New Zealand Film Festival Reviews - Day One

New Zealand International Film Festival Reviews - Day One

With the New Zealand International Film Festival now underway, here's a quick wrap up of what I've seen so far. Keep checking back for more as the festival plays out in Auckland.

Beasts of the Southern Wild - This year's opening night film is a heady, visceral and tender tale of life, love and our connection to the world. Six year old Hushpuppy lives with her father in the Bathtub, a southern New Orleans delta continually threatened by rising flood waters. But she doesn't want to leave and her father refuses to evacuate them. When a storm comes though, and devastates their community, the pair trawl through the Bathtub trying to find survivors. Replete with an impressive lively OST and anchored by one of the strongest child performances seen on celluloid for a long time, Beasts is a unique vision of life and a joyous celebration of what binds us to the land and each other. But it all rises on the central performances of the child and her father - and thankfully by looking at life from the eyes of a kid, it's an insightful view which offers up a truly rewarding experience.

Wish You Were Here - When two Aussie couples head to Cambodia for a holiday, (two sisters and their respective partners) you'd expect it would all go to plan. However, when only three of them return, the pressure to find out what happened to Antony Starr's missing Jeremy ramps up - from the government and the police. But only Joel Edgerton's Dave holds the key to what exactly happened to them all... A tautly wound piece, this well paced piece offers up flashbacks to the event as well as secrets which are exposed with devastating consequences. A lack of real background to the four rarely proves a stumbling block to investing in the mystery and the clues provide dark hints as to what went on. Edgerton is the stand out here as the nervy and potentially guilty Dave, offering up a performance that's subtle, stifling and superb. A full review will follow when the film gets a nationwide release later in the year.

This Must Be the Place - Sean Penn as retired rock star Cheyenne (who's part Edward Scissorhands, part Ozzy, part Robert Smith from the Cure first thing in the morning) sets on a road trip to find the Nazi war criminal who persecuted his recently deceased father. Full of quirky offbeat visual moments and subtle touches of humour throughout, This Must Be The Place is a road trip film which is fuelled by heart as well as a stonkingly good OST (and appearance from David Byrne). Penn's a touch above what you'd expect from him as the oddity unfurls bringing layers of subtlety to the performance - but with cameos from David Byrne and Harry Dean Stanton, the film's a classy if bizarre affair. However, in all the occasional weirdness and whimsy, there's a strong beating centre which remains with you long after it's finished - and most of that is thanks to Penn's measured performance as the ex glam rocker looking for redemption and a sense of identity. Definitely worth catching while the buzz is very hot.

Killer Joe - Matthew McConaughey brings the menace as a Texan cop Joe, who's also a contract killer in this black humoured slice of trailer trash luridness which is peppered with some sickening violence. When a trailer park family concocts a plan to bump off their mother for an insurance pay-out, Joe's brought into the picture - but as ever, things don't go according to plan. There's a sleaziness amongst the pitch black humour which means KJ won't be to everyone's tastes (and certainly the violent denouement may appal some like Killer Inside Me did) but McConaughey is very good as the measured mean man whose every calm delivery is peppered with menace and implied threat; but it's Juno Temple as trailer park Dottie who scores the break-out here, with a turn that's way above those around her. KJ is a polarising piece, but with some great performances which will linger after the lights have gone up, it shows director William Friedkin is still a force to be reckoned with.

Moonrise Kingdom - Wes Anderson's latest whimsical outing collects together eccentricities, visual gags and quirks aplenty as it unfolds on the screen. In 1965 New England, a tale of first love blooms as scout Sam breaks out from his troop and meets his love Suzy who frees the shackles of her lawyer family (played by the ever deadpan Bill Murray and a stoic Frances McDormand). But the 12 year old pair's escape doesn't go unnoticed and a search is launched for them as a hurricane approaches. A lightly deft piece which is dazzlingly funny and heartfully humorous throughout, despite dealing with slightly precocious kids and more innocent times. A star packed cast offers up the very best of what's given to them but the film belongs firmly to the two leads and Anderson, whose eye for the artfully insane and utterly charming are once again spot on in this crowd pleasing sure-fire audience winner.

The Cabin in the Woods - Joss Whedon's much- vaunted Cabin gets its Incredibly Strange outing - and a review which won't proffer up anything of the spoilery nature. Suffice to say a group of good looking teens head into the woods for a weekend away - but as ever, when they get there, things turn rather hellish. Billed as genre mashing and genre bending, TCITW is actually a pulpy, trashy piece of film which plays with horror conventions, mocks the twists and turns and slaps on the smarts as well as the laughs. There's also a lot of gore too as the cleverness unfolds. Best watched with a packed audience, TCITW is a bit of a self referential enigma, as you can't help but feel that you've been subverted and had your expectations messed with as it unfolds. This effective genre piece is grounded by great performances by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford and is peppered with in jokes that horror fans will lap up. Humorous, shocking and a sly tipping of the genre, mean that Cabin will be a cult hit that deserves a wide audience. And talking of the audience, seeing it at a packed Civic with a massive crowd was a major buzz. It's also best viewed without any prior knowledge of what's about to unfold too - so stay away from the internet! (Also on hand at the NZIFF screenings is the Kiwi star of the film, Anna Hutchison to offer a bit of background on why it's taken so long to release and to get a flavour of the experience).


  1. thanks for sharing.

  2. Dan Zukovic's "DARK ARC", a bizarre modern noir dark comedy called "Absolutely brilliant...truly and completely different..." in Film Threat, was recently released on DVD and Netflix through Vanguard Cinema (, and is currently
    debuting on Cable Video On Demand. The film had it's World Premiere at the Montreal Festival, and it's US Premiere at the Cinequest Film Festival. Featuring Sarah Strange ("White Noise"), Kurt Max Runte ("X-Men", "Battlestar Gallactica",) and Dan Zukovic (director and star of the cult comedy "The Last Big Thing"). Featuring the glam/punk tunes "Dark Fruition", "Ire and Angst" and "F.ByronFitzBaudelaire", and a dark orchestral score by Neil Burnett.


    ***** (Five stars) "Absolutely brilliant...truly and completely different...something you've never tasted
    before..." Film Threat
    "A black comedy about a very strange love triangle" Seattle Times
    "Consistently stunning images...a bizarre blend of art, sex, and opium, "Dark Arc" plays like a candy-coloured
    version of David Lynch. " IFC News
    "Sarah Strange is as decadent as Angelina Jolie thinks she is...Don't see this movie sober!" Metroactive Movies
    "Equal parts film noir intrigue, pop culture send-up, brain teaser and visual feast. " American Cinematheque


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