“Here’s Looking at You, Kid.”

The New Zealand International Film Festival starts tonight.  It is two weeks of worth of love, lust, violence, laughter, redemption, and personal growth in over 20 languages.  I can’t wait.  Neither can T.  This is my second festival, and his 10th or so.

We have a ritual (if twice can be enough to establish a ritual) for picking films.  It starts with T perusing the glossy magazine-style festival brochure and marking a “T” next to the films that interest him.  Then I get my turn and I mark a “J” next to mine.  Then the negotiating starts.  Inevitably, we each pick more movies than we can possibly see or pay for and we have to whittle down the list.  We try to find common ground and see as many films as we can together, but there are some that he won’t see and neither will I.  But for the most part, our gentle negotiation goes something like this:

T: “How about this one.”

Me:  “Um, no.  I’ll take a pass of the Crimean War documentary.”

T:  (He tsks)  “Movies aren’t always about fun!  They inform.  Enrich.  Invigorate the mind and the senses!”

Me:  “Somehow, the Crimean War conjures up none of those scenarios for me.”

T:  “Look who’s talking!  You can sniff out a Rom-Com at fifty paces in any language!”

Me:  “So?  I like funny movies where people end up happy together.  What’s wrong with that?”

And on it goes.  Eventually, he agrees to two more Rom-Coms and I agree to a documentary about cricket.

This year, I’m seeing 15 films for the festival (though I did just try to sneak in a Chinese martial arts film that is supposed to be *AMAZING*).  Some of those will stick with me and I’ll continue to turn over their meaning and their stories in my mind for months to come.  Others I will forget almost immediately.  That’s the way it goes with movies.  But I suppose that applies to just about everything in life, whether it be a book, a song, or sometimes, even the people we pass in the street.

When I think back to last year, three of the eighteen films I saw continue to stick with me.  They were each extraordinary in their own ways.  If you haven’t seen these, I commend you to.


1.     Exit Through the Giftshop:  Ostensibly, this is a movie about a documentary maker trying to make a movie about Banksy, the elusive street artist.  What it is in fact, we’ll never know.  Is it an elaborate hoax?  Is the hapless documentary maker (who’s made to look a fool in this) in on the joke?  Is it a meta-narrative on the fleeting value of ‘art’ and the idea that cost often has nothing to do with intrinsic value?  Who knows.  But what I do know is that it was a thoroughly engaging film full of humanity and hysterically dry humor.  As an added bonus, it’s a great primer on what street art is, why it exists, and what it looks like.

2.     In the Attic: Who Has a Birthday Today?:  I love stop-motion animation.  It reminds me of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas specials from when I was a kid.  This Czech Republic film is a trillion times better, both in terms of the animation and the story.  The premise of the film is an enclave of old toys living their days in an attic.  Every day Buttercup, a pretty blond doll, bakes a cake for a teddy bear, a marionette knight, and a silly-putty man, who roll a special birthday die for the daily honor. Yet, danger lurks in the far reaches of the attic when Buttercup gets lost and is captured by an evil dictator (an old marble bust).  Her friends battle the odds to save her and their way of life.  The film deals with serious political issues, including authoritarian regimes, revolution, and the bonds of friendship and family.  What I love about animation is that it so thoroughly suspends disbelief into the realm of whimsy and fantasy, that these difficult and bleak topics can be grappled with in a manageable way.  This was billed as a children’s movie, and it was, but it was so much more than that.


3.     The Killer Inside Me: A fabulous American film with Casey Affleck giving an amazing performance as a sociopathic killer.  The film was sleek, elegant, and a great throw-back to the film noir of the 40s.  There weren’t any huge plot twists—you knew what was coming after the initial “reveal”—and that was fine.  The movie depended on riveting performances, and boy, did it deliver.  If you liked Dial M for Murder or Vertigo or Rear Window, this is the movie for you.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to peruse the 2011 program again.  Just to make sure I haven’t missed out on anything!


Weighty Matters

I have never been entirely comfortable with “me.”  It’s hard to describe, really.  If someone stops to talk to me, or leans in a bit close, I never assume it’s because the other person finds me attractive.  Interesting?  Funny?  Engaging?  Smart?  Absolutely.  Each of those; all of those.  Pretty?  No way.  That does not even enter my mind. It’s a weird mix of confidence and non-confidence that I’ve never really been able to explain.  Until now.

I just finished reading a wonderful book:  “Conversations with the Fat Girl,” by Liza Palmer.  Set in California, it’s the story of Maggie and Olivia, two girls who were best friends all through school, and both of whom (because of size and other things) were always on the outside looking in.  Fast forward to their late 20s. Olivia has gastric bypass surgery and whittles down to a size 2, and loses who she was in the process.  Maggie, who was likely just a normal-sized girl, can’t get past the idea that because she’s not a size 2, somehow she is unworthy of love, of genuine friendship, of not being walked over.  Told in the context of Olivia’s preparations for her marriage to her perfect doctor husband, Olivia stays fixed in her fantasy world of what perfection is, and Maggie blossoms through the adversity and difficulty of losing all that was familiar.

The book is not just about size.  It’s not a “fat girl’s anthem” in that sense.  And yet, it absolutely exposes every insecurity I think all women have about their bodies.  With a deft comic touch and smart, observant prose, it addresses how we tie our self-worth too often to how we think others perceive us, physically.

The most intriguing part of the book was that I could identify with both Maggie and with Olivia.  While Olivia is …. grossly unsympathetic in myriad ways, the book is written well enough that you understand where she’s coming from and what drives her to do the things she does.  I felt immense pity for her.  And Maggie is, in many ways, every woman.  Well, every woman who’s ever wondered if she was smart enough, good enough, talented enough.  Pretty enough.

There was one line that really struck me in this book, and one that I think we can all identify with on some level.  Maggie comments on the fearlessness of her seven-year-old niece who bursts into her ballet class without a care that she is dressed differently than the other girls. Emily (Maggie’s niece) blithely tells her mother that she hopes the other girls are okay with what they’re wearing, because they don’t have a pink tutu or a fairy wand.  Maggie says:

“I want to be like that.  I want to be seven years old again.  I want to go back to the day my confidence left me and was replaced by an apology.”

A few years ago, I lost a significant amount of weight and have managed to keep it off.  The reality is, though, I still have a good portion to lose still.  It’s a hard slog and one that I’ve been a bit lazy about over the last year.  But honestly, no matter how much weight I lose (or don’t) I can’t seem to see myself as “normal”.  I still feel like a woolly mammoth lumbering through an urban landscape.  In some ways, that feeling has been exacerbated by moving somewhere that follows dressmaker sizing (European sizing).  After 27 hours on a plane, I gained a new home and two dress sizes.   I’m still dealing with that in some stupid way.  So, I totally get Maggie’s obsession with cardigan sweaters (for hiding back fat) and the best ways to tilt her chin in pictures (to avoid double chins, neck fat, and basically, anything remotely unflattering).

It was a good read.  It was uncomfortable at times, if I’m really honest, but oddly empowering, too.

Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel: Day time TV in Kiwi-land

Instead of spending the Fourth of July foisting American barbecue standbys on my Kiwi and other ex-pat friends (in the middle of winter, no less), I’ve spent the last two days in bed with a horrible case of the flu.

Today was the first day that I felt human, so I migrated to the couch and turned on the TV.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  But here is what I do know: daytime TV is terrible, no mater what country you live in.

Here are my musings on daytime TV, Kiwistyle.

First of all, from what I can tell, there is no Kiwi daytime programming (aside from the news).  Instead, it’s mostly American and British programs, with a few Aussie shows thrown in.  This is sad, because I’ve really fallen for Kiwi programming.  “Outrageous Fortune” is an absolute gem.  It tells the story of a West Auckland family (wrong side of the tracks, location wise) trying to rise above their low-level crime roots and make an honest go in the world.  Well, at least that’s what the matriarch of the family would like.   It was raw, foul-mouthed, racy, and not something that would have ever flown on American TV (from the naked body parts and preference for dropping the F-bomb at least 10 times per episode).  But it was full of the real stuff that people—all people—grapple with: love, redemption, grief, mercy, and greed.

I watched all six seasons over the course of several weekends a few months ago.  Too bad it finished its run last year.  It really was an amazingly good show.

Then there’s the hysterical “7 Days” comedy show on Friday nights.  Two teams of irreverent, politically incorrect comics commenting on the last seven days of Kiwi news through a series of challenges.  These guys (and gals) are sharp, smart, and seriously funny.  There’s a unique brand of Kiwi humor that is hard to describe.  Dry and incisive, like the Brits, but broad, like the Americans.  Well, if you’ve seen “Flight of the Concords”, you probably know what I’m talking about.  It’s an intriguing mix and one that I really like. If you can youtube Ben Hurley, do so.  At his best, he will have you in absolute hysterics.

I’ve even gotten hooked on a show called “Go Girls”, a show (from what I can tell) about five 30-somethings trying to make meaningful lives in Auckland. (Apparently, the only people who live in New Zealand live in Auckland.  We Wellington folk—the capital of the country, by the way—merit little more than the Parliament channel.)  Again, while some of the women are just so beyond my reality, I know women like them.  Mostly, though—like a good, forgettable pop song—it has a good beat, and I can dance to it.  Kiwi comfort TV at it’s finest.

I even find the curious and somewhat provincial “Country Calendar” enjoyable.  I’ve learned a lot about organic, sustainable farming and bee keeping.  You know, essential skills for my day job.

But back to daytime TV.

Where are my Frasier reruns?  Friends?  No.  No, instead, I get some show called Emmerdale, which is apparently a British soap opera set in the Yorkshire Dales. There’s really nothing more I can say about that.  Mostly because I didn’t understand anything that was going on, or what anyone was saying.

Then there’s The Fashion Show, a terrible knock-off of the far superior Project Runway. I’m sorry, Kelly Rowland, I love your music, but you cannot match the power of Heidi Klum’s austere frown and her definitive “You’re Out!”  And Isaac Mizrahi?  I love your designs, but you’re no Tim Gunn, either.

T and I are addicted to Project Runway.  Admittedly, we’re about a year behind from when the current series originally aired, but if Mondo doesn’t win, we’re both going to be screaming: “He was robbed!”  (The utterance of this phrase usually only occurs when we watch the rugby).  The final is this Thursday.  I’m away for work, but we’ve vowed to internet chat with each other throughout the episode.  We’ve only ever done that once before–the “Outrageous Fortune” finale.

Switching back to the daytime TV issue (sorry, I’m easily sidetracked.  I blame it on the flu). Mildly enjoyable from the accident-on-the-highway perspective is a show called the Jeremy Kyle show.  Imagine Jerry Springer with bad British accents and in which every story involves a DNA test.  However, after too many of the “Is he or isn’t he the daddy” stories, you start making a game of it.  Yes-yes-no-yes-no-no-yes.

One show I actually liked was a British show called “Come Dine with Me.”  The premise was a group of 5 people who eat at each other’s homes every night, scoring each host as they go.  Catty!  Fraught with kitchen disaster!  Terrible décor!  What more could you want?  This was like the prime rib of daytime TV. So of course, it was nowhere to be found today.

Rachel Ray rounds out the day.  I didn’t like her at home, I don’t like her here. Like The Fashion Show, she ain’t no Oprah.

Fortunately, the day is almost over and watchable TV will soon be on.  In fact, I should go.  Coronation Street starts in an hour.