Friday, 11 July 2014

NZIFF Reviews - The Mule, Ukraine is not a Brothel, The Noble Family

NZIFF Reviews - The Mule, Ukraine is not a Brothel, The Noble Family

Continuing my deep dive into some of the New Zealand International Film Festival titles playing this year, here's a review of another three movies as we get ready for the Auckland leg of the festival.

The Mule is a particularly pertinent piece, given that we keep hearing about drugs mules and of course, Schapelle Corby.

Based on true events, it's the story of Ray, an Aussie simpleton, played by Angus Sampson (who also directs) who headed to Thailand in 1983 and was co-erced into bringing back a stomach full of cocaine at the behest of a mate and indirectly a local drugs kingpin (played with cruel veneer by Fringe star John Noble).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, things don't pan out so well for Ray when he heads back from Bangkok and a decision at the airport throws him directly into the paths of two detectives, chiefly led by Hugo Weaving's detective, determined to use the naive and gullible Ray to bring down the bad guys once and for all.

So, holed up in a hotel near the airport, they all decide to sweat it out - and wait for nature and the inevitable to takes it course.....

There's tension aplenty in this simmering tale of oafs, corruption and heroin.

Sampson and fellow director Tony Mahony have pulled together a drama that soaks in the Aussie nostalgia from the time (the America's Cup forms a bonzer part of the background) and yet is a timeless piece of corruption, drugs and gangsters.

If Sampson impresses as a gormless Ray, navigating his way through life through a pair of big rubbery lips and trying to survive a week in hotel hell, there's also kudos for John Noble as the gangland kingpin and Aussie rugby club benefactor who's so instrumental in Ray being in the situation he's in; Hugo Weaving also turns in a good solid turn as a cop determined to get his man - from under a mass of moustache and brash belching.

Stand out scenes from the drama include Ray's attempts to get through the Aussie airport without cracking - a setting that's been mined for years on the likes of Border Patrol but feels fresh and heartbreaking thanks to the tense simplicity it's shot with and how one moment changes his life forever. Perhaps the one that will stay with the audience though culminates after a grimy bed-ridden stand off against nature when Ray's captured by the cops and told to sweat it out - literally. Those Trainspotting type bed antics end in a scene that will see the audience a little uncomfortable in many ways - as well as regretting any earlier decisions to eat before the movie.

Loyalty, corruption, drugs, the America's Cup, gangs, hapless mules and a great payoff- it's all in The Mule.

Ukraine Is Not A Brothel is an Aussie doco, looking at Femen and their topless protestors, determined to claim back their country's reputation.

With director Kitty Green heading to the festival for Q&As, there will be plenty to talk about and a chance to really get an idea of where the protest movement is now at.

It starts with a man in overalls, wearing the face of a bunny made from cardboard (a true life Donnie Darko moment in some ways) before cutting to the inevitable Boney M classic, Ra-Ra-Rasputin and a deep dive into freedom of speech, protest and bare breasts.

With echoes of the Pussy Riot phenomenon, Green's doco follows a group of appealingly photogenic protestors as she embeds herself into their world. By picking on a handful of them, Green manages to eke out the best interviews and build a trust that's clearly repaid as the girls explain why they're protesting - to rescue their country from the perception that Ukraine is all about sex slaves.

But perversely, what Green actually manages to extract from the process is a horrific schism at the centre of the organisation that appears to be led by a shadowy man known only as Victor, as well as to show up the contrasts that exist within. The women who are part of the cause and who play a part of the carefully executed riots are only the beautiful ones, with the lesser photogenic models and feminist supporters confined to the joke protests. By following one of those protests, Green expertly demonstrates the internal conflict within and immediately questions everything we've just seen of Femen and its ways. Everyone at the top appears to have a shadowy motive for this - from the shadowy impresario Victor to the man known only as John who finances the group's trip to Turkey. The fact he sells lingerie and has goodie bags at the press conferences only seeks to highlights the differences.

In many ways, this doco is a multi-faceted exploration of right and wrong, of moral ideals and idealism being called into question and of methods of protest and principles falling under deeper scrutiny. Director Kitty Green has put something together that really couldn't have been done by her opposite sex's counterpart and the intimacy she's been treated to is sensitively handled and never exploited.

However, the coup de grace on this particular celluloid cake comes when Green manages to get face time with Victor, who reveals a stunning contempt for the women, the organisation and the fact he's a patriarch in a society that's trying to fight patriarchy. The sheer contempt is a contrast to the girls' idealism and beliefs and almost manages to give you a sinking feeling that the movement is doomed unless it can shake Victor from its grasp. Sisters may be doing it for themselves in Ukraine, but only with the help of a man.

While it ends on a note of optimism for one that Green's embedded herself with, the wider questions of what happens next for the group and what immediately happened after the end of the doco will make for an utterly fascinating and totally essential Q&A when Green hits Auckland.

The Noble Family is Mexico's biggest box office hit of all time apparently.

It's the story of a self-made mogul, who appalled at the brattish behaviour of his money blase children decides to cut them off to help them get some life lessons and to educate them in the ways of the world.

Almost Arrested Development-like in its central premise, The Noble Family is an almost farcically sweet family piece, that's blessed with moments of comedy and humour to help it achieve the feel-good factor. It's easy to see why this vibrant film hit such a chord in its homeland, thanks to a riches to rags storyline that sees everyone getting the comeuppance they deserve.

While it's entirely predictable in its story route - surprise, even the father learns lessons about his children and the penalties of his own rich lifestyle - the journey is an enjoyable one. A sequel is apparently in the works and Hollywood is apparently considering its own version, so now's a good chance to get in before the remake hits.

The New Zealand International Film Festival kicks off in Auckland on July 17th with the world premiere of The Dark Horse - full details of these films and others can be found at

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