Monday, 31 July 2017

All Auckland Armageddon VIP Passes Sold in an Hour

All Auckland Armageddon VIP Passes Sold in an Hour 

All VIP Passes Sold in an Hour Ahead of General Ticket Sales for New Zealand’s Largest Entertainment Event

Pop culture merchandise, a star-studded guest lineup and the latest in gaming, cosplay comics and animation and film are proving to be a recipe for success for this year’s Auckland Armageddon Expo ticket sales. All VIP Passes sold out in under an hour following the MightyApe Presale Access this morning.    
Anticipation for the largest event in the history of the expo is building ahead of the general ticket release tomorrow. Returning to Auckland’s ASB Showgrounds this October the 2017 event features the biggest line-up of celebrity guests the expo has ever hosted including stars from HARRY POTTER, CASTLE, DOCTOR WHO, ARROW, TEEN WOLF, THE 100, SUPERNATURAL, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and more, as well as a myriad of other activities including; Drive-
In Movie Screenings, the Brother Cosplay Contest, Zombie Alley, E-Sports competitions and wrestling among other things. The show will continue to host a massive range of exhibitors from home crafted artist alley stalls, collectibles, anime merchandise to a number of MASSIVE Gaming and entertainment areas with Disney/Marvel, PlayStation, Nintendo, MightyApe Hewlett Packard, Samsung and more!

Event organizer, William Geradts says of the anticipation, “The public response to our announcements so far have been insane, amazing but insane. I’m confident we are on track for the biggest event we have ever had bar none and to see it coming all together after 22 years of building this event from the ground up is immensely satisfying”.  General entry tickets and photograph and autograph tokens for NATHAN FILLION, JOHN BARROWMAN and TOM FELTON are on sale tomorrow from 9am at Photograph and autograph tokens for other event guests will be released 3 weeks prior to the event. If the success of the presale is anything to go by fans will not want to wait long to secure tickets to meet their favorite stars and experience the incredible that is #AUCKGEDDON 2017!

Auckland Armageddon, October 20th-23rd, ASB Showgrounds #AUCKGEDDON


From its inception in 1995, Armageddon Expo has grown to become one of the largest fantasy events in Australasia. With shows that have run in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, and introducing Tauranga in 2017, Armageddon Expo embodies the ever-growing pulp culture phenomenon.

To keep up with the guest announcements and events at Armageddon Expos go to Tickets for Wellington are on sale now at

Faces Places NZIFF Review

Faces Places NZIFF Review

From its animated title openings and closings, it's clear that Faces Places is something a little bit different.

Following 88 year old French film-maker Agnes Varda and young photo-muralist JR, the documentary has a light touch to begin with that's as infectious as it is entertaining.

With the idea of heading around villages and meeting people (and in the latter half of the film, heading more into Agnes' past) in a truck that prints out murals of the photos of people they meet, Faces Places becomes a document of the ordinary people and the extraordinary stories they hold within.
Faces Places NZIFF Review

It starts with a series of poetic beats almost in line with Dr Seuss as the duo discuss how they did not meet, before settling on its genial road trip MO. With Varda's dual colour hair (a Beatles mop top which is all white, tinted around the edges in brown) and the beanpole JR's refusal to take off his sunglasses and hat, it's clear this is a pair for the ages - and as their working relationship and burgeoning friendship blossoms, it falls into a very watchable rhythm.

Set against a backdrop of capturing moments for the ageing and blurred-vision Varda so that "they don't fall down the holes in my memory", there's a poignancy leant to the film which is stirring to the emotions. A sort of daytime Banksy and OAP vibe seeps through and it's contagious.

But it's given a great deal more heart when it allows the celebration of ordinary people to sing out. From the sole occupant where miners used to swarm in an abandoned village to a waitress whose fame increases after she's plastered on the side of a building, it's the smaller moments which excel in this. It's a reminder of everyone being special in some kind of way and committing that to the ages.

However, in the latter parts of the film, the focus switches onto Varda.

Perhaps with JR being deferential to his subject and realising that she needs to be celebrated, he takes pictures of her eyes close up and toes, and uses those as a subject. And as Varda's visits to her past propel the greater edges of the doco, it becomes a more intimate piece that perhaps jettisons some of the joy for a more personal melancholia and acknowledgement of mortality.

Ultimately, though, its final sequence, featuring Jean-Luc Godard feels contrived and while there's no doubting Varda's emotions at this point, the set up and its resolution feels a little contrived, a kind of punchline to a story that could be seen a mile off.

Yet, that's not to detract from the wonder that Faces Places solicits throughout.

In an irony that Varda's eyesight is failing her (a tragedy on many levels), it's the vision of what's begun that shines out here. Granted, there's plenty of joy throughout, and this is a friendship that bubbles with the respect and tensions that the best friendships have.

Faces Places is a tour de France that, for the most part, excels.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Kim Dotcom: Caught In The Web: NZIFF Review

Kim Dotcom: Caught In The Web: NZIFF Review

A project some 4 years in the making, Annie Goldson's fearless telling of the Dotcom saga is a compelling watch whose 2 hour run time flies by.

For Goldson, this re-telling of it all began in 2012 when the Dotcom case began after the infamous Coatesville mansion raid - and after 4 years of interest and pursuit of her subject, she finally got her man with access granted for an interview.

Taking in the locals who were interested in who was buying the house in their region (as all good parochial concerns prevail), Goldson begins to weave her own web as she spins the story of Dotcom and his involvement in New Zealand's media landscape, and his destructive dalliance with NZ politics.

Taking in a brief look at his background from hacker to infamous security consultant after he was caught and sprinkling it with a dash of his earlier years and home violence, Goldson begins to shift the pieces of the jigsaw with relative ease and aplomb. Throwing in the media environment and the effect that music downloading (Napster et al) had on that industry, Goldson starts to give context to how Dotcom's pioneering ways and innate ability to profit and self-promote from any position proved to be his downfall.

With a wide range of talking heads - from Moby to Jonathan Taplin - and deep access to personal archives, what Goldson's achieved with Kim Dotcom: Caught In The Web is utterly fascinating and totally thrilling. While it really doesn't offer much new evidence in the case if you've been following it, what it does do is present the facts and some of the fictions with a simplicity that anyone can understand.
Kim Dotcom: Caught In The Web: NZIFF Review

Equally, it seeks not to vilify Dotcom or to praise him either.

And while the presentation of his lavish lifestyle from profits made from Megaupload make it hard to sympathise with him, it's equally difficult to sympathise with NZ police forces whose raid on the mansion was as fundamentally bungled as it could be. Goldson even takes footage from the raid and presents it unadorned, leading to some serious laughs as one man struggles to vault over a gate - this is not a documentary that takes sides as it presents the facts, and given how Dotcom is a master of spin and a prankster of PR, this is to be applauded.

Slickly put together and with some great input from journalist David Fisher, the only time that the film stumbles is in its interview with Dotcom, using little of that freshly granted access to provide new insights into the case (though admittedly, given the police and crown wouldn't comment, that would have ended up one-sided.) Equally, a long bow drawn that John Key's sudden resignation in 2016 came about because of some involvement in the case and the mounting tensions over the GCSB is presented without evidence and feels a conspiracy too far, regardless of your political leanings.

Archive footage from Dotcom's early days and concise cuts from her interviewees not only give Kim Dotcom: Caught In The Web the range it needs but provide a depth of research. Though it takes a skilled story-teller to ensure that they don't fall into the web of their own making - and Goldson never gets tangled in her own threads, keeping the film clean cut and precisely executed.

Ultimately, Kim Dotcom: Caught In The Web is a fascinating examination of the case. Its nuanced presentation and slick editing makes the complex very approachable (and bizarrely entertaining too). As an examination of surveillance tactics, copyright laws and an ongoing PR war, it's a gripping documentary by someone clearly well versed in the intricacies of the case and the innate absurdities of it all.

Crash Bandicoot: N Sane Trilogy: PS4 Review

Crash Bandicoot: N Sane Trilogy: PS4 Review

Released by Activision
Developed by Vicarious Visions
Platform: PS4
Crash Bandicoot: N Sane Trilogy: PS4 Review

Crash is back.

And quite frankly, after the brief appearance in Uncharted 4 where Naughty Dog let you play a level of the original, it's about time.

Vicarious Visions has truly done the old spit and polish remaster with a rebuild up from the ground level, taking in concept art and ensuring the game looked how it should have done.

Taking in the three original games - Crash Bandicoot, Cortex Strikes Back to Warped - these were trendsetters for the PlayStation brand early on and really set the pace for platforming.

Crash Bandicoot: N Sane Trilogy: PS4 Review
A lot's been made of how difficult and punishing the games are - but quite frankly, this high polished remaster merely re-presents what was always there in the first place. Platforming was punishing back then, but the reward for completion of Crash was truly something that felt like an achievement.

The first game is still the hardest, and while Warped feels like the game made things a little too easy, this trilogy is still way too addictive and truly compelling gaming.

Allowing you to play Coco throughout adds the different feel to the game, and it gives a nice new touch in many ways; the moves you remember from before, including the spin and jump still make Crash the basics of all platformers but it's all you really need to ensure the game's playable.

If there are errors or you die, it's truly down to you, nothing more, nothing less.
Crash Bandicoot: N Sane Trilogy: PS4 Review

In terms of how the game looks, there's more 3D depth to Crash and the world around him - whereas the first game looked basic originally, but was still eminently playable, the new version of Crash Bandicoot adds a great deal more in terms of perspective and is gorgeous to look at.

Equally, Cortex Strikes Back and Warped look great - this is a remaster that really sparkles in HD and loses none of its playability as a result. With remastered audio and cutscenes, as well as new dialogue, you'll get the fuzzies from playing Crash again - and while it punishes you for a mis-timed jump and can see your blood boiling, it's still a sign that you start all over again the moment you die.

Crash Bandicoot: N Sane Trilogy is a beautiful ode to the past and a terrific take on the present.
Now if they could just consider making a new Crash Bandicoot game for the PlayStation, we'd all be happy.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Lady Macbeth: NZIFF Review

Lady Macbeth: NZIFF Review

"Do you have any idea the damage you can bring upon this family?"

A star is born in the devilishly sizzling William Oldroyd helmed Lady Macbeth, a reinvention of the Russian novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.

Florence Pugh burns up the screen as Katherine, a young bride trapped in the shackles of marriage and in a home of pure hell. With an extremely strict and brutal father-in-law and a husband who has no interest in her other than barking orders, this repressed bride finds life dull and boring.
Lady Macbeth: NZIFF Review

Coming across a new stablehand Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), Katherine falls into lust - and the inevitable happens. However, plotting to escape the confines of a positively Victorian ethos could lead to dark resolutions.

Make no mistake, Florence Pugh positively owns the screen and burns it up in this chilling tale of desire as her character goes from victim to villainess.

From Katherine's desire for Sebastian to her desire to do whatever is necessary to escape and to live a life that's her own, Pugh uses the simplest of facials and the subtlest of moves to convey this. Whether it's the sheer joy of walking outside on the moors (which she's forbidden to do) as the mist hangs low or leaving buttons undone on her pristine outfit, Pugh brings a level of physicality to the role that's compelling to watch from beginning to end. She finds happiness in the growing moral turpitude and it's unsettling and conflicting to have you root for her every small victory.

Equally, Oldroyd's helming brings a degree of clinical chilliness to proceedings.

With a stripped back soundtrack and simple eye of precision behind the camera, Oldroyd concentrates on the moments which will bring maximum shock to the screen - be warned, there are moments that will stun you as this tale of barbed feminism plays out.

Atmospherically built and viscerally sparse, Lady Macbeth is a truly seminal experience; a peek into feminist politics and a mesmerising lead make it an unmissable and gut-wrenching piece of cinema.

Brigsby Bear: NZIFF Review

Brigsby Bear: NZIFF Review

Mixing BE KIND REWIND mentality with traces of UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT, BRIGSBY BEAR is a low key lo-fi tribute to 80s TV and fan culture.

But scratch below and underneath that, it's about something fundamentally deeper.

James Pope (Kyle Mooney) spends every day in his room, watching a show called Brigsby Bear, about a hero who saves the universe on a regular basis.
Brigsby Bear: NZIFF Review

Under the watchful eye of his parents (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams) James obeys them and avoids leaving the house because of pollution in the air.

But one day, when he's taken from the only world he's known, he finds the only way to cope is to try and imbue others with the love of Brigsby Bear.

Essentially, Brigsby Bear will be seen by many as a quirky low beat comedy that sees a slight oddball having to reintegrate, and whose mouth lets loose some very odd things for laughable effect. (To say more is to spoil the journey, and while this hints there's a big reveal, it's perhaps pertinent to say there's not, merely to acknowledge much of what happens denies the film its MO).

But at its heart, this bittersweet film is about the ongoing effect of trauma, PTSD and ongoing coping with a momentous change in life that sees everything known uprooted.

In watching James try to fit back in, Kyle Mooney's underplaying of his re-assimilating and repeating phrases is entirely reminiscent of Agent Cooper's reincarnation in Dougie Jones in Twin Peaks' latest season.

Sure, there's a childlike naïveté at play here as the infectious enthusiasm for the show is spread around (in that way that the uncool becomes retro cool), but there are also signs that James is a deeply traumatised individual who despite the coaxing around him is unable to cope with his return.

Granted those involved don't ladle on the undertones here and the subtlety pays off in swathes, but at its core,there's an undeniable sadness and rebirth at play here and it's conflicting to see it play out.

At the end of the day, Brigsby Bear is blessed with an innocence of execution which is both charming and deeply upsetting. Its central message is powerful and it's to be hoped what it's saying isn't lost on audiences willing to look past its quirks and charms.

The Lost City of Z: NZIFF Review

The Lost City of Z: NZIFF Review

More a contemplative adventure than a full-on swash-buckling colonial romp, The Lost City of Z sees a quietly soft-spoken Charlie Hunnan taking on the mantle of Brit explorer Percy Fawcett.

Unadorned of medals, and with a father who squandered the familial name, Fawcett is struggling to make his place at the turn of the century in military postings. So, when called up to the Royal Geographical Society in lieu of his mapping skills, and surrounded by fellow explorers making their own names, Fawcett feels the pull of the opportunity to provide a better life and reputation for his wife (Sienna Miller) and young family.
The Lost City of Z: NZIFF Review

Posted to the Amazonian jungle and teamed with Robert Pattinson's Henry Costin, Fawcett finds his journey is blighted and simultaneously enlivened by the possibility a new civilisation lives deep within. But on returning, his claims are scoffed out, and sensing once again the chance to rid his name of ridicule, he sets out again on a quest that will consume his life.

Director James Gray isn't interested in making The Lost City of Z a thumping adventure of derring-do. In fact, it brings to mind elements of Embrace of The Serpent from a few years back at the festival - which is no bad thing.

In the wash, it's the complete opposite, a slow-moving exploration of what makes the explorer tick and the demons that consume those who've been thwarted for generations.

Frustrations among the fronds of the jungle and realistic problems mark out The Lost City Of Z as something both grand and equally languorous. Hunnam's quiet approach to Fawcett makes his hero feel infinitely more human, and when he's tackling the mores of society and the hypocrisies of belief, Fawcett emerges as a more rounded and infinitely more plausible character. Plus Hunnam's flawed Fawcett as he rails against inequality but forbids his wife from joining them on the trail speaks well to the internal conflict of narrow-minded convictions.

There's a melancholy to this adventure and it seeps through every frame as the journey to capture the feeling or re-capture the belief of what lies unexplored is laid out. Gray consumes his screen with closeness within the jungle, which doesn't lead to claustrophobia but promotes a very real sense of belonging within.

Ultimately, there's a sprawl to The Lost City of Z which seeps through your eyes as you view. Its slow pace may put some off, but its realistic view of the adventure genre is a welcome touch in what could easily have been an overblown post-modern take on colonialism and distant beliefs.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Spookers: NZIFF Review

Spookers: NZIFF Review

Kiwi director Florian Habicht is a habitual film fest offender.

His latest doco takes a look at the New Zealand institute of Spookers, a fright fest themed attraction based at the old Kingseat psychiatric hospital.

Andy and Beth Watson run the park and have set about making sure its cast of horrifying workers have a good solid workplace, as well as ensuring that visitors to the place get scared enough to deliver their own Code Browns.
Spookers: NZIFF Review

It's into this world that Habicht and his non-intrusive camera and soft questioning approach head in - and what emerges from Spookers, in its first half, is a film that captures the quirk of Kiwis and the heart and soul of those who live there. Whether it's asking a zombie bride if they go to the supermarket wearing the outfit or revealing a depth to one woman who works in insurance and who channels her frustration into the scares, Habicht has an eye for ensuring there's as much heart as there is offbeat material in the film for us all to latch onto.

But it's in the back half of Spookers that it feels a little like Florian's lost his way.

Relying increasingly on more performance art pieces which feel fresh and enticing early on,  than any kind of ongoing narrative, it feels like Spookers becomes a touch repetitive and lacking in anything new to say, other than to compound its previous speakers who talk of their connection to one another.

That's not to deny the power of those stories - and while Beth and Andy seem grounded, the range of their workforce appear to have a whole heap of issues that they have to contend with. From mental health to actual health issues, the sense of community behind the make up is pervasive in Spookers and deserves to be applauded.

More interestingly the former patient and nurse of the hospital get to deliver their views on how the attraction is now, providing a contrast in perception and an ideological conflict with then and now. Habicht allows his speakers the time and space to breathe thought into these beliefs and is also smart enough to not belittle anyone in his film.

There's no denying that Spookers is an essential piece of Kiwiana and a quirky celebration of the power of family, both adopted and parental, but if the back half's structure were a little tighter and perhaps the journey a little more strongly plotted, Spookers could have risen a bit more strongly to the top.

Bad Genius: NZIFF Review

Bad Genius: NZIFF Review

Inspired by true events and a cheating scandal, Thailand's Bad Genius is perhaps the most accessible and popcorn friendly film of the festival.

But this is no bad thing by any stretch of the imagination.
Bad Genius: NZIFF Review

Set in a school where money helps buy you in and keep you there, it's the extremely moral tale of Lynn, a straight A student, who's financially badly off. Approached by her best friend Grace to help her with her grades at her Thai school, Lynn's soon enticed by Grace's boyfriend into running classes to help less able students ace the tests - and with the promise of money, Lynn's soon in and enjoying it.

But when Grace and boyfriend Pat are told by their parents that they have to score highly enough to get into Boston University, Lynn and her warped sense of logic are soon caught in a global scandal...

If one were to say that what is essentially a heist movie but set against a backdrop of school exams is perhaps the most compelling and thrillingly tense movie of the year, then you'd be inclined to think this reviewer had lost it.

However, using smartly edited scenes, a sense of stylistic flashiness, an eye for character and a degree of cinematic aplomb, Bad Genius director Nattawut Poonpiriya manages to create a real sense of danger and tension as the film progresses.

It helps that setting it against a backdrop of a slightly scathing look at the moral arguments over the financial pressures of paying for tuition as well as ensuring there's a heart to the story with Lynn's relationship with struggling friend Bank, means that Bad Genius is a compelling film from beginning to end.

Lacing humour in helps a lot too, and goes some way to alleviating some of the rather appallingly acted non-Thai roles in the final section of the film.

Overall, Bad Genius is pretty much close to Bloody Genius and will most likely, if there's any justice, get a Hollywood remake.

By keeping the presentation simple, but stacking the odds high and personal, as well as delivering a polished and gripping pace, Bad Genius' pleasure comes from ensuring it's thrilling from beginning to end.

The Farthest: NZIFF Review

The Farthest: NZIFF Review

The Farthest: NZIFF Review
Rekindling both a love of space travel from younger years and again firing up a feeling of cosmic insignificance, Emer Reynolds largely entertaining but slightly overlong doco about the Voyager missions reminds you why as a species we look to beyond the stars.

Lively and engaging talking heads from the original project which launched in 1977 reflect back in the building of the technology and the ongoing interest in the space exploration.

At the centre of the project was the Golden Record , a 90 minute piece of metal which held on it various greetings from around the globe, and a raft of music including Chuck Berry but excluding The Beatles. ( Due to their refusal to licence for outer space, a touch that shows the limits of our petty horizons.)

But rather than concentrating too much on this golden dispatch that provoked panic that alien life could see it as a calling card and draw their plans against us, Reynolds concentrates on the people and their reactions to the discoveries in a pre-Internet, pre-live streaming world.

And it's thrilling seeing these images some 40 years on and realising what they meant at the time. Enthusiasm fills the screen here and while there are perhaps too many CGI shots of a craft hurtling alone in the cosmos, Reynolds' evocative touches bring what could be dull vividly to life, choosing energetic sound bites and engaging speakers.

As the Voyager craft headed further into space, the revelations and discoveries from the satellite moons come flooding in. And by using numerous shots of these and forming them like album covers, Reynolds reconnects it all to the record that's on board and the rings which orbit the planets.

But the most powerful moment comes when the whole thing is given context, seeing as how most of the film feels like it exists in a timeless bubble. As shots from space (Uranus??) trickle in they're split-screened with the destruction of the Challenger shuttle.

It's here that the fragility of mankind's significance is exposed and simultaneously the impressive work that NASA did in a lower tech world stand out.

Whilst the doco is incredibly polished (maybe a little too so at times), Reynolds' ease of accessibility and assembling of the pieces stand out. This is a documentary that has not only universal preoccupations but yet also has universal appeal.

The Free Man: NZIFF Review

The Free Man: NZIFF Review

Starting with a Sartre quote that "Man is condemned to be free", director Toa Fraser's latest doco is perhaps incorrectly being sold as a look at Jossi Wells, the NZ free-skier and his interest in the sport.
The Free Man: NZIFF Review

But what it actually is, is more of a meditation on what inspires people to be involved in extreme sports, and is more of a look at the Flying Frenchies, a pair of French guys who started a company of base-jumping and high-lining. Added into the mix is the inclusion of Jossi Wells, who starts training with the Frenchies to be able to cross a zipline in the French Alps.

Fraser creates a typical documentary set up in the start, detailing a bit more about Jossi and how he got into sport before switching the film's focus away from this and more into the psychology of extreme sports and whether it's man's desire to push the edges and visit the void.

That's potentially some of the problem with The Free Man, in that it doesn't quite seem to know what exactly it wants to be as it unspools. Loaded with slightly po-faced questioning and voiceover that equates the director to those walking a high-wire, The Free Man's philosophical edges may be enough to put some people off.

However, what helps it, is the incredible footage of extreme sports and also the camaraderies that emerge from between the Frenchies and Wells.

Using a locked off camera and some truly vertigo-inducing shots, Fraser manages to spin out some magnificently existential moments as you end up questioning why people are doing this. It doesn't quite get into the psyche as well as perhaps it intends to do, but The Free Man reminds once again of the adrenaline thrill that people get from being involved in such pursuits.

Perhaps if The Free Man had had a slightly tighter focus on perhaps just one angle and one group, it may have been a more precisely delivered documentary; as it is currently, its thoughtful edges and desire to create metaphors mean it feels a little tonally jerky, almost as if it's caught on its own high wire of being.

Claire's Camera: NZIFF Review

Claire's Camera: NZIFF Review

Director Hang Sang-Soo's latest may purport to be a representation of crossed lines and the relationships between men and women, but it's a bit of a struggle despite its brief running time.

Set in Cannes, and filmed there when its stars were promoting Elle and The Handmaiden in 2016, it stars Isabelle Huppert and Kim Min-hee as two people who cross paths at the Croisette.
Claire's Camera: NZIFF Review

Huppert is Claire, who finds Min-Hee's Jeon wandering around the streets. Armed with a camera, Claire is sauntering around Cannes taking pictures; Jeon meanwhile has been fired from her job managing film sales by her boss for reasons unknown to her, but which relate to her being dishonest.

As the two meet, three different perspectives collide.

Claire's Camera will appeal to those who enjoy Sang-Soo's rambling free-wheeling approach to movie-making, but this latest struggles a little with stilted dialogue which is further exacerbated due to language barriers.

Huppert's English along with Min-Hee's reactions make the film a difficult road to negotiate sometimes, and while Min-Hee manages to convey more of the turmoil with her subtle reactions, it's a hard road to grasp anything with Claire's Camera, other than sagging frustration.

It may be lovingly shot, an ongoing thread of Sang-Soo's directorial eye and a take on perception in the workplace, but Claire's Camera feels frustratingly underwhelming and bizarrely, overlong despite its 69 minute run time.

Ultimately, this may solely be one for purists of his form and art, and while the gradual reveals of what has occurred give a level of interest, the halting stuttering stops make it harder to maintain that level.

Marjorie Prime: NZIFF Review

Marjorie Prime: NZIFF Review

Marjorie Prime: NZIFF Review

Initially reminiscent of a premise from Black Mirror, Experimenter director Michael Almereyda's Marjorie Prime is more a story of the cadences of reflections and memories than a sci-fi warning as its premise may suggest.

Holographic companions inhabit homes keeping people and memories alive for those left behind.
One of those is Marjorie (veteran actress Lois Smith) whose companion Walter is a younger version of her husband and whose interactions help with the demons of dementia.

Fussing around is her daughter (Geena Davis) who's wary of the tech and her husband (Tim Robbins) who believes the tech has a purpose.

What initially promises to be a spiky clash of beliefs melts into a reflective discourse on memories, their continuation and their place in the face of ageing and ultimately, death. Almereyda's desire to stack the deck with a mournful tone and a shifting of timelines brings varying effects to the film and will largely be as resonant as the mood you're in.

Dialogue heavy and with philosophical ruminations, Marjorie Prime is slow cinema. With Micah Levi's string heavy score piercing through the tone and building it further, the edges come a little more to the fore.
"The more we talk, the more real it will be," is a line spoken by one human to a prime hologram and there's certainly a feeling that the discussion and nature of memory is what propels this through.
But what also grounds it are the concerns we all share and the fears we all face as time goes on.
While the vignettes and interactions are the main driver of this, an excellently underplayed cast help bring large swathes of it to life, even when the pace slows to a near crawl.  Surrendering to the melancholic and maudlin rhythms and applying your own beliefs will mean you get the most from Marjorie Prime -it'll certainly help spark a discussion and a re-examining of one's self afterwards.

Win a double pass to see ATOMIC BLONDE

Win a double pass to see ATOMIC BLONDE

You can win yourself a double pass to see Charlize Theron's new film, Atomic Blonde.

Atomic Blonde

An undercover MI6 agent is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents.

Starring Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Atomic Blonde hits cinemas August 3rd!

Rated:  R16: contains graphic violence, sex scenes, offensive language and nudity 

To win a double pass  all you have to do is enter simply email your details to this  address: or CLICK HERE NOW!

Include your name and address and title your email ATOMIC!

Competition closes August 3rd

Good luck!

Thursday, 27 July 2017

20th Century Women: NZIFF Review

20th Century Women: NZIFF Review 

One of the titles much requested for this year's festival and one of the earliest to be revealed, Mike Mills' 20th Century Women is a relatively joyous memoir of 1 boy growing up under the thrall of 3 women.

Set in 1970s California, the film zig-zags around the daily life of 15-year-old fatherless Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) who lives with his mother (Annette Bening) who runs a boarding house. Other inhabitants in this house include Abbie (red haired Greta Gerwig) and handyman William (Billy Crudup).
20th Century Women: NZIFF Review

Also dropping by, unbeknownst to Jamie's mother, is best friend Julia (Fanning)  whom Jamie has a crush on but whose advances are continually rejected.

Worried that Jamie's not getting the full life experience he needs, his mother asks the house guests to help impart their life wisdom - but it doesn't quite go to plan.

Reflexive, warm and gentle, 20th Century Women is a nostalgia blast about the coming of age, gaining of new insights and pushing against the times.

Most of the push and pull of the film comes from the interaction between the characters and how living and coping together shapes many of us in ways we don't appreciate until later in life. Bening's ease of presence and way with quick one-liners throughout give this an edge early on, but later, a more mournful tone means the kaleidoscope of life feels a bit more poignant than you'd first expect.

Ruminations on life through various eyes come easily throughout, but what 20th Century Women actually does is spin a web that's entrancing and engaging, if slightly forgettable - it's a reflection of the signs of the times, but also a salutation to the wisdom of those around us.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Jasper Jones: NZIFF Review

Jasper Jones: NZIFF Review

A coming-of-age story, adapted from a Craig Silvey novel, that's carried wonderfully by its young leads, Aussie drama Jasper Jones is a veritable ripper.

Set in a quiet Aussie village in the late 60s and centring on Levi Miller's 14 year old Charlie, the story sees him thrown into being asked for help by the town's outcast Aboriginal Jasper Jones.

Jasper fears he'll be blamed for the hanging girl found in the woods (as he remarks tellingly to Charlie, "What was your first reaction?", a sign of the times and of the instant judgement of small communities) and so together the pair try to solve the mystery of the death.
Jasper Jones: NZIFF Review

But that's not all Charlie has to negotiate; he has a Korean neighbour whose lives are under fire because of Vietnam tensions, he has a mother who's frustrated and he has a burgeoning relationship with the sister of the missing girl to negotiate as well.

Seeded into the background of Jasper Jones are inter-racial tensions, friendships and relationships, even darker material that ventures dangerously closely to spoilers and a commentary on small town perceptions that's all too familiar.

But director Rachel Perkins doesn't stir any of these up for pure titillation; she merely throws everything into the mix to create a compelling whodunnit and a deeply layered story that has social commentary seeded all the way through.

While the adults do good work, notably Dan Wyllie as Charlie's dad, a mix of compassion and understanding obvious from an understated role, it's not actually their film in many ways.

It helps that the younger end of the cast - Miller, Angourie Rice (who plays the sister) and Aaron McGrath (Jones) shoulder the great burden of the darker edges of the script with veritable ease. It may be a familiar journey in some ways (growing up, realising death and darkness is all around) but what Jasper Jones manages to do, is to ensure these themes are freshly presented and subtly enacted.

Ultimately, Jasper Jones manages to be a compelling and diverting story that's as engaging as it is well crafted and it's a reminder that even the most familiar of tropes and genres can appear fresh when given a steady and strong directorial eye and a great cast.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Ancien and the Magic Tablet: NZIFF Review

Ancien and the Magic Tablet: NZIFF Review

Eerily prescient in its depiction and debate of driverless cars, Ancien and the Magic Tablet is a family film that doesn't quite mesh as well as perhaps it should.
Ancien and the Magic Tablet: NZIFF Review

Beautifully etched and full of blues and steampunk hues, the story of Ancien and the Magic Tablet is set just days before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. When Kokone falls asleep, she dreams of a world where she's a brave princess, Ancien, whose tablet can do anything - and that includes saving the kingdom from attacks by Kaiju type creatures.

But back in the real world, Kokone's father, a mechanic, is no longer making money and Kokone is called on to rescue him when he's abducted by shadowy corporate types....

Ancien and the Magic Tablet is an anime that has its moments.

While there's no doubting that Ghost in the Shell director Kamiyama Kenji has an eye for the fantastical, the film's glueing together of the two realities doesn't quite hit the spot when it should.

There are some great moments of humour, and the echoes of Pacific Rim prove hard to shake in the battle sequences, but there's a bit of heart missing from Ancien and the Magic Tablet - and the lack of it, is hard to shake.

More successful is the current concerns over technology of the past and present colliding, and the commentary and corporate espionage shenanigans that ensue. It helps deal with some of the pacing problems that the back half of Ancien faces; and while the animation's nicely done, it lacks some of the wizardry of others.

Unfortunately, feeling like it's lacking some of the parts which make a great anime, Ancien and the Magic Tablet is simply a solid film that does what it needs to and little more. Families will enjoy its fantastical edges, but anime lovers may feel something irrevocable is unfortunately missing.

Monday, 24 July 2017

The Beguiled: NZIFF Review

The Beguiled: NZIFF Review

Gifted the best director awards at Cannes for this, Sofia Coppola returns to more ethereal portraits as is her wont in The Beguiled.

Set in 1864 Virginia, 3 years into the Civil War (though, in all honesty, time and the world outside barely trouble much of what transpires), Coppola's take on the 1971 Don Siegel Southern psychodrama, which starred Clint Eastwood, is as wispy as the mist which hangs over the woods in the opening shot.
The Beguiled: NZIFF Review

Colin Farrell stars as a wounded Union soldier, Corporal McBurney, found cowering under a tree by one of the young charges at the local girls seminary, run by Nicole Kidman's buttoned up Martha. At first the seven of them debate what to do with McBurney, but different feelings of repression, desire and blossoming sexuality come to the fore as time passes.

Initially deciding to allow McBurney to recuperate before being sent on his way, the chaste and secluded women find themselves all-a-fluster thanks to McBurney (and by extension, Farrell) and his rogueish charm.

Soon, however, the question becomes who is beguiling who?

Coppola's eye for the female gaze is evident throughout, much like it was in The Virgin Suicides.

By turns, light, funny and sultry, The Beguiled does much to bewitch, even if its flirtations are as passing as the breeze.

What transpires is a four-way as Farrell, Kirsten Dunst, Kidman and the preternaturally youthful Elle Fanning vie for the attention. From dinners that drip with the potential of a cat fight, or the closest a finishing school will allow, to clandestine visits and impromptu liaisons, the film positively drips with sultry sensuality as it plays out.

Coppola's more interested in the female dynamic at play here and most men, bar Farrell, are framed from a distance when they appear and / or are surplus to proceedings. Sure, cannons fire and plumes of smoke appear on the horizon, but men are rarely seen at this finishing school, giving the flirtations a weight that's understandable when McBurney shows.

But as she stacks the deck with betrayal, lust and repressed desire, what she creates in The Beguiled is a similarly themed entrant as others display in her catalogue. Using a similarly ethereal lens and vision, Coppola may be making an obvious film in many ways, but its subtleties are enough to beguile the audience.

With equal amounts of humour, takes on etiquette and coquettishness, the battle of the females, and simple simmering, the film manages to cast a spell on those who view.

Columbus: NZIFF Review

Columbus: NZIFF Review

Everyone's life is on hold in the quietly impressive drama Columbus.

From Haley Lu Richardson's Cassie, whose chance to go to college is on pause as she looks after her mom to John Cho's Jin whose father has had a medical event and whose estrangement has come bitterly into focus, there's a sense of the inert in director Kogonada's subtle film.
Columbus: NZIFF Review

Set in among the architecture of Columbus Indiana, Kogonada's film focuses on the duo who meet accidentally and become friends, with Cassie once again seeming to feel the need to usher the uncaring Jin through his experience.

But, even though the two appear to be kindred spirits, the peaceful pace and perfect slow cinema ambling of the script doesn't allow the film to fall into cliche.

With Richardson majorly stepping up and assuming the mantle of the lead in this, shouldering much of the bookish dialogue and gently truthful banter with great aplomb. There's plenty of veritas in Richardson's performance, and it's a sign once again that she's a significant young talent to watch ; this time in particular, she lends credence to the older edges of the script, but never loses the lightness of touch that a spirit desperate to fly but unable to out of a sense of duty would possess.

Equally, Cho gives something of a quiet internalised performance that's redolent of a sidelined leading man. In his interactions with Cassie, the unusual friendship blossoms thanks to the gentle pace and the languid approach that Cho delivers to his evidently angry and ultimately looking-for-redemption Jin.  There's likely to be large swathes of people who identify with Jin (and his protestations that "he never paused his life for me") - but Cho ensures Jin isn't a spoilt brat looking for love, but is more a soul in need of some kind of rebirth.

In a debut that's more than worthy of your time, Kogonada frames much of Indiana with the architecture of the area evident in almost every shot in some way or other; whether it's wide shots that give a sense of space or an always-there building lurking in the background, the film's assembled in such a way that it's destined to be one of a film-maker capturing an area on record, and populating it with people with everyday problems and everyday concerns.

Strong unassuming support from Parker Posey, Michelle Forbes and Rory Culkin add credence and weight to the veracity and tone of voice of the proceedings.

But rest assured, Columbus is Richardson and Cho's film. This is no quirky coming-of-age tale that feels the need to populate itself with self-aware dialogue; this is earnest, honest and heart-warming fare - and because of that, it radiates from the screen.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Berlin Syndrome: NZIFF Review

Berlin Syndrome: NZIFF Review

Berlin Syndrome: NZIFF Review
The holiday romance turns very sour in Berlin Syndrome, the first NZIFF title to feel like a commercial release.

In the adaptation of Melanie Joosten's 2011 novel, Brisbane back-packer Clare (Teresa Palmer, I Am Number Four) is on her own in Germany when a chance meeting at a traffic lights with English teacher Andi (Max Riemelt, Sense 8) takes place.

Attracted to each other, the pair edge their way to a highly charged encounter. The following morning, when Andi goes to work, Clare finds herself locked in the isolated apartment. Assuming it's an error, she dismisses it, but when the key she's given the next morning doesn't work and she discovers her phone's SIM card is gone, terror starts to creep in....

Berlin Syndrome had the potential to be a cliché (and sadly heads that way a little at the end), but instead offers a thriller that's more unsettling and psychologically creepy as it unspools.

It helps that Palmer has the right mix of vulnerable and lost in the early stages as she mixes the scared and excited of a tourist in a new city when she exits the Berlin underground. Not your typical backpacker and not saddled with a 'I'm running away /finding myself' back-story, Clare's actions seem plausible as the story plays out.

Director Cate Shortland (Somersault, Lore) takes time to build an atmosphere that's filled with inherent dread as the captivity begins and as Andi becomes cold, distant and definitely creepy. Shortland front-loads the bases from the get go, giving Berlin Syndrome a sense of something sinister lurking; whether it's shots of the ancient architecture of Berlin or the foreshadowing in art book. 

It helps that Max Riemelt plays Andi without the usual tropes of a maniac and seems all the more unhinged because of his own charm and detached affability. In scenes with his father and with hints of the Berlin Wall past trauma, there's lots left unsaid that help to build an atmosphere but which may frustrate those looking for a simple reason why he is what he is. (Though, arguably, he's responsible for some truly laugh out loud lines as he carries on like an apparently normal couple - pesto will never look the same again.)

But subtle is what Berlin Syndrome does best in its terrific opening half, as we follow Clare, discovering the clues as she does and leading to those heart-in-mouth moments. Palmer does much to imbue her character with a retreat-in-your-shell mentality to help with survival.

Ultimately, and sadly, Berlin Syndrome may lose some impact because of its resolution, but what plays out prior to that is quite gripping and filled with suspense.

Thanks to Shortland's eye for the smaller moments and Palmer's carefully selective and introverted turn, Berlin Syndrome ends up being more captivating and psychologically disturbing than you'd expect.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

My Year With Helen: NZIFF Review

My Year With Helen: NZIFF Review

Director: Gaylene Preston

There's plenty to get frustrated about with Gaylene Preston's latest My Year With Helen, in which the Kiwi doco-maker spends time within Clark's camp as she tried for the job of UN Secretary General in 2016.

However, it's primarily the boys-led system that will have you raging as the film plays out, not the way the film's constructed.

Tagging along with Ms Clark, Preston had the idea to follow and see what doing good (as was Clark's desire) could actually achieve. But what, of course, transpired is that Helen Clark became the eye of the hurricane in a bid to become the next UN Secretary General.
My Year With Helen: NZIFF Review

Hindsight is both a blessing and a curse to this documentary.

It's a curse in that we all know the depressingly failed outcome of Clark's campaign, but it's also a blessing because what Preston actually captures, rather than an intimate diary of her moods, dreams and desires is the fact the UN is in crisis. Having had 8 men run it since its inception, what Preston's doco does is show what exactly is wrong with the UN, and why the zeitgeist desire to get a woman to the top job galvanised so many, and ultimately, why the final result was so head-slappingly dumb and a thumbing to those campaigning for glass-ceiling change.

Preston's smart enough to use the camera to capture the trappings of the UN, and while there are a few candid moments when Clark is less guarded (though these come primarily when she is relaxing with her father in the Waihi Beach home, making meals for her dad - I defy anyone not to release a Helen's Chilli Con Carne after this-  or a fleeting glance of her using social media in the back of the car on her way to yet another press the flesh meeting), there's little salacious or shocking on show. Throughout the entire film, whether it's scouting on a plane to Botswana, or attending meetings with the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Clark is the diplomat you'd expect at the UN and the restrained politician so familiar to so many.

While Clark's campaign becomes the film's raison d'etre, and Preston's camera wisely captures the voices around her, rather than seeing Clark grandstanding, the United Nations becomes more of a focus of the documentary as it goes on.  There's a terrible nagging sense of it being desperately out of touch with the people it serves, whether it's a subtle side shot of a US politician texting while an impassioned plea is made for those stuck in Syria, it's here that Preston's masterful touches pull back the curtains on the horrific political machinations within.

If there's a criticism, it's that there's little debate and debrief into what went wrong after the final straw poll and the galling decision to install yet another white man in the top job; in the immediate aftermath, Preston captures the hubbub of others rather than using the exclusive in to get Clark's immediate reaction. So it is that once she shows, she's already in composed mode, the perfect politician.

But it's also in this moment, that Preston reveals her master stroke interview technique.

In just four words, a very laid-back intro of "What a thing, eh?" leading into the post-failed campaign interview, Preston says it all. It's at this moment the candid camera captures the pragmatic resilience Clark is famed for, her never off-guard manner personified, but threatening to crumble. It's fascinating to see, and depressing for its implications to so many.

However, in hanging on Helen for a little longer in this muted debrief, Preston draws us into her eyes, and the disappointment and dejectedness that lies within them. It's an utterly enthralling moment to behold and a technique that delivers an emotional and unexpected pay-off.

While My Year With Helen's focus is more on the UN bid (as would have been necessitated by events), and regardless of how you feel about Helen herself (the brief insights probably won't change any deep-seated beliefs) what actually emerges is a definitive rallying cry for change within; not just for feminists but for all those frustrated with political back and forths in the 21st century.

It's a sickeningly fascinating examination of the human condition, the politics of change and the lip service that goes in, but thanks to Gaylene Preston's light and deft touch, what it becomes is a dignified and restrained yet undeniable clarion call to arms.

Trophy: NZIFF Review

Trophy: NZIFF Review

Perhaps the most confrontational, yet sensitively nuanced piece of documentary making, Trophy takes you into the world of big game hunting and the arguments which lie within.

Opening with a father and son climbing into a camouflaged outpost before the son shoots a deer and concluding with the shooting of one of our species' finest, this documentary is provocative in ways you'd expect and disappointing in ways you wouldn't.

Smartly deciding to avoid any sensationalism, filmmakers Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau decide to follow one hunter, Phillip,  who's determined to kill the Big 5 and one South African businessman John Hume whose belief and desire is to legally flood the market with rhino horn to prevent the tide of poachers.

It could be a potent mix, and in parts of Trophy, perceptions and arguments over big game conservatism get a good solid airing, as figures point to the fact that since 1970 the world's lost 60% of its wild animals.

Equally, both Schwarz and Clusiau don't shy away from showing the horrific aftermath of a poacher's rampage - and certainly the sight of a rhino calf crying and running around in the equivalent of Greek mourning after its mother has been killed is nothing short of heart-rending and harrowing

Trophy's strength is how it flips perception of the argument and how you think you know what's going to be said, before actually giving you the other point of view. Even though it falls a little into its own trappings, with Phillip given enough rope to show his ignorance later on and Hume being given the chance to shine.

But it's entirely complex in its handling of the arguments and simply offers up no easy or obvious solutions. It merely showcases and balances the debate as well as juxtaposing the clashes of ideologies against a backdrop of a hunter shooting a restrained animal in the head. This is no easy journey, and it's refusal to adhere to a  no hear no evil, see no evil approach deserves commendation.

In the back of the doco, it perhaps squanders some of the more interesting elements over Hume's crusade and desires coming back to haunt him, but one suspects this was a time constraint and perhaps it's fair to suggest this was the meatier part of the final debate - the cost, both literally and figuratively, to those involved. It's a complex and confronting doco that doesn't squander sensitivity for the salacious by any stretch of imagination.

Ultimately, Trophy is a smartly put together piece on an endlessly difficult subject. It deserves commendation for an unswerving dedication to both sides and be aware, it won't leave you with a feeling of resolution at the end, merely the feeling the debate needs to be had.

It Comes At Night: NZIFF Review

It Comes At Night: NZIFF Review

Cast: Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough
Director: Trey Edward Shults

Balancing tension, claustrophobia and paranoia in equal measures, Trey Edward Shults' film It Comes At Night is a chamber piece for the doomsday preppers among you.

Opening with an old man struggling to breathe before he's put in a wheelbarrow and unceremoniously rolled out by gas-masked unknowns, accompanied by a red jerry can and a gun, It Comes At Night goes for the gut-wrenching right away, a veritable sucker punch to the "This could be any of you" ethos that punctuates its survivalist core.
It Comes At Night: NZIFF Review

Revealing the gas mask wearers to be a family, headed up by patriarch Paul (Joel Edgerton, bearded and downbeat), It Comes At Night zeroes in on their isolation in a house in the woods. With his wife (Ejogo) and son Travis (Harrison Jr) in tow, Paul's family unit is embedded into this post-apocalyptic world.

But when Christopher Abbot's desperate Will breaks in to their house one night, seemingly searching for supplies for his wife and child, a ticking time bomb of suspicion and mistrust is placed within this tight-knit unit.

And things are further exacerbated when Will brings his brood back to the house....

Less an outright horror, more a creeping insidious terror, It Comes At Night is perhaps more a psychological experience than a full-on fright fest.

It helps that surrendering to Shults' rhythms is the way to settle into this sedately-paced film that lies on soundtrack and palpable tension to ratchet things up. With claustrophobic close-ups and wide shots of corridors and an ominous red door in and out of the house, the dread is easily created early on.

Shults uses his weary-looking cast to ramp up an atmosphere of unease that's as menacing as it is frustrating, though an over-reliance on differently aspect-ratioed dream sequences involving Travis' night terrors punctuate way too much of this film as it unfolds.
It Comes At Night: NZIFF Review

Bleak and desolate it may be, while relying on the hoary trope of the unseen menace within the woods and that's always at arms-length, It Comes At Night uses its sparing sense of fear to reasonably terrifying effect. Dialogue propels great amounts of the implied ambiguity within as the survivalist nightmare reaches to a crescendo.

It's not exactly the kind of film which is going to leave many feeling bright and breezy, though with the reminder of a constant fear from the Doomsday Clock edging ever closer to midnight in these current climes maybe informing the NZIFF's desire to programme this, it does seem scarily prescient.
Abbott and Edgerton make for uneasy bedfellows as Will and Paul, and Travis' mixing of sexual awakening with a creeping sense of voyeurism at the new family (in particular, the wife played by The Girlfriend Experience's Riley Keough) proving to be a heady mix of uncertainty, there's more than enough to creep out those watching.

Fundamentally slow (despite its brevity and 90 minutes run time) and distinctly unsettling, It Comes At Night may prove to be a polarising film festival experience, but its quietly devastating voyage is deep-rooted in singularly human basic instincts - and is all the more terrifying for it.

I Am Not A Witch: NZIFF Review

I Am Not A Witch: NZIFF Review

Muted and yet surprisingly moving in its final moments, debut director Ryungano Nyoni's I Am Not A Witch is the tale of Shula, a girl living in Zambia.

The nine-year old is accused of witchcraft and hauled in front of local authorities, where the policewoman in charge is regaled with tales of her witchiness, including how she hacked off one man's arm with an axe (even though he tells the story with both arms intact.)
I Am Not A Witch

As the will of the village is to condemn her as a witch, Shula is sent to be part of the witch's community, an ostracised sect that live with ribbons tied to their backs, and whose freedom is held in check by giant rollers that go wherever they go.

But Shula's "powers" are questioned when she's asked to preside in a trial over a theft, and to identify the thief. Apparently being blessed with the sight, Shula's showered with gifts of gratitude, some of which are taken by her charge, the corrupt government official Mr Banda and the rest which are given to the remaining members of her witch's community.

However, Shula herself begins to resist the idea of being pigeonholed as something she is clearly not....

I Am Not A Witch is mournful and despite offering some obviously comic moments, Nyoni's film has depressing overtones for the world we currently live in. With Trump's America and The Handmaid's Tale clearly ringing in our collective ears, it's hard not to view I Am Not A Witch as some kind of rejoinder to this state of current global affairs. And while Nyoni's view is that the film mocks the Zambian way of life, it's heartbreaking to see the nine-year-old girl caught up in a world which literally shackles the women around it, in an overt form of slavery.

In among all this, Margaret Mulubwa's turn as quiet little Shula makes the film quite poignant and ultimately impressively moving. Whether it's dealing with a tourist who just wants a picture with the witch as she sits dejected in a totem she's been placed in for days or simply watching the village harangue and turn against her early on, Mulubwa's eyes do it all.

And while some of the scenes feel a little stretched and could have been excised, there's no denying the final sequence's power and imagery. Throughout I Am Not A Witch, Nyoni imbues the screen with some powerful shots and some simple images that speak volumes. It's here the power and tragedy of I Am Not A Witch emerges.

Bittersweet, sad and scathing of Zambia, Nyoni's I Am Not A Witch really does have a way of casting a spell on you that you'd perhaps not expect.

Kedi: NZIFF Review

Kedi: NZIFF Review

Cast: Cats, Istanbul vistas, People
Director: Ceyda Torun

It's perhaps no surprise that a documentary about cats is as fluffy as one of the feline's tails.
Kedi Film Review

But it's also perhaps no surprise that this gentle doco is as amiable and as universal as they come.

Against the backdrop of Istanbul's streets, so beautifully captured and brought to life on the big screen, Kedi follows seven different cats with distinct personalities and a grip on the people who inhabit the streets and live their daily humdrum lives.

With Torun running a street level rig, the film follows the pussies as they weave their way in and out of people's lives, shopfronts and cajole them to feed them.
There's no ground-breaking reason for Kedi to exist; it's simply a case of documenting life on the streets.

However, what emerges from the cod-philosophising of the nameless faces that extol the virtues of the rampant animals running amok in a friendly way, is a sense of community and a sense of belonging that these critters engender.

Despite the odd hyperbole spun by some of the anthropomorphizing and projecting tendencies of the commenters (one woman draws a long bow between how the female cats stand strong and upright in their dignity, whereas women of their religion are cowed and oppressed and that she "doesn't see elegance in women like that anymore"), what starts to emerge is a city with a tremendous sense of heart above all else.

As is mentioned early on, the cats have been there for thousands of years, and have seen empires grow and fall; they are as timeless in the fabric of the city as those who look after them.
From the baker who has an open tab at the vets to help to the sailor who feels duty bound to hand rear a litter of kittens whose mother has disappeared, this is the milk of human kindness writ large on the screen. Along with furry feline interactions - whether it's cat looking like it's been caught on camera stealing fish or another staring photogenically down the lens, there's something for all animal lovers here, though the more hardened cinema-goer may find parts of their own fur bristling as time goes on.

Slow-mo close-ups will look radiant upon the big screen and the film-makers in their gentle touches do nothing more than desire to elicit a sympathetic "Aww" from those subjected to this endless parade of cute.

Unlike the viciousness of former fest outing White God's canine uprising, Kedi has a soothing tone and deceptively simple ambitions to fulfill which it hits with relative ease throughout; it aims to showcase a city awash in humanity, with a co-existence of cats and their masters, basking in the glow of simpler times.

Kedi may not be cinematic catnip to the likes of Gareth Morgan, but there's a strong case to say that any animal lover or family seeking a gentle outing will be entranced by the warmth of this microcosm of furry life.

The Party: NZIFF Review

The Party: NZIFF Review

The Party: NZIFF Review

Continuing the British desire to only unburden repressed feelings in social gatherings, Sally Potter's The Party builds a fragile house of cards at a soirée, only to consequently scatter the deck without any food being served.

Opening with a 'how did they get here?' moment, the black and white melodrama plays out with some acidic aplomb by the troupe of players.

All gathered to celebrate Kristin Scott Thomas' Janet's ascension to ministry and politics, a group of fractured and apparently fragile friends begin to unravel in only the delicious way the Brits know how.

As the group comes together, Timothy Spall's Bill sits solo in the front room, hunched and haunted on a chair, with a wine glass in one hand, and with a near catatonic look on his face. But as the night goes on, everyone comes under scrutiny in some form or other.

Like a scab being ripped off or an itch incessantly being scratched, The Party's thrills come from the unexpected turn of events and the inevitably entangled revelations.

Perhaps it teeters perilously towards the end with disbelief, but Potter's black and white film crackles with dry acidity and typical scorn throughout, all topped off with a deliciously dark dry tragedy languishing within. It's fraught with spoilers to unveil what transpires within, but needless to say the troupe of players from Spall's distanced Bill, Thomas' haughty and yet easy to humble Janet, Patricia Clarkson's acidic April to Cillian Murphy's on edge Tom, all delivering in spades.

It helps the script is laced with one-liners and withering moments, as the sourness of the situation becomes more evident. In many ways, the film feels like a play with its whirling deliciousness on words and desire to ratchet up the moments to near contrived, but in Potter's hand, the curt run time feels just about right; any more would over-egg this pudding and any further reveals would push this dangerously close to cliche.

The Party's power lies in the picking over of the relationships and the unbinding of those ties; it's thanks to all involved that the polish and sheen comes tumbling from the screen; in black and white and close up, every detail is nuanced; from Spall's heavily white flecked beard to Murphy's drug-induced sweats, Potter's camera captures every subtlety.

This is most definitely one party to RSVP to at the Festival.

The Square: NZIFF Review

The Square: NZIFF Review

Provocative, confronting, and yet also unexpectedly amusing, the NZIFF's opening night film and the 2017 Palme D'Or winner The Square, from Force Majeure director Ruben Ostlund, is something else.

A satire on social reactions set within an art museum, it follows the museum's director Christian (Claes Bang) as a series of events are set in motion after the theft of his mobile phone. With a new exhibit set to launch, Christian should have his eyes and attention on what's ahead, but is dangerously distracted by the inane.

As events spiral, Ostlund's film teeters dangerously once again on a precipice between commentary on others and our social interactions - and as a result, it offers up some truly astounding moments of awkwardness and the surreal.
The Square NZIFF Review

There's no denial that the loosest of threads pulls the rest of the film together, and there are moments that make The Square feel like a confrontational series of sketches that very occasionally feel disparate and in danger of breaking off like an iceberg from the main narrative.

It helps little that the film's punishing 140 minute run time becomes a slog in the final hurdle and certainly even though The Square's lost 20 minutes in an edit, a few more cuts could have helped the searing truly soar high above the cinematic stratosphere.

And yet, when Ostlund turns his precise eye to social commentary, there's nothing more piercing.

With Sweden's streets littered with beggars and with cries of Help Me resounding in many of these scenes, there's a humility and an horrific mirror cast upon society and their trivial concerns. The public and the private are meshed and simultaneously ripped apart under his precise directorship.

If Force Majeure's focus was solely on the family and the dynamic post the event, The Square's broader and wider ambitions occasionally threaten to stop it from achieving glory as it loses its edge towards the end.

But on the way in this high wire act, one scene stands alone - a sequence in a high society dinner event for the museum that's terrorised by a performance artist behaving like a gorilla. Simultaneously amusing and utterly terrifying, this moment of Ostlund's film is electrifying. It's here that the societal commentary comes into play and that Ostlund makes you shift uneasily in your seat.

And it's for moments like this, as well as surrealist broad comedy that The Square commands to be seen - it's confrontational, outrageous and it's out of nowhere attitude at times mean it's as unpredictable as it comes. However, in the wash, it may see you asking some serious questions about how we are wanting and examining its commentary on what society reacts to and ignores - it's here The Square's power is compelling.

Friday, 21 July 2017

The Red Turtle: DVD Review

The Red Turtle: DVD Review

Released by Madman Home Ent

Studio Ghibli's latest sees Dutch British director Michael Dudok de Witt taking on the story of a castaway on an island.

As the film begins, in greying waters and stormy seas, the man is tossed asunder, his boat ripped from him. Clutching onto it, he makes it to shore - albeit on a completely deserted island. Woken the next day by a crab running up his leg, the man plots to escape, using bamboo canes to make a raft.

But his attempts are thwarted by something smashing the raft.... with desperation setting in, the castaway tries again; this time, his nemesis is revealed - a red turtle...

Mixing existentialism, some sumptuous hand drawn and painted animation, facials that look similar to Herge's Tintin executions and all scored to a lushly mournful and occasionally soaring soundtrack, the animation The Red Turtle is wordless and will leave you breathless.

While comedy of the occasion is provided by a clutch of crabs scuttling back and forth in the castaway's world, the soar-away visuals of the castaway's plight, his midnight delusions and what happens may have a propensity to hit where it counts - in the heartstrings.

As the survival tale plays out over its 80 minute duration, there's Laurent Perez del Mar's soundtrack to send you into orchestrated orbit as the simple story unfurls.

It's a meditation of existence and of soul-searching as the castaway adapts to the rhythms of the island and the machinations of survival - but some of this may go over younger minds heads even if they are willing to go with the animated flow.

Ultimately though, The Red Turtle is a film that has deeper meaning, and will be a personal tale to each member of the audience.

It's a rumination on our place in the world, and acceptance thereof; all beautifully encapsulated in a Studio Ghibli  hand-drawn co-production that once again hits the heart strings and engages the brain so much - even when it offers so little by way of execution. 

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