Friday, 12 August 2022

The Territory: NZIFF Review

The Territory: NZIFF Review

Cinematographer Alex Pritz turns his attention to the Indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau people of Brazil, in this doco that may shape some of your perceptions of life in Brazil.

With only 200 of their number alive, the Uru-eu-wau-wau people's story is one of a continual fight between the past and the future, as various incursions come into their land and the people fight back against deforestation in the Amazon.

The Territory: NZIFF Review

There's no denying that Pritz's sensibilities lies with the indigenous people, and that's perhaps to be expected, but what The Territory does is to label the fight with a degree of intelligent sensibility as it allows all sides of the arguments to be heard.

But it's the imagery in Pritz's film that make it stunning.

An opening shot of a drone being deployed to show the scale of the deforestation is jaw-dropping (one of those present describes it as ugly) as it reveals the extent of how close the work has come to their own land.

It's not that The Territory is not a worthy documentary, and it's not that the filmmakers have tried their best to cover all the sides involved, but at times it does feel like the film's a little too unbalanced, wearing its sympathies and its urgencies on its sleeve.

But with Pritz at the helm, and the fact time is running out generally, perhaps that's no bad thing here. The film's ace is letting its indigenous subjects tell its story, and its journey is one that doesn't feel like it has yet ended.

Flux Gourmet: NZIFF Review

Flux Gourmet: NZIFF Review

The stylised and highly fetishised filmmaking of Peter Strickland returns in a satire that lacks bite, aims for base levels and is slighter than any of his previous works.

It follows a group of sonic caterers, (a band which uses food and sound to create aural experiences), who have been chosen for a residence at an arty-farty mansion, run by Gwendoline Christie's flowery language spouting head. The trio uses cookery and Radiophonic Workshop stylings to create experiences and their time during the residence is being catalogued by a flatulent writer, whose growing discomfort becomes the main storyline.

Flux Gourmet: NZIFF Review

But with a rival group threatening to derail the caterers' career and the band itself threatening to implode thanks to tensions and insecurities, there's plenty of pressure to deal with - and not just horrific gas.

Strickland's pretensions are on full display, with aural self-indulgence being the main element employed here. There's no disguising the level from the get-go with this film, a movie that, while threatening to send up the arts world, never really feels like it's got a target in its sights and has zeroed in with extreme precision.

Collectively, the ensemble here are fine; perhaps Christie stands out as she dives full-tilt into the lunacy the script demands, and Strickland's aesthetics have never been more obvious, but this remains a film that's for acquired tastes. It's definitely arty-farty, but with some of its low hanging fruit, it's never anything more than it could be - slide into its rhythms and you'll be satiated. 

But it truth Flux Gourmet is a movie that makes a meal of its intentions - and is sadly all the worse for it.

Thursday, 11 August 2022

Marcel The Shell with Shoes On: NZIFF Review

Marcel The Shell with Shoes On: NZIFF Review

A delightfully sweet stop-animation tale about a 1 inch high shell and his relationship with his nan forms the backbone of the all-ages treat Marcel The Shell with Shoes On.

Based on a series of short films by director Dean Fleischer-Camp and comedian Jenny Slate, Marcel The Shell with Shoes On focuses on the trauma Marcel feels after having had his community of fellow shells ripped away.

Marcel The Shell with Shoes On: NZIFF Review

After Dean crafts a doco about Marcel and posts it online, Marcel becomes an online sensation, but the fame causes him issues worrying about his home and his nan's future - and heightens his hopes that his fellow molluscs can be found.

There's a sweetness in Marcel The Shell with Shoes On that's hard to deny - a tenderness and innocence that prove light is important in the world.

With Marcel's various reflections on life and the animators' clever touches (Marcel walks across walks thanks to the use of honey, and navigates the home with an ingenious use of a tennis ball), Marcel The Shell with Shoes On is a film that has cleverness within, but never shouts about it.

There's a kind of lo-fi charm to the proceedings, which is contagious. But there are also moments that revel in the poignancy and bittersweet sadness Marcel feels. A scene where he lets loose a paper lantern from the roof as a tribute to his missing family is tear-jerking. Moments later, Marcel's decrying the fact every time he does that, a dog barks and is a lunatic - it's moments like this that run the gamut of emotions both cleverly and endearingly throughout.

At its heart, Marcel The Shell with Shoes On is a simple tale, simply told. However, that's not to diminish its effect or intentions - its simplicity is its strength, and its kindness is its own reward.

Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Triangle of Sadness: NZIFF Review

Triangle of Sadness: NZIFF Review

Director Ruben Östlund knows how to orchestrate the awkward.

His Force Majeure took a moment of rash behaviour and transferred it into a whole world of existential dread. But at its heart, that behaviour was grounded in a human truth many of us are unwilling to acknowledge in the open.

Triangle of Sadness: NZIFF Review

Östlund's back at it again with Triangle of Sadness, the second of two foreign films out this year which looks at an unhealthy relationship (the first being Norway's Sick of Myself) and lays bare the minutiae of human dynamics and discomfort.

This time around, Östlund focuses on Carl and Yaya, two influencers whose stars are waxing and waning at different times, but whose incessant need for oxygen keeps them in each other's orbit.

Carl (Harris Dickison) is enraged that Yaya (Charlbi Dean) won't pay for their dinner in an expensive restaurant, despite saying she would fork out for the food. Obsessing on this point on principle, Carl orchestrates a row between the two that would necessitate a fallout due to the imbalance in the relationship - but the pair end up reconciling and soon find themselves on a yacht populated by the super rich, thanks to Yaya's online profile.

However, things go somewhat awry for the duo when a perfect storm of greed, and a typhoon hits the ship.

Triangle of Sadness is utterly hilarious in parts - thanks largely to a sequence involving a captain's dinner, a storm, and a grotesque mash up of Stand by Me's most famous sequence and seafood.

But the 150 minute film stumbles and loses its way in its final third part, (the film's divided into three sections) proving to be as washed up in its dynamics and narrative as its cast members' characters are. 

It's possible that in truth, no one really feels sorry for the super rich, and Östlund's targeting of them feels like shooting fish in a barrel, despite his penchant for laying bare the class elements that come to the fore. There are some savage moments as Östlund delves into the dynamics, but it's tricky to care for the grotesque when they're so readily available to be mocked and so horrible in their behaviours anyway.

Centre to proceedings is the aforementioned captain's dinner sequence which is disgustingly compelling comedic viewing that really ramps up the grossness jettisoning the social satire. Perhaps this is the film's biggest flaw - it doesn't quite zero in on one target, preferring to slather all of them with various levels of blame and horror.

There's wickedness on show in Triangle of Sadness, but in truth, that falls by the weyside as Östlund meanders toward the end. It's still superior, but its lack of focus toward the end means you're left feeling this triangle has little point.


Tuesday, 9 August 2022

Nope: Movie Review

Nope: Movie Review

Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun

Director: Jordan Peele

Nope: Movie Review

There's no denying Jordan Peele knows how to deliver horror and suspense.

Both Get Out and Us were masterclasses in the unsettling, meshing the horror genre with something more tactile in its social commentary.

So it's perhaps disappointing to reveal Nope feels less sharp than Peele's earlier works, less focussed on a specific message and more of a general rejoinder to various societal ills and concerns.

But that's not say it lacks the spectacle and tension to make its 130 minute run time worthy.

Kaluuya is rancher OJ, one half of a brother and sister Hollywood horse wrangling outfit, both of whom are descended from the rider depicted on Eadweard Muybridge's first moving picture. OJ is more reserved, while his sister Emerald is the more spunky and outspoken of the two - and their opposing characteristics cause clashes on the future of their struggling company.

However, when they seemingly discover something in the skies above their backyard, they rush to try and capture footage to sell to make their fortune (their so-called Oprah moment). 

Nope works best as a mystery puzzle, as it melds together the pieces of a sci-fi movie and a horror. And while its big screen intentions of spectacle are obvious and excellently presented, it almost feels like Nope is a spin-off episode of Peele's take on The Twilight Zone.

Nope: Movie Review

That's not to say it doesn't straddle the mix of discomfort, fear, horror, tension and humour with the usual aplomb - more that outside of its spectacle, there feels to be little else within.

Kaluuya and Palmer are excellent throughout - Kaluuya has his usual intensity mixed with a level of melancholy that's almost catatonic at times. But Palmer delivers a confident performance that bristles with energy in their yin and yang dynamic, and she easily burns up the screen. And much needs to be lauded about the soundscape created within as well.

But it's Peele's writing here that falters somewhat as it muddies a mixture of commentary on how Black society has been wiped from cinematic history, a take on slavery with cowed heads and subservience, how creatures are to be feared and respected, living life in a Covid world, our relationship to spectacle and little else. 

The lack of a subtext this time may disappoint some fans of Peele's oeuvre, and in fairness, what's on screen is still one heck of a rollercoaster ride, but shorn of the searing societal barbs, it feels less of an essential watch and more of a cleverly constructed  mystery thriller puzzle that doesn't bear up under continued examination.

It's probably best to watch Nope with little knowledge of what's to happen beforehand. 

Like all mysteries this doesn't appear to hold up under scrutiny, but when Peele finds his groove as he does in some sections, it's utterly thrilling edge-of-your-seat stuff. But don't be surprised if rather than leaving with a resounding Nope, many may head out of the film with a more despondent Meh than anything else. However, for those who submit to its spectacle, it's thrilling viewing.

Monday, 8 August 2022

Emily The Criminal: NZIFF Review

Emily The Criminal: NZIFF Review

Drowning in debt from art school and burdened by her past, Aubrey Plaza's Emily is fighting against a growing tide. But in this low-stakes highly connective thriller, she's mad as hell and she's not gonna take it any more.

Unable to get through job interviews without her criminal record being brought to the fore, and struggling to make ends meet in her catering contracting job, Emily's thrown a lifeline when she takes a shift for a co-worker, and he gives her a phone number to text for quick easy cash.

After yet another work disappointment, Emily gives in to temptation and signs up for a "dummy shopper" gig where stooges are given fake credit cards and make purchases for bigger buyers.

Emily The Criminal: NZIFF Review

But Emily discovers she has a talent for the role, a burgeoning friendship with the boss Yousef (himself a former grifter) and a chance to escape from the hole she's in - if she's able to do something illegal.

Emily The Criminal is a confident, assured debut from director John Patton Ford; it's a film that has inherent tension etched within, but which never overplays it for a series of simple adrenaline-fuelled moments.

That's not to say these are not within, but at its heart, Emily The Criminal is a compelling character piece anchored by the enigmatically dramatic Aubrey Plaza. Plaza makes Emily's descent into the criminal underworld feel plausible, tangible and tempting enough given her circumstance.

Ford isn't interested in delivering a didactic takedown on the state of zero contract jobs, and of a crumbling economy - much like 2019's Sorry We Missed You, he simply builds the situation around his player and watches as the stone gathers motion.

Both Plaza and Theo Rossi as Yousef make for a grounded pair, a couple of individuals who are in pursuit of their own dreams, but whose vision collides to stunning effect. With an easy chemistry and a great deal of charisma, Emily The Criminal inadvertently drags you all into its slipstream.

It's a small film, wide in scope, but one which thrills in the most human of ways.

Dual: NZIFF Review

Dual: NZIFF Review

Riley Stearns (The Art of Self-Defense) returns with a Black Mirror-esque movie that proves to be as tragic as it is poignant.

Doctor Who and Guardians of the Galaxy's Karen Gillan is Sarah, a remote and emotionally flat woman who discovers she's dying with a disease that's 100% going to kill her. Even though the doctors tell her there's a 2% margin of error, she's told to make her final plans for life.

Dual: NZIFF Review

Discovering a cloning service that will give her family and friends a version of her to live on after her death, she opts for the process. As the clone adopts her way of life, Sarah's stunned to find out that 10 months later, despite the initial prognosis, she's gone into full remission.

The only way to get her life back now is a fight to death with her clone...

There's a stilted unnatural bent to the dialogue and Gillan's performance throughout Dual, but the rhythms of this sci-fi tinged story are extremely satisfying, despite its lo-fi nature. It may be about high concepts, but this movie works on its basic levels by tapping into human insecurities, dystopian twists and a feeling that something's not quite right all the way through.

There's an intrigue coursing through Dual's veins, and while there's also some humour to be found in the offbeat moments, it's all rooted in a bittersweet feel that's based on veracity. Dual taps into the loneliness of life, the staccato speeches belying the emotional truths which are being passed, and an inherently subtle take on the human condition.

In among it all is Gillan, whose dual role here requires as much subtlety as it does hands-off. Her interactions with both Aaron Paul's trainer and Beulah Koale's partner work because of the edge Gillan brings to the party. You end up wanting her to win, but you know deep down, there's always a better version of you that's going to win over.

Dual is a thrill; a cold concept film that has deliciously deadpan edges, but also a uniquely human moral edge.

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The Territory: NZIFF Review

The Territory: NZIFF Review Cinematographer Alex Pritz turns his attention to the  Indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau people of Brazil, in this doco ...