Friday, 31 July 2015

Act of Kindness: NZFF Review

Act of Kindness: NZFF Review

The latest New Zealand film to premiere at the festival is essentially a thriller, but a documentary steeped in the light when the horrors that men do become too prominent - and whose Auckland screening coincided with 16 years to the day that events began.

Sven Pannell is a New Zealander who found himself in Burundi in 1999 as conflict broke out - five years prior there had been the Rwandan massacre. One of only 2 survivors when his bus was pulled over by soldiers and their twisted brand of justice meted out (he bought his own life and that of a driver with $200), Sven found himself trapped in a self-imploding country and nowhere to go.

As the famous line in A Streetcar named Desire goes, you can always rely on the kindness of strangers, and certainly in Sven's case, his angel was a legless and homeless man called "Johnson". Taking him in, sharing the profits of his begging and generally offering Sven a lifeline when hope was lost. Fortuitously for Sven, escape came on a bus when he had to leave with no warning, but sadly that meant "Johnson" was left behind with not even a goodbye.

Haunted by his actions, Sven vowed to return to Rwanda to seek out and thank the man for changing his life...

Act of Kindness is a collaboration between Kiwi director Costa Botes and Pannell whose original idea was the doco once he decided to return. Essentially, in some ways, it feels like Botes has therefore helped and curated the original footage from Pannell, but that is in no way to detract from what transpires on screen - or either men's intentions.

Wisely stripped of Sven's back-story, the documentary concentrates on what really matters - showing Rwanda and its people in the light they deserve as he conducts his search. It's a simple story, a film that we've all heard time and time before, but there's real heart and earnestness on Botes and Pannell's approach, which wears its emotion wisely but never overly so, on its sleeve. 

The well-spoken Sven has a gentleness of touch on screen and his occasional naivete and easy-going innocence is distinctly charming; when talking to a reporter he's just met about trust, he states that he believes the man because "what else do we have to go on"; it's a statement that gets to the heart of the matter in the search for Johnson, an admission that if ever there was a place for cynicism and mistrust, it would be Rwanda given what's happened. But life finds a way and the over-riding message that humanity shines through is certainly enlightening.

While I will admit there was one emotional moment towards the denouement of the story that I felt was missing and robbed me of my investment in Sven's quest (to say more is to spoil), there's a lot to admire about Act Of Kindness, which is delicately put together and ostensibly feel-good, despite the back-story of its subject matter.

Compassion is a word bandied around lightly sometimes, however, I can't help but feel that many will feel that emotion when viewing this - and if it helps the world become a better place, that's no mean feat.

Clouds of Sils Maria: NZFF Review

Clouds of Sils Maria: NZFF Review

There's a delicious meta-irony in French director's Olivier Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria, which won't be lost on many who follow the ins and outs of the Hollywood brigade.

Juliette Binoche plays actress Maria Enders, an actress who's invited to be part of a play that she starred in when she was 18 and which made her career. She's been haunted by this debut, and is awash with the insecurities playing such a role as this will afford her.

But as she heads to accept an award on behalf of the man who launched her, her whole life changes - and it's up to her and her PA, Val (played with sheer brilliance by Kristen Stewart) to negotiate the hand dealt to her.

It's the subtext which helps Clouds of Sil Maria to soar, as well as the classy performance of Juliette Binoche as Maria, whose life is being defined and eaten away by one role and the future ahead of her.

However, the real star of the piece is Kristen Stewart, who once again delivers a performance that's subtle, layered and naturalistic, displaying the acting promise she showed way back in the likes of The Cake Eaters.

Shorn of the insecurities that Bella afforded her (it's acting, people!) and revelling in meta-digs at stories that have werewolves in and avoiding paparazzi, there's a lot here to delve into and to recognise. However, that's not all the role brings to the page and Stewart admirably embodies the frailties and concerns with Val, as well as providing the rock that Maria needs.

It speaks volumes that the majority of this film is held solely by these two actresses and that it centres around their characters - the other major player in the piece is the scenery of the Swiss mountains and the Alps bring their own visage to the set-dressing.

As the lines between life on screen and life off are constantly blurred, Assayas does a brilliant job of assembling it all and keeping it within the boundaries of being subtly self-referential - unlike last year's Map To the Stars, where everyone was a nasty pastiche of Hollywood, Clouds of Sils Maria convinces us of two people in the machine, their frailties and strengths exposed for all to see - and in both Stewart's and Binoche's turns gives us characters to invest in and engage with.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl: NZFF Review

The Diary of a Teenage Girl: NZFF Review

There can be no doubt that The Diary of a Teenage Girl benefits greatly from a star-making turn by actress Bel Powley (last seen on NZ screens as Princess Margaret in A Royal Night Out).

This coming-of-age and sexual blossoming tale is set in 1970s San Francisco and stars Powley as Minnie, who joyfully announces her presence on screen and in life with her opening words "I had sex today. Holy shit."

In among the hazy lazy drab beiges of the 70s, we start to get more of a picture; Minnie's deflowerer is her free-lovin, coke-snorting mother's lover, Monroe (played by True Blood star Alexander Skarsgard) and she is utterly besotted with him and perhaps more importantly, the idea of being loved by him.

With the scales falling away from Minnie's eyes and life opening up to more hedonistic, if not somewhat illicit, pursuits, director Marielle Heller's take on Phoebe Gloeckner's 2002 graphic novel of the same name skirts uncomfortably between the stunning performance of its actors and its rather icky subject matter.

Powley excels as Minnie, the wannabe graphic artist whose idol is Aline Kominsky and channels all the nervous energy as she heads out on this road with pure effervescence. But Minnie doesn't escape the trappings of childhood as she sways from childish tantrums to immature outbursts when things don't go her way - equally, her wisdom beyond her years separates her from both her mother and her friends, and Powley and Kristen Wiig as her mum make great fist of their few scenes together.

Certainly, for Minnie, it's a case of everything being the same, but everything being completely different and with copious voice-over and on screen animations springing up left, right and centre (an occasionally over-used narrative tic to provide more insight, which lost its initial freshness), we definitely get a taste of the blurred perceptions of love, lust and licentiousness bubbling away in her consciousness.

But despite appreciating the confident sexual swagger and self-deflating bluster of Minnie, and the performances of Powley, Wiig and Skarsgard, it's difficult to shake the actual reality of the film - a 35 year old having sex with the 15 year old daughter of his girlfriend, even with the humour and continual looseness of touch with which Heller handles the material.

Granted, there will be self-recognition and appreciation by many over the story arcs, and the frankness of the way the material is handled is to be applauded; however, there's no denying its lack of moralising over Minnie's actions may also polarise some, but there's absolutely no doubting this is Powley's career-defining moment, a vibrant and shimmering turn that eclipses the material and provides a 70s tinged joie de vivre that's hard to shake, long after the troubling story has left you.

Run All Night: Blu Ray Review

Run All Night: Blu Ray Review

Cast: Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman, Boyd Holbrook
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

There's a grizzly broody weariness around Neeson as he reteams with his Unknown and Non-Stop director for another entry into the older action genre with Run All Night.

Neeson is Jimmy the Gravedigger a former enforcer for Ed Harris' Shawn Maguire. When Jimmy's estranged son Michael (a simply scowling Kinnaman) witnesses the murder of two Albanian gangsters by Shawn's son, Danny, it's up to Jimmy, who's versed in the ways of the old, to ensure Michael doesn't spill the beans. But when Jimmy shows up on Mike's door after years away, not only is the son not pleased to see the father, but it sets a chain in motion which sees both men forced on the run, with the might of the mob, a bounty hunter (played with steely determination by Common) and a detective determined to nail Jimmy for prior unpunished sins on their trail....

Run All Night has an urban grit to it and a wearied sheen that's eminently watchable.

Once again, Neeson whores out his very particular set of skills to the genre, but there's something of a right fit about this role that doesn't see the heroics of Bryan Mills channelled pointlessly. Equally the scenes Neeson shares with Harris crackle with the reality of the passing of time and are tinged with the sadness of regret about the circumstances the two find themselves in.

Director Collet-Serra keeps the action predictable and taut as the plot plays out; but it's a lack of real warmth that could cause some to disconnect from Neeson's aged performance - and certainly will see many finding Kinnaman's character too aloof and simply bitter. Equally, street kid Legs is wasted serving only a deus ex machine purpose when the story heads down a cul de sac with nowhere to go.

Ultimately Run All Night may not have the crackle it needs to be massive, but a combination of Neeson's empathy, Harris' subtlety and plenty of grit give this movie more of an edge than you'd initially expect.


Thursday, 30 July 2015

Self / Less: Film Review

Self / Less: Film Review

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Ben Kingsley, Natalie Martinez, Matthew Goode, Michelle Dockery
Director: Tarsem Singh

From the director of The Cell and Immortals, comes a sci-fi tinged drama that has a great central premise, but some poor execution.

Ben Kingsley is Damien Hale, a dying New York real estate magnate and estranged father to Claire (Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery), who decides death isn't enough for him and that he wants to do more with his life. So thanks to a shadowy company and a Faustian pact involving shedding his previous body, he discovers there's a way to transfer his consciousness into a newer younger body - and unsurprisingly, he takes that opportunity.

But when he wakes up in a new body (in the form of a perma-scowling Ryan Reynolds) he soon discovers the company and the transfer are not all they appear to be, thanks to flashes and a conspiracy unfolding before him.

Over-long, tonally muddled and betraying its a mind is a great thing to waste premise, Self / Less is just a film that doesn't quite know what it wants to do with itself.

Losing Ben Kingsley after the first 10 minutes is an inevitable narrative necessity, but still doesn't help the film on its way. With his New York accented venal mogul clearly being the best part of it, the film struggles to continue in the wake of his disappearance, setting on a course for mediocrity and predictability rather than exploring the morality of a great premise.

Meshing Flatliners with parts of Quantum Leap may have seemed like a reasonable idea, and to be fair to Singh, the visuals of the locations and the sensory flashbacks soar as ever in one of his films. However, the human element of the drama is undersold by a muted Reynolds who never really seizes on the promise of a second life and it's never fully helped by an apparent complete attitude change from the man who's inhabiting his body.

The problem comes in the script which is predictable as you'd expect and starts to play like a list of things to be ticked off, rather than invested in emotionally as Reynolds' character meets up with his past and former wife and child.

Ultimately, Self / Less becomes a trudge through its Twilight Zone idea rather than an interesting journey - thanks in part to Reynolds and some badly put together scripting, it's a fairly soulless saunter through a great sci-fi premise.


The Gallows: Film Review

The Gallows: Film Review

Cast: Reese Mishler, Pfifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford
Director: Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing

The play's the thing in this found footage horror set in a small town school 20 years after a tragedy hit.

During the performance of a Crucible-like play called The Gallows, Charlie, one of the students was accidentally hanged - and now in honour of that anniversary, the play's being put on again. But on the eve of the show, three students from the current production creep into the hall to wreak havoc - however, it looks like a spirit haunting the building has other plans.

To say The Gallows is a feeble attempt at the horror genre is to undersell it.

Some utterly terrible acting from the main cast doesn't help matters; the worst offender being Reese Mishler whose array of acting seems to consist only looking horrified and wide-eyed when things go bump in the night as the phantoms of the opera play up.

But it's the way the story unfolds though its brief 81 minute run time and its characters that really make this revenge tale fall short of what it could do.

The teens are prone to dumb actions, shouting and fumbling around in the dark rather than ever using any of their sensibilities to help them get through. And to make matters worse, the high school stereotypes are something from the 80s with it divided up into jocks and nerds...

The found footage doesn't quite work either with lots of darkness, distortion and convenient lapses of logic dropped in thoughout - inevitably perhaps the directors and writers were using the low battery of the cameras to help provoke some dread, but when they fire up seconds later without any changes, it's clear they're making the rules up as they go along. (Plus, don't even get me started with the way it chops and changes - for a so-called found footage film, the spooky spirit sure does have a way with editing tools).

It's a shame because the premise is one to be mined - there's a neat twist in the middle that comes out of nowhere, and the idea of MacBeth level of superstition striking fear when people mention Charlie's name on stage is a clever updating of the worries actors have.

Things bang, shut and slam closed with the ferocity that you'd expect, but it all feels so piecemeal and uneventfully exciting, that even 81 minutes seems too long - The Gallows clearly wanted to launch a new boogeyman onto the scene with Hangman Charlie, but this sub-par Blair Witch wannabe should have been strung up before it even got started.


'71 - NZIFF Review

'71 - NZIFF Review

Thrilling, tense and visceral are perhaps the best ways to describe the drama '71.

Set in Belfast in 1971, a near wordless Jack O'Connell stars as rookie Brit soldier Gary Hook. As the film begins the trainees are being put through their paces, with the importance of team-work being drilled into them.

But recruited to the Belfast lines to help with peace-keeping duty, this squaddie soon sees the reality of team-work thrown out the window when a tense meeting between Catholics and Protestants on one street sees him cut-off from the rest of his squad.

Suddenly forced on the run behind enemy lines on one night, Hook's out of his depth when it comes to surviving what lies ahead - and his troubles, much like Northern Ireland's, are just beginning.

First time director Yann Demange rightly won best director at the 2014 British Independent Film Awards with this gripping take on the survival film. As bombs go off and the shocks hit, Demange knows how to lull you into a sense of dread, let it coil around you and choke you with it.

In among the visceral riot, close camera shots force you into the POV of Hook et al as you try desperately to see what's coming where but are only confronted with the uncertain reality of a sea of seething faces. Equally fuelling this powderkeg is O'Connell, whose near-mute presence forces him into a physicality of a performance that helps convey everything he needs and the internal conflicts.

As he staggers from one moment to the next, picking his way through dense fog and streets littered only with burning cars or petrol bombs, he's a commanding presence, a mix of frightened, vulnerable and determined.

Equally chilling are the politics of the time, as the words "We look after our own in the army" and relying on the kindness of strangers take on new meaning on the bomb-torn Belfast streets as allegiances are struck and betrayals are meted out, never overtly but always with subtlety as the conflict begins to take shape.

A final cat and mouse sequence set in a stairwell is the ultimate noose-tightening as storm clouds gather and the nail-biter heads to its denouement. Tragedy inevitably follows Hook on the streets of Belfast but not once does Demange milk this, preferring to showcase the sickening reality of the impending Troubles rather than linger on it.

'71 is an intense and riveting film, one which takes you into the pulsing heart of conflict and defies you not to succumb to a heart attack as it pursues its devastating conclusion.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

The End Of The Tour: NZFF Review

The End Of The Tour: NZFF Review

Prosaic and elegaic, The End Of The Tour centres on the five day conversation between Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) and writer David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) back in 1996.

In light of the publication of Wallace's ground-breaking novel Infinite Jest, Lipsky joined Wallace on the last few days of his book tour and got to know the man.

To say little happens in The End Of The Tour is perhaps an understatement, but this essentially extended conversation weaves in some home truths about life itself and Wallace, as well as opening up the writer to those who may not have known his work.

Eisenberg is solid and irritable as Lipsky, a fellow writer and fan of Wallace who's clearly under his thrall before meeting him but whose interest in his subject is tested and who puts him to the test by the five day trip; there's an occasional hint of tension as Lipsky's Rolling Stone boss hounds him to get to the bottom of some rumours, but other than that, it's about the ebbs and flows of conversation, even if Eisenberg makes you forget he's a journo trying to get a headline.

However, it's a softer Segel who's more impressive as Wallace - capturing not only his physical essence with the bandanna and wire rim glasses, but by giving a sensitively drawn portrait of a man clearly troubled by his life and the realisation of his place in it. Moments when Wallace reveals how he'll feel at the end of the tour are devastating, hinting at his fragility before segueing to shots of him dancing in utter released bliss. There are occasional bouts of insecurity and prickliness from Wallace but Segel makes these moments the emotional bombshells they need to be thanks to a subtle performance that roots itself in the man and his words, rather than the mythos and the perception.

Essentially this road movie boils down to just one thing - it's a portrait of a man and it's excellently portrayed in this two-hander.

Director James Ponsoldt, who did the wonderful The Spectacular Now, gets to the heart of this sensitive esoteric piece and zeroes in on the words of the script, rather than the actions. As a result, more is literally said but even more is hinted at and thanks to Segel's stunning turn, Wallace is brought vividly to life.

The End Of The Tour feels like a quieter piece in the New Zealand International Film Festival, but it's more moving than anything I've seen in recent weeks - the vein of Wallace's inherent sadness is blown open at the end of the film, and you can't help but feel Lipsky's tears as if they were your own as he eulogizes his friend at the end.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation: Film Review

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation: Film Review

Cast: Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris, Ving Rhames
Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Your mission - should you choose to accept it - is to allow a fifth film in the nearly 20 year old franchise starring Tom Cruise to force you to part with your hard-earned money.

This time around, with the IMF disavowed and disbanded thanks to Alec Baldwin's puffed up CIA boss getting his way, Ethan Hunt is a man on the run, believing a shadowy group known as The Syndicate is behind their demise.

Teaming up with Simon Pegg's comic relief Benji and trying to work out exactly who femme fatale Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) is working for, Ethan's got his work cut out.

Despite opening with the much-publicised stunt sequence that sees Cruise strapped to the outside of a plane, this latest Mission Impossible is surprisingly muted, preferring to concentrate on old school thrills (a line that was drawn in the sand in 2011's Ghost Protocol) and global set pieces rather than a coherently and fluidly running narrative.

It doesn't help that the head of the Syndicate Solomon Lane, played by Prometheus and 71 star Sean Harris, is a bit of a wet fish with hardly a jot of the menace needed for someone so detrimental to the IMF. Equally Baldwin's character goes too far the other way, decrying at one point that "Ethan Hunt is the manifestation of destiny", a line guaranteed to bring the guffaws and infamy in equal measure.

But when Reacher director McQuarrie concentrates on the group dynamic, it works reasonably well - and the mystery around Ilsa's character sustains a large part of the film, giving us a female lead that's as much about brains as it is beauty. By substantially beefing up Simon Pegg's tech wizz Benji to great dramatic effect, Cruise's Hunt has more of a partner than before. It's a shame to see that the latter part of the film lazily falls back on the comic relief role previously assigned to Pegg, derailing some of the dramatic work done and contributing to the tonal mis-match on display.

However, McQuarrie knows the old school reason for the Mission: Impossible films is in the gadgets and the stunts, and Rogue Nation is impressively mired in the retro touches and real world for its action sequences. From speeding around the streets of Casablanca, a fight at the Vienna Opera to a tense underwater sequence, this is not a film that relies on CGI thrills to pad the way and showcase its stars - if anything, Cruise's relatively sombre take on Hunt this time around is a sign that things are slightly more impossible than perhaps you would normally believe.

Which is why it's a shame that the story doesn't prop up the action perhaps in the way that you'd hope - it's there simply to help us globe trot from one sequence to the next and tonally, the film flips between action, overt comedy and covert caper with terrifying unease.

As a result, the tension in the central mystery just falls over and what emerges in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is a solid entry into the series, but one that never fully thrills as much as it could.


Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses: NZFF Review

Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses: NZFF Review

An intelligently compassionate docu-drama, Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses is a troubling pre-cursor to debate over traditions.

There can't be any New Zealander who doesn't have an opinion or hasn't heard of the makutu lifting of Janet Moses in Wainuiomata in 2007 and the sensational exorcism headlines that travelled abroad in the frenzied reporting of this case.

Wainui native and Pakeha director David Stubbs, along with co-producer Thomas Robins, sensitively negotiate and facilitate a debate on the matter with Belief. It starts with a child walking down a boardwalk with their mother and ends some 90 minutes later with you questioning what you'd do in such a situation.

Pulling together facts, interviews and transcripts, it's the tragic story of Janet Moses, a 22 year old woman whom family and friends believed had fallen under a makutu / Maori curse. Pulling together a family hui and deciding to do something about the curse, her whanau settled on a course of action that could only lead to tragedy - by deciding to wash the curse out of her over four days and four nights.

As one relative intones "What happened to her is so sad, it still hurts today and will hurt forever. Maybe her girls will ask us - and we don't have an answer"

Sound and plenty of slow shots play a big part in this moody piece that proves to be tremendously affecting and deeply troubling, while simultaneously passing no judgement whatsoever on what actually transpired. Stubbs isn't interested in exploiting the situation to sensationalist ends, rather more he's concerned in exploring and presenting what went on and getting the issues out into the public domain.

It doesn't make what happens on screen any less troubling, and certainly around the 1hour mark, there's a sequence that's shocking and as haunting as anything I'm likely to see this year thanks to the building dread. But it's only powerful because of the groundwork building up - Stubbs has assembled a house of cards that's so perfectly pitched and so incredibly non-judgmental, that you share an understanding and insight into why the family did it.

A chanting mantra of "Go with peace and love" builds to a rousing crescendo and leaves you utterly devastated as the intense sequences end, and the questions linger on. The recreation scenes leave you shaken and puts you squarely and occasionally uncomfortably, in the action. The story is given space to breathe and opinions are voiced without commentary - there won't be anyone with a heart who's not affected by what's on the screen.

That's the main thing with Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses; despite proffering a rare look behind the headlines, it never fully answers why what happened actually happened preferring to give you a peek into the desperation the close knit family must have felt at what was happening to their own. It's never a mass hysteria, though it's easy to understand why those around them succumbed to the mentality rather than rationally questioning whether it was right to do so.

I think that's the feeling that I was left with Belief; I could understand potentially why this happened, why it ended as it did and why any answers are short in coming. It's not a rational reaction and Stubbs needs to be commended for the way this is brought to life - tremendously affecting, occasionally disturbing but intensely provocative, the debate to be had once this calm and sensitively measured film has concluded can only be a good thing.

Steve McQueen - The Man and Le Mans: NZFF Review

Steve McQueen - The Man and Le Mans: NZFF Review

Pulling together previously unheard interviews and calling on an apparent 1 million feet of footage shot for the Le Mans film, Steve McQueen - The Man and Le Mans is a look at one man's unswerving dedication (and perhaps hubris) to get a film made.

Back in the 60s, Steve McQueen was at the height of his career; but while he lived the Hollywood life, he really had only one true obsession - racing and the speed associated with it.

Setting up his own production company, McQueen's first project after the likes of Bullitt and The Thomas Crown Affair was a film based on the thrill of the motor-racing; he wanted to capture the excitement of Le Mans 24 hour race and incorporate it into the big screen. And because he had the power and relative clout to get it going, he did - even though no script was anywhere to be seen.

Admittedly this was a common practice in the 60s and 70s, and McQueen set about shooting as much footage of the cars as they waited for the script. And they waited, and waited...

Steve McQueen - The Man and Le Mans is a funereal piece in many ways, but also a fascinating examination of a passion project and the follies that come with it.

Using a wealth of footage (well, there was a million feet of it), a ragtag ensemble of talking heads, including Steve's son Chad and various drivers on the flick, and some ponderous staging shots, a lot of which are purely served up for art's sake, it's an intriguing almost clinical look at how a failed project had to come together regardless.

Mournful and melancholy in tone, it really could have done with a bit of an edit and a tightening up of its almost sedentary pace. Despite it being about racing cars, and there being plenty of footage thereof, it's not a film about cars or the speed of the pace or frenzy of making a Hollywood machine to a deadline. Wisely using some smart talking heads with long shots of them staring into the camera builds up an atmosphere of menace and uncertainty for those unfamiliar with the critical reception of Le Mans and the ultimate fate of McQueen after this driving passion project.

Directors Gabriel Clarke and John McKenna may have given us an insight into the troubled production but the film needs an expeditious edit in places to get it into pole position. But if anything, the film gives us more of an insight into the King of Cool, and how his steely nerve was shattered by the project of Le Mans, the fight between directors and lack of script and Charles Manson rearing his head in the piece.

Ultimately, Steve McQueen - The Man and Le Mans is a studious and fascinating film, one that will reward race fans and McQueen buffs in extremis but also one that could have done with a trim and some areas expanding.

While We're Young: NZFF Review

While We're Young: NZFF Review

Achieving the broadest of reaches and never losing sight of being entertaining, Noah Baumbach's While We're Young delivers a pitch perfect comedy to alleviate the soul as the New Zealand International Film Festival continues.

Ben Stiller plays Josh. a documentary maker stuck in his latest project; his wife is Cornelia (Naomi Watts, channeling some warm comedic schtick) a fellow producer. Worries over whether the pair is in a rut are pushed to one side, when Josh meets Adam Driver's Jamie, a 25-year-old version of himself, but more in touch with his hipper side.

Energised by Jamie's interest (along with his wife, played by Amanda Seyfried), Josh sets out to complete his documentary and re-discover his, and his wife's joie de vivre.

While We're Young is wistful, wry, warmly comic fare as it lays down some realities about how we truly are in life and what steps we take when we get older.

Brilliantly juxtaposing the attitudes of Josh and Cornelia ("We have the freedom to do what we want; what we do with it is not important" being one of their earlier bon mots) to their younger counterparts proves to be the film's masterstroke as a light script is breezily delivered by the cast.

But there's a grain of truth that will be entirely resonant with others in this drily laconic movie; it's a film where the younger embrace vinyl and reading, but the older struggle with digital technology all around them; where retro is cool, but the future is baffling.

And yet, in among the light banter, is a man on the edge of a crisis,a relationship on a brink and a smart savvy take on how priorities and viewpoints change as life goes on. It's humour mixed with life's experiences, good and bad - and Baumbach delivers it in spades.

Granted, there will be some who will find the film's themes trite, but there will be an equal - if not larger - amount who will find it cutting a little close to the bone. If you let it, While We're Young emerges as something touching and sensitive to time's passing - it doesn't harm it in the slightest that it's well-performed, well-written and deeply engaging as it doles out its message about life.

Monday, 27 July 2015

The Guest: Film Review

The Guest: Film Review

Cast: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Lance Reddick
Director: Adam Wingard

From the director of the brilliant You're Next comes a thriller that for some will cast a new light on cousin Matthew from Downton Abbey.

Dan Stevens stars as David, a former soldier who one day shows up on the doorstep of the Peterson family, claiming to have been a friend of their son who was killed in action. Not wanting to appear unkind, the family invites him to stay while he gets settled.

However, as David spends more time with the family, there are a series of deaths, leading daughter Anna (It Follows star Maika Monroe) to suspect him.

Lurid and trashy, revelling in its 80s attitude and soundtrack, The Guest is a hyper-stylish thriller that works on many levels, inveigling its way into your consciousness.

Stevens drops the Downton charm and impresses with his nonchalant and detached exterior belying the menace within his character, but continues to drop hints thanks to underplayed looks and momentary glances. And Monroe, who was so impressive in It Follows, cements her credentials as an up and comer as Anna, who balances paranoia and growing up in equal measure.

Wingard's latest is a genre piece in many ways with the retro feel seeping its way through but without soaking it in past glories. A synth soundtrack sets the tone for the ultra-violence, but there's more than just the music to admire; while the explanations as to what's going on may be a little lacking (there's no doubt you may feel a little cheesed at never getting the full picture), the film's ambiguous and mysterious tone works as it heads to its conclusion.

The Guest is a thriller that works on many levels, a powerful blast of retro fused with the modern and cements Wingard's place as a genre master.


The Assassin: NZFF Review

The Assassin: NZFF Review

An exercise in patience, albeit a not entirely successful one, The Assassin, from director Hou Hsiao-hsien, is likely to polarise audiences.

Set in 7th Century China at the decline of the Tang dynasty, it's the story of Yinniang (Shu Qi) a general's daughter who was taken away by a nun when young and who returns to carry out an assassination mission that could have far-reaching consequences for the political future of the Weibo region.-
The fact that it takes 1 hour 20 minutes before the lead actually speaks gives you an insight into the slow, ponderous pace of The Assassin. It's a film that favours visual aesthetics over any kind of semblance of plot and long-sweeping character development. In fact, one story line involving a pregnancy of a character and her faking to avoid detection is thrown in with such weight that it's clearly important to the film's arc but is introduced so randomly and executed so poorly that it fails to provide any narrative heft whatsoever.

An impassive, emotionless lead of Yinniang doesn't help matters either; if you're expecting a film chock full of fight sequences that are long and extended, you'll also be disappointed in what transpires. Short bursts of fight scenes happen but with little or no consequence; in fact, director Hou Hsiao-hsien has left it for you to do the work, to engage with the film and provide the emotional heft that's needed - and unfortunately, that's not always a trade-off that works to his advantage I'm afraid to say, as not once did I care about anyone involved in this.

The Assassin though succeeds in its visuals; perhaps, a little too much so. Conversations are snatched from a distance and shot with veils floating in front of the camera, as if we are spying in on them like Yinniang; a couple of sequences flit by until you realise that she is lurking in the background as well. It's masterful, if not involving, stuff.

But ultimately The Assassin feels muddled; its slow languid, almost stultifying pace is crippling and its narrative and back-story is lacking; whether it's the subtitles that didn't convey everything they needed to or the script was muddled at an earlier stage, this Assassin is a killer of a film - but for all the wrong reasons.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Prophet's Prey: NZFF Review

Prophet's Prey: NZFF Review

"Evil flourishes when good men do nothing."

Director Amy Berg's last foray into the New Zealand International Film Festival was something of a triumphant affair, as the screenings of West of Memphis clearly demonstrated.

Her latest, a doco into the behaviour of the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, Warren Jeffs is anything but uplifiting, another demonstration of how America chooses to let its zealots flourish under the guise of religion.

Deeply unsettling and utterly terrifying, this brilliantly taut doco pulls together the portrait of a man whose drive to serve his skewed take on the word of God has ravaged lives, abused children and torn his family apart - and yet, he serves time currently in jail, but depressingly, his power continues to grow.

Using testimony from Jeffs' victims, his family and a series of investigators aiming to get to the truth, Berg uses the desolation of mid-Western countryside shots where Jeffs and his community thrive, mixed in with floatingly haunting voiceovers of Jeffs' indoctrination to paint a picture on a horrifying canvas.

Every victim of the church (and thankfully, few are used sparingly throughout) help build a portrait of a man who any sensible outsider could see is abusing his power and brainwashing. But to those inside his thrall, it's equally easy to see why Jeffs would be able to manipulate the women through polygamy, overthrow his church-leading father by crafting a series of insidious lies and create a presence that got him on the America's Top 10 most wanted list.

But it's Berg who deserves the praise here, not a man whose perversion of life continues to trouble long after the film has finished.

Crafting together a doco that's distinctly balanced and meticulously down the line, she once again demonstrates, like West of Memphis, how the American legal system is failing. Despite testimony from Jeffs' victims and a careful building of a case against Jeffs, it's the ineptitude of their prey that helps him fall foul. With the spectre of Waco carefully evoked and the reverberations of that showdown still lingering, Berg uses education and prompts a natural reaction to achieve her goal. It's clear she wishes to enlighten us to the horrors within, but a final coda depresses greatly and proves to be a rallying cry to arms once again for the American justice system to come to the party.

Prophet's Prey will hold you in its sway throughout - it's deeply troubling, completely unsettling and thanks to Berg's eye for story-telling, it's sickeningly riveting.

Goodnight Mommy: NZFF Review

Goodnight Mommy: NZFF Review

A creepy chamber piece in extremis, Goodnight Mommy will unsettle you more than perhaps you are willing to admit.

Writer-directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala tell the story of Lukas and Elias, two young twin brothers, who feel their mother is not who they believe her to be when she returns from hospital.

Seemingly uncharacteristically short with one and ignoring the other, this isn't the mother they remember - and the more time passes in their ultra-modern clinical house, the boys suspect things have taken a turn for the worst.

Even if you guess what exactly is going on in Goodnight Mommy (as I did within the first 10 minutes thanks to one piece of dialogue), it makes not a jot of difference. This ultra-suspenseful claustrophobic flick has a way of inveigling itself under your skin as the unsettling and foreboding atmosphere ratchets up the tension, leaving you feeling unfathomably sick in your stomach.

Lukas and Elias Schwarz play the twins as a little something akin to the twins out of The Shining; they're always together, always natural and in the film's final act, incredible. To say more about the film is to spoil the ride (which is a shame given how much there is to talk about after) but needless to say the slow panning shots, quietly rumbling dread and the brilliant use of location (the house alone is like a third character of the film, its ultra-modern edges and interiors shorn of clutter perhaps providing some psychological insight, lurking away in the corners of your mind.

This chiller packs a punch thanks to its denouement and also the clear, almost clinical way it's been shot and structured. (Though one moment involving outsiders really does beggar belief and very nearly costs the film its credence)

Once you know the ending, it makes viewing Goodnight Mommy a different experience and gives rise to potentially playing it back again to spot the clues you missed before - but as well as being a psychologically intense film, it's also tremendously upsetting; its themes and examination of one particular emotion is deeply troubling; however those discussions are best left until daytime, when the sunlight can pierce your mind which has been clouded in fog by the murkier tones painted by Franz and Fiala's mind-games.

The Wrecking Crew: NZFF Review

The Wrecking Crew: NZFF Review

Thanks to recent Brian Wilson film Love And Mercy (well worth a look), the Wrecking Crew are somewhat at the forefront of our cinematic consciousness.

The group of session players helped the Beach Boys (as well as others) to define their sonic landscape and helped the musical sequences in the flick to really shine.

But to be honest, their time in the spotlight has been somewhat obscured and for many, their musical contribution overlooked.

However, Denny Tedesco's legacy doco will change all that - and rightly so.

Tedesco is the son of Teddy Tedesco, one of the Wrecking Crew group from the start. Along with the likes of Hal Blaine, Earl Palmer and Carol Kaye, it's probably a name you don't know - but I can guarantee you they're responsible for a sound you'll know.

From the Byrds to the Beach boys, Sonny and Cher to the Mamas and Papas, this lively doco charts the course of their influence and shows you how wide their involvement was. Gathering together some of the surviving members and placing them at what appears to be a poker table, it sets the scene for the anecdotes to fall easily from their lips. Mixing in archival footage and of course the sounds of the music, the genial The Wrecking Crew finally gives the unsung heroes the spotlight they so richly deserve.

For Tedesco himself, it's true to say that he has his personal ambitions for the piece, but to his credit, he never once loses sight of the rest of the members of the group and their valuable cultural contribution.

Occasionally, the piece feels a little long, especially in its final furlong as it gives "reprises" to some characters, but sensibly, Tedesco injects these final portions with heart and humour to get us over the line. It would have been nice to hear a little more from family members of the Crew to get more insight, but the musicians themselves aren't exactly shy about not coming forward on the effects of the long hours and the grind.

Ultimately The Wrecking Crew will appeal most to musicians, but thanks to the fact that everything they sonically touched was magic and that Tedesco's crafted something loving that gives the true stars the spotlight they so richly deserved.

Banksy Does New York: NZFF Review

Banksy Does New York: NZFF Review

Exit Through The Gift Shop gave the notorious street artist Banksy another outlet for his work a couple of years back at the New Zealand International Film Festival.

This latest has no involvement from the enigmatic Banksy or his team but instead is from a doco team wanting to focus on the one month residency that Banksy launched in New York back in October 2013.

Every day for that month, Banksy, without prompt and only via clues on his website would launch a new work every day - the resulting scavenger hunt was a social media frenzy and also sparked the very best and very worst in New Yorkers.

Director Chris Moukarbel charts the highs of the Banksy hunters and the lows of those trying to cash in on the frenzy, but he does it with such entertaining aplomb that the underlying issues in this bubblegum doco are somewhat sidelined in among the hordes of people clamouring to enjoy the art.

In some cases, the art's cleaned off before it's even been there for a few hours; in others, it's vandalised by street artists throughout NYC desperate to leave their mark; some protect the art with altruistic motives, while others charge for people to see them. It's a fascinating dichotomy of greed, debate and delirium which hits the streets all around NYC.

The most fascinating parts of this breezy and entertaining doco though are when the film raises the question of who owns the art and why others capitalise on it; is the interaction of these pieces the true reason for their success is another interesting alleyway that's wandered down, but unfortunately Moukarbel isn't really interested in fully exploring these questions, which is an occasional source of frustration.

Especially when one of those who chooses to cash in on Banksy's art is the owner of a business slated for demolition in part of the projects and for whom it could make a massive difference.

Ultimately, there are a fair few questions in Banksy Does New York and the social provocateur from Bristol in England's done it again; the issues of art ownership in the public space, the continuing art snobbery, questions over brand and the disposably breezy nature of this doco paint one hell of a compelling bubblegum picture on the big screen.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Deathgasm: NZFF Review

Deathgasm: NZFF Review

There are 666 reasons to enjoy Deathgasm.

This bold opening statement has no basis in any kind of fact, but should give you some idea of how the winner of the Make My Horror Movie competition turned a Friday night into a real winner at the New Zealand International Film Festival.

It's the story of metalhead Brodie (a relatively tender Milo Cawthorne, playing alienated and real) who is shipped off to his Christian aunt and uncle in Greypoint, a small community in New Zealand. As if having a mother who ended up sectioned wasn't bad enough, Brodie finds this dead-end community isn't much better, thanks to bullies, school and having family who are "balls deep into Jesus."

Thankfully, his solitude is lightened by his love of metal and his friendship with fellow rocker Zakk. Along with two other outsiders, they form a band. But things go somewhat haywire when the group plays an unrecorded song from their idols, which they happen to find in an abandoned house with a pentagram in it.

That tune unleashes the imminent arrival of the apocalypse as everyone around becomes possessed by demons....can Brodie save the day?

Bloody silly, Deathgasm is a pure-popcorn treat.

With an eye for the gags and one-liners (perhaps, occasionally, it indulges itself a little too much), it's a riotous feast of sight gags, practical effects, sweetly earnest love-story, and betrayal. Basically, director Jason Lei Howden knows exactly what his audience wants - and delivers it in spades of gory laughs.

Granted, there are puerile moments. But who can turn down a slow-mo fight to death with demons with dildos as your weapon of choice? Or chainsaws up the backside for the bad guys? Deathgasm delivers what it promises in spades, but always with an eye for a great unexpected visual gag here and there and a zippy punchy script that's as self-knowing as it is silly.

For a film that's put together on a budget, the writing is, for the most part, strong (I have some reservations about the slightly inconsistent nature and actions of one of the lead characters) with a searing eye for never losing sight of Brodie while clamouring to deliver the fun one-liners.

Devilishly good fun, demonically funny and satanically silly, the splatter-fest of Deathgasm represents another cult classic in the making.

Rock on.

Ex Machina: NZFF Review

Ex Machina: NZFF Review

Finally making its way onto the screen after languishing unreleased (hooray for the New Zealand International Film Festival) is this brilliant tale of AI and mind games.

Domnhall Gleeson plays Caleb in Alex Garland's psychological thriller, a winner in a staff-run lottery to head to an island owned by company CEO Nathan (a suitably creepy Oscar Isaac) and check out some new tech.

When Caleb arrives on the island, he's introduced to Ava (a deliciously slinky and deliberately ambiguous, yet achingly vulnerable Alicia Vikander) and ordered to carry out a Turing Test on her to see if she can pass as a human.

However, as time passes, Caleb begins to question what he's doing on the island and who is playing who.

Devilishly smart, this three-hander psychological game has a claustrophobic feel that's as creepy as it is clever. As the time begins to pass, this sci-fi treat will have guessing from beginning to end; it's almost as if you are expecting something but don't have a clue where it will come from.

There's a sleekness and sophisticated sheen to the film, which really does achieve its day-after-tomorrow aesthetics with worrying ease; there's a very real feeling that this jump into AI could be in our very near future and be more subversive than we'd expect.

But while the film may be about concepts and ideas, its human personification and execution is nothing short of enthralling.

Vikander seals her rising star status with utter ease; her near emotionless face manages to convey more than you'd ever expect, a tangled set of wires may be part of her back head giving you a physical peek into what's within but you can never glimpse a full picture of what's being thought.

Equally, Gleeson relishes his time in the spotlight as the pieces of the puzzle float around his head - the swirling paranoia is gleefully orchestrated by Garland, but it's thanks to Caleb that we're given access to this quandary. Gleeson easily steps up and seizes the opportunity, turning it into something that begins as intriguing and ends with dread.

But it's Oscar Isaac who impresses most - his alpha male Nathan is a terrifying glimpse into where tech svengalis may already be heading and what lengths they're willing to go to get there. But not once does he ever leave you questioning the vision and humanity of the ethical dilemmas within thanks to a nuanced performance.

Elegant and intelligent, Ex Machina is thought-provoking cinema at its best.

Jack Tame - review - Mr Holmes and the NZIFF

The Wolfpack: NZFF Review

The Wolfpack: NZFF Review

Six figures, all with long hair, boyish grins and all movie fans.

All of them suited and booted, engaged in acting out scenes from Reservoir Dogs within the confines of their Manhattan apartment. All of them fully enthused about the projects and all of them clearly happy in their outlook on life.

Except that The Wolfpack is anything but.

Director Crystal Moselle's film takes a look into the lives of the Angulo brothers, and reveals they have never ventured outside of their apartment, at the command of their father. What follows in this doco mixes home footage of the boys throughout their years of tenure inside their Lower East Manhattan apartment and never quite fully answers why it's turned out like it has.

Thankfully, the subjects are engaging - both as they tentatively head out from under their oppressed lives within and with their interactions from home movie footage of the past. One even intones a thought many attending the New Zealand International Film Festival will share - "If I didn't have movies, life would be boring." But its double meaning won't be lost on those watching the story, as the growing concern manifests that the Angulo brothers have been imprisoned and unable to experience what many believe to be the formative years of their lives.

It takes Moselle a long while to get to the father, and to question some of his motivations for the home-schooling of the kids, his paranoid tyranny given a gentle prod, but it appears that Moselle shies away from asking some of the bigger questions of the father and his reasons. That she lets him cite the fear of the government, the fear of living in New York, and the fear of what may happen to his sons to be all the reasons she needs to understand. Sadly, the audience wants more, and it's only because the subjects shine, that The Wolfpack reaches the heights that it does, with so many mysteries left unanswered.

We're given an in-road into the world of The Wolfpack, and what transpires is ultimately troubling (one Angulo brother reveals that "we were frightened kids", something that's backed up by disturbing home footage from their youth) but yet is also optimistic in its resolution. Trips to Coney Island have a thrill to them as we experience the Angulo Brothers' joy at being out in the world, but their reactions and inevitable withdrawal reaction to the world around them is never quite fully probed; one suspects that Moselle's friendship with the group may have compromised some of her objectivity to her subjects.

Ultimately, The Wolfpack offers a tantalising view into a world of insular bonding, but never quite fulfils the promise of explaining how it could happen - it appears that the Angulo Senior's oppressive reach may also have affected Moselle's ability to tell the story she always suspected was lurking within.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Tangerine: NZFF Review

Tangerine: NZFF Review

Sean Baker's Starlet was a sweet nugget of a film that played the NZIFF a couple of years back and had a friendship between a young girl and an elderly woman at its core. It was gentle, savvy and earnest.

His latest, shot on iPhone (everyone has to have a gimmick, right?) is a lurid blast of West Hollywood, a slice of in-your-face-life that plays up to its over-exposed sunshine beating down.

Set on Christmas Eve 2014, it's the story of two transgender BFFs, one of whom Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) is fresh outta jail and looking to catch up with her beau Chester. But when pal Alexandra reveals that Sin-Dee's been cheated on, she sets out to find the "bitch what done her wrong" and deliver her justice.

A collision of Short Cuts mixed in with cinema verite, Tangerine is to be frank, shrill in places and an ear-drum piercingly startling film.

Baker's brilliantly caught the banter between the blaring sounds of the street and those who inhabit it, with this tale of essentially, revenge and friendship.

With everything bathed in the Hollywood glows of the sun and the way of life, it takes a little time to adjust to this flick that has a bombastic OST blaring at every available opportunity. Its rawness equally takes time to adjust given that the character of Sin-Dee appears to be naturally set to overdrive, slotting perfectly into the flick as the revenge tale plays out.

When the film slows down and breathes, it has much in common with Starlet. 

Once again, Baker's explored the bonds of friendship - despite everything that Sin-Dee goes through and is going through thanks to a philandering other half, she moves heaven and hell to get to Alexandra's spot to witness her singing because it's a pledge that's been made and an implicit and taciturn recognition that above all else on the strip, you only have your friends to rely on and a code of honor (Starlet explored similar themes)

With Baker's eye for verite, it's fair to say there will be moments of this film that will polarise some, but it doesn't shy away from a truth that's out there and rarely explored on film. It all collides at the end with perhaps some level of contrivance, but in among the sound, bluster and a ballistic lead, the ripples are potently powerful - particularly in the film's final scene, where the theme couldn't be more implicitly stated or more subtly.

Certainly Rodriguez's performance is blessed with as much vulnerability as there is bravado; and Mya Taylor's turn as Alexandra is perhaps more taciturn, but proves to be a perfect emotional foil to Rodriguez.

Above all, there's heart in Tangerine - look past the glare and blinding shrillness of the strip and those who inhabit it to get a feeling of grace, darkly comic humour as well as a simple tale of when it all comes down to it, life will let you down.

But if you're lucky, in your time of need, your friends never will.

I Am Thor: NZFF Review

I Am Thor: NZFF Review

How would you feel to be on the comeback trail for over a decade?

That's part of the thrust of I Am Thor, a tremendously entertaining doco from Ryan Wise, playing as part of the Incredibly Strange section and centring on Jon Miki Thor.

In the 1970s, Jon Miki Thor was already forging his own path as his own version of the Norse God - and the centrepiece of this body-building dude's act was making a hot water bottle explode. Believing his own hype, the blonde, buffed-up shaggy-haired Thor and his band of rockers were determined to conquer, with their power rock that pre-dated Kiss.

Despite harbouring big dreams and a self-belief that continued to fuel him, the perennial underdog JMT never quite made it - but bizarrely, he never let that put him off.

Wise's doco, deemed affectionate by many, is clearly hilarious but never at Thor's expense. (You could say it never deems to take the Miki)

Assembling hours upon hours of footage from the man himself as well as interviews from his band members and stand-in band members, you get the measure of the man; a man who was his own manager but created a faux persona for that manager (a hilarious trade-off later on when Thor and his band play a Swedish festival) ; a man whose drive for showmanship was never compromised, even when it looked like his capabilities fell far short of his own skills.

As the deluded bluster continues, you actually end up really wanting Thor to achieve his goal - and Wise is smart enough to know that this guy gives himself enough rope to hang his blonde ambition and provides great cinema for those sat in the audience. Yet, it's an endearing portrait, a genuine examination of how ambition fuels and fires someone throughout the years, no matter what life throws at them.

In every low moment of Thor's career, there's a feeling that his latest stage of the comeback is waiting around the corner - and his adaptability to each decade of despair is as heart-warming as it is hilarious. Watching him hawk his wares at ComicCon in San Diego is as sad as it is amusing; and therein lies the strength of I Am Thor.

It's a doco that's genuine, about a subject who's so affable despite being so incredibly deluded.

Funny and wry, smart and savvy, this cautionary tale is nothing short of ashamedly feel-good fun. This is one Norse god that continually resurrects himself admirably - and the ride he takes you on is well worth the price of admission.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Big Eyes: Blu Ray Review

Big Eyes: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Roadshow Home Ent

Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz star in this straight-down-the-line flick about Margaret Keane from master of the slightly weird Tim Burton.

Keane was the painter of the pictures of children with over-large eyes (it's easy to see why Burton's Gothic tendencies were drawn to this story) - but her story is more complex than that. Walking out on her husband in 1958 with a daughter, Margaret comes to San Francisco determined to provide for her family and be creative.

One day she meets confident bon vivant and would-be artist Walter (an overly energetic Waltz) who falls under her spell - and one chance incident later, Margaret's paintings are a massive hit on the burgeoning 60s American scene. But Margaret falters when asked who painted them, leading to Walter claiming them as his own for their shared interest...

And things get worse as the Keane's art fame grows, and Margaret shrinks ever smaller in her husband's growing shadow - is his altruism real or has Margaret made a terrible mistake?

Big Eyes is surprising.

It features the usual crisp Burton aesthetics and shots (the opening moments are a pristine mix of colours and images) but the subject matter is relatively straight down the line, something he's not done since Big Fish. (And the soundtrack from Danny Elfman deserves particular mention)

However, a quieter turn from Adams is powerful and impresses as Waltz's turn becomes ever more OTT. It's not that it's a bad performance from Waltz, merely that his character needs the impetus to over-shadow Margaret and Waltz embraces it with a joie de vivre that's both compelling and frightening. A court-room scene particularly brings some peculiar laughs.

Occasionally, the story jumps around and motives for Margaret's behaviour are never fully explained (I was never quite convinced as to why she shrank from claiming the art was her own at the start, even though I guess walking out on a man was a big thing in the early 1950s) and a few scenes suffer from choppy editing.

Overall though, Big Eyes is an impressively quiet little film - it befits Burton to do the straighter turn from his usual kooky oddbeat fare. While the interest wanes towards the end and the conclusion of the storyline isn't quite as powerful as it could be, that remains a fault of the scripting, rather than of any of those involved.


From Scotland with Love: NZFF Review

From Scotland with Love: NZFF Review

New Zealand director Virginia Heath and King Creosote have created something that will resound with many in the Dunedin district or anyone with Scottish heritage.

Taking in hours of archival footage and trawling through people's home movies, this unique collaboration has wielded some intriguing results which were initially released to coincide with the 2014 Scottish Commonwealth games.

Weaving themes of love, work, industry, immigration, and most importantly, Scotland's social history, this is the tale of thousands of ordinary lives told in an extraordinary way.

From trips to beaches, to protests being dispersed, the whole tapestry of the country in simpler times is put under the microscope and sound-tracked by King Creosote's folksy OST which bolsters the images and gives them an added dimension.

Several sequences stand out as they represent different parts of history - from the launch of a steamship in all its magnitude definitely feels like a moment brought to life and the sequences of ships leaving full of people as they emigrate packs an emotional punch that you'd probably not see coming.

Granted, perhaps afficianados of Scotland would see a lot more in this piece, and get some of the subtleties of the area - it's not a film that panders to a timeline, gives you captions to get into the timezone or definitive landmarks for you to scope out. But those factors don't hamper the film as it proffers up a window into simpler times, a ramble through the brambles of the highlands and striking images from a nation rich in heritage and culture.

The recognition factor will likely spark a wave of nostalgia in many who are going to see glimpses of families past, and of a time gone by. From a child wearing her mother's over-sized shoes to a child wrapped in calipers on the beach, the striking and universal images live from the screen as much as any overdone CGI blockbuster ever could.

This may be From Scotland With Love, but the love Virginia and Creosote have shown in compiling this comes poring from the home-movie format and linger long after the curtain has risen on us, but fallen on a past.

Mr Holmes: Film Review

Mr Holmes: Film Review 

Cast: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker,
Director: Bill Condon  

As the argument rages over copyright infringement between the studios and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's estate, it's down to Sir Ian McKellen and a prosthetic nose to carry off this tale based on A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin.

Playing an aged and retired Holmes in 1947, the great detective is now living out his twilight years in a Sussex village, under the house leadership of Mrs Munro (Linney). Dividing his time between keeping bees and little else, Holmes finds his failing memory jolted by Munro's son, Roger to try and solve one last unsolved case that's haunted him for 50 years.

The case is that of a beautiful woman....and only fragments of it remain as Holmes juggles the memories of that, a trip abroad to secure a plant for his illness and the impending visit from the Grim Reaper.

A fascinating character study of a man so reliant on his wits and his powers (Holmes is urged several times to 'Do the thing' by one youngster where he demonstrates his powers of deduction) now facing ruin thanks to the ravages of time and the onset of dementia.

McKellen pulls off Holmes (and being in his 90s) with considerable aplomb, mixing humanity, frailty and frustration in equal measure; he's perfect as the aged great detective, playing it heartbreakingly as the end nears and slightly more agile in 2 flashbacks set after the marriage of Watson (who curiously only appears in blurred shadow and is frequently referred to as having heavily fictionalised Holmes' escapades). 

But nipping back and forth in time is also the film's weaker point as it juggles three narratives, all feeling like they need fleshing out with some more dramatic worth as the tapestry is drawn. Though, it has to be argued, I would happily indulge myself in watching McKellen do a series of Holmes in his elder years.

Linney is underused as the housekeeper and there's a feeling she could have played more than a cuckold, as she faces the dilemma of what to do next. McKellen gels well with Parker, the youngster Roger who is in awe of Holmes and his reputation with a bond that feels natural and relateable, as well as serving the inquisitive assistant nobly. (Fans of Sherlock Holmes' various incarnations will be delighted to see the Young Sherlock putting an appearance in)

But it is without a doubt, McKellen's film and he delivers definitively on the mystery within a mystery premise that's been set up. Riffing on the legend of Holmes with deer stalkers and the dashing wit, Mr Holmes remains an enigmatic film, a vessel that feels like it's lacking in some parts - but thanks to the central performance, it presents a tantalising glimpse for a direction that the detective could go once everyone tires of Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes.


Very latest post

New Tales from the Borderlands: PS5 Review

New Tales from the Borderlands: PS5 Review Developed by Gearbox Published by 2K Games Platform: PS5 New Tales from the Borderlands follows t...