Monday, 22 July 2019

Apocalypse Now Final Cut: NZIFF Review

Apocalypse Now Final Cut: NZIFF Review

It's difficult to honestly appraise the differences of Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now Final Cut given it's this reviewer's first exposure to the movie itself.

What is clear from the sprawling epic is this is the cut Coppola wanted to have as the definitive one, and the one which he's determined will be his last and ultimate take on the Vietnam movie.
Apocalypse Now Final Cut: NZIFF Review

For those uninitiated to the story, this is the tale of Martin Sheen's Captain Willard, who's given the job of assassinating Marlon Brando's Colonel Kurtz, who's gone wild within the confines of Cambodia and is seen as a threat by the US Military.

Assembling a small team, Willard ventures deep into territory of the forest and the unknown.

Coppola's greatest achievement is assembling the pieces early on in the first hour into action scenes which are a visual symphony that showcases CGI is not always best. As explosions rock the jungle, choppers head over, and the camera never sways from its leads, it's clear Coppola is in his element and assemblage.

But despite heightened colours and improved audio, the film's final hour descends into discord, an anti-climactic meh of epic proportions that does little to build on the promised showdown. (A pair of 21st century eyes would notice how all the characters of colour are dispatched before the final act concludes).

It's still an impressive epic, but its unwieldly sprawl does hit it quite badly in the final third of the run. However, fans of Apocalypse Now will want to witness the film in the way its creator envisioned.

The Hole In The Ground: NZIFF Review

The Hole In The Ground: NZIFF Review

Debut director Lee Cronin's The Hole In The Ground plays with primal fears, familiar tropes and jump scares and spins them round into something compelling and deeply unsettling.

Seana Kerslake plays Sarah, who's moved to a new life in the Irish countryside, along with her son Chris. Clearly unsettled by the past, and troubled by the need to relocate, Sarah's further rattled when  a neighbour screams at Chris that he's not her son.

As the doubts and the odd behaviour start to build up, Sarah's forced into a course of action and paranoia that escalates quickly, but whose foundation is already on dodgy ground - what exactly is going on?
The Hole In The Ground: NZIFF Review

The Hole In The Ground may use a lot of old school ideas, crescendoing sound, and the fear of what lies in the forest, but what Cronin's crafted is something of tension, suspense, and genuine dread.

Its offbeat approach to unsettling proceedings works best as a two hander between Kerslake and James Quinn Markey, who plays Chris. Kerslake in particular is ferocious and vulnerable, tapping into every mother's fears as the slow pace unfolds, leaving the audience's imagination to run wild and jump to (wrong) conclusions.

In passing the film bears similarities to Invaders From Mars, and its paranoia of doubles, but Cronin subverts some of that to play on a mother's most basic fears. The Hole In The Ground may wobble a bit towards the end, but as a domestic horror, and a primal button-pusher, it's second to none.

Ant Timpson talks the Incredibly Strange at the 2019 NZIFF

Ant Timpson talks the Incredibly Strange at the 2019 NZIFF

Hello Ant, every year you put the Ant into Antagonistic in these Q&As, how are you feeling this year?
Does anyone actually read these Q&As – be honest now.
Do I have to feign faux fury to even get a nibble from your readership? Surely I should switch it up and play nice and be authentic. Isn’t that the new hot thing. Authenticity. Ok well I’m going to try it here.

Let's get the obvious out of the way first, a Civic premiere and a place in the main programme for your directorial film Come To Daddy - I want to just say that's great, there's nothing like a Civic premiere. Tell me more about this one and how it's been playing abroad, and how that translates to a sell-out cinema.
Come To Daddy

Well I don’t take it lightly – it means a lot to be in the programme let alone get a Big Night at the Civic.  I’m sure from the outside it looks like I’ve just slipped my film into the excel sheet of scheduling and hoped no one would notice but the reality is I was so paranoid about the fest playing favourites that I went out of my way to make sure it went through the normal process.

And that meant from Bill through to the other programmers – they all had to give it a tick. There was no way I was going to programme it in my own section of the festival – I do have some limits of shame. So the world premiere was at Tribeca and it was a thrill to go to NYC for my first film. I mean it’s DeNiro’s fest and there are Taxi Driver locations right nearby. So yeah absolutely jazzed about premiering there and then when audiences and critics gave it the thumbs up it all added up to a pretty much perfect launch for the film.

Since then I’ve seen the film in various countries with all manner of audiences and it’s been interesting to see how things play in different cultures. In terms of sell-out cinema – it’s at The Civic – I don’t think anything sells out except for opening night and a couple of others but I sure hope more than a few friends turn up for it.

What's the scene been like for the selections this year - is there one film you didn't get that you want to name and shame, in the hope that the power of this Q&A will see its distributors cringe and reconsider?
The Lodge was the film that we should be playing. But it didn’t work out.

Which is a huge shame because the film is very good and I know the directing duo very well.

In fact we hung out in Seoul where both our films were in competition. They’re very inspiring and funny as hell. Which you wouldn’t get from their films! Goodnight Mommy etc – they’re connected with Ulrich Siedl and his production company and ar surrounded by brilliant artists.

And of course the Danzig vanity trainwreck VEROTIKA is something I don’t think I could have snagged before its world prem – I even knew one of the producers and could have made it happen.

GREENER GRASS is another film that I had the filmmakers on side but there were many things in the air  - it ended up waiting to hear from Locarno to be first international festival.

So that was frustrating on a few levels. For one – it’s directed by two women and would have upped the genre gender imbalance.

Deerskin is an intriguing look at a man falling apart and a predilection with fashion - why the interest in this one, and no parallels with anyone you know?
Well  Quentin Dupieux’s aka Mr Oizo films fit my section like a well-worn deerskin jacket.

So it’s a no brainer that his new film that just played Cannes was going to make an appearance. Anyone who has seen his films like RUBBER & WRONG know what they’re in for.

If you need to confess something about your predilection for horrible attire and an emotional imbalance then this is probably not the place to do it Darren.

The Hole In The Ground continues our obsession with mothers and weird kids, as well as haunting atmospherics - it's quite the powerful piece for a debut.
I’d seen Lee Cronin’s short Ghost Train on the circuit and could see that he was a confident director with horror material – and so there was some anticipation about his debut feature.

I don’t think it’s reinventing the wheel but then again – not many films do – rather it takes material that feels familiar and then mixes it up a bit. I just feel it’s a solid well crafted piece that delivers the chills for those looking for some. Just very confident and features a really strong performance from the lead Seana Kerslake.
The Hole In The Ground

You Don't Nomi has a pun even I'd be proud of as a title. But why the need to defend the trashfire that is Showgirls with this doco?
Well it’s actually a lot more than just that – that’s the hook for the doc but it actually looks at the world of Verhoeven and offers just as much from the negative perspective as the positive. It has a surprisingly emotional weight in its last third that comes as a shock after all the humour preceding it.

I saw the film in the week it was on screens on first release. We knew it was a misfire but also felt it was utterly compelling and mesmerising – and that really is the marriage of a cocaine-addled script and a brilliant director who misread the cues.

Equally The Amazing Johnathan Documentary seems to be a film about obsession and delusion....
The less said about this doc the better. The trailer shows way too much. Don’t watch it. Just go see it.
If you like docs like TICKLED that take a turn down unseen paths – then you’ll like this a lot. It’s Benjamin Berman’s first feature but he’s very experienced and it shows in how this all plays out.

What's going to give me the high that I got from that opening scene of Climax at the Hollywood Theatre last year - Violence Voyager, Mope or Knife + Heart?
Well CLIMAX is a very special film so nothing like that.

But the opening of MOPE is something to see with an audience. Just for how much you want to shift in your seat and maybe pretend you aren’t in the cinema watching it.

Knife + Heart is an excellent film – another Cannes hit – and has been wowing audiences all over. It’s not what people probably expect. And Violence Voyager is unlike anything folks would have seen in a cinema – there’s going to a collective WTF noise once it begins and the film’s unusual primitive style takes their synapses hostage.

Koko-Di Koko-Da looks fairly surreal - is this the film likely to tip me over the edge this year?
You’ll either admire it a lot like I did and find the subtext somewhat profound or easily think it’s a mean-spirited exercise in style that has fun manipulating the audience – or you might find it both.

Whatever way you take it – I think it’s something that people will want to talk about after they’ve seen it. If you’d seen the director’s films before this you’d be very unprepared for what happens in this one.

Tell me about Vivarium, whose director is coming for a Q&A as well...
Well I was a big fan of Lorcan Finnegan’s debut feature – an atmospheric eco-thriller/horror that really built up and had me on edge.

VIVARIUM is a super ambitious psychological satirical thriller that is beautifully crafted and performed. It has its roots in Twilight Zone’s literary canon – and mines the essence of what made Rod Serling’s original series so ground-breaking.
Configuring real world societal issues and placing them in the fantastic.  And Lorcan is a very open and honest Irishman who will be fun at the Q&A.

What's the one film from your selection that you'll be pissed off if it doesn't sell out?
I have way too many other things in the world to be pissed off about than whether a film gets an audience along to it or not.

I’ve programmed the section and now people either come a long or they don’t. Some will do well. Some not so well. That is the law of film festivals. It has no bearing on the film’s merit now or in the long run.

For many this will be the only chance for audiences to see them in a cinema with a crowd and that is something that should never be over-looked.

What can you recommend from the main festival programme, and why should we see them?
There are a lot to recommend. Andrei Rublev. Art of Self Defense. Bacurau. The Day Shall Come. Escher. Fly By Night. In Fabric. La Flor. The Lodger. Monos. The Whistlers.

How many more of these Q&As do you think you can endure, and what exactly does the festival have over you that forces you to do these annually?
I appreciate your persistence in cut and pasting the same questions each year. You really outdo yourself.

Also you’re the first film reviewer I know alive who hadn’t seen APOCALYPSE NOW  - take a bow, good sir!

What's the one question you're glad I didn't ask you, and how can we ever repair this fractured relationship??

You can ask me anything, big D. I’m an open book. Like the Bible. Our relationship is fine. Fractured is more fun than inert.

You can find more details of when the Incredibly Strange section is playing at

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Hail Satan?: NZIFF Review

Hail Satan?: NZIFF Review

Hail Satan?'s high-level trolling documentary is something of a wry amusement as it starts, but what emerges later on is an expose of the widening schism between the US and the freedom of expression.

Director Penny Lane's doco serves to show the contrasts between those in the Satanic Temple and their perception in the media. After all, some of the chapter are part of a beach-tidying commitment for a year.
Hail Satan?: NZIFF Review

It appears the message is one of benevolence, and those levelled with criticisms of going to hell are met with a "I believe it and I'm very supportive of it" response that's both amusing and also indicative of the good nature of those in the Temple.

As the so-called Satanic Panic spreads, and the more trolling and playing with media the Temple does, Lane pivots perceptions and the doco becomes an intriguing look about how different people are treated over events, rather than as themselves.

A tongue in cheek approach seems to be Hail Satan?'s raison d'etre, but it also by weaving in video interview clips and media stunts seems to give the doco an offbeat feel that's hard to shake, but worthy of smiles. However, Lane never resorts to mockery of her subjects, and the piece is all the better for it.

Less religious fervour, more a plea for tolerance, Hail Satan?'s devilish charms are not hard to resist.

La Belle Époque: NZIFF Review

La Belle Époque: NZIFF Review

Mixing The Truman Show along with a sweeter more heartfelt idea that could be part of Black Mirror, director Nicolas Bedos' romantic drama and comedy La Belle Époque makes great fist of its older lead's charisma.

Daniel Auteuil's Victor is jaded; his son works for a company making digital programming, and his wife is obsessed with the VR world, but he, as a former cartoonist, is stuck in the medium he has lived his life in and in the rut he's always been in.

However, his wife (Fanny Ardant) is not happy and kicks him out. Victor is offered a chance to relive some of his youth, thanks to an agency that builds sets from people's pasts and relocates them there for a night or whatever they want.
La Belle Époque: NZIFF Review

For Victor, the chance to live back in the past is too much to resist...

La Belle Époque is a light, frothy, romantic love story masquerading in parts as a drama and buried under a conceit that some may feel is just merely a construct to fuel a crowd-pleasing romance.

And that's fine, largely due to Auteuil who provides an earnest heart to the proceedings. The story may have some political allegories, and be a tale generally of how it's currently better to be living in the past (surely, French will get more from the political allegories and subtleties of Bedos' digs), but it's amiable fare that does what it needs to.

If there's to be a criticism, it's that La Belle Époque could have used some more of the randomness and levity it has in its opening moments, which surprise, delight and amuse, but that's not to denigrate the late-in-life romance story that fuels the fire of what makes it such an elegant success.

Bellbird: NZIFF Review

Bellbird: NZIFF Review

Hamish Bennett's follow up to his award-winning short Ross and Beth from 2014 is a crowd-pleasing, quietly restrained film about life on a Northland farm.

Marshall Napier is Ross, the third generation farm owner, who's left devastated after a loss and who tries to find what's next in his life. Recently returned to his life is his son Bruce (a dramatic and poignant turn from Cohen Holloway, who shines throughout), who works in the local dump but who's gradually coaxed back onto the farm and into family life in general.

Bucolic and beautifully shot, Bennett's film is a small restrained movie about relationships and reconnections, that taps into the rural way of few words.
Bellbird: NZIFF Review

If Bennett overdoes it with the cutaway shots which depict life on the farm, it's seemingly about building an atmosphere and a sense of location within Northland that goes to explain Ross' connection to the land and his community.

Suffused with charm, and lovely wry one-liners (particularly from Rachel House), Bellbird has a heart that's hard to deny, as it negotiates grief in a typical she'll be right mentality.

Its leads are where the film's strength are, and Napier deserves as much credit as Holloway, for bringing to life a Kiwi type that's prevalent in the community. In truth, it's more about what's unsaid than said as this slow-paced family drama unfolds, but Bennett's wise enough to pepper his script with heartland humour that will prove a winner with audiences.

Newcomer Kahukura Retimana also deserves mention for neighbouring Marley who injects a level of care into how he tries to look after Ross; there's much of the film which speaks to how communities try to care for their own, something city dwellers may ruefully gaze upon as they view this low-key relationship piece.

Ultimately Bellbird wins by its gentle restraint, and its affectionate celebration of the quieter moments of life, and of what comes next when the worst happens.

mid90s: NZIFF Review

mid90s: NZIFF Review

Much like Skate Kitchen at last year's NZIFF connected slacker audiences, Jonah Hill's directorial debut centring on a clutch of waster skaters and the youngster that ingratiates himself among them follows similar coming-of-age themes.

Sunny Suljic is 13-year-old Stevie, who hides from the beatings from his sullen brother (Lucas Hedges, inward and violent) and who falls in with a cooler crowd to escape his life. As Stevie negotiates the day to day, he finds the pull of his friends above all else.

mid90s' 16mm film look and also its vibe is probably what Hill wanted to channel for the all-too-familiar tale.
mid90s: NZIFF Review

The vibe may be spot on, but a lot of the film takes it cues from its music, with a soundtrack blasting throughout to try and get audience members into the right mood.

There's a low key vibe running throughout, and Hill's insistence on no nostalgia and no skate porn is evident from the beginning - his film is about the relationships, from Stevie and his brother's pained frustrations to Stevie's relationships within the skate crew and the fallouts which usually evolve from close friendships.

In all honesty, mid90s is more about a mood, than a long form narrative, but what Hill manages to do with it, is enough to make it charming and engaging, thanks to some strong central performances and by drawing deep from the well of his own life.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

You Don't Nomi: NZIFF Review

You Don't Nomi: NZIFF Review

While it scores points for its pun in the title, You Don't Nomi loses out on the documentary stakes, pulling together something that lacks the pull and draw of the trashfire piece it's examining.

That piece is Paul Verhoeven's critically dividing, the stultifyingly unsexy 1995 movie Showgirls.

Tackling the critical mauling the film got on its initial release back in the 90s, director Jeffrey McHale takes a look at what happened to the film, why it got another life, and why it's worth considering again.
You Don't Nomi: NZIFF Review

But what emerges from You Don't Nomi is that it's a doco with not too much to say for those who already know the story of Showgirls, and its rise from the ashes. Using context of the time, and positing that Verhoeven's derided when he steps away from the violence and machismo of his other movies, McHale makes the case, once again, that this movie is misunderstood.

Voiceovers provide interviews, offer insights and generally pontificate on what went wrong, why those who made it go wrong are wrong and why it deserves to live again. Archive footage of Verhoeven amid filming makes it clear the blame lies at his feet, but where You Don't Nomi is more successful is in examining how the film was probably released at the wrong time.

Equally more enticing, and feeling absent for all throughout is Showgirls' original star, Nomi Malone aka Elizabeth Berkley. The doco offers little from her, which is a shame given the movie destroyed her, until near the end, and in the briefest of moments shows how she was unfairly vilified for the film's floppage, which lies solely at someone else's feet.

You Don't Nomi delivers clips in a smart and clever way, reframing them within other Verhoeven fare, but it's the sole directorial flair the documentary offers - if the focus had been tighter, or we'd have followed Berkley more both during, after and now it could have offered a fascinating insight into what makes a phenomenon, a cult failure and subsequent rise from the ashes.

Instead, what emerges from You Don't Nomi is a tediously flaccid doco that emerges with very little to say - and certainly not enough to engage an audience for its 90 minute run time.

The Farewell: NZIFF Review

The Farewell: NZIFF Review

Director Lulu Wang puts family drama and reunion squarely on the table in this piece which is based on an actual lie, as the opening title board points out.

Chinese born Billi (Awkwafina, in a muted and conflicted turn) lives in New York, with her mother and father, and is a struggling writer. When she learns that her beloved Nai Nai is dying, her immediate desire is to get back to China and help her cope.

But the family decides to withhold the fatal cancer diagnosis from Nai Nai, telling her she only has benign shadows on her X-Rays and that she's fine. However, they all decide to fly back to China under the pretence of a wedding for one final family reunion.
The Farewell: NZIFF Review

The clash of familial duty and the affairs of the heart comes delicately together in The Farewell, and is all anchored by Crazy Rich Asians' Awkwafina's rueful turn that brings together both the inner turmoil and deep emotions needed in something that projects her from the screen into the stratosphere.

But as the subtleties of familial relationships are poured through the prism of escalating tensions and imminent sadness of the loss of the matriarch, the film pivots on its ideas and never milks the emotion for easy drama.

East vs West is explored (obviously) and the family arguments and discussions are all set against some gorgeously shot scenes of dining and food.

It all means that Wang brings together the film in ways that are warm, earnest and also amusing. From Nai Nai's nagging to Billi about how she shouldn't wear earrings in New York as they'll be ripped from her ears to the reunion of the two brothers after twenty-plus years, this is a film that's rich in nuance and deep in feeling.

The Farewell is a nuanced take on family, one that balances perfectly on resonance.

It may be based on an actual lie, but its truths are universal and its performance by Awkwafina is delicate and complex, and well worth absorbing.

Les Miserables: NZIFF Review

Les Miserables: NZIFF Review

Director Ladj Ly's urgent street film crackles with an unpredictability that's hard to cope with throughout.

Centring on a very familiar trope (a new cop joins an urban crack unit) and stretched out over one day in the poverty-stricken streets of inner Paris, it's the tale of new cop Ruiz as he partners up with the anti-crime brigade's Chris and Gwada on a day when France is celebrating a win in the football.
Les Miserables: NZIFF Review

At first, the nation seems united, but as Ruiz begins to discover there are fragile and uneasy allegiances and pacts which punctuate the daily routine of life on the streets. However, when a lion cub is stolen from a visiting gypsy circus, it becomes the light which is igniting the touch paper and threatens to blow a powderkeg dangerously open.

Electric in every frame, and wildly unpredictable, Ly's street drama is part Training Day, part The Shield and all parts thrilling as it crackles and builds its way through a tension that gnaws at you.

It may begin with France seeming unified but as the banlieues are patrolled, Ly shows how France is still divided with immigration, with seething resentments and with simmering tensions, and uneasy lines to be negotiated by those seemingly in power.

Morals are thrust into the viewers' hands, and while Ly isn't keen to point out who's right or wrong, it appears clear early on as the camera swirls around all sides during various confrontations. Never really overplaying the drama helps greatly as the story unfolds, with tragedy never too far away.

While the Victor Hugo allusions are minimal, but obvious, Les Miserables points to society being to blame as the gritty film ends with a denouement for the ages. It's heart-poundingly thrilling and utterly compelling from beginning to end, and best experienced with a less-you-know attitude to ensure the ride is as taut as you'd want from one of the first unmissable films of the New Zealand International Film Festival.

Friday, 19 July 2019

NZIFF 2019 Q&A - Tearepa Kahi for HERBS: Songs of Freedom

NZIFF 2019 Q&A - Tearepa Kahi for HERBS: Songs of Freedom

HERBS: Songs of Freedom will receive its world premiere at the NZ International Film Festival on August 3rd, followed by a nationwide general release on August 15th

My film is....
HERBS: Songs of Freedom

The moment I'm most proud of is....
Seeing these men sound checking together together for the first time in 39 years.
NZIFF 2019 Q&A - Tearepa Kahi for HERBS: Songs of Freedom

The reason I carried on with this film when it got tough is.....
Belief. Belief in them, belief in their music and belief in the idea that a guitar can be a powerful tool for change.

The one moment that will resonate with an audience is.......
Listening to Tama Renata, sing goodbye to his dearly departed friend, Charlie Tumahai.

The hardest thing I had to cut from this film is........ 
More amazing music.

The thing I want people to take from this film is ...... 
'Uncles matter' and 'nothing heals like music'.

The reason I love the NZIFF is.......
The way it delivers on its promise every year to bring the hearts, minds and imaginations of the year's greatest story tellers into our world, during Matariki.

What I want to see at this year's NZIFF is......Les Miserables and Maria By Callas and lots and lots of others.

The one thing I'd say to aspiring filmmakers is.....
Never be afraid to throw away the map and get lost.