Saturday, 28 July 2012

New Zealand International Film Festival - latest reviews

New Zealand International Film Festival - latest reviews

As the festival heads into its final week in Auckland, here's a selection of my latest reviews from the Civic, Rialto and SkyCity.

On The Road - after a somewhat disastrous week for KStew and Rpatz after she was caught cheating on Robert Pattinson with Snow White director Rupert Sanders, it's a cinematic return to form for the actress who shows she can actually emote when it's needed in this adaptation of Jack Kerouac's renowned book. Sam Riley stars as Sal Paradise, KStew as Mary Lou and Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty. After the death of his father, Sal, a fledgling but struggling writer, heads out across America with his friend Dean and hopes that the travelling will inspire his writing. And that's, erm pretty much it in this adaptation which is a sprawling, well acted, but emotionally detached road movie that pretty much encapsulates the feeling I imagine the book would have. I say imagine, because I've not touched Kerouac's tome so can't tell you if it's true to the tone or the feel or plot points (if they even exist). In terms of atmosphere, there's certainly plenty of hepcat hedonism and feeling of young pretentiousness afoot but I never really felt deeply engaged in these self absorbed poets/ writers as they shamble through a form of life. Kristen Stewart finally gets to really emote on the big screen and brings a bit of vibrancy to MaryLou and Riley impresses as Sal, who only really comes to life when others around him flourish. There's as much of a rambling freeform narrative here as there are beats in an ever lasting jazz piece and to be honest, it was a struggle to really care about these guys and the girl who's caught between the life on the road or the fiancee back at home, patiently waiting. Though cameos from Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen and a brilliant Steve Buscemi liven up proceedings, if it weren't for the captivating performances of Sam Riley and Kristen Stewart, I would have demanded this ride pulled over mid way through and let me off.

Bear - a superb little short that perfectly companioned Sightseers, Bear is well worth seeing. It's about a couple and the male half of said couple isn't exactly in the best books as his other half heads off to do some mountain biking. To say any more would just destroy the surprises on what's one of the smartest and funniest shorts I've seen this festival.

Sightseers - the best black comedy you will see at the NZFF this year. As an ex-pat Midlander who's been forced to endure some caravan holidays, I can perfectly attest to what Ben Wheatley's brought to this killer film. Steve Oram and Alice Lowe play Chris and Tina, a pair of recent lovers who decide to escape Tina's stifling mother by heading away on a caravanning trip around the Yorkshire dales in the UK. But Chris is a veritable powder keg of anger, waiting to boil over...and as the mundane turns to murderous, the very dark humour is ratcheted up to 11. The thing is with Tina's slightly creepy attitude (scarred after her mum's dog died in a knitting needle accident that she caused) and Chris's bristling ginger beard of pure rage, SightSeers manages to be a spectacle which heartily amuses and equally horrifies - a radical dosage of ultra violence complements (and yet never overshadows) this apparently occasionally improvised mix; throw in some great banter (one scene sees Tina's mum shouting that her daughter was an accident) as well as a whole heap of phrases which are destined to become quotable (brown lipstick anyone?) and this is the perfect concoction of horror and humour. But what Wheatley's also managed to capture is the various personalities who inhabit caravan holidays - be they the annoying pedants, noisy neighbours or new age nutjobs, it's a perfect dichotomy of lives lived in middle England. Replete with great shots of the countryside and a cup so filled with black darkness that it runneth over, Sightseers is to be wholeheartedly recommended. This year's Natural Born Caravanners if you will.

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