Saturday, 22 January 2022

Mandibles: In The Shade Film Festival Review

Mandibles: In The Shade Film Festival Review

Bearing more than a passing reference to Bill and Ted, Rubber director Quentin Dupieux's latest may try some people's patience and may also push some buttons for its portrayal of a brain-injured person.

It's the story of listless duo Manu and Jean-Gab (Gregoire Ludig and David Marsais) who get enrolled into delivering a suitcase for a contact of Manu's. Stealing a car, Manu picks up his feckless mate and sets off - but minutes into the drive, they realise something is in the car's trunk. 
Mandibles: NZIFF Film Review

It turns out that something is a 2 foot long housefly, which Jean-Gab believes they can train, make money from and who names it Dominique....

Mandibles is essentially a piecemeal road trip with a pair of idiots behind the wheel. 

It never quite capitalises on the large fly's premise or what your expectations of where the story may head, preferring instead to follow a route of a Harry and Lloyd Dumb and Dumber trip into errors and faux pas.

When Manu's accidentally recognised by a girl who erroneously believes he was a one night stand, the film turns into a potentially polarising section where Blue is the Warmest Colour's Adele Exarchopoulos turns a brain-injured skier into a dangerously one-note character and the script does little to redeem her. There are some who will claim it's an element of Farrelly brothers insanity, and others who will wince at it.

In amongst it all, though, Mandibles is a curio of a film that's as gentle as it is enjoyable - a particularly knowing final frame may hint at Dupieux's intentions, and in truth, Mandibles may lack some of the more vicious edges of the likes of Rubber and Deerskin, but this is a mellow outing of weirdness that doesn't quite go as out there as you'd expect.

Friday, 21 January 2022

Spencer: Movie Review

Spencer: Movie Review

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Sean Harris, Sally Hawkins
Director: Pablo Larrain

With its opening title card of "A Fable from a True Tragedy", Ema and Jackie director Pablo Larrain makes it abundantly clear what it intends to do with this biopic of Princess Diana.
Spencer: Movie Review

As military soldiers drop off catering boxes filled to the brim with ingredients and chefs march in royal formation into the house of Windsor on Christmas Eve, Kristen Stewart's Diana is lost on the roads. Pulling up at a roadside cafe, she wanders in, asking where she is as all around her go silent.

It's fair to say that director Larrain is in awe of his interpretation of his subject too, as he re-imagines what life could have been for Diana across three days of Christmas within the royal household she so desperately tried to reshape and reject.

But it's a curse to this film in many ways.

So drenched in its desire to be on Diana's side as it is from the get go, the film loses any semblance of what a reality could be, and any hope of partisanship from behind the camera could be proffered by Larrain.

The Chilean director is so enamoured of his subject (as played excellently by Kristen Stewart, all tics and whispered vocal tones) that he doesn't really look to present a rounded portrait of imaginings, preferring to allow Diana only really to interact with a limited number of what could be perceived as real people (the butler, the dresser, the chef) as opposed to the royalty who are precariously placed on the outskirts of the movie.

It may be magnificently helmed with Larrain drowning the screen in the opulence of the surroundings and the excesses of the Royal societal norms (from weigh-ins to the stifling discomfort of stuffy traditions), but Spencer feels like it keeps everyone at arms' length - other than clutching its subject close to its bosom.

As the audience is drawn closer inside Diana's mind, and hallucinations (eating pearls at a dinner, seeing Anne Boleyn), Stewart ramps up the nervier edges of Diana, playing on the tics of twitching hands, subtly moving her head to the side, and dialling down the whispered tones. It's easy to see why she's picked up award plaudits for the role, but it's a polarising one that seems to draw on some of her awkwardness that she demonstrated early in her career in The Cake Eaters.  
Spencer: Movie Review

Spall excels in his role, moving from cruel taunter and enforcer of rules to potentially hidden ally, and Harris has a warmth as the chef who occasionally meets Diana out of the grounds of Windsor. They're minor roles in the proceedings and in a film whose camera is intent only on following its subject.

Ultimately, Spencer is a polarising experience - a sumptuously presented experience whose cinematography and score from Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood help the onscreen soar. It's a film that never really presents more depth to Diana, nor is it one that will provide more insights - in many ways, this take on Spencer is like a painted canvas that looks wondrous from afar, but up close, it's difficult to fully find a focus.

Thursday, 20 January 2022

Nightmare Alley: Movie Review

Nightmare Alley: Movie Review

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Willem Dafoe, Toni Collette, Rooney Mara, David Strathairn, Cate Blanchett
Director: Guillermo del Toro

Spanish director and master of the whimsical and unsettlingly macabre Guillermo del Toro heads to the carnival for this Gothic slice of neo noir.
Nightmare Alley: Movie Review

Essentially a parable about going too far and overachieving your dreams above your own station, Bradley Cooper delivers a restrained near-career best as Stanton Carlisle, who takes a job working as a carny.

Enthralled by the life of a clairvoyant act (Collette and Strathairn, both utterly compelling and human), Carlisle begins to learn the tricks of the trade while trying to woo fellow performer Molly (Mara), promising her a new life and riches if they head off together.

But when Carlisle starts to enjoy the trappings of success and leaves the carnival to reinvent himself as the Great Stanton, he ends up falling under the spell of psychologist Dr Lilith Ritter (Blanchett, a cool and icy femme fatale presence). Realising he can use her inside knowledge as a tool to manipulate marks, the pair form an uneasy alliance - but Carlisle starts to get greedy...

There's much to admire in Nightmare Alley, a film that thrives on atmosphere and that builds to a climax that if you're paying attention you can see coming a mile off.
Nightmare Alley: Movie Review

The story of a rise and downfall is nothing new, but what del Toro does is to build a production that proves immersive and unsettling as the cat and mouse games begin to take hold.

With some sumptuous production work, del Toro brings the carnival world vividly to life, but cleverly uses it more as a backdrop, rather than as a major player in the story. The pulpy levels are dialled up during the second half of the film as the elements of The Prestige and every other con film come to the fore.

But del Toro is in no rush to race to his conclusion, leaving the film more as something to brood in the background and brew to perfection. 

However, it doesn't quite all gel.

Willem Dafoe's carny boss practically disappears in the second half having been so instrumental to proceedings, and Mara's Molly fades into the background as the story of Stanton's own impending downfall builds to a crescendo. (The two part structure feels very pronounced and disruptive to a flow-through.)

Blanchett and Cooper make for a vital pair, and the contrast between the dark setting of the carnival and the opulent playground where the pair spar is evocative and helps to fuel the impending sense of tragedy.

And very occasionally, it does feel like Nightmare Alley is holding you at arms' length, afraid to clasp you to its troubled bosom as you sit admiring the prestige nature of the film itself. The emotional beats feel off and too subdued to fully explode.

Del Toro doesn't exactly subvert noir trappings with Nightmare Alley, but his restraint in going overboard and avoiding some of the more gruesome elements that could have titillated his sensibilities proves to be a welcome spin on the film. 

It may be haunting and won't be for everyone, but this evocative slice of noir is more than just a one trick pony - whether you know or can guess its denouement or otherwise.

Gold: Movie Review

Gold: Movie Review  

Cast: Zac Efron, Anthony Hayes, Susie Porter
Director: Anthony Hayes

Two men, one large gold nugget, one unending desert, and one heck of a trust issue.

These are the simple components of survival-thriller Gold, a film that's sparse in its execution and occasionally lacking in its narrative.

Gold: Movie Review

A limping Zac Efron plays an unknown man who meets another man (Hayes) in a desert to take him to a compound. But on their journey, the truck the pair is in starts to break down so the duo pulls over - and that's when Efron's character discovers, glinting in the sun, a large chunk of gold...

As the two of them dig deeper, they realise this is the biggest nugget around and will make them rich - however, one will need to return to get an excavation truck, leaving the other behind to guard the gold and to see if they can be trusted.

So as Hayes' character sets off, Efron's man is left in an unforgiving climate, with doubts and circling vultures nibbling at his soul in the relentless sun...

Gold has a brooding opening with vultures in the skyline, as it transitions into shots of scurrying creatures and hints of decay. There's no backstory here and the banter between the two men is both caustic and brittle, as their antagonistic natures come to the fore as greed begins to grip.

This is no Waiting for Godot style movie though - even if Efron and the environment soon become the sole players on the screen. With its drained aesthetic and feeling that it was shot around the same areas as the quarry-led road trappings of Mad Max Fury Road, there's a post apocalyptic feel to Gold, a direct contrast to its shiny material within.

Gold: Movie Review

Efron makes good use of the grit - an extreme version of Down to Earth with Zac Efron perhaps - but in truth, this Covid-induced filming runs out of ideas in its script, and despite a short run time, somehow still manages to feel too long as it heads to its finale. It may be oppressive in tone, as searing as the sun in the sky, but it's also frustrating with a denouement that feels too easy and yet too open-ended to prompt further debate.

Is it a treatise on greed? Is it an expose on man's desire to pillage the earth whatever the cost? Is it a play on the heaven and hell mantra? Answers are frustratingly not forthcoming and no matter how strongly Efron commans the screen throughout, the film's holes become more blinding than the gold poking up from the ground.

Wednesday, 19 January 2022

In The Shade film festival Q&A

In The Shade film festival Q&A

The in The Shade Film festival kicks off on Wednesday night in Auckland to fill the gap left by last year's cancellation of the Auckland leg of the New Zealand International Film Festival.

With over 50 movies scheduled to play at Auckland's Hollywood Theatre and the Academy Cinemas, there's more than enough to choose from.

This is what the festival organisers, the Dos Ojos collective had to say about the upcoming event.

In The Shade film festival Q&A

How does it feel to be the new kid on the film block?

It feels delightful! Though we have been around the film block a few times; we all work in, and breathe film, 

What's been the reality of getting a festival like this together?

Phone calls, emails, Zooms, Slacks, film watching, reading about films. Rinse and repeat.

It is tough given the environment. There were a few times when we had to stop and have a rethink, mainly all due to the pandemic. The benefit of pulling together a festival in a short frame of time - approximately a month - is that you just have to go for it.

There isn’t time to dwell, decisions have to be made fast; so there is definitely a bit of adrenaline involved!

In The Shade film festival Q&A

Which films have already been popular with audiences - and why do you think that is?

Our opening and closing nights; Nightmare Alley and C’mon, C’mon respectively and Licorice Pizza especially. They’re fresh and currently doing the awards circuit, so will be top of mind.

Other films that are piquing interest are International Feature Film Oscar shortlisted films like A Hero, Drive My Car, Great Freedom and Flee.

But the festival is an eclectic mix to suit all tastes.

If you can see only 5 films at the festival, which should you see and why?

How dare you expect us to choose between our children.

(But we will take the opportunity to shout out Merata Mita’s Patu! A seminal film that every person in this country should say; what better way to see it on the big screen?)

In The Shade film festival Q&A

What's the film that you think will surprise audiences and why?

Mandibles! Absurdly funny, in only the way that the French can be.

What's the one film that has the best moment of all the films you've programmed - and why?

Cliff Curtis popping up in the Croatian film Murina, which premiered at Cannes and won the Camera d’Or (best feature length film by a debut director).

What's the future for In The Shade - will it become an annual fixture in Auckland's cinema calendar?

We’re dipping our toes in the shade…and are keen to see where it takes us, but equally have no expectations.

With a lack of certainty becoming a daily fixture; our focus is on the here and now and we wanted to start the cinematic year off right!

The In The Shade Film Festival runs in Auckland from January 19. Get all the details at

Mothers of the Revolution: Movie Review

Mothers of the Revolution: Movie Review

In 1980s Britain, the threat of the Cold War's nuclear endgame hung terrifyingly over everyone's daily routine.

Public address videos discussed what could be done in the 4 minute warning period, British artists like Raymond Briggs told tales such as "When the Wind Blows" and a general atmosphere of impending end times accosted most lives.

Director Briar March's latest looks at how the mothers of the time addressed these global fears, with the UK slap bang in the middle of the firing line between Russia and the US. 

Mothers of the Revolution: Film Review

Centring on a quartet of women who had become new mothers, and who were worried by the threat of nuclear war, March uses current day reflective interviews and footage from the time, as well as some illustrated interludes, to fashion a documentary that's as much about the salutation of the chorus of the downtrodden, as it is yet another shameful examination of the toxic masculinity espoused by authority figures from the past.

Galvanised by the arrival of cruise missiles on UK shores, the women began a peaceful protest march from Cardiff in Wales to Greenham Common, to demonstrate not everyone is happy about what's transpiring. What March does, via a combination of talking heads and archive footage, is create a picture of a movement that was naive but headstrong in its plans and was dismissed as "cleaners" when they arrived at the base.

March also captures lightning in a bottle, exploring how media obsessions over Diana's wedding and a panda failed to seize on the fears of the public, and whose exploration of events at Greenham Common where the protests became centred proved them to be one-sided. 

At times, Mothers of the Revolution feels like a spy film, with punkish vibes and spitting soundtrack fashioning proceedings; in others, the shocking treatment of the women at the hands of police investigators is appalling but sadly expected. 

March carefully constructs the narrative to ensure a non-preachy approach to the story of the peace movement, and as a result, this careful treading of the lines means Mothers of the Revolution has more power than a didactic history lesson.

With a message of "Don't think you're too little to do big things," Mothers of The Revolution is a stirring call to arms, and a calm and measured exploration of a little saluted movement that truly changed the world.

Tuesday, 18 January 2022

Annette: In The Shade Film Festival review

Annette: In The Shade Film Festival review

You will know that you're experiencing a movie in Annette, rather than just seeing it.

In its opening moments, this rock opera will have you make your Marmite decision.
Annette: Movie Review

The Cannes 2021 award winner stars Adam Driver as Henry, a narcissistic comedian and Cotillard as his opera-singing girlfriend Ann. The two have met amid a swirl of tabloid obsession and examination (one scene from the showbiz insert labels them "Beauty and the bastard"), and birth a child prodigy that has a talent (and a look) to be seen.

But as Henry's career, which was once in the ascendant, begins to wane, his latent personality traits and anger emerge as jealousy consumes him when Ann's career starts to soar. However, tragedy is waiting in the wings of this musical.

While Annette begins with bluster and energy, it soon begins to fizzle into a pattern similar to many musicals, with lyrics being shoehorned in to fit a narrative. So in parts, Sparks' lyrics perform a necessity rather than an organic feel to the film, and moments become strained in their lyrical execution and subsequent mundanity.

Moments of dialogue within the songs occasionally feel facile and contrite. One song repeats a refrain of "We love each other so much" to love scenes, which in truth add little to Carax's already overused pomp and ceremony.
Annette: Movie Review

And yet, Driver retains an utterly compelling screen presence throughout, with the story falling largely on his shoulders. Along with a puppet baby that's the most terrifying child incarnation since Twilight's Renesmee, Driver imbues Henry with much going on below the surface. Cotillard is as eminently watchable as ever also, with her softer edges early on doing nothing to betray the power hidden within Ann. The Big Bang Theory's Simon Helberg fares less well, with his conductor getting less time in the spotlight as the movie progresses.

Ultimately, it has to be said that Annette is a bit too long and occasionally garbled in its 2hr 20 minute execution. But even its flaws are outweighed by the sheer bravado that is on show here - when any director fires any number of ideas at a wall, some inevitably won't stick.

But a large proportion of Annette does stick - if you're willing to suspend some of your disbelief and overlook some of the film's weaker edges, then this is the rock-opera cinema hit you've been waiting for.

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