind of screen/moving image scene. Though having stated that – I will now have those that disprove it (please, I welcome it).

In an effort to undermine my own theory – I searched for a cinema event or screening that offered something outside of the current releases – to no avail. No cult film or classic film screenings. No interesting events tied in with screenings. I figure it mustn’t be there if I don’t know about it – I should be the target audience, no? – A true cinephile with a largely disposable income. A last minute search revealed the Human Rights Film Festival is on this week. THIS week. How come I didn’t know about this before?

Unfortunately for Auckland, Melbourne is my point of comparison here – from ACMI to Rooftop Cinema to the Astor to MIFF* to smaller privately run or student run festivals – there never seemed to be a cinematically dull patch on the calendar.

This, my dear Auckland will have to change. Even if I have to do it myself.

Morgan Stewart  

*[not to be confused with the Malaysian International Furniture Fair -ed]