Sunday, 30 June 2019

Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled: PS4 Review

Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled: PS4 Review

Released by Activision
Platform: PS4

The thirst for nostalgia continues with Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled, another remaster of the Bandicoot's trademark bran of cartoon insanity.
Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled: PS4 Review

The original kart games were where Crash Bandicoot started to lose me, preferring as I did the narrative driven platform-based shenanigans which tested my button pressing, rather than my ability to read a race track.

That's not to say that Crash Bash and Crash Team Racing weren't iconic Naughty Dog properties, merely tastes lay elsewhere.

However, Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled is a karting fanboy's dream.
Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled: PS4 Review

The remastered game fires on all cylinders as it dons a new coat of paint, and offers a slick, glitch-free blast around the tracks.

The one downside is the inordinate amount of time the game's loading screens take, compared to the amount of time you play on the track. It's almost as if the celebrations you're expected to have between each race will be enough to occupy gaming minds - well, that's not the case.

Much like the Crash Bandicoot remake last year, the game's difficulty settings will prove controversial too, with Medium being a chasm away from Easy in terms of being able to win. Easy is a breeze round the tracks; Medium, much less so.

The game's MO is the same as it always was - hurtle around the track, grab power ups, knock your opponents out of the way, and surge to victory.
Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled: PS4 Review

From adventure mode where you're the sole player to online multiplayer, there's more fun to be had in the social elements of Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled, as the racing is better when you feel like there are actual stakes.

Yet, at the end of the day, it has to be said, very occasionally, this does just feel like a "Pick up, play, put it down, forget it" kind of game - underneath the slick look and the stellar graphics, the nostalgia's only going to get you so far.

But when the quality is this good, maybe you can forgive the fact that most gamers will be playing the same game they played in their youth, and recapturing the euphoric highs you had at the time.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Win a double pass to see Marvel's Spider-Man: Far From Home in cinemas

Win a double pass to see Marvel's Spider-Man: Far From Home in cinemas

Spider-Man: Far From HomeTo celebrate the release of Marvel's Spider-Man: Far From Home in cinemas, you can win a double pass thanks to Sony Home Pictures!

About Marvel's Spider-Man: Far From Home

Peter Parker returns in Spider-Man™: Far From Home, the next chapter of the Spider-Man™: Homecoming series!

Our friendly neighborhood Super Hero decides to join his best friends Ned, MJ, and the rest of the gang on a European vacation.

However, Peter’s plan to leave super heroics behind for a few weeks are quickly scrapped when he begrudgingly agrees to help Nick Fury uncover the mystery of several elemental creature attacks, creating havoc across the continent.

Marvel's Spider-Man: Far From Home is in cinemas July 3.

All you have to do is email your details and the word SPIDER-MAN!

Email now to 

Competition closes 11TH JULY.

Friday, 28 June 2019

Win a Toy Story 4 prize pack

Win a Toy Story 4 prize pack

Win a Toy Story 4 prize packTo celebrate the release of Toy Story 4, you can win a prize pack.

The iconic toy gang is back on the big screen with an all-new adventure in Disney and Pixar’s Toy Story 4

To celebrate the release there are 3 prize packs to giveaway

Each prize pack includes
- 1x notebook
- 1x stationery set
- 1x cap
- 1x laptop bag 

- 1x set of button badges. 

Disney and Pixar’s Toy Story4 ventures to NZ cinemas on June 27, 2019.

All you have to do is email your details and the word TOY STORY 4!

Email now to 

Competition closes 4th July.

Annabelle Comes Home: Film Review

Annabelle Comes Home: Film Review

Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife
Director: Gary Dauberman

The Conjuring Universe continues to proffer more cinematic goods, as the appetite for horror shows no sign of lapsing.
Annabelle Comes Home: Film Review

The latest sees the Warrens transporting Annabelle home and confining the malevolent mannequin in their artifacts room, blessing the casing and putting up lots of Keep Out signs to stop people trespassing.

But when Ed and Lorraine head away from the weekend, leaving ten-year-old daughter Judy (a quietly nuanced McKenna Grace) in the hands of her babysitter, Annabelle gets out, awakening all kinds of chaos in the demonic room.

There's no denying that Annabelle Comes Home is effective at stretching out its conveyor belt of scares, and orchestrating the kind of spooky atmospherics the series has become known for.

There are some nice moments as the curse of Lorraine's visions appear to have been passed on to the daughter, and there's a familiar theme of being ostracised for their beliefs after their experiences, but Annabelle Comes Home is less interested in nuances, more in pulling back the curtain and giving you a jump scare a couple of moments after you've expected it.
Annabelle Comes Home: Film Review

Dauberman shoots it all well, there's the requisite number of spooky scenes and sequences, and there are plenty of close ups of the glass-eyed doll as you expect it to jump at you.

But in truth, after a while you feel like the contents of the demonic room are being rolled out as potential spin-offs. There's the Hellhound case from the past, the haunted Shinobi, the wedding dress that melds with its wearer, the haunted boardgame - they all feel like they're jostling to see which could work for future audiences and extend the universes further after this seventh entrant.

Haunted house cliches collide with a degree of claustrophobia, and an element of a small cast gives Annabelle Comes Home the tautness it requires.

However, this really is the cinematic equivalent of the ghost ride rolling into town every year as part of the carnival.

Deep down, you know what to expect, you enjoy the ride for its nostalgia or for the attempted tweaks the organisers have put in to keep it fresh - but buried underneath its smoke and mirrors tricks, this franchise needs to stop heading down the generic route, get back to genuine deep scares and psychological scars or it'll deserve to be confined to its grave.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Yesterday: Film Review

Yesterday: Film Review

Cast: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran, Joel Fry, Kate McKinnon
Director: Danny Boyle

All the hallmarks of a Richard Curtis comedy are present in Danny Boyle's Yesterday.
Yesterday: Film Review

A romantic quandary, a declaration of near love in the rain, a sense of detachment from the real world - it's all here in this crowd-pleasing piece that proves everyone's charming in Curtis' eyes.

Patel stars as frustrated musician Jack Malik, a pub singer whose original compositions do nothing for the audience, despite the continual support of Lily James' Ellie, his manager and would be lover (a shockingly shamefully underwritten character whose need for existence being tied to a man feels like something of a parallel world concept where MeToo never happened).

When Jack's hit by a bus during a 12 minute global power outage, he wakes up sans two front teeth, and to the fact the Beatles never existed. Much like coke and cigarettes. (The whys and wherefores of this are part of the script's weakness and Curtis' desire to thrust us deep into fantasy land at whatever cost).
Yesterday: Film Review

So, seizing on their music, Malik launches his own big for stardom - meeting up with Ed Sheeran and impressing global audiences - but is he losing sight of what actually matters most?

Crowd-pleasing and cute may sound like damning terms for a pop-what-if-fairy-tale, but given Patel's innate likeability, Boyle's raw translation of the Beatles' music and the writer's couldn't give a damn attitude to logic, Yesterday feels like the latest jukebox musical to be hoist upon audiences who want easy fare.

A jaunt through Liverpool late in the piece, complete with postcard tourism neon letters, feels like a tourism cash-grab, a hollow celebrity map that skates the surface and exists solely to give you the sense of the feeling rather than the depth of the feeling.

But it's all done so pleasantly, and in a manner that lulls a crowd into enjoyment territory; there's a noticeable sag when the love part of this fairy tale tries to tug at you, however Patel's performance and charisma lift any lows up.
Yesterday: Film Review

It's hard to dismiss a feeling that this is a way to sell us The Beatles once again, in much the same way Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman blast out all time favourites, and while the music's still timeless, Curtis' writing and Boyle's showing of why it's timeless simply falls into the show, not tell, category of a song being belted out.

It's not a fatal flaw for Yesterday by any stretch of the imagination, but Yesterday does feel like cinematic candy floss fluff, something that's so inherently determined to make you like it, it does little to hide its flaws. Or explain any of its logic - it's like at times a Comic Relief sketch writ large, and pushed through a Richard Curtis bingo set of tropes and ideas.

Thankfully Patel's charisma and relatability, complete with Boyle's visual energy, make Yesterday a crowd-pleaser whose saccharine touches don't totally overwhelm the audience - but they won't rightly win over the cynics, who will feel worn down by the lack of sense or sensibility.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Parasite: Film Review

Parasite: Film Review

Director: Bong Joon-Ho

A searing cross-genre look at the chasms between the classes, Bong Joon-Ho's latest, which took top honours at Cannes this year, is, for the great majority of its run time, an edge-of-your-seat piece, that slightly loses it in the last 15 minutes.
Parasite: Film Review

Centring on a family of four who live under the line (in this case, literally, the family lives below the street and often look up to people urinating near their one solitary window), Parasite follows Ki-woo, who's offered a well-paid tutoring job, proffering the family hope of escape from their hand-to-mouth routine.

Inveigling his way into the Park household, Ki-woo manages to seize an opportunity for his sister to become a fellow tutor to the youngest of the household...

To say more about Parasite is to go against director Bong Joon-Ho's wishes in terms of spoilers, but suffice it to say that Parasite dances an extremely fine line between edge-of-your-seat suspense, utter revulsion and horror, and excoriating commentary on the classes that has become the norm for his other films.
Parasite: Film Review

There's much to unpack in Parasite - and much of it can't be debated without spoilers.
Whether it's the way the rich refer to and interact with the poor, or the subtleties of microcosms of society which are laid bare, there's a tapestry here to explore that's brilliantly writ large on the big screen.

In all honesty, at times, it's depressing stuff if you're clued into the social mores laid bare, and laid thick with the blackest humour one could find for such an outing.

But it deserves commendation for the way the director and scriptwriters pivot the film roughly half-way through. What seems obvious is given a gut-punch and turned into something that becomes not what you expected.

All of that said, and a coda ending aside which seems like a tonal mismatch from what's transpired, Parasite is a thrilling ride at the cinema, and easily one of the best films of the year.

It's a subversive, subtle and subliminal ride that's as rewarding as it is compelling.

With its subtle genre changes, and its dancing neatly on the taut tightrope of thrills and suspense, it's a game-changer in terms of subverting expectations, and yet delivering a wide broad film that's begging for a Hollywood remake, but which will be all the better if they don't.

Simply put, a must-see.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

If Beale Street Could Talk: DVD Review

If Beale Street Could Talk: DVD Review

Based on James Baldwin's novel, and opening with a quote from him, the gorgeously shot If Beale Street Could Talk is once again proof that Jenkins knows lighting perfection from shot to shot.
If Beale Street Could Talk: Film Review

Told across different time periods, Jenkins' latest is the story of childhood friends and lovers Tish (Layne) and Fonny (James) who in the 1970s in downtown Harlem found themselves the victims of an egregious crime of the times.

When Fonny's arrested and imprisoned for the rape of a neighbourhood woman, Tish vows to fight to clear his name and get him out of jail. But their plans for a future together are derailed by constant stops and starts in the quest to reunite.

If Beale Street Could Talk is lyrical poetry personified.

Much like Moonlight did, the film takes a deep dive into its subjects, placing them front and centre of every shot, bathed in different lighting moments to evoke mood and internal turmoil and emotion.

If Beale Street Could Talk: Film Review

But it also conveys the deep love of the duo, with many shots being close ups of their face as the slow, quiet and deliberate tale weaves its web over the audience. However, it has to be said, despite the layered performances of the central leads, and the sterling work done by King in a supporting role as the mother, the film feels like it holds you away at emotional arm's length.

It's an interesting stance, with its languid pace doing much to keep the audience at bay, and stopping the anger at the injustice rising up. Sure, there are some racist cops of the period, that feel like they've been ripped from the fringes of movie Detroit; and there's some commentary on life of the time, but there's never the righteous indignation being given the chance to rise up and continue.

It's perhaps Jenkins' approach to the story which has been told time and time again; he cares not for the well-worn tropes (all of which are present and correct), but is rather more consumed with the details of the situation, lacing all of it with a trembling OST that evocatively quivers when needed.

As commentary on the time, and the period as well as the crimes, If Beale Street Could Talk falls short - but what it does provide is something more mellow, more intimate and perhaps more astounding because of it.

It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but If Beale Street Could Talk is a masterclass of how to make a film and a well-worn subject look incredibly good, deeply rich and resonant, even if it does feel emotionally aloof. 

Monday, 24 June 2019

NZIFF 2019 Auckland Programme Launched

NZIFF 2019 Auckland Programme Launched

The full programme for the 51st New Zealand International Film Festival has been revealed in Auckland this evening. 144 feature-length films from 45 countries will screen over 18 days beginning on Thursday 18 July.

“We’re delighted to finally unveil and launch the full programme, with its typically eclectic and far-roaming range of local and world cinema,” says programmer Sandra Reid. “It’s always an inspiring experience selecting the films and getting to share our choices with our audience. May they enliven your winter.”

NZIFF has previously announced that 25 films from Cannes will screen in 2019. Eight of the films come from the Competition section of the festival including tied Jury Prize winners Les Misérables and Bacurau. NZIFF's 2019 Cannes selection also includes NZIFF’s Opening Night film, La Belle Époque, and Centrepiece film and winner of both the Queer Palm (Feature) and Best Screenplay, Portrait of a Lady on Fire. 

Two sections in the programme are dedicated to achievements by women in cinema. 

The previously announced retrospective, Vive la Varda! honours the legacy of the late pioneer filmmaker, Agnès Varda, and includes Varda’s last documentary, Varda by Agnès. The Women in Cinema strand features four timely documentaries about women in the film industry; Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-BlachéWhat She Said: The Art of Pauline KaelMaking Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound and This Changes Everything.

Thirteen New Zealand films, including nine world premieres and the Closing Night film Herbs: Songs of Freedom have previously been announced. 

The full Auckland NZIFF programme is available online now:

NZIFF is run by a charitable trust and encourages lively interactions between films, filmmakers and New Zealand audiences in 13 towns and cities around the country. The full NZIFF programme will be on the streets from Tuesday 25 June for Auckland, and Friday 28 June for Wellington. NZIFF starts in Auckland on 18 July and in Wellington from 26 July in 2019.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Toy Story 4: Film Review

Toy Story 4: Film Review

Vocal cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Tony Hale, Christina Hendricks, Annie Potts, Keanu Reeves
Director: Josh Cooley

It's hard to know where to start with Toy Story 4.
Toy Story 4: Film Review

The third film wrapped things up so well, that anyone moving forward with the series was always going to face a monumental challenge of epic proportions.

But while the fourth Toy Story doesn't hit the peaks of the first film, it does prove a solid, if uncertain entrant into the series. There's some good within though, but admittedly, there's also a feeling that this was a series that didn't need a revisit.

Deja vu haunts much of the storyline this time around, with Sheriff Woody (the ever reliable Hanks) now struggling to find a place in the world after his kid Andy has moved on. Sure, he's been handed down to Andy's sister Bonnie, but Bonnie's more interested in Jessie, leaving Woody in the cupboard and not picked for playtime.

Toy Story 4: Film Review
Determined, Woody climbs into Bonnie's backpack to accompany her for her first day at kindergarten (much of Toy Story 4 concerns itself with moving on, next stages of life) and to ensure she has a friend. But Woody's goodwill inadvertently leads to the creation of Forky, a toy thrown together by the loner Bonnie out of a white plastic fork, some googly eyes and pipe cleaner.

Bonnie adores it - but things go awry when Forky goes missing during a family trip, prompting Woody to launch a rescue mission.

Toy Story 4 is clothed in familiarity.

It opens with a rescue as Woody's Leave No Toy mentality comes to the fore again, and concludes with another rescue attempt as Woody and a small group of toys try to pull off a daring heist.

In between all that, there's a smattering of the usual Pixar sentiment and silliness as well as superlative CGI as it plays out.
Toy Story 4: Film Review

Yet, Toy Story 4 doesn't deliver the highs you'd want, and while the endings function both as standalone for this adventure, and a capper for those wallowing in the nostalgia, the film's raison d'etre isn't quite as clear cut as you'd want.

Sure, there's a living in a world without kids message and a take on how parenting leaves parents bereft when the kids move on, all delivered in the usual solid Pixar way. But while the heart of Toy Story beats on, the existential crisis that lies within (What are toys' purpose, what is Woody's purpose, what can stop Forky being obsessed with trash) is a little too reminiscent of what's transpired before.

That's not to Toy Story 4's detriment, and there are many joys to be had - chiefly in the form of Bo Peep's Lara Croft-esque demeanour, and Reeves' Duke Caboom. It's just a shame that it's come at the expense of Buzz Lightyear being sidelined, and other faves fading out of the limelight.

But if you're after the solid emotional payoff previous entrants in the series have offered, you may - bar one ending - be left wanting. Feeling more like a spin-off franchise entrant than a consolidated animated push for eternity, Toy Story 4 may pitch for a heartfelt message, but the emotional coherence that rendered the rest of the series so essential is sadly lacking, rendering this more an epilogue than anything else.

That said, Pixar still delivers something superlative, even if it does feel like a bolt on.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Capharnaum: DVD Review

Capharnaum: DVD Review

Cast: Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw
Director: Nadine Labaki

Some films will inherently break you, push you to your limits and test you before delivering a reward.

Capernaum is one such film.

Capharnaum: Film Review

The story of Zain (Al Rafeea) launches in a courtroom with an inherently amusing premise - he's suing his parents for giving him life. What follows next sees Labaki track back to discover how Zain got to this stage.

A story of neglect in extremis, Capernaum dances a dangerous line between manipulation and mawkish, not always successfully. But what emerges works strongly because of Al Rafeea's innate watchability and a chance to elevate the material where it needs to be.

It's heartbreaking to see where the kids have been taken in this film, and how the material feels like it's drawn from a truth, not so much a fantasy. But while the story works like it should, it does also lend itself to sprawl, and feels at times unfocussed, despite the work of the first time actors.

There is a melodrama to proceedings in this Lebanese drama, and how you feel at the end may depend on how far you're willing to go along with events, but ultimately, Caparnaum works where it should, despite moments of misery and elements of cliche. 

Friday, 21 June 2019

Anna: Film Review

Anna: Film Review

Cast: Sasha Luss, Luke Evans, Helen Mirren, Cillian Murphy
Director: Luc Besson

A free-wheeling Russian spy story, Anna dances to the Eurobeat of Luc Besson.
Anna: Film Review

Returning to the genre which scored him such big hits as La Femme Nikita and The Professional, Anna stars Sasha Luss as the eponymous Anna, who's recruited into the spy world via the KGB and ends up as a model in Europe to do their bidding.

To say more would be to deprive Anna of the narrative twists that Besson, who wrote and directed this, clearly wants for his audience.

Needless to say, the twists come thick and fast, but under the cover of a framing device that relies on the film stop-starting as it goes back and forth in time to reveal what's going on.

The first few times, the narrative replay is a clever move; but Besson deploys it far too often, giving this less a feeling of Run Lola Run's multiplicity and more a distinct impression that you're not quite clear whether the filmmaker and writer simply wanted to throw as many pieces up in the air and see what fits.

And yet, there's a wackadoodle appeal to Anna, which helps with the occasional sag in the 2 hour run time.
Anna: Film Review

All of Besson's trademarks are there - from pulsing European music beats to taut chase sequences, and one brilliantly employed INXS song and montage, there are enough moments to make you feel the hoary old spy genre has something new to offer.

But these are coupled with an almost Austin Powers style adherence to modelling sequences which veer wildly into parody and some occasionally wooden acting from the lead, who's saddled with some silly dialogue.

Yet, as demonstrated in a wonderfully choreographed restaurant fight, there's a grit and inventiveness to Anna that keeps you watching (even if you've seen elements of it before in Jennifer Lawrence's Red Sparrow).

Finally, mention is needed for Helen Mirren, who under big glasses and hunched poise, cigarette in hand, brings much to the table as Anna's KGB handler. Her no-nonsense approach, coupled with Mirren's gusto for the role, is a welcome touch to Anna.

Ultimately, the film's narrative structure lets it down, and Besson's adherence to his own vision is both a good and bad thing - but in terms of the spy genre, it very occasionally kicks ass and presents a solid case for being.

Hotel Mumbai: DVD Review

Hotel Mumbai: DVD Review

Tense, claustrophobic and never once exploitative, Hotel Mumbai's recreation of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks is simultaneously nail-biting and verging on the factual.

Dev Patel is a worker at the Taj Hotel, one of those places targeted by Pakistani militants who launch a series of attacks to wreak chaos. Trapped inside and with time running out, a group of disparate guests and hotel workers try to survive.

Hotel Mumbai has a sense of claustrophobia, a sense of terror and a sense of the unending mercilessness of terrorism. As the almost robotic servants carry out their master's bidding communicated to them via phone lines, there's a true feeling of horror as the attacks take place, a relentless march against the perversion and hatred of other's ways of life.

But Maras, while delivering an almost workman-like and straight forward retelling of events, never once slips into the exploitative, giving it a feeling of something sickening growing with dread throughout.

Hotel Mumbai: Film Review

The thing with Hotel Mumbai is that the film's unswerving dedication to the unfolding reality of a terrorist attack helps it to grip, and leaving you twisting in its grimmer edges.

What Maras is smart enough to do is to realise that within the horror of every crisis, there is humanity to be found at every level.

While he does use the story of Hammer and  Boniadi's baby being trapped and separated with their sitter to promote some tension, he's wise enough to not milk it for all it's worth and just leave you teetering on the edge of your seat. Slivers of background provide enough to guide an audience in, and don't feel like sentimental set-up sap.

It's this element of sensitivity with the film's truly awful premise that helps ground Hotel Mumbai into a gripping and sickening watch.

Equally Patel and Kher show the humanity of the staff and the humility of their approach that the guest comes first, no matter what the situation. It's horrifying in many ways, but like any disaster film, it's the human elements which shine through in Hotel Mumbai to keep the light burning.

Ultimately, Hotel Mumbai's commitment to the reality of the Mumbai terror attacks means the film passes without direct judgement on those perpetrating them. There's a subtlety in the condemnation that does play out, but not an overtness - it's a key difference in making this disaster movie crowd-pleasing and turning tragedy into gripping drama.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Child's Play: Film Review

Child's Play: Film Review

Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Mark Hamill
Director: Lars Klevberg

There's much to like in the 2019 retooling of the Child's Play series - but there's also much to grizzle about with the feeling that potential has been wasted.

Plaza plays single mom Karen, a shop employee who gives her son Andy (Bateman) a Buddi doll to help the transition to a new home and new life. Buddi is the latest design toy, that imprints on its owner and in this Buddi's case, fixates on him.

Renamed Chucky by Andy, the doll starts to take on a life of its own, mimicking those around, while dealing with defective programming. But things begin to take a murderous intent.

It's clear that Klevberg and co wanted to take some of the electronic paranoia we've been feeling with Black Mirror's technical obsessions and turn it into something that's on point, and through a horror prism.
Child's Play: Film Review

But what emerges from the 2019 reboot of Child's Play, despite an inherent fear of AI, is just how much that potential is squandered.

Despite a great turn from Plaza, a strong performance from Bateman and some excellent vocal work from Hamill, Child's Play becomes a grubby rote horror that's content to deliver some average jump scares and some lo-fi moments, rather than to build on the idea of a murderous Alexa inspired doll.

The opening's great, inspiring some funny moments, and capturing a kind of 80s vibe that's at odds with the 21st century technology. However, the film's not content to do more with its talent, with a script that doesn't really thrill like it should, or scare like it ought.

There's still the malevolence that Chucky has, and the animatronic doll has some creepy edges, but the script mines every single cliche going before delivering a finale that lacks panache and originality.

That's perhaps the killer blow for Child's Play - it never reaches its potential, and feels a lot like every other 80s serial killer film you've seen before. They've chosen to swap Chucky's USP for a USB - and while parts of it feel like an upgrade, most of it feels, sadly, like a downgrade.

But it is worth it for Mark Hamill's unsettling singing over the final credits...

NZIFF Announces Thirteen New Zealand Film Premieres

NZIFF Announces Thirteen New Zealand Film Premieres

Thirteen feature-length New Zealand films will screen at the New Zealand International Film Festival
(NZIFF) in 2019. Nine films will have their world premieres in the programme, including the
 previously announced documentary A Seat at the Table.

Come To Daddy starring Elijah Wood

This year’s homegrown selection celebrates the life and legacy of New Zealanders with portraits 
on social activist Helen Kelly; master carver and devoted Māori artist Rangi Hetet; 
renowned photographer Peter Peryer; champion Kiwi boxer Billy Graham; artist and composer 
Michael Smither; and legendary reggae band Herbs.

New Zealand stories are represented in the programme with features reflecting on rugby’s divisive
 history, New Zealand’s budding wine industry, faith and family in Aotearoa, life on a Northland 
dairy farm, a comedic Kiwi family farce and a poignant testament to economic inequality.

Ant Timpson’s genre-bending directorial debut, starring Elijah Wood and Madeleine Sami, is 
also announced with the programme’s NZ films, although it will screen in the Big Nights and 
Special Presentation strands of the festival.

“We’re very proud to be able to announce the New Zealand features and documentaries 
which will premiere at NZIFF this year in Auckland and Wellington. NZIFF remains committed 
to providing a platform for striking local films such as these and we can’t wait to be able to 
share them with an audience” says NZIFF programmer, Michael McDonell.

The confirmed New Zealand films for 2019 are:

Capital in the 21st Century (NZ Premiere in Auckland)
Director: Justin Pemberton
A sweeping – and sobering – account of the way that concentrated wealth has both 
shaped our past and is creating a deeply unequal future. Based on economist
Thomas Piketty’s bestselling book.

For My Father's Kingdom (NZ Premiere in Auckland)
Directors: Vea Mafile’o, Jeremiah Tauamiti
Pasifika filmmakers Vea Mafile’o and Jeremiah Tauamiti direct this intimate, clear-eyed 
documentary centred on the faith, love and fatherhood of Saia Mafile’o, and his four children.

Herbs: Songs of Freedom (World Premiere in Auckland)
Director: Tearepa Kahi
Director Tearepa Kahi’s follow-up to the infectious Poi E is a rousing celebration of 
Pacific reggae legends Herbs, the band’s members and its action as an inspiring
 musical front for social rights and harmony.

Bellbird (NZ Premiere in Auckland)
Director: Hamish Bennett
Marshall Napier, Cohen Holloway and Rachel House shine in Hamish Bennett’s
 beautifully judged, poignantly funny drama of life and community on a struggling 
Northland family dairy farm.

Peter Peryer: The Art of Seeing (World Premiere in Auckland)
Director: Shirley Horrocks
Shirley Horrocks’ richly illustrated portrait of the life and career of one of New Zealand’s 
most important photographers, who dedicated his life to seeing and making works of art out 
of the everyday.

Helen Kelly - Together (World Premiere in Wellington)
Director: Tony Sutorius
An intimate, inspirational portrait of Helen Kelly in the last year of her life, Together 
tells the story of a woman whose advocacy and generosity changed the lives of countless 
New Zealanders.

By the Balls (World Premiere in Auckland)
Directors: Charlotte Purdy, Simon Coldrick
Sport and politics most definitely do mix in this gripping look back at a brutal and 
turbulent time for New Zealand rugby, told from the point of view of the players
 themselves including David Kirk and Buck Shelford.

Births, Deaths & Marriages (World Premiere in Wellington)
Director: Bea Joblin
Director Bea Joblin’s spirited debut feature boasts snappy dialogue and spot-on performances 
from a cast including Geraldine Brophy, Sophie Hambleton and Jamie McCaskill. 
A pungent kiwi slant on classic domestic farce.

MO TE IWI: Carving for the People (World Premiere in Wellington)
Director: Robin Greenberg
An intimate journey through the life and work of master carver Rangi Hetet and a 
celebration of his lifelong devotion to the traditions of Māori carving and Māori art.

Billy and The Kids (World Premiere in Wellington)
Director: Mark Albiston
An insightful look inside the boxing academies run by champion Kiwi boxer 
Billy Graham, through the eyes of the kids whose lives they have changed.

Michael Smither 10 (Wellington Only – World Premiere)
Director: Paul Wedel
The final episode in Tony Hiles’ ongoing project chronicling his friend Michael Smither, 
finds the artist and composer in his studio wrestling with current paintings and
reflecting on art and life. 

NZ film in Big Nights and Special Presentations strand:

Come to Daddy (NZ Premiere in Auckland)
Director: Ant Timpson
Elijah Wood, Stephen McHattie and Madeleine Sami lead Kiwi director
(and NZIFF/Incredibly Strange programmer) Ant Timpson’s deranged comic thriller 
about a father-son reunion that goes very, very south.

NZ film previously announced:

A Seat at the Table (World Premiere in Auckland)
Directors: David Nash, Simon Mark-Brown
Savour 100 minutes of eye-popping camera work, picturesque vineyards and 
gratuitous grape-fondling shots in this glorious toast to the talent and the stories 
behind New Zealand’s world-famous wine industry.

Little Woods: Film Review

Little Woods: Film Review

Cast: Tessa Thompson, Lily James
Director: Nia DaCosta

The "one last job before I retire" trope is as old as the hills themselves, but what director Nia DaCosta and actress Tessa Thompson bring to the hoary cliche is a degree of humanity and empathy in Little Woods.

Thompson is Ollie, a one time opioid dealer to the North Dakota fracking workers. Caught after a border run went wrong and under probation with just 10 days to go, Ollie finds herself facing desperate measures and multiple financial hardships.

But when her struggling adopted sister and solo mother Deb (Lily James) finds she's about to give birth again and needs a place to live, the clock's ticking to get together $3,000 cash to ensure their house isn't foreclosed on.

Little Woods: NZIFF Review

So, despite wanting a clean break, Ollie is forced back into the one thing she knows well, but doesn't want to do.

As mentioned, the plot isn't exactly original, but what DaCosta and Thompson - and to a large degree, James - bring to the table is a female perspective on middle America, the struggles of those under pressure, and the face of the Opioid crisis.

This is no Breaking Bad though, with Thompson providing subtle contrasts in her Ollie as she debates the morals of the right thing to do. It's very much a story of the times, and told in an unfussy manner, with tension being ratcheted up in a smaller, more intimate setting on the screen.

There's a great deal of empathy radiating from these characters, and while some of the dialogue doesn't feel natural, there's no denying Thompson's natural charm and appeal that she imbues Ollie with. 

Refusing to give in, Ollie finds every path possible to explore, and the desperate scrabble to stay afloat has you in her camp from the get go.

The film's ambiguous end is a smart touch too - unsure of who gets a happy end, it's very much a crime tale told under a different lens - and all the better for it. Little Woods may hit a few of the cliche branches as it unspools, but with two extremely solid and plausible leads, it remains watchable from beginning to end. 

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Captain Marvel: Blu Ray Review

Captain Marvel: Blu Ray Review

It's hard to pinpoint exactly why Marvel's latest solid outing Captain Marvel doesn't quite fly in the way that perhaps you'd be expecting.

Captain Marvel: Film Review

Is the fact that in a decade and twenty films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is the first with a female lead, giving the film a kind of timely resonance that's culturally mirrored in the Time's Up movement?

Or is the fact that a deeply feminist film of a woman hero who's been told to suppress her emotions as they don't make her strong suffers from an abundance of mansplaining and on-the-nose music cues?

Whatever it is, Captain Marvel's Brie Larson deserves the accolades, even if the material isn't quite up to her stellar standards.

Larson plays amnesiac Carol Danvers, who we join in space as she's briefed on a mission to infiltrate Skrull (who look like 80s comic Eagle's Doomlord) territory and retrieve a Kree spy. But when Vers, as she's initially known, is captured by Mendelsohn's Talos, she glimpses a prior life, setting her on a collision course with both 1990s Earth and S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Nick Fury (a digitally de-aged Jackson).

Captain Marvel is an intriguing non-linear film and uses a softer methodology to impart yet another origin story.

Ahead of Avengers: Endgame, it's more of a necessity than a creative gamble, and because of that there are parts of Captain Marvel which feel uneven and even, whisper it, uncertain.

Larson's ferocity works best when she has something to work with. And while the trope of the amnesiac superhero trying to remember who they are is an all-too familiar one, there are moments when Danvers feels more hollow than she should be, and beholden only to what others make her.

Certainly, it's a problem for any film introducing a character with literal deus-ex-machina powers and how to make them realistic and relatable.

Captain Marvel: Film Review

Larson gives her all, and the film's spunk comes from uniting her with Fury in 90s US (even if the film's heavy-handed inclusion of 90s throwbacks groans from excessive over-use), setting up the usual fish-out-of-water shenanigans and then immediately smartly side-lining them. Jackson clearly has fun here, and Larson helps him come to life in some scenes that crackle along.

Rising above the script's duller edges, Larson gives the film an emotional core that's a hollow cypher at the start. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in scenes with her former fellow pilot, played by Lashana Lynch. Their understated interplay feels warm, human and rife with a history that's hinted at rather than explicitly explored.

Equally successful is Mendelsohn's Talos, a Skree baddie who has depth and nuance (and an Aussie accent through the prosthetics).

While the final act has Doctor Strange level of trippiness and spectacle, sillier edges start to filter through as the "Without us, you're only human" message threatens to overwhelm what is, at times, underwhelming.

What cripples portions of Captain Marvel is that the makers are so determined to proudly fly the banner for "the message" that they occasionally take a sledgehammer to crush open a nut.

A fight scene to Just A Girl negates some of Danvers' power and feels like a back-handed compliment, whereas a sequence of Danvers' repeated rising up against various knockbacks could be dismissed as manipulative and over-stated when taken out of context.

But placed within an audience of young boys and girls, this moment, coupled with the fact that Captain Marvel is retrofitted into continuity and is shown to be more powerful than any of the Avengers brings an important and timely message home with some subtlety - for girls robbed of cinematic figureheads and for boys who need to see the woman can be more powerful. 

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