Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Only God Forgives: Movie Review

Only God Forgives: Movie Review

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Yayaying Rhatha Phongam, Vithaya Pansringarm
Director: Nicholas Winding Refn

Ryan Gosling reteams with his Drive director for this new film set in the seedy underworld of Bangkok.

Pretty boy Gosling plays a fairly ugly role, as he's Julian, a drug smuggler on the scene who masks his secondary business with a Thai boxing club. But his life's thrown into turmoil when his younger brother murders an underage prostitute.

Because that's when his mother Crystal comes to town - and orders Julian to get vengeance for her, which sets him on a collision course with Vithaya Pansringarm's cop lord, Chang.

Only God Forgives is a detached, emotionless experience and one which is also polarising.

Gosling's pretty dead behind the eyes and emotionally blank as Julian and it's hard to really empathise with him as the pressure starts to mount; particularly because there's no real connection to his family's plight due to the repugnant nature of all of them. Most disgusting is Kristin Scott Thomas' towering bullying turn as a mother who pours forth such bile from her mouth that you'll be stunned into submission. When Julian tells her that his brother raped and then murdered an underage girl, her reaction is simply one of "She probably deserved it."

It's shocking in some ways and that's probably what Winding Refn set out to do as the neon-soaked, red lit and blood soaked series of scenes play out. Occasionally bordering on the surreal and almost Lynchian, scenes are artfully set up and beautifully executed but with a minimum of impact thanks to the soulless characters which inhabit the world within.

Vithaya Pansringarm's Chang is a menacing character, thanks largely in part to the calm and silence in which he carries out his role as the angel of death and bringer of retribution. Wielding a samurai sword and executing justice in a very traditional and honoured way, he's quite the character, prone as he is to cutting people's hands off or using skewers to extract the information he needs and then dishing out a karaoke number at the end of it all.

Talking of the violence of the piece, there's been much made of the ultra-violence on display, but to be frank, I wasn't particularly shocked by it. Granted, it's vicious and brutal in parts (Julian is taken down in a boxing ring by Chang in a series of precise blows) but it's because of the real lack of connection to the characters, that you curiously don't feel a thing as their fates and vengeance catch up to them.

There's no dispute that Winding Refn's created a hyper-stylised and ultra stylish piece of film-making with slow sweeping shots down long corridors bathed in reds and neons and an impressive soundtrack which showcases the swish of the sword and punctuates the surreal visions which plague Julian.

But if he'd spent a little more time deviating away from the artsy extremes of the cinematic form and concentrated a little more on developing the shades of grey of the main protagonists of the piece, he'd have created something which was stunning.

As it is Only God Forgives lives in a pit of ugliness, and proves to be a frustrating cinematic experience. Divisive and polarising, it's destined to be a staple of film class discussions and could potentially see many cinema goers expecting a repeat of Drive's slickness alienated and stunned.


Now You See Me: Movie Review

Now You See Me: Movie Review

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Marc Ruffalo, Melanie Laurent
Director: Louis Leterrier

Magic - it's all in the misdirection, right?

In this new heist / caper / magic, Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Woody Harrelson and Isla Fisher star as a quartet of magicians aka The Four Horsemen - J Daniel Atlas (a cardsman), Jack, (a pick-pocket) Merritt (a mentalist) and Henley (another escapologist), who, having worked individually are brought together by a mysterious benefactor to pull off some of their biggest ever tricks after a year of planning.

But the group attracts the attention of the FBI's Dylan Rhodes (a wonderfully rugged Mark Ruffalo) after they apparently rob a bank in Paris and give the money to their audience during a show in Las Vegas.

Rhodes teams up with an interpol agent Alma Dray (Inglorious Basterds' Melanie Laurent) and a debunker of magic Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) to try and track the Horsemen down and stop them.

And so begins a taut game of cat and mouse....

Now You See Me is a slick, flashy, crowd-pleasing affair.

With swirling cameras looping around all the actors and the action all the time, you may get a little dizzy and disorientated as the speedy plot plays out. There's hardly any time to catch your breath really as well as the chase begins and there's certainly no time to dwell on some of the plot holes, light characterisation and confusing moments as it speeds to its ever so slightly open ended conclusion. A lack of real explanation as to why the group's taken in by this scheme is missing until the end, giving you open-ended discussion over why they're involved and causing you to feel a little cheated.

Like any magic trick, Now You See Me is a heady mix of quick cuts, sleight of cinematic hand and misdirection. Nothing is of course as it seems and its ending is ludicrous, making a lot of what has already proceeded seem like something mysterious yet empty.

Eisenberg is smug and arrogant as Atlas; Harrelson's smirking and wise-cracking as the Mentalist - and unfortunately Fisher and Franco barely register as characters in this rather crowded cast. They're lost in the confines of the story and the initial brilliant opening scene, introducing us to all of the characters doesn't follow through on its promise. Freeman and Caine have a frisson of conflict as Tressler, the Horsemen's bank roller and Thaddeus the debunker. But it's Ruffalo who emerges as eminently watchable throughout this piece; his FBI agent seems to always be one step behind the action but his dogged determination is catchy and pretty soon, you're on his side, rooting for the capture of the quartet.

And yet, the set pieces and magic moments work well - the Robin Hood razzle dazzle of the Las Vegas / Paris bank heist is eye-catching and smart yet full of slick hokum; and a sequence in New Orleans where Rhodes is close to snagging the group on stage ends with such a riotous conclusion, you can't help but be swept away by it all.

That's the thing with Now You See Me - its mix of magic, heist caper and slick Hollywood swirling cameras is infectious - like any good trick, you're caught up in the moment as it plays out - but the minute you step out of the cinema, you find yourself questioning what you've seen - and while Now You See Me proffers up some entertaining moments throughout its 110 minute run, you're soon left with a hollow after glow and a feeling that you've been tricked. A real case of Now You See Me, Now You Don't on the plot front...


Tuesday, 30 July 2013

NZIFF Review - Romeo and Juliet: A Love Song

NZIFF Review - Romeo and Juliet: A Love Song  

Rock operetta meets the trailer park in this latest ambitious retelling of the tale of Juliet and her Romeo.

Set in Verona caravan park, it's the story of Romeo and erm, Juliet and their star crossed love, a story told a million times before and which has been given a spit and polish for this Kiwi version. The music came first this time around as composers/producers Michael O’Neill and Peter van der Fluit set Shakespeare’s text to music, mixing in styles such as rap, ballad and rock.

Constantly surprising, Tim van Dammen's clearly drawn heavily from his music video directing background and the whole piece comes together with such toe-tapping gusto that it's impossible to deny. With the talent miming to other voices, the occasional misfire with the voice matching/ miming drips through, but all in all, it's an extremely enjoyable affair. Christopher Landon and Derya Parlak play the titular lovers with such aplomb that you can't help but be swept along with the story. Plus, given the fact they don't look out of place by the beach (Summer Bay Shakespeare anyone?) doesn't hinder the proceedings at all. 

The music's fabulous and ramps up the style pretty high in this take on Shakespeare's 400 year old story as the glorious re-versioning plays out. Ambitious and exciting, this Romeo and Juliet is something uniquely different; constantly surprising and always inventive, the operetta has an energy which is hard to ignore. A caravan roof doubles for a balcony and a wood just outside of the camping ground provides some truly memorable scenery as the declarations of love are unveiled.

Shakespeare's text may have been remade repeatedly - but this Kiwi view of it shows off a clever twist on the stuffy text - it's a music video rock operetta with a high dose of energy and directing gusto.

Interview with Romeo and Juliet: A Love Song director Tim van Dammen

Tell us about Romeo and Juliet: A Love Song
The film is a trash-opera adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It is the original text but sung or rapped. Its set in a run down trailer park and Romeo and Juliet are played by a couple of NZ’s top models. I don’t think anyone will have seen anything quite like it before, at least that’s what I was going for...

What was the filming of it like?
It was great! I shot with the same crew I’ve been making music videos with for the last few years, we’re all very close so it went really well. It was like a giant film camp at the beach, we were living much like the characters in the film – even a couple of romances blossomed.

Where did you film it and was it a smooth shoot?
We shot up at Waipu Cove campground, the people up there were very accomodating so the shoot went really well. The locals invited us around to their houses for dinner, they took us shellfish gathering in the weekends and they helped us find nearby locations to film certain scenes. It was a very smooth shoot, the only small hiccup was the lead actress breaking her toe but she didn’t let it stop her.

What’s it like to be here with the film at the New Zealand International Film Festival?
It’s amazing to be able to premiere the film here in NZ and for it to screen at the Civic and at the Embassy, it’s like a dream. I used to volunteer here as an usher so now to have my film here is sort of surreal. I’d like to thank Bill Gosden and the team at the NZIFF for having me, it’s a real honour.

What’s the best reaction you’ve had to a film of yours from an audience member?
I come from and Art School background so I’m used to my work being critiqued and critised, I find it difficult to respond to complements but I do remember after the cast and crew screening a little old lady who had given some money to the project came up afterwards and thanked me, she told me that she was very proud of the film. That was both humbling and a relief. I feel a lot of pressure to do justice to the generosity of people who helped make the film possible. Other than that the best reaction I can hope for from the film is laughter at the start and tears at the end, so far its affected a lot test audiences in this manner but I guess we’ll see what happens at the premiere.

Conversely, what’s been the worst?

What’s next for you?

My team and I have a couple of projects on the go, one is another opera which I’m working on with some of NZ’s top musicians and the other is a story set in 1833 NZ about headhunters but as usual I’m always looking for interesting local scripts.

Q&A with Sean Baker of Starlet

Q&A with Sean Baker of Starlet

Tell us about Starlet

Starlet is my fourth feature film. It explores the unlikely cross-generational friendship between 21 year-old Jane (Dree Hemingway), and the elderly Sadie (Besedka Johnson), two women whose worlds collide in California's San Fernando Valley.

What was the filming of it like? And was it a smooth shoot?

Our budget was 250k which is a tiny budget even in the indie film world.  In an effort to make this film as slick as possible for that budget, we had to employ guerrilla tactics in order to put every dollar up on the screen.  So there was much "run and gun" and some uncomfortable moments... but for the most part, we had a nice small family that worked great together. My dog was the only diva... he demanded his own trailer.. which was my air-conditioned car. 

You have a couple of remarkable lead actresses. Could you tell us a bit how you went about casting the film?

Dree came to us through her manager Allan Mindel, who is known for discovering fresh talent.  I cast her after an hour long video chat session without even having her read for the role.  Her sensibilities, demeanor and physicality sold me.

As far as Besedka goes, I wanted to cast a star from yester year... a "starlet" from another era.  Although we came close, we were having difficulty finding someone for Sadie. We were only 3 to 4 weeks from production and we were beginning to stress.  Shih-Ching Tsou (co-director of TAKE OUT), is one of the executive producers on STARLET went to the local YMCA to work-out.  She texted me from the gym locker room that she thought she found our actress.  Shih-Ching spoke to Besedka and asked her to audition.  Besedka thought she was being scammed at first but agreed to meet.  At her audition, she expressed to us that she lived in LA for most of her life and always dreamed of acting in a film but never had the chance.

What’s the best reaction you’ve had to a film of yours from an audience member?

Good question... A woman in Mar Del Plata, Argentina came up to me after a screening. She asked me how Chris Bergoch (co-screenwwriter) and I were able to write for the role of Sadie, an octogenarian who had much loss in her life. She told me that she had gone through a similar loss and thought we captured the nuances of that character perfectly. I told her that most of the credit goes to Besedka Johnson who understood her character in and out and brought her to life.

Another time, an audience member stood up and said he worked in the California adult film industry. He complimented us by saying that this is the most accurate depiction of the  industry he had ever seen.

Conversely, what’s been the worst?

I heard through the grapevine that one prominent festival programmer felt that the film fails by not showing the long term negative consequences of sex work. To do that would have directly contradicted our attempt to depict these young people as individuals with daily routines, hopes and dreams... not just people defined by their work.

Starlet won the Special Jury Prize at the SXSW Film Festival ; what kind of impact does a reward like that have on your career?

Every prize is a step forward and one more boost to help get the film out to audiences. That particular award was a recognition of Besedka Johnson's performance. She 100% deserved it and I'm so happy for her.

What’s next for you?

One very mainstream black comedy/thriller that Chris Bergoch and I are in the midst of writing. Plus, a couple of indies in which I am currently seeking financing. So hey, if any of your readers want to make a film with me... let's talk!

By the way, we are on Facebook and twitter 

Thanks so much

NZIFF Review - A Field in England

NZIFF Review - A Field in England

Ben Wheatley returns to the New Zealand International Film Festival and puts the WTF squarely into the Incredibly Strange section of the programme.

In his latest, a black and white piece set in the Civil War in England, it's up to you to put together some of the many pieces of this puzzle as they warp out in front of your eyes.

Reece Shearsmith (The League of Gentlemen) stars as Whitehead, a coward avoiding the fighting going on just over the hedges and frustratingly out of sight (robbing us of context). Joined by 3 others, Whitehead falls in with a troop of ne'er-do-wells, who want to get to an inn just over the hill - however, their journey takes a strange turn when they stumble upon O'Neill (Michael Smiley) whose desire to use Whitehead to find something in the field threatens them all.

A Field In England is a trippy piece of civil war psychedelia, mixed in with some of Wheatley's trademark dark humour. It's also frustratingly short on answers and high on puzzles meaning every audience member will have an interpretation of what's going on exactly and while that's fun for debate afterwards, a lack of linear answers may prove a befuddlement too far.

Though it has to be said, Wheatley's style comes shining through once again - with trippy sequences after mushrooms have been digested and psychosis sets in via an electronic soundtrack, it's a visceral thrill to see it unfold even if you're not 100% sure what the hell is going on.

Reece Shearsmith provides some genuinely unsettling moments - and a combined slow mo shot of him stumbling out of a tent after a confrontation with Smiley's O'Neill may be lacking in answers as to what's just gone on following the screaming, but it's not lacking on menace and a general feeling of the disturbed. Some of Wheatley's imagery is haunting and disgusting but always memorable (not always for the best reasons.)

There's some bleak humour here too - a confession of one of the group who's dying centres on his infidelity to his wife and brings some laughs which are unexpected; that's the thing with A Field In England, Wheatley's jumped so far out of any box you may expect after Sightseers and Kill List, that he's to be commended for the fact this film is so damn hard to classify, put in a box and properly review.

Freeze frame shots recall Civil War poses, a soundtrack taking in songs from the time and music add to the setting, and a general feeling of unease and pure dread drip from the screen as the low level plot plays out to its maddening end.

A Field In England is an utterly WTF experience at the New Zealand International Film Festival - and its perplexing nature provides the enigmatic riddle we need to puzzle over for years to come. Some of the best film is the stuff which can't be pigeonholed - and once again, Wheatley's done it; he's committed something unique and audacious to celluloid, something which defies expectations and which provides more questions than it does answers.


NZIFF Review - To The Wonder and Frances Ha

NZIFF Review - To The Wonder and Frances Ha

Terrence Malick returns to the New Zealand International Film Festival just a couple of years after the Tree of Life polarised so many.

This time around, rather than taking on the big mysteries of life, he's choosing to concentrate on the nature of love, in To The Wonder with a piece centreing on Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko's relationship and how it plays out. It starts off romantically as the duo journey to Europe on a train. With no inclination for explanation, we're thrown into the middle of their relationship and left to observe; Affleck is near mute and Kurylenko's voiceover gives us snapshots of a life, a love and a budding world of dreams. As time goes on though, the romance cools, the pair split amid a visa issue and Affleck falls back for former girlfriend played by Rachel McAdams. However, once again, that dream falters and the original duo reunite. Intertwined with their life and love is a priest played by Javier Bardem whose purpose in life is drifting away from his calling.
Once again, Malick displays a real propensity and skill for a lyrical liquid narrative, blessed with some wonderful imagery which captures the life within our grasp; but for some, the fluidity and lack of real structure may prove a stumbling block as it rambles on to its conclusion. The overall feeling of To The Wonder is more of an experience, a live picture book than a conventional film - a spiritual journey rather than a scripted pathway. An orchestral score soars early on as the trio all search for something - and while Affleck and Kurylenko's characters seem to get the most closure, Bardem's priest is a little neglected and on the outside of the film rather than being more fully embraced. To The Wonder is a film to be seen and discussed but it may not be one whose snapshots of life and love are anything more than fleeting moments of celluloid; haunting definitely but lasting, not entirely.

Frances Ha is Great Gerwig's contribution to hipsterdom. And quite frankly, it feels in places like it tries too hard to be as cool as it wants to. Gerwig is Frances, a dancer in New York, whose bohemian and drifter lifestyle means she moves from flat to flat and life to life after her soulmate Sophie (Sting's daughter) decides she wants to move out to an address she's always wanted to go to. Devastated from the split, Frances finds her life lacks focus and meaning as she moves from one address to another, always trying to get on and always seeking some form of validation from her friends and suffering from a lack of being able to move on in life. Shot in black and white and deliberately going for a certain audience, I personally found Gerwig's Frances and her ilk insufferable and annoying; that's not to say though that Gerwig isn't astoundingly good in the role; this flighty girl is quirky and therefore awkward in places. During a massive run to get cash from an ATM, Frances falls over while dashing back - for no reason other than to emphasise her awkwardness. It's these try hard moments which are peppered throughout which irritate rather than endear. Which is a real shame as there are moments of dialogue and banter which sparkle and shine with naturalness and freshness, fully encapsulating the feckless nature of youth and the nether years when we flounder between no longer being a child but not quite an adult as we make our way through the world. A Christmas jaunt home to Sacramento with family gives Frances some warmth which is lost during other dinner encounters with flatmates and friends thereof, but as a series of snapshots of life in New York, there will be those who utterly adore Frances and her quirkiness; unfortunately, I am not one of them and was left irritated by the shallowness of the film, and the annoying nature of Frances.

Monday, 29 July 2013

NZIFF Review - The Bling Ring

NZIFF Review - The Bling Ring

The latest movie from Sofia Coppola takes a look at the vapid way our lives have become so obsessed and warped with celebrity and all within it.

And it's a shocking look at how far some will go to be a part of that lifestyle.

When Marc (Israel Broussard) moves to a new school, he falls in with Katie Chang's Rebecca on the first day. Rebecca seduces him with her lifestyle - of breaking into homes, taking what she wants and helping herself due to a self imposed sense of self-entitlement.

Soon, Marc's aiding and abetting in these crimes, fuelling Rebecca's need to be part of the celeb lifestyle. He finds her the homes of the rich and famous that she wants to be part of, and they simply head there, break in and wallow in the opulence and take mementoes home of their crimes. It's the ultimate in the Steal Their Style mentality - and it's utterly addictive for this duo.

They're joined in their escapades by Emma Watson's Nicky, her friend Sam (Taissa Farmiga) and Chloe (Claire Julian) who all become addicted to this way of life after Marc and Rebecca take them to Paris Hilton's home repeatedly.

But eventually, the greed of the young and the seduction of the crime become too much for the group and their spree starts to become noticed by the Hollywooderati and the Bling Ring is feeling the pressure.

The Bling Ring movie is apparently based on real events and on a Vanity Fair article - and is in some ways, a shocking expose of how obsessed we've become with the celebrity lifestyle, fuelled by weekly magazines of what they're wearing, daily news items on who's dating who and who's wearing what and an indictment of the want it now attitude of some who'd rather take it than earn it.

It's a hollow, shallow and superficial piece which is stylishly put together - from shots of the group taking endless selfies in the clubs, surrounded by bling, booze and money and transposed to Facebook,The Bling Ring is a horrifying look at how some have no identity except through the lives of others.

When Rebecca's finally caught and she's told that some of their victims have been spoken to by the police, her one overburning desire is to know what Lindsay said because her obsession is so deep. The attitude of these youngsters is appalling and Coppola does little to validate them or make them empathetic as the film plays out and their coked up sprees continue a plenty. So it's hard to care for them as the police close in and their lifestyles are brought to an end.

Watson and Leslie Mann are perhaps the stand outs of the film; Mann, whose mother and home schooling is based on the concept of The Secret is a blast - a blank canvas of motherhood whose daily prayer and mantra is as superficial as her smile - and whose teachings make her charges wonder what characteristics Angelina Jolie embodies; Watson is an empty and vapid teen whose statements as bland as anything and yet they show a canny sense of using buzzwords and phrases without actually saying anything profound - for example - "I'm a firm believer in karma; I wanna lead a country one day. For all I know." There's no conviction in these teens except to live vicariously through the theft of their victims.

From yellow lurid neon opening titles to a blasting punk soundtrack, Coppola's put together something which is as impressive as it is empty; an indictment of the Facebook generation who revel in empty lives to fulfill their own and who have everything going for them but don't recognise it.

The Bling Ring is visually impressive, shatteringly hollow and of the now. It's worrying that it's based on real events and it's to be hoped that Coppola's indifference to her subjects and occasional glorification of their opulence desiring lifestyle will be taken lightly - because based on the audience I was with, the majority of them were on their smartphones the moment the film was ending, perhaps perpetuating a cycle of celebrity cult worship that it's really time to break.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

NZIFF Review - Cheap Thrills and Dial M for Murder

NZIFF Review - Cheap Thrills and Dial M for Murder

It seems appropriate to lump these two films into one handy review, given how they both encapsulate similar themes.

In Evan Katz's grubby Cheap Thrills, it's Compliance's Pat Healy who's forced to debase himself for money to make ends meet. When Healy's Craig awakes one day, it's all a spiral to hell as debt catches up with him - a young baby, a nice wife and a good home all placed in jeopardy by the fact he can't pay the bills. An eviction notice and a downsizing later and Craig's in a bar, nursing a beer and some sorrows. Then he bumps into Vince, an old school friend not seen for 5 years and it starts to escalate into a simmering pot boiler of have-nots. When the duo meet Colin and Violet, (Sara Paxton and David Koechner) who have cash to splash on a series of silly dares, everything goes to hell in a handcart as social mores and moral depths are plumbed to see how far they'd go for cash. $50 to be the first to down a shot, $500 to hit a bouncer first - all seem like simple moments of what would you do mentality, but that's only the beginning. As the two old school friends begin to face off each other in a desperate game for one upmanship and money in the pocket.
Katz has a way of keeping the thrills going in the film as it spirals towards its inevitable nasty end - sure, you can see what's coming as Vince and Craig debase themselves for cash - and there's a degree of wondering what would you do for that amount of money if it came down to it. But the taut direction as the resentments boil over and the level of tension rises means you're never short of an engagement with this grubby lo-fi film. As a morality tale, it's a fascinating one - a tale of haves and have-nots facing off in an epic social battle. Healy makes his descent believable and a shock at the end packs a real punch - Katz is an expert at making you flip between sympathy and horror for Craig and you may be shocked at how you swing as the film plays out. Cheap Thrills may be lo-fi cinema in some ways, vulgar and depraved, but it's a sure sign that an indie can kick some punch and may make you question exactly how far you'd go if circumstance conspired against you. And to be honest, you may not like the answer to that....

Meanwhile, Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder 3D is all about money as well when it comes down to it. Grace Kelly's ice-cool blonde is the centre of a murder plot when her husband Ray Milland plots to despatch her for cash. But as ever, the best laid plans of mice and men falls apart when one of the details of his plot doesn't conform to the circumstance and a pair of scissors proves the downfall. Add into that, a tautly wound investigation by some truly caricature like police and you're into the world of Hitchcock once again. The 3D's put to effective use here - from the opening titles which leap off the screen to Kelly's initially dazzling red dress, it verges on potentially being gimmicky. But when everything starts to be set in one room, Hitchcock's eye for the technology comes to the fore as the claustrophobia grows and the set comes vividly to life. Sure, some of the dialogue is a bit cornball by today's standards (witness the inspector's declaration that "My Blood was up") and some moments produce more laughs than perhaps were intended, but Dial M for Murder is a cool breezy drink in a festival of cinematic goodness.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

NZIFF Review - The Selfish Giant

NZIFF Review - The Selfish Giant

There's electricity in the air in Brit film The Selfish Giant.

From filmmaker Clio Barnard who came to our attention with the Arbor, is this latest tale, based loosely on the Oscar Wilde short story of the same name.

Focussing on the sweet, yet dysfunctional, friendship of two 13-year-old boys, Swifty and Arbor (both young actors delivering stunning performances), it's the story of their lives in the grim up-north British world of council estates, continual debt and scrabbling to make ends meet.

The pair first form a friendship after being excluded from school; forced to stay away, they end up feeling entranced by the world of Kitten, a scrap dealer, whose den of inequity holds the promise of money which so eludes the duo and their families.

It's Arbor who leads the way into a world of collecting junk and trying his luck, with Swifty more interested in the horses that Kitten owns - and particularly the ones which he races on the streets in yet another example of how gypsy culture's become so prevalent within the UK.

But Arbor's a live wire in more ways than one - and when he sees there's money to be made from stealing and melting down wire, he throws the duo on a collision course with tragedy as the inevitable ante is upped and Arbor searches for a big pay off.

The sensitive gentle giant Swifty, with his love of horses, makes a perfect foil to Arbor's ADHD pill taking troublemaker. But at the end of the day, this is a story of friendship and of a relationship torn asunder either by petty jealousy when Arbor discovers Kitten favours Swifty for the racing or tragedy when the final big steal comes around with an audience inducing shock. It's sensitively told, and devastatingly painful as the final scenes play out.

It's here the young actor playing Arbor comes to the fore - his final scenes hanging around the streets are raw with pain and emotion and recall some of the behaviour of the Greeks in mourning.

Make no mistake, while this grit Brit hit is a tale of woe, it's got a vein of humour running throughout which is impossible to deny and black humour which is as hilarious as it is heartfelt. The council estates bring the miserabilism but film-maker Barnard keeps it on the right side of dry humour rather than dour depression.

You'd have to have no heart to be moved by The Selfish Giant; its two young leads are spectacular and its cinematography is stunning to view - sure, there's electricity in the air in this film - and it crackles with cinematic aplomb and storytelling genius. Highly recommended.

Latest movie reviews - The Wolverine and 21 And Over

Latest movie reviews - The Wolverine and 21 And Over

This week, talking movies and workouts with Jack Tame.

The reason - it's the new Wolverine movie starring Hugh Jackman and his rather buff body.

Also on DVD, 21 And Over, a new film about drinking.

Take a listen below.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Evan Katz gives us Cheap Thrills

Evan Katz gives us Cheap Thrills

We catch up with director Evan Katz, whose film Cheap Thrills is playing in the Incredibly Strange section of the New Zealand International Film Festival.

Tell us about Cheap Thrills It's a film about a desperate man who's flat broke, and ends up trying to escape his troubles at a bar - only to run into an especially troubled friend from his past. They end up partying with a rich couple who have no problem throwing their money around - initially for triivial bar bets, or dares. Things go from fun to fu**d pretty rapidly from there.

What was the filming of it like? And was it a smooth shoot? Shooting was incredibly difficult. It was during a heatwave, we had blackouts. Far worse, was we only had 14 days to shoot the damn thing, so sometimes we would only have time to get 1 or 2 takes of really important stuff - which reallly cranks up the addrenaline. When you're juggling stunts, gore fx, children, animals, and strippers on a tight, it can definitly get a little crazy.

The upshot was that the cast was so talented and hilarious, that I would have to fight to not bust up laughing when they'd be doing their thing. One thing I learned a long time ago was that, no matter what, it's going to be stressful and tough to shoot a film, so you better make damn well sure that you enjoy and care about what you're capturing, or else it's just miserable and a waste of time.

I have to ask, how far have you gone for some free money?
There's no such thing as "free money", but I will say that I mooned the audience at Boston Underground for 80 bucks. No requests for an encore please, for everyone's sake!

What's the best reaction you've had to a film of yours from an audience member?

I had somebody get so sick from one of the more intense scenes that she had to lie down in the theatre lobby. As soon as she was able, she raced back into the theatre so she could catch the rest of the film.

Conversely, what's been the worst?
At one of the earliest test screenings, one of the attendees passed out, and started snoring. I wanted to cave his head in, but that's not really okay, so I just had to sit there and listen to it. When he woke up, and was asked to give his comments on the film, he gave it a great review. You never know.

What's next for you? Taking Cheap Thrills to different festivals, waiting on my letter for ABC's of Death 2, and developing a couple projects with friends.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

New Zealand International Film Festival Reviews - The Spectacular Now, The Crash Reel, UTU Redux

New Zealand International Film Festival Reviews - The Spectacular Now, The Crash Reel, UTU Redux

The NZ International Film Festival is now underway in Auckland and kicks off in Wellington as well this weekend.

There's plenty of cinematic entertainment to get your teeth into.

The Spectacular Now - High school romance is such a well-worn path. So it's with relief that The Spectacular Now heads into slightly different territory thanks to the charm of its two lead actors. Miles Teller plays Sutter Keely, the popular kid at school, who always knows where the beer is and the party. Splitting with his apparent sweetheart, Sutter ends up forming a friendship with Shailene Woodley's Aimee Finicky, the slightly dowdy girl who's never likely to know where the party is - or have anyone to go with. Yep, it's that ole nugget again, but thanks to warmth and whimsy, as well as some great central performances and some impressive moments from the likes of Andre Royo, Kyle Chandler and Bob Odenkirk, the film's a real delight. Sure, there are teen issues - growing up without a dad, turning to drink, prom, the horror of the college application - but sensitively acted, smartly scripted and charmingly performed, it's a winner. The chemistry between the duo is palpable and thanks to some smart skewing of the traditions, The Spectacular Now emerges with more charm and warmth than any of its recent school / coming of age fodder.

UTU Redux - Remastered for the NZ Film Festival and revamped ready for the opening night in Wellington, UTU Redux is a searing watch. Not having seen the original, it was all new to me. The massacre wars of the Maori Land Wars in many ways feels like a classic western with a delicious dollop of revenge thrown in for good measure. It's a racial culture clash as violence is dished out left right and centre, but it's never anything less than confronting thanks to the performances by Anzac Wallace and Bruno Lawrence. It's also painstakingly restored and looks stunning in parts - not just the usual New Zealand countryside jumping to the fore, but thanks to a clean up here and there, the film feels fresh and revitalised as it readies itself to head back to the big screen once again. Visceral and confrontational, the anti-hero's never been so in your face - the restoration work commands your attention at the cinema and it's good to see Kiwi cinema was in rude health some 30 years ago. Plus the work done to improve and clean up the print is just simply stunning - as it's touring the country right now, it'd be a great time to ensure you see it on the biggest screen possible.

The Crash Reel - Kevin Pearce is not a name known to me. But it turns out that he's a pretty big name in the snowboarding world. Or he was until an accident cruelly cut short a career destined for the Olympics. However, after an accident training on New Year's Eve 2009, a traumatic brain injury meant that Kevin had to refocus his view on life. But, what do you do when all you know is the thrill of the boarding, the pull of your peers and the world of extreme sport? For Kevin, though, it's a long road to recovery and the pressure on his family proves to be a little too much. 

The issues raised by The Crash Reel are fascinating for the industry of extreme sports - not exactly new ones, but there's devastating horror when it plays out on others - not just Kevin. The Crash Reel had a charm and easy accessibility which means the issue of injury will come to the fore. Not exactly a warts and all doco, but I'll admit I was devastated in some parts (even though I knew what happened to some of the players) and Kevin's brother is truly an open and impressive book as the family deals with what's going on. The fact Kevin was on hand and was so open afterwards at a Q&A (one of the finest things that the NZFF does is bring guests over), gave it another level - I won't look at a wipeout on the slopes in the same way ever again.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Remember Me: PS3 Game Review

Remember Me: PS3 Game Review

Released by Capcom
Platform: PS3

I'd had some time on a preview of Remember Me and had been struck by how visually cool it was, mixing in the aesthetics of futuristic fare such as Blade Runner and the Fifth Element with some funky fights during playing.

But before I get ahead of myself, here's a recap of what the game's about.

You take the role of Nilin, a memory hunter who's now living in a dystopian, Blade Runneresque world in 2084. When we first meet Nilin, it's after an infomercial for Sensen, where a series of talking heads discuss the benefits of having their memories stored in one place and shared.

But Nilin's not in a happy place - this streak haired heroine is getting her memory wiped at a medical facility and is screaming out in pain. That's because she's clearly formerly part of a freedom fighter unit, whose job is out to take out the company running Sensen and essentially enslaving the lives of all humanity. Staggering around corridors in a space warehouse type place, with its sleek white corridors and all manners of technology, Nilin's guided by a probe to an area where the wipe can successfully be completed. As she waits in line, a voice in her ear tells her to get ready to run, when a distraction is caused.

It's here that the game starts to get really interesting. While the initial scenes are well put together and the cut scenes demonstrate the cinematic edge of the game while espousing the credits, it's only when Nilin tries to break out from the centre on the word of the voice in her ear, that the game begins to reveal its central storyline.

The voice belongs to Edge, one of the city's resistance leaders, and he exhorts Nilin to escape the medical facility - despite the massive robot chasing after her. Diving through a chute (in something akin to a sequence from Star Wars) Nilin finds her chance to escape and ends up in Neo-Paris in 2084, where she begins the job of chasing down her memories and setting about bringing down the Sensen world.

Once you get to Neo-Paris, Nilin's job is to get to the Leaking Brain bar and meet up with Tommy - and it's here that the game play style starts to become more evident. Leaping around buildings, ledges and hanging off surfaces, it's akin to Uncharted in many ways - and it's certainly a hell of a lot of fun as it mixes combat with platforming. You get to jump around cityscapes, explore worlds and steal memories as you try to get your own powers back and your memories as time goes on and you delve deeper into the game.

It actually takes a while to fully embrace some of the nuances of the game though, which will require a fair degree of patience as it's playing out. Combat itself took a little time - but not in terms of button mashing, more than there's a sequence of putting things called Pressens in order.  It takes a little time to get to grips with these so called Pressens, which can be slotted around in your combat meter, depending on what you want to do with the bash you're unleashing. Build your own health, attack harder - they're all possible in the combo lab and it's a great way to mix things up and get to your goals quicker. Chained combos and the ability to glide from one baddie to the next without losing the combo means you're not constantly on the back foot.

Memory remixing also takes time to play out and get the hang of too. Basically, at some key moments you can influence the story by changing a turn of events and using the remixer to twist how the memory plays out - it can be a simple thing such as a doctor curing or killing a patient but it has a bearing on what the narrative takes and needs to be twisted for Nilin to propel the story onwards. 

I'm kind of disappointed that given the world that's been created in Neo-Paris and its surroundings, you can't veer off the beaten track and explore more. It's a real shame as a visually enticing world has been made, created and applied and for the chance not to be enjoying it seems a real mistake from the developers. There's also a little too much of simply fighting in the game. While the mechanics of doing so are great and the ideas contained within with the presens being a clever one, there's too much of a reliance of this to help move the game along and I felt a little cheated that that was all there is with Remember Me.

All in all, Remember Me is an enticing product, a game which is visually stunning, but ever so slightly flawed. I wanted a little more from the experience and while Nilin's a greatly realised character, some of the foibles make the experience of the game play slighter than it should be. A great storyline plays out and the game offers up a visual point of difference but I kind of left feeling a little flat and deflated from my time with Nilin - a strong heroine with so much story telling potential untapped into.


Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The Wolverine: Movie Review

The Wolverine: Movie Review

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Fanke Janssen, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Rila Fukushima, Tao Okamato
Director: James Mangold

He's back, bub.

With a sequel to X: Men: First Class waiting in the wings, it seemed a little odd to have another crack at telling a Wolverine story - but there's no doubting the cigar-chomping, wise-cracking, buffed up beefcake is an incredibly popular character and given that Hugh Jackman's been the Wolverine for years now, it's no surprise he's returned to this role.

In the latest, Logan's living rough in the Canadian wilds, bedraggled and uninterested in life as a mutant or as Wolverine after the death of Famke Janssen's Jean Grey in X Men: Last Stand. But, years ago at Nagasaki, he saved the life of a man known as Yashida when the bomb's dropped and now as the ultra-rich Yashida nears the end of his life, he wants to repay the debt to Logan.

So, escorted to Japan by the red-haired Yukio (Fukushima), Logan meets with Yashida as requested. However, after he's asked to look after Yashida's grand-daughter Mariko (Okamato), things start to go awry - a scientist named Viper appears to attack him in his sleep and suddenly, the once invulnerable Logan is now facing mortality, questions about his own life and a very uncertain future.

Bound by his word, Logan's thrown into a war against the Yakuza, aimed at bringing down the Yashida empire and Mariko as he tries to work out what exactly is happening to him...

The Wolverine is a different X Men movie to any that have gone before it.

It's a more considered, more introspective piece which favours smarts and story over all action set pieces. It's by no means yet another origin story for Wolverine, but is in fact, an adventure of Logan's from 1982 and one of the first he had as a solo character which has been a much-heralded comic arc for Wolvy. Jackman is at his vulnerable best when Logan's trying to work out what's going on - both in modern day Japan and also in his own life. He brings an understated downplaying of the role this time around (no cigar-chomping here, bub) and it makes Wolverine a lot more realistic as he goes on his journey, faces his lack of immortality and takes on his demons.

Fuelling a feeling of a drifter film, a Ronin (samurai without a master), this Logan's a more melancholy and maudlin character in this latest outing - and while there are some incredible bursts of action (a sequence aboard a bullet train stands out), the overall feeling is muted and not what you'd expect from the sixth outing of the X Men favourite. Swathes of the film pass without any real action or spills and thrills, and it teeters precariously on the dull in places - but the story telling's key here and Mangold's certainly given that the time to breathe and depth to a character that you thought you already knew.

It's this side of the film which is infinitely more interesting than the rest of what transpires towards the end - because it forgoes its original path for a finale which is generic, boring and simply a "battle the boss" end. It's almost as if Hollywood's come in and commanded an action beat down ending to provide a blockbuster pay off.

Throw in Svetlana Khodchenkova's Viper, who appears to have come from the Joel Schumacher era of movie villainesses with her Poison Ivy-esque costume and MO and the conclusion is a muddled mix of the totally expected and utterly predictable in among the different setting and relatively mutant-free world.

All in all, The Wolverine's to be commended for not sticking ot the formula, offering something completely unexpected and providing a more downbeat blockbuster experience. It won't be everyone's cup of tea, but it's stylish, different and just about a success. It's a story of honour, family pride, greed, personal belief and exorcising demons - it's perfect fodder for the tortured hero and offers up many insights into a world of superheroes without dabbling too deeply within.

A fantastic final tease sequence sets up X Men: Days of Future Past thrillingly so make sure you stay on for the credits - it's a magnetic piece which concentrates on the three main players of the X Men movies and has got this geek salivating for the sequel.


Monday, 22 July 2013

Ping Pong: Movie Review

Ping Pong: Movie Review

Director: Hugh Hartford

A documentary about the sport of table tennis with a central cast whose combined age hits nearly 703? I'd almost written it off as Young@Heart but with sport instead of singing to be honest.

In this British documentary, Hugh Hartford follows the trials and tribulations as well as charting the build up to the World Championship finals in China by tracking some of the global OAP competitors.

There's 81 year old Terry, a Brit who's been struck by a return of his prostate cancer issues; 89 year old Les is a fellow UK dweller and philosopher, who takes his training seriously and can be found at the gym doing weights to get in shape; 89 year old German Inge whose training's helped get her out of dementia ward - and the oldest competitor Dorothy from Australia, whose 100 years gives her celeb status at home and also at the championships.

Hartford tracks the lives of 9 of these but spends more time off the championship floor and manages to capture a spirit of fierce competitiveness as well as their tenacity for life as the end approaches. He builds their back stories so that you're invested in them as the competition nears; with moments and a style that's non-intrusive, Hartford manages to imbue the piece with heart, humour and pathos.

In a couple of sequences, he skirts around the sentimental path before deciding to concentrate on the characters rather than tugging on the heart-strings. It's a wise move which pays off once the final tournament takes place and then the sly humour kicks in as one competitor hopes she gets the opponent who can't move around the table so that she can win. As the crowds give their approval at the results among the pomp and pageantry of the ping pong world in China, it's something akin to a gladiator seeking the emperor's favour in an auditorium and it's intoxicating for both the competitors and the viewers.

With gallows humour, gentle tension and a typical deadpan Brit eye for detail and moments, Ping Pong is as much a celebration of life as it is an inspirational piece; a simply put together film which shows once the twilight comes you don't have to just give up, but celebrate the spirit that dwells within.


Saturday, 20 July 2013

Talking movies with Jack Tame - The World's End

Talking movies with Jack Tame - The World's End

This week, sickness and The World's End as well as Zero Dark Thirty.

Benedict Cumberbatch at the World's End Premiere in Wellington

Benedict Cumberbatch at the World's End Premiere in Wellington

The internet has spoken and asked for more Benedict Cumberbatch.

So here are some more shots of Benedict Cumberbatch at the World's End Premiere in Wellington.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Antarctica A Year on Ice director talks his film

Antarctica: A Year on Ice director talks his film

I caught up with Anthony Powell, director of Antarctica A Year on Ice to ask a few questions about the doco screening this weekend at Auckland's mighty Civic.

Tell us about your film. Where did the idea come from?
Living a unique experience in Antarctica, that had never been put on film before, and wanting to share it.

When did you begin shooting and did it all go according to plan?
Progressively shooting for a couple of years before deciding that yes, I definitely had something unique that was worth pursuing. It took several years of additional shooting and lots of broken cameras to get the main footage done.

Did you know when you had everything you needed for your film or did you eventually just reach a point where you said to yourself ‘I have to stop shooting now’? I can imagine that must be one of the challenges of making a documentary, knowing when you have an ending.
I knew I had enough when I stopped shooting. There are definitely a couple of extra pickup shots that could have helped a bit after the first edit pass, but that would have required another year in Antarctica to achieve.

What’s it like to be here with the film at the New Zealand International Film Festival?
The end of a very long journey, but the start of a new one.

What’s the best reaction you’ve had to one of your films from an audience member?
“Jaw dropping”    “Wow, incredible”   “Just amazing, I had no idea” -It usually causes a couple of teary-eyed moments for the women viewers...

Conversely, what’s been the worst?
“I quite liked it”

What’s next for you?
A collaborative film that covers all seven continents

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