Friday, 31 July 2020

Animation Now 2020: NZIFF Review

Animation Now 2020: NZIFF Review

The 2020 Animation Now selection greatly benefits from the personal touch of its curator, Malcolm Turner.

Every single film in this collection feels personal to Turner, who delivers eloquent introductions, advising the audiences what to look for and why the shorts have been selected.

It's a masterful use of the VOD platform for the festival strand, and while the collection has its usual hit and misses, there's no doubting Turner's passion throughout - and it's infectious.

Some of the animated fare is the usual mindboggling stuff that's more abstract and obtuse, but nevertheless visually entertaining.
Animation Now 2020: NZIFF Review

That said, the mix of handpainted fare and simpler computer animated drawings shows the industry itself is in rudely good health, with some 4000 selections needing to be waded through by the festival.

Japan's Locomotr is a curious surreal 3 minute piece; elsewhere, Swiss director Michael Frei's Kids leans heavily into Escher and is all the better for it, its simplicity rendered in the most mind-blowing way; and Polish superhero drawing Rain amuses as much as it uses its blank canvas to tell a compact story.

All in all, Animation Now 2020 feels globally more personal than ever before - and it's all the better for it.

Wendy: NZIFF Review

Wendy: NZIFF Review

Perhaps the most obviously commercial offering of the New Zealand International Film Festival for 2020, Wendy has pedigree in its director, the creator of the wondrous Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Blessed with a prodigious lead in Devin France as Wendy, Benh Zeitlin's take on the Peter Pan story is a film that's more in love with the land and its leads than in its actual storytelling.

When Wendy tires of her life in a railwayside diner, she is startled to see another kid atop a train. Jumping on the train with two friends, she finds herself transported to Neverland and into the life of Peter Pan.

JM Barrie's tale is gifted an environmental feel in among Zeitlin's eye for the wild. 
Wendy: NZIFF Review

Through the deltas and over the lands of the heartland of America to the lost island, Zeitlin's freewheeling camera makes a great fist of the landscape, and recalls many of the shots of Beasts of the Southern Wild.

While not every child actor hits the necessary straps, and while the older section of the actors feel too ragtaggle to be complete, the exuberance and wide-eyed nature of France makes for a great companion on this journey.

"The more you grow up, the less you get to do the things you want" may be a fair adage espoused at one point, but thanks to a haunting score, talent when it's needed and a sense of adventure, this is a Peter Pan story like you've never seen before.

Family Members: NZIFF Review

Family Members: NZIFF Review

A little more than just a hang-out movie (though barely so), Argentinian film Family Members concerns siblings Gilda and Lucas.

The pair return to their mother's home after her unexpected death and find it taped up, the scene of a crime. Breaking in and settling in, they begin what they believe will be a simple goodbye to their mother and issues, but are subsequently thwarted by the onset of a nationwide bus strike.

Rendered unable to leave and effectively stranded, the duo finds ways to live - Lucas strikes up a friendship with local Guido, a bond born of shared bodybuilding loves; meanwhile Gilda spends her time flirting with a long distance boyfriend, whom Lucas suspects doesn't exist.

To say Family Members is languid is a massive understatement - the film is in no hurry to go anywhere anytime soon.
Family Members: NZIFF Review

However, weird messages from within a hole in the beach and thanks to quirky scenes like throwing their mother's prosthetic hand in the sea, the film finds a kind of pace that's intriguing, but occasionally soporific.

The push-and-pull dynamic between the duo is interesting enough to keep you entertained, and while the blandness of seaside life is nicely committed to the screen, the film's subtleties keep the long term love far away from it.

It may be a film of growing pains, but Family Members' slow-burn to get anywhere ethos is also its worst enemy - despite the occasional whimsy, this one doesn't have the lingering power after the film's done.

Sandra Beerends - They Call Me Babu New Zealand International Film Festival Q&A

Sandra Beerends - They Call Me Babu New Zealand International Film Festival Q&A

Your Name
Sandra Beerends

Title of your film
They Call Me Babu

Tell us about your 2020
The premiere of They Call Me Babu was at Idfa in Amsterdam, end of November 2019.
The film released directly afterwards and from then on I had a Q&A tour around the country,
which continued in 2020.
Then in the first week of January 2020, I received the ‘Christal Film Prize’ for reaching 10.000 visitors in the cinema, which is huge for a documentary in The Netherlands.
End of January I was visiting Biarritz (France) for the screening on FIPA, where I had a Q&A for a sold- out theatre in the wonderful Casino at the beach.
In February and March I still had Q&As and lectures and won the Audience Prize at IFA .
March 2, I was nominated for The DDG award (Dutch Directors Guild).
Sandra Beerends - They Call Me Babu New Zealand International Film Festival Q&A

How has Covid-19 impacted you and your film?
March 12, was the Award Ceremony for the DDG Award, and then it was cancelled, due to Covid 19.
(March 14, my youngest son was supposed to travel for 4 months to South America, but 1 hour before the plane leaves I read about the outbreak of Dengue and Corona and we cancelled the trip, I am so happy he stayed home)
March 16, all the theatres were closed (after 16 weeks in the theatres for They Call Me Babu)
and all lectures cancelled.
The film was then screened via PICL (on line streaming in cooperation with distributors) 
All the film festivals were cancelled or postponed.
May 6-17, screening at on line Dokfest (Munchen/Germany)
May 17, winner Dokfest Horizonte award.
May 19, winner of BUMA award (for the music of Alex Simu for They Call Me Babu)
May 19- 28, screening at on line TDF (Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival), Thessaloniki (Greece).
May 20, release of the DVD.
June 10-21, selected for Sydney Film Festival (Australia) in the program ‘Europe! Voices of Women’.
June 29, broadcast on NPO 2 (Dutch Television), a lot of publicity on radio, TV and other media, almost 500.000 people watched it.
July 24- August 3, Selected for New Zealand International Film Festival
So about the impact of Covid 19
Everything stopped at our ‘Intellectual lockdown’ (as called by our Prime Minister Mark Rutte).
But I was lucky to already have had a wonderful premiere at IDFA, 16 weeks  in the theatres and wonderful (inter)national reviews). So for me it was- although sad - not a big deal to be screened only on line.  And it did bring me an award at Dokfest and maybe a greater audience and publicity at Sydney Film Festival. The only restriction about not screening at online festivals is for Indonesia. 
Because  the film is about the history of Indonesia, from the perspective of an Indonesian young woman, working as a nanny for a Dutch family, I really want to be there when it is screened.
For me, as a filmmaker with Indonesian roots,  it is very important to talk about the film with the Indonesian public. There is a lot of discussion going on about our ‘shared’ history. And I hope this film can be a start to look together at our history and share our feelings.
I want to end with saying that I am very happy to have been selected for the NZIFF and I hope a lot of people will see it.

What's the moment you wish audiences were seeing in a theatre, and why?
See also question 7.
But in general, looking at a film in the theatre can be magic!
Maybe, people online don’t look at the credits, and that is a pity, because it is there I made a special moment to make a tribute to all the women who contributed with their stories. I made a kind of graphic moment to get them out of the shadow, mirroring the scene  with the white kapok (plantseeds used for pillows and matrasses), in which you will see the women responsible for tossing up the kapok.  And because it has been a life changing journey for Alima, the music for the credits is kind of consoling to give the audience a moment to come back to reality.

What have you learned about film-making, the film-making community and the film-going audience during the pandemic?
From one moment to the other, it felt like there was suddenly a virus attack, like in a movie. The whole world stopped and so did the film industry. Luckily in The Netherlands there was a financial allowance from the government and the National Film Fund. After some weeks people start to make movies with others by ‘zoom’, developing new stories and plans and film ‘beautiful silent Amsterdam’. The film audiences looked at all kind of online platforms, mostly for free, but after some time, it was boring, nothing new and then luckily there were all the books that you planned to read one day… 

What's the single best moment of your film?
How can I prefer one single moment? Every moment is precious to me…
But if I have to, maybe it is the moment that my main character Alima falls in love with Riboet (before that she felt very lonely without the Dutch kid Jantje, she was taking care of) and this love, triggered not only her female physical awareness but also her intellectual and political awareness and she feels she can contribute to the world and feels connected to the women in the world. 
The music support her emotions from loneliness, to falling in love, to  I can dream, I can make a difference, I feel connected to all the women. And the portraits of all this different women are beautiful.

What do you plan to do next in terms of filmmaking?
I have lots of Ideas but they are all growing inside, as a kind of creative pregnancy.

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Heroic Losers: NZIFF Review

Heroic Losers: NZIFF Review

Wildly accessible, heist movie Heroic Losers is here for a good time, and nothing more.

When a group of elderly Argentines band together to pool money for a co-operative, they're stunned after handing over their life savings when the bank they've invested into collapses. 

Learning that all of their cash was taken out by a swindler, the group decides on payback....

Heroic Losers is a slickly pulled together, crowd-pleasing affair, that does exactly what it says on the tin, and little more in between.
Heroic Losers: NZIFF Review

That's not to deny it its many pleasures though - from taking notes off of Hollywood heist films, Sebastian Borensztein clearly knows what he's doing, pulling the pieces together and ending it with a crescendo of comeuppance and good vibes.

Led by Ricardo Darin, La Odisea de los Giles packs in much energy and gusto in its 2 hour run time.

Its set up and payoffs are well paced, and its tale of ordinary people against the banking criminals will hit a timely note for many.

This is escapism in its purest form, and while it's essentially a lads-only affair (albeit elderly ones), the vibe is purely flighty and fun. Popcorn festival fun doesn't come more readily than this, and that's no bad thing.

Because when the final showdown comes, you'll realise just how much you're in the losers' corner and how sweet this genial level of payback feels.

Last and First Men: NZIFF Review

Last and First Men: NZIFF Review

Composer Jóhann‌ ‌Jóhannsson is best known for his music from films like Sicario and Arrival.

And despite having died relatively young, Jóhann‌ ‌Jóhannsson also left a movie, mixing imagery and his evocative score to relatively strong effect.

Robbed of a big screen presence, Last and First Men's multimedia presentation feels more slight than it should. A voiceover from Tilda Swinton that starts with pomposity but gradually finds a place of its own despite claiming to be from "2000 million years in the future."

Adapted from the 1930s book of the same name, Last And First Men is a collection of Balkan landscapes shot in black and white, and slow swirling camera movements.
Last and First Men: NZIFF Review

Dissonant, dizzying and discordant, this dystopian piece of work is more successful without the voiceover, as the series of images and sounds progress building to a hypnotic crescendo. There's something mesmerising in what Jóhann‌ ‌Jóhannsson has committed to screen, and the electronic screeching and maudlin feel of the soundtrack fits perfectly with the apparently disconnected architectural structures.

Then, somehow, against the odds, in the final 15 minutes of the film, everything comes together - the voiceover finally clicks into place and it feels like the jigsaw puzzle pieces have all dropped to reveal a wider picture - it's a deeply commendable result, given the initial struggle to have it all gel.

Last and First Men is Jóhann‌ ‌Jóhannsson's acutely aural experience; it's the kind of film headphones and a large screen were made for - and even though there's no sense of urgency in the final destination, much like parts of 2001: A Space Odyssey's mix of future visuals and audio, the journey of Last and First Men is a deeply engaging and strangely spiritual one.

Corpus Christi: NZIFF Review

Corpus Christi: NZIFF Review

Polish drama Corpus Christi was nominated for an Oscar - and it's easy to see why.

The story of ex-con Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) who's just out of juvie and who decides on a whim to masquerade as a priest is one rife for comedy and misunderstanding. But what director Jan Komasa delivers is a film of outstanding dramatic value, and of morally questionable virtues.

Integrating into a nearby community after his panicked attempts to bail out fail, Daniel finds something of a rebirth as the priest, tending to a flock damaged and torn by a recent tragedy. 

After initially ripping off the sermons he's been part of in juvie, the community responds to Daniel's apparent freshness of approach and his unconventional ways of administering faith. But as Daniel spends more time there, he finds his own sense of morality intruding into the job, and politics begin to clash with personal faith. Just around the corner though, is the sense of the inevitable, building Corpus Christi into a film that bustles with tragedy and dread.
Corpus Christi: NZIFF Review

Thanks to an intense performance from the steely-eyed Bielenia, Corpus Christi finds the magnetism it needs from its lead. 

With piercing blue eyes and a dogged determinism, Bielenia never once shows any sign of fading from the screen, keeping every single sequence alive with electricity and uncertainty.

The script helps greatly, building from the initial comedy of the confessional to the raw treatment of tragedy within the community and the divisions that arise from it. While Daniel appears to come at this side of things with his own sense of judgement and humanity, the script plays fast and loose with questions over whether Daniel is undergoing a rebirth of sorts, and whether in fact, faith is infecting his life for the better.

Muted colours, unusual scenes and a never-less-than-compelling performance from its lead grant Corpus Christi a great deal more than its conventional "con hiding in plain sight" trope.

It may be about forgiveness at its core, but Corpus Christi is unforgiving to the end - its final moments are desperately bleak and yet, offer a sense of Daniel's rebirth at a key moment in time. Maybe it's not the rebirth the audience wants, but this drama is of the top tier and well worth seeking out.

The Truth: NZIFF Review

The Truth: NZIFF Review

Resting largely on a haughty performance from Catherine Deneuve, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Paris-set follow-up to Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters is a meandering film that's about the conflict between mother and daughter.

A relaxed Juliette Binoche stars as Lumir, who returns to Paris with her actor husband (Ethan Hawke) and daughter in tow. Summoned home for the launch of the memoirs of her mother Fabienne (Deneuve), Lumir's incensed to discover her mother's made up portions of her memoir, sugarcoating it for her own image.

But while Lumir rages, Fabienne is filming a science fiction film about a mother reconnecting with her daughter after years of absences - and as Lumir sticks around, it becomes clearer that her ageing mother is in a reflective mood.
The Truth: NZIFF Review

A brittle Deneuve simmers in her dismissiveness throughout Kore-eda's The Truth, a film that's as much about atmosphere as it is familial issues.

Genial to the n-th degree, The Truth wafts along on the breeze as much as the leaves do in the Paris courtyards that Kore-eda's film opens with.

It may lack the punch of a Shoplifters, but there's a pensive atmosphere throughout the Truth, and while it may feel inconsequential in the wash, the careful and precise examination of tensions throughout the years yields some impressive results.

Unhinged: Film Review

Unhinged: Film Review

Cast: Russell Crowe, Caren Pistorius, Jimmi Simpson, Gabriel Bateman
Director: Derrick Borte

Unhinged is peak 2020, a grubby would-be B movie of a sustained campaign of terror against a woman.

A heavy set Russell Crowe is The Man, a man so far over the edge he's committed double murder and arson before the five minute mark of the film's even hit. Pistorius is Rachel, a woman on the edge, after waking up late, a messy divorce and a school run all collide.

When Rachel repeatedly beeps her horn at The Man at a junction, her day gets immeasurably worse when he takes affront, and starts pursuing her and her loved ones in a vendetta of road-rage induced revenge.
Unhinged: Film Review

Unhinged really is the kind of low rent film that would have made it straight to DVD back in the 80s.

Shorn of any real background other than cursory exposition from the cops, Crowe needs do nothing more than look menacing and threatening throughout. And to be fair, when he fixes the screen with a dead-eyed stare, the threat levels reach a crescendo.

But Unhinged requires nothing more of any of its actors.

Certainly the script, loaded as it is with coincidence and nothing more, treats all those involved at the dumbest level possible, with Rachel's character behaving improbably and The Man's escalating rage attracting no attention anywhere else other than inside Rachel's world.

Perhaps that's the most frightening thing about Unhinged - that it gives oxygen to such brutal treatment of a woman and the women in its film. Beaten, stabbed, terrorised - the majority of the victims are female, and the camera appears to relish the horrors visited down on them.

Coupled with clumsy dialogue, and the buzzwording of things like "Fortnite scenario" that are thrown in purely to appeal to the kidz, Unhinged makes no case for subtlety or smarts. Repeated shots of objects show they will become important in just a few frames' time and leave no room for doubt within the script.

But Unhinged's worst crime is how it uses its victim. Even in the final frames, she's robbed of any power or sense of victory in the story, and it's shocking to say the least. The loss of agency and the fact she will forever be a victim is a morally reprehensible message, no matter how dumb the rest of the film is.

Ultimately, Unhinged is a film that deserves to be forgotten - the predictable formulaic action lacks any real redeeming points, and its long term message is enough to leave you needing a shower after you've experienced it.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?: Film Review

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?: Film Review

Cast: Cate Blanchett, Kristen Wiig, Judy Greer, Billy Crudup, Emma Nelson
Director: Richard Linklater

With a haughty Cate Blanchett and a meandering script, Where'd You Go, Bernadette? feels like an opportunity weirdly squandered.

Blanchett is former superstar architect Bernadette Fox, who disappeared after having potential to turn the designing world upside down. Settled in with her husband Elgin, (Crudup, amiable and occasionally over-looked) and their daughter Bee (Nelson in a standout performance for a newcomer), Bernadette is overwhelmed when her daughter requests a trip to Antarctica as a reward.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette?: Film Review

Already brittle and disinterested in any connection with neighbours or friends, Bernadette is disaffected by the "banality of life". With a work-obsessed husband and a fussing daughter, things reach a crescendo and she disappears when the FBI shows up after she inadvertently floods a neighbour's house with mud....

Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a film that would be nothing without Blanchett's penchant for haughtiness. She's the best thing in the somewhat muddled narrative that veers through indifference to everyone's condition to a screwball farce that clearly aims to bring down some of the more WASPish neighbours and concerns.

There are moments of humour as Blanchett's growing weariness with everyone becomes acerbic and fraught, but Linklater's meandering approach to the story means the audience becomes as disaffected as Bernadette herself.

Equally, a series of cameos from a YouTube video should have been left on the cutting room floor, or beefed up to be more amusing and ludicrous as Bernadette rediscovers her passion.

Unable to decide upon a tone, and stuck with an indifference in the plot, Where'd Do You Go, Bernadette? really only thrives on Blanchett and her alone - other characters have little to no resolution in their arcs as the plot goes toward lunacy and relatively unearned heartwarming sentiment.

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

True History of the Kelly Gang: NZIFF Review

True History of the Kelly Gang: NZIFF Review

"Nothing you're about to see is true."

The opening lines of Justin Kurzel's True History of the Kelly Gang sets the stall out early on, with a disclaimer of what transpires for one of Australia's most prolific criminals.

There's a punkish vibe throughout True History of the Kelly Gang, but at times, its disparate approach to the Ned Kelly story feels less rounded than it should.

1917's George MacKay makes a ferocious Ned Kelly count when he should, but he also delivers a softer approach when it's necessary. Kurzel, who delivered a fantastic Snowtown and subsequent on-the-streets Q&A after a fire alarm necessitated an evacuation, has an eye for the details here, but a rambunctious almost ramshackle script nearly foils him,
True History of the Kelly Gang: NZIFF Review

There are some wonderful visuals helmed by Kurzel, including the final shoot out where Ned and his gang find themselves surrounded by apparent torch-bearing law-abiding citizens wanting to bring him down. One moment in the showdown alone is worth the price of admission.

But to get there is somewhat of a slog.

Characters have no end to their arcs, rendering some of their actions inconsequential and feeling like non-sequiturs in their own story. Granted, the film is of the Kelly gang, but given how much time is spent setting up proceedings and weighting some heft to incidental supports, it feels bereft to leave them wanting. It feels particularly cruel to Thomasin MacKenzie and Nicholas Hoult's characters who are pivotal early on, but tossed aside in the final furlong.

In among it all is MacKay, who delivers a softer Kelly than perhaps you'd expect, but never shies away from channeling moments of pure ferocity. From the indignant scenes of bare-knuckle fighting to a Reservoir Dogs moment, MacKay never holds back from summoning up the anger that Kelly clearly felt.

There is beauty in the wide shots that Kurzel's helmed here showing the rough countryside and the growing divide within the Kelly family, but True History of the Kelly Gang lacks the cohesive feel it needs to feel truly great.

Exile: NZIFF Review

Exile: NZIFF Review

Excruciating, excoriating and excellent, Exile is one of the NZIFF's best.

This German slow cooker film showcases more of a similar vibe as previous fest entrant Toni Erdmann, but with a slightly more uncomfortable feel, and an edge of nastiness.

That mix is a potent concoction though, giving Exil an unshakeable edge in the final wash.

Visar Morina's masterclass in discomfort is the tale of Albanian Xhafer, a chemical engineer from Kosovo, who's moved to Germany for work. Heading home one day to his wife (Erdmann's Sandra Huller) and family, Xhafer discovers a rat tied to his gate.
Exile: NZIFF Review

Whirling round his cul-de-sac in suspicion, Xhafer's at a loss as to who has done this and why. Things only get worse for Xhafer - at work, he appears to have been missed off emails, not told of meeting room changes and can't get the information he needs from a colleague, despite repeated promises it will come.

This "series of oversights" sets off a chain leading to a meltdown within Xhafer as suspicions abound, tensions arise and the pressure cooker begins to boil up.

Where Exile excels is in the slow burn.

As the discrimination and apparent bullying grows, Morina's screenplay dallies with who's right and who's wrong. Revealing gradual flaws within Xhafer is a masterstroke, giving the viewer an uncertainty that he's the victim here - the shades of grey flood the screen and make the experience all the more queasy for it.

There's much to unpack here - from ethnic tensions, racial exclusions and persecutions to frail male ego; Morina throws a lot into the script, bathing many of the more subtle elements in uncertainty and insecurity. A sense of foreboding is greatly exacerbated by Morina's desire to shoot his lead from behind. With a constantly sweaty head and a POV from the protagonist, the tensions rise and the sense of dread never really lets up.

But Xhafer's predicament is also about the reaction of others to his behaviour - and it's here Huller comes into her own. A force of initial restraint and bubbling indignation and resentment delivers more than a verbal blast of character exposition could - and Huller's performance grounds the film in a dose of reality.

Don't expect answers at the end of Exile - perhaps that'll be a source of frustration to many, but it adds to the sense of what's transpired. The deeply flawed protagonist with his life in tatters makes for a queasy bedfellow and delivers one of the festival's most complex and unlikeable characters. Morina deserves plaudits for how allegiances switch as the film plays out.

The orchestrated campaign may target Xhafer on screen, but watching this sustained nightmare unfold, audience members could be forgiven for feeling they've been targeted too, thanks to this immensely uncomfortable and compelling German drama - simply put, it's unmissable.

Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie's Dead Aunt Too): NZIFF Review

Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie's Dead Aunt Too): NZIFF Review

Perfectly charming and sweetly told, Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie's Dead Aunt Too) is a high school romance set within the walls of LGBTQI world.

Ellie (Sophie Hawkshaw) is an awkward teen finding her way through high school and trying to find the words to tell her crush Abbie (Zoe Terakes) how she feels about her. When she tells her mother that she's gay, her mother goes into a tailspin, but Ellie's world is changed when the revelation brings back her dead aunt into her life.

Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie's Dead Aunt Too) is a film that's as breezy as they come.

But that's not to damn it with feint praise.
Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie's Dead Aunt Too): NZIFF Review

Bursting with life and with a pace that's rewarding to the narrative, Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie's Dead Aunt Too) benefits from its leads, as well as Julia Billington as dead aunt Tara. While the film does veer dangerously close to sentimentality in parts, it's to be forgiven, simply because it avoids the usual bullying tropes in these kind of coming of age films.

It's heartwarming but slight in many ways, enjoyable but largely forgettable - it's the very definition of sweet and cute, but as a festival palate cleanser, it has a heart that's hard to deny.

Dinner in America: NZIFF Review

Dinner in America: NZIFF Review

There is a moment of pure beauty among all the ugliness of Dinner in America - but it doesn't come until 10 minutes before the end.

Holed up in a basement, mismatched losers Simon (a snivelling Kyle Gallner) and Patty (Emily Skeggs) take a few moments to write a song. After Simon's delivered the chords, Patty offers lyrics to the song - and it's truly beautiful, an earworm that sings with joy and stays with you long after the film's done.

It's a shame, because most of the rest of Dinner in America is unfortunately forgettable fare.
Dinner in America: NZIFF Review

After a full on pre-credits opening sequence that delivers energy and a middle finger to the status quo, Dinner in America settles into a format that's more familiar than anything, and less original than it wants to be.

It's the story of punk rocker Simon meeting oddball Patty and their subsequent on the lam adventures.

Natural Born Killers this is not, nor is it Sid and Nancy. Somewhere in the midst of the mid-western anarchy it purports to proffer lies the beating heart of a told too many times story, slathered in trashy and low-rent vibes throughout.

Dubbed as a punk romcom, it's obviously about two losers finding each other, their place in the world etc - these are not new themes.

But thankfully, in Gallner as Simon, the film's found its anti-hero who's all fire and brimstone early on and misplaced anger. However in one scene late in the film, Simon falls to pieces, revealing a much needed emotional edge.

Skeggs is mainly awkward as Patty, all grimaces, pauses and lip-chewing. But there's a feeling of a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis of the writing, as Dinner in America progresses. 

However, the anarchy feels questionable at best, and while scenes of Simon with his peers reek of veracity thanks to the spitting dialogue angrily delivered by some lost in life, the film's overall feeling of nihilism is misplaced.

"Take it down a notch" various family members are told throughout - and in truth, maybe the filmmakers would have been wise to listen to their own bon mot. 

A touch less need for exuberance could have greatly lifted Dinner in America; its warped comedy is nowhere near as fresh as it assumes it is, and were it not for its two leads and their obvious star power, the overly smug and self-righteous Dinner in America would rightly have been dead in the water.

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets: NZIFF Review

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets: NZIFF Review

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is an exercise in freewheeling filmmaking that will, in all honesty, test the boundaries of your patience.

Give in to its rhythms, and this tale of the final night of the Roaring 20s, a Las Vegas divebar may fully be your jam. 

But in truth, the ramshackle nature of the documentary finds no truck with this reviewer, making most of what "happens" in Turner Ross and Bill Ross IV's piece an exercise in endurance, akin to 2011's Whores Glory.
Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets: NZIFF Review

As the camera captures the bar's patrons at the very start of the day after a heavy night before, leading to its closure, the doors open and close, people come and go, and booze-soaked arguments and opinions are espoused in perpetuity thanks to the close capture of the camera.

While the Ross' camera work does much to capture the triviality of life in a bar, it also does a great deal to showcase the burgeoning camaraderie and the reasons why hangouts still are so vitally important.

The banal conversations largely pepper proceedings, and as the bittersweet end approaches, there's something akin to poignancy as the clientele ponder what's next. But it's such a hard road to even get to that stage, that Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets feels like its loose approach is its own worst enemy.

There's little in the backgrounds of the patrons to make them fully stand out - with the exception of the old timer who's always there and the bartender - and it cripples proceedings greatly. It's not that background exposition is necessary in this, but some framework would have lent a greater emotional heft to proceedings, and granted the film a degree of emotion it desperately needs.

As it stands, Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets feels like the dregs of a drink - sure, what gets consumed before is delicious, but the closer you get to the bottom of the glass, the more you realise just how shallow and pointless it all is.

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Rūrangi: NZIFF Review

Rūrangi: NZIFF Review

Director Max Currie's webseries Rūrangi is a sharply-lensed story that in many ways is a very familiar one.

A breakout performance from Elz Carrad as trans-activist Caz anchors the story that in fairness hints at times in what may come in a sequel. 

Caz starts the film/ webseries happy, helping the gender community post activism, and try and take on the walls of bigotry within Auckland. However, Caz is living a lie, dating a sportsman and apparently slightly conflicted over identity.
Rūrangi: NZIFF Review

When tragedy strikes, Caz is forced home to a rural community once left behind and has to deal again with old prejudices anew - as well as trying to reconcile with a father who doesn't want to know.

Rūrangi starts with a blast of energy, and joie de vivre, that it feels obvious to know what's coming - such happiness can't last. However, Carrad carries Caz with such charisma that the central performance lifts the script from beyond its trope trappings, and its all-too-familiar reconciliation narrative.

Scenes with Arlo Green feel real, personal and hint at pasts gone but not forgotten - the characters here are fully drawn and fleshed out within minutes of appearing on screen, and draw audiences in right away. 

Born of a need to tell a story of a community not be about one, Rūrangi has lofty ambitions over its 5 part series. And it rightly deserves plaudits for its use of diversity in front and behind the camera.

Director Max Currie has an eye for the intimate, and the script from Cole Meyers has a penchant for character moments that ring with veracity. And some of the bucolic backgrounds look wondrous, taking in both the beauty and stifling nature of rural lifestyles.

However, in the wider writing, the film/ webseries feels a little light on the heft, shoving in topics that are current concerns but are narratively left wanting, hinting frustratingly at future dalliances on the screen yet to come.

An early suicide is treated heavily in the beginning, but disappears into the background, a catalyst of the return home, but also burdened with hints of what's gone unexplored threatening to bubble up later on; a Māori woman struggles to connect with the language once forgotten, and talk of phosphates within the land simmer in the background.

A final sequence feels more cliched than celebratory, riddled as it is with stereotyped prejudice and awkward exposition (though, while granted this may be the reality of rural life and acceptances, a little more subtlety would have left the end feeling less rushed and ultimately more transcendent.)

There's much to love in Rūrangi, however, one can't help but feel the second series will make a more effective companion piece, picking up some loose ends and tightening the focus more. 

When the film's centred around Caz, thanks to an Aaron Paul-like Elz Carrad, it soars; when it tries to bring in other issues, it flounders and flails.

Rūrangi is a film of a personal nature, and it's this connection that lasts - coupled with the launch of Elz Carrad as a bona fide star, it remains watchable and a welcome sign that New Zealand stories are widening their sights.

Monday, 27 July 2020

King of the Cruise: NZIFF Review

King of the Cruise: NZIFF Review

Sophie Dros' short-running documentary about a character on a cruise ship appears to many as a paean to a world we can no longer currently experience thanks to Covid-19.

But set aside the fact this captures the mundanity of life on a cruise vessel thanks to shots that take in cleaning and drone racing for the masses, and King of The Cruise is at its heart, a tragic look at a man trying desperately to achieve a connection.

That man is Scottish baron, Ronald Busch Reisinger, one of the richest men in the world.
King of the Cruise: NZIFF Review

However, as the old adage goes money can't buy you happiness, and Dros' documentary sees him cut a lonely figure on a ship filled with couples or with people looking for a good time.

The morbidly obese Reisinger is a tragic figure, a man who will consume vast quantities of food purely because he likes it - but will never seem to share a meal with anyone due to people giving him a wide berth.

Dros' film never mocks Reisinger, nor does it put him in the position of being a target for others, but with grandiose statements falling from his mouth, there gradually becomes a feeling of wanting to know how much is true. Dros never really gets to the nub of the man, nor does she follow up some of his claims - she's more interested in seeing how others react around him.

And it's a sad indictment of human life, and the growing lack of connection human beings have.

Some take selfies with Ronnie on the dance floor, but feign interest in him; others appear to turn the other way in corridors; Dros' eye for the tragedy of humanity is sharp, and weirdly never confrontational or judgemental. Detached she may be initially, but toward the end, the camera's peering eye into Reisinger's life is uncomfortably sad and bittersweet.

That leaves an unpleasant feeling at times - a bittersweet sadness for Reisinger but also an insight into our own failings. From the fripperies of the excesses of the cruise to the banality of some of the conversations, King of the Cruise proffers some poignancies at times (it's hard to not be moved by Reisinger's comments of how people have changed dealing with him over the years) as well as a great deal of empathy for a character you'd be auto-tuned to not want to sympathise with.

It's hard not to feel for Reisinger but it's even harder to feel like cruising is a soulless shallow enterprise - and that this one man is looking for life and even love in the worst possible places.

Some Kind of Heaven: NZIFF Review

Some Kind of Heaven: NZIFF Review

Director Lance Oppenheim's peek behind the curtains of The Villages in Florida in the US is a crafty little doco that finds a way of inveigling itself under your skin.

Some Kind of Heaven starts with a series of golf carts being organised in a synchronised pattern as someone barks orders from a loud hailer and from then on, Oppenheim leads you through the lives of some of the residents.

Taking in a widowed woman, a long-married couple and a non-resident who believes he's still got the right to be a player, the doco somehow proffers up the feeling that The Villages is some kind of cult, with quick cut shots showing residents involved in activities, expounding the joys of it all, but never once looking like the emotion is there.
Some Kind of Heaven: NZIFF Review

But scratch beneath the surface and Some Kind of Heaven unveils a kind of nagging sadness within its subjects. 

The long-married couple appeal to be unravelling; the widower worries she's never going to find anyone else, and the non-resident believes his way of life is best until it comes crashing down around his ears.

There are bittersweet touches here in Oppenheim's doco, but none of them are manipulated for the viewing pleasure of the audience. Each story plays out with poignancy and disturbing flair.

Part of the joy of Some Kind of Heaven is seeing it unfurl and its poignant surprises - but its look beneath the polished veneer of OAP happiness is as disturbing and as tragic as they come, without ever feeling exploitative.

If anything, Oppenheim's managed to scratch below the surface of the Stepford Wives-esque perfection, and what's laid out is slickly delivered, cut for an eye with the humanity as well as the humour and tragedy, and is really a damning indictment of this Florida utopia.

Win a double pass to see UNHINGED in the cinema

Win a double pass to see UNHINGED in the cinema

To celebrate the release of UNHINGED in cinemas July 30, thanks to Studio Canal NZ, you can win a double pass.

Win a double pass to see UNHINGED in the cinema

Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe catches a deadly case of road rage in this psychological thriller, choosing to relentlessly pursue a mother who overtook him at a corner (Caren Pistorius, Slow West). 

From the writer of Disturbia and Red Eye

UNHINGED is in cinemas July 30

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Kubrick by Kubrick: NZIFF Review

Kubrick by Kubrick: NZIFF Review

The reclusive Stanley Kubrick is laid a little more bare in Gregory Monro's doco - but the words of the man ultimately give way to the usual discussions and praise of his films.

Kubrick authority Michel Clement reveals hitherto unknown conversations with the man about his art and the reasons why he rarely engaged with media over his films.

Beginning with the BBC announcement of the death of Stanley Kubrick in 1999, Monro's doco sets out its MO early on - how do you capture the details of a man who was not anything the papers said and who rarely gave insight into his personality.

Via fascinating snippets early on, Ciment reveals how Kubrick never found it meaningful to talk about the aesthetics of film and how rare interviews made him feel under obligation to be insightful about his films.
Kubrick by Kubrick: NZIFF Review

But for fans of Kubrick, there's a haunting feeling there's nothing new here, and even Ciment's recordings gradually give way to clips from the films and others discussing Kubrick and his way of filming. From discussion over how continual takes would dull the actor until the words and performance came alive again to the interjections of the brilliant BBC film critic Barry Norman, a lot of the last portion of this film gives voices to others than Kubrick.

It's not that these insights have less to offer, more that they take away from what the doco set out initially to achieve.

Ultimately, you're maybe left with the feeling that Kubrick rarely saw the value in going deeper under the skin of his films and that may have been a wise move from him.

In Kubrick by Kubrick, despite an initial flurry of heady excitement, it ends up feeling much like other insights into the man - others put words into his work, and breathe unnecessary life in where there was already plenty. 

Steelers: The World's First Gay Rugby Club: NZIFF Review

Steelers: The World's First Gay Rugby Club: NZIFF Review

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the 2020 New Zealand International Film Festival, doco Steelers: The World's First Gay Rugby Club falls squarely into the formulaic category as it spools out its story.

Eammon Ashton-Atkinson's doco delivers the story of the inception of the London based club, the ripple effect it had on the scene and the journey of the team at the Bingham Cup, the event where the gay rugby teams come together to fight it out.

It may be earnest and crowd-pleasing at times, but coupled with an overly bombastic piano score everytime there's a hard story to be told or a flashback to be conveyed and a voiceover of a script that's ripped from cliche, Steelers: The World's First Gay Rugby Club emerges as more of a damp squib than a firing-on-all-cylinders story.
Steelers: The World's First Gay Rugby Club: NZIFF Review

It's not helped by the usual slow-mo shots from the game - there's little that feels original in here for even casual viewers of sports docos or coming of age stories.

Fortunately some of the earnestness and energy comes from the human subjects Ashton-Atkinson chooses to dwell on - Simon the never before out player, Drew the flamboyant also drag artist and Nicky the head coach who's mothered the team but is in her last season at the top job.

It's probably not wise that Ashton-Atkinson is a paid up member of the team, and perhaps he wasn't quite distant enough from his subjects to be more objective when it counts.

Jumbo: NZIFF Review

Jumbo: NZIFF Review

Easily the oddest sell in the Incredibly Strange portion of the programme, Jumbo is the tale of Portrait of A Lady on Fire's Noemie Merlant's Jeanne, who falls for a rollercoaster at the amusement park where she works.

Jeanne has a condition, objectum-sexuality, that leads her to fixate a relationship between herself and the new rollercoaster in town.

Despite her over-bearing mother trying to pair her off with her new boss, Jeanne's less interested, coming only alive when she's around the rollercoaster.
Jumbo: NZIFF Review

What could easily be exploitative and laughable, becomes surprisingly intimate and unconventionally humane in Jumbo. 

Director Zoe Whittock's preference to never mock its subjects ends up leaving you with a wistful and thoughtful meditation on what desire means to many.

Merlant is thoughtful and awkward as this weirdly sweetly told tale unfurls in its esoteric edges; much like last year's Deerskin where a man became obsessed with his jacket, Jumbo deals with an unconventional subject with much aplomb.

Initial scenes where Jeanne believes the coaster is talking to her have both Close Encounters edges and an almost ET like naivete as the pair connect - on paper, this is a difficult sell admittedly; however, on screen, the Spielberg-esque aesthetic joys bring back memories of films of kids connecting with aliens and robots and society not understanding them. It's a mesmerising and inventive watch to say the least.

Don't overlook Jumbo - it's one of the programme's hidden secrets that's well worth discovering.

The Prince's Voyage: NZIFF Review

The Prince's Voyage: NZIFF Review

It may look handsome in its animation, and have elements of a Planet Of The Apes style class clash, but The Prince's Voyage feels slight in comparison to the other animated offering of Fritzi: A Revolutionary Tale.

When an ageing monkey washes up in an unknown land, he's taken in by a boy, Tom, who's living with two scientists. Curious about where he came from and battling with the concepts of other lands, the Prince forms a bond with Tom as they head out to have adventures. But all the while, suspicious scientists draw ever close, worried over what the revelation of new lands could mean for them.
the Prince's Voyage: NZIFF Review

The Prince's Voyage has hand-painted stylings which are truly sumptuous to behold as it pushes its cross-generational message of friendship and understanding.

But the story feels slight in comparison to the visuals, leading to a feeling of adventures being episodic rather than strongly connected to what's going on.

The film's better when it heads out of the labs and into the wider city, as the creeping rot from the outside attacks the buildings in the shape of vines. But The Prince's Voyage doesn't quite know what to do with these edges and while it uses the outsider allegory to push an element of fear, it's never cohesive enough to firmly cement its message.

A "Festival of Fear" brings a more nightmarish edge to proceedings, as a street festival allows the apes to go wild at night, but the film feels too afraid to fully embrace what it wants to be and its whimsical edges collapse under closer scrutiny.

The Prince's Voyage is pleasant enough and a visual feast, but sadly, it's not memorable enough once it's ended.

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Yummy: NZIFF Review

Yummy: NZIFF Review

The latest zombie splatter fest to hit Ant Timpson's Incredibly Strange section of the festival suffers somewhat from being an at home experience.

Belgium's first zombie film centres around Alison, an amply-endowed woman who's heading to a treatment centre for a breast reduction. Tagging along is her cosmetically-obsessed mum and her wet blanket boyfriend, but none of them have a clue what they're in for, when it all goes wrong.

After a patient zero zombie's set loose in the hospital, the rag-tag gang try to make it out alive...

Director Lars Damoiseaux channels the more excessive edges of splatter gore-fest with Yummy, and the film's admirably fun for at least half of its run time.
Yummy: NZIFF Review

But the emphasis is more on the comedy and the gore, as well as the nudity. And while some of the kills show a degree of creativity, there's a streak of this film that cries out more for a communal cinematic experience, fuelled by puerile behaviour and booze-addled patrons.

The East-European aesthetics and setting make you feel like you're in line for a blast of Hostel's nastiness, but in truth, there's more ineptitude in these characters combined - only the lead in the form of Maaike Neuville's Alison takes it seriously, and delivers a committed performance throughout.

Ultimately, Yummy's trashy and lurid enough to last the 90 minutes, but robbed of the creativity and originality, most of it feels all-too familiar to be memorable.

Coded Bias: NZIFF Review

Coded Bias: NZIFF Review

If you weren't worried about AI, Coded Bias will definitely unnerve you.

This festival's warning shot across the bow is a documentary warning us about how facial recognition technology is dangerous and is misshaping society.

Slickly presented, and polished, the doco zips across the globe, taking in the trials within London, where a 14 year old is pulled from the streets on a technological whim after the system mislabels him a troublemaker. Visibly shaken by the affair, the teen's reaction is disturbing and the ramifications more frightening than anything.

But a calm approach from doco-maker Shalini Kantayya manages to deliver a measured and studious approach to the technology issues from various protest groups campaigning against it, as well as US representatives as they question whether they want to go the way of the Chinese society where CCTV and facial recognition technology is prevalent.
Coded Bias: NZIFF Review

Disappointingly not once does Kantayya go to those involved with the technology to get their point of view, or even proffer that they weren't interested in talking. And occasionally there's a feeling that the doco is repeating itself and fuelling the fear (no matter how rightly placed it is), but Coded Bias and its approach to invasive AI is likely to be the festival's rallying cry.

Mainly talking heads and footage comprise most of the clealry outlined arguments against, but a feeling there's never really a desire to get the other side leaves Coded Bias with a definite impression of disappointing documentary bias.

Perfect 10: NZIFF Review

Perfect 10: NZIFF Review

With elements echoing the grit and realism of Fish Tank, Eva Riley's smartly deft Perfect 10 centres around Frankie Box's Leigh.

A wannabe gymnast, Leigh's prone to the usual bullying by young girls and the torment of trying to fit in with her own family life thanks to an absent mum and a wayward dad. Things are further complicated when a half brother Joe she didn't know about shows up.

Despite initially not wanting anything to do with his world, Leigh gradually falls in with Joe, as she seeks to reject everything else and everybody else in her life.
Perfect 10: NZIFF Review

Perfect 10 opens with Leigh hanging upside down, her world disturbed by the chatterings of others, and the sounds of laughter troubling her. From locker room cruelty to a phone permanently clutched to her hand, Leigh is the typical teen, struggling to find her place - and Box imbues her Leigh with a spiky vulnerability and strength that's compelling to watch.

With a growing confidence - misplaced or otherwise - Leigh becomes her own person, and Riley sensitively and cleverly weaves this coming-of-age story with familiar tropes and themes while making them all seem fresh.

A good eye behind the lens delivers close ups and precision upending Leigh's world but gradually inviting us in. A strong decision to stay away from cliches amid the familiarity helps a lot of the journey of Perfect 10. 

A final moment of utter bravado emerges as Perfect 10's voyage from the chrysalis is complete - audiences should lap up this intimate tale of street life and inner strength.

Fritzi: A Revolutionary Tale: NZIFF Review

Fritzi: A Revolutionary Tale: NZIFF Review

Tackling societal change via the eyes of a children is not a new conceit.

However, the animated German film Fritzi: A Revolutionary Tale does it sweetly and successfully in just under 90 minutes.

It's the story of two young friends Fritzi and Sophie in East Germany in 1989. One day, Sophie and her family go on holiday and never return - Fritzi is heartbroken and can't believe there's no reason why she can't go and find her friend. But this is East Germany in 1989 where the Wall is prevalent, communism is on the rise and the divisions are deep.

Pertinent as it promotes the power of protest, Fritzi: A Revolutionary Tale benefits from its simplicity of story-telling.
Fritzi: A Revolutionary Tale: NZIFF Review

There's no preaching to be had here, even though there is a strong message coursing through the film's veins. Authority figures are drawn out in strong angular edges and rounded off with an element of cruelty; a visual cue that these are not to be trusted - whereas the kids and the other protagonists have more rounded, kinder faces.

Sure, there's an innocence of a child in revolutionary times here, but the story never acquiesces to patronising its characters or its audience - the power of friendship is the driving force here, swept up as it is in the time of change and an adventure at heart. 

While actual photos at the end show the divisions and the reintegration, the film's authenticity is kept throughout, rather than a heavy-handed finale that screams "This really happened."

Fritzi: A Revolutionary Tale is a strong, family-friendly tale that shines a light on a period of history and does so without ever losing sight of the people involved, fictional or otherwise.

Instinct: NZIFF Review

Instinct: NZIFF Review

Definitely one of the most uncomfortable films of the festival, Dutch psychological thriller Instinct is a queasy look at the power dynamic between men and women.

Game of Thrones' Melisandre aka Carice van Houten is Nicoline, a therapist working at a prison. Newly installed in the position, Nicoline finds herself unwisely drawn to sexual offender Idris (Aladdin's Marwen Kenzari).

Despite every instinct of her training telling her otherwise, Nicoline puts herself in positions that offer temptation at every turn - however, the question remains, is she the victim or the instigator?
Instinct: NZIFF Review

Instinct skirts around forbidden desire in an extremely uncomfortable way.

For most of the film, it feels like van Houten's character is the questionable one, with every single action leading you to scream at her and her behaviour in the rehab centre. 

But that's also where the power of this film lies - in its manipulation dance and in inviting you along for the uncomfortable ride. 

Mood lighting helps greatly, with the director's use of blues and whites blurring the lines as the complexities and uncertainties of the two flirt with each other.

There are deeper questions to be raised here, and perhaps Nicoline's character is not as fully fleshed out as she could be (a relationship with her mother seems odd to say the least) but robbing her of the character context actually works to the film's advantage and the viewer's disadvantage.

Friday, 24 July 2020

Relic: NZIFF Review

Relic: NZIFF Review

Japanese Australian director Natalie Erika James' generational horror arrives at the festival with plaudits ringing in its ears.

Praised for being female-led and for being disturbing, the film's the story of Emily Mortimer's Kay who discovers her mother is missing. Suspected dementia adds a layer of tension to the story as Kay and her daughter (Bella Heathcote) investigate - but when mum returns home, it soon transpires something else has come with her...

Slow-burning and somewhat akin to the rather marvellous The Babadook, this is a horror that leaves an impression long after it's ended.
Relic: NZIFF Review

Twisting shots inside the film's location add to the atmospherics and James' eye for the slow clever use of shots add much to Relic.

It begins with what looks like a flashing red light that transpires to be a Christmas light, and ends with something that's led to much debate - in between snapshots of moments mix with jump scares and the psychological tricks played on the mind's eye.

Murky rotting walls give the film a sense of the creeping dread, but Mortimer and Heathcote do much to keep the film's humanity alive as the talk of the demon and its reality builds.

A taut 90 minute run time helps greatly as well, without any of Relic feeling like bloat as the unease adds up to something that may trouble some more than others. Granted, the reveals are less about unleashing cheap thrills, more planting the seed of an idea into the viewer's mind and watching it unfold.

Relic is a film blessed with as much intrigue as it has smarts. It will take up residence in your mind as it delivers on its promise.

Tench: NZIFF Review

Tench: NZIFF Review

Patrice Toye's sensitively handled portrait of a young paedophile returning to society has much in common with Paul Schrader's First Reformed.

23 year old Jonathan (a fearless Tijmen Govaerts) has just returned to his home, having been released from prison and into the care of his mother. Apparently acquitted, Jonathan is trying to integrate back into life - when temptation literally moves in next door in the form of a young girl, Bes.

Faced with temptation, Jonathan finds himself at a crossroads, and dangling between what he knows is right and wrong.
Tench: NZIFF Review

Like First Reformed, Tench deals with the notion of temptation and societal ills, but also delves deep into the psychology of what the struggle is for those caught up in the worst of society's criminals and perceptions.

Stunningly empathetic, but not overtly so, Tench aims to open up a conversation around paedophilia. For this, it's confrontational in some ways, but it's also carefully constructed and all the more troubling for it.

As mentioned Govaerts delivers a tortured and fearless performance with the conflict rippling through every frame that Toye puts on the screen. Muidhond asks much of Govaerts, and it's a tough film that places you squarely in the place of the paedophile, but Toye carefully pieces together a nuanced film that is as thought-provoking as it is troubling.

Tench is nowhere near as confrontational as it could - or indeed should - be. The film is more about what could happen - scenes like when Jonathan is tasked with placing a plaster on Bes' knee ripple with uncertainties over what may transpire, and Toye gently leads the audience to a darker place and perception, rather than painting every moment on screen.

Not once does the film ever walk the guilt away, or absolve its protagonist of its pain and paint things in a perfect light.

For that, Tench makes a discomforting watch, and poses a lot of questions, rather than preaching the answers. Granted, the subject matter won't be for everyone, however, thanks to Toye's sensitive framing and Govaerts' ferocious turn, Tench makes for compelling, if uneasy, viewing.

Driveways: NZIFF Review

Driveways: NZIFF Review

Driveways is one of the New Zealand International Film Festival's unmissable films.

The achingly intimate small-scale story from director Andrew Ahn concerns a young Asian boy's friendship with his elderly neighbour, played by Brian Dennehy.

It may be one of Dennehy's last roles, but that sentiment is not the reason to adore Driveways.

It's the story of 8 year old Cody (Lucas Jaye) who's dragged to a new town with his mum Kathy (Hong Chau) after she has to clear out her dead sister's home.

Next door is former Korea war vet Del (Dennehy), a grouchy and widowed old man. Grudgingly, and out of circumstance, Del ends up being part of their lives, and Cody forms an unexpected bond with him.
Driveways: NZIFF Review

Sweet, innocent and profoundly moving even though nothing really happens, Driveways is a timeless film of connection that doesn't rely on cheap narrative tricks or reveals to detonate an emotional timebomb in its final frames.

Both Dennehy and Jaye underplay their roles massively, with the script offering them moments of visual nuances rather than verbal subtlety. It's the kind of film where a look says more than anything, and it's one whose final frame will utterly destroy you.

Driveways is a gentle easy watch, made stronger by Chau, Dennehy and Jaye, who cement the growing bond between the two families.  That's not to dismiss it - in fact, it's the opposite as this is where the film's power lies. There are simplicities to the relationships formed by children and there are also complexities in how the script slowly reveals what's under the surface.

Every frame drips with sincerity and heart, and it's this veracity that makes Driveways a powerfully understated film, one that's packed with a bittersweet final feeling.

Just 6.5: NZIFF Review

Just 6.5: NZIFF Review

As searing a drama as last year's Les Miserables was, this Iranian cop drama focuses on the war against drugs in Iran.

Masterfully put together by its director and screenplay writer, Saeed Roustayi, this is a visceral thriller
that commands every frame as it unspools. 

Opening with a chase that ends in the most unexpected way, and ending the film in a most unexpected way as well proves to be fortuitous for the viewer of Just 6.5.

Samad and his colleagues are trying to stem the tide of drug use within their country and on their beat, when they get a lead on the kingpin they believe is flooding the market - Nasser Khakzad. Initially appearing as a Keyser Soze character (everyone's spoken to him, no one has met him), an unexpected lead takes the cops to their suspect.
Just 6.5: NZIFF Review

But from there, nothing is as straightforward as it seems as a chain of events is set in motion.

Just 6.5 has a way of sideswiping you as it plays out - and certainly by the final frames, you'll be unsure where your allegiances lie.

A Separation's Peyman Maadi is a thrilling lead, all anger and determination as he fights bureaucracy as well as internal wranglings to get to the conclusion he needs. At the core of the character, Samad is facing domestic upheaval, but Roustayi never veers away from the criminal chase to soapify things with homestead woes.

It's a wise move; and while some of Just 6.5 suffers from an extended bloat, there's more than enough here to suggest a Netflix series could be fashioned from its trappings.

It helps that it has a charismatic villain in Khakzad, butting heads against the stony-faced cop - every scene drips with suspense and dangles uncertainty in the viewer's face.

However, when Just 6.5 pauses and presents the reality of what drugs are doing to its populace, the film wields its power. A bust sequence within a series of pipes and crackpipes is haunting more than thrilling - addicts emerge from the pipes like zombified rats fighting for their lives; it's viscerally gripping stuff that never really lets up.

And in the final moments, the pendulum swings viciously, leaving the audience unsettled by its conclusion.

Compelling, thrilling and magnetic, Just 6.5 is an essential viewing experience.

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Jumbo director Zoe Wittock - New Zealand International Film Festival 2020 Q&A

New Zealand International Film Festival Q&A 2020: Zoe Wittock, Jumbo

Your Name
Zoé Wittock

Title of your film

Tell us about your 2020
2020 has literally been the biggest roller coaster ride I’ve ever taken ! My film, Jumbo, started its festival run with the Sundance Film Festival in January and went on to the Berlinale which just as exciting! What a dream, I thought, as I was waiting for the film’s French release in March 2020… Which, of course, never came as Covid-19 got the best of the whole wide world.  And we’re only halfway through the year… Can you imagine?! 2020 is about uncertainty, I think. So I’m trying to just roll with the punches and make the most of them as I keep developing new projects. 

How has Covid-19 impacted you and your film?
It pretty much destroyed its theatrical release. Less than 20% of the usual moviegoers have stepped back into the theatres to watch movies as Jumbo made its new release in France on July 1 after the theatres reopened. It seems that despite the intense safety measures that have been put in place in cinemas, people still felt more comfortable watching films from their couch on one of the many new VOD platforms they subscribed to during the various confinement periods in the world. Which, to be honest, is understandable. I actually like to believe that this will become part of Jumbo’s identity as time passes, theatres (hopefully) come back to normal, and people slowly learn about the film and its history. The lucky thing for us is that we had just enough time early this year to screen at major festivals, which, we all know, is essential to an independent film’s career. I’m ecstatic that some festivals were able to keep on through this crisis, even if their screening “platforms” had to change from “real” to “virtual”. This is giving the film the exposure needed for it to exist. It is indeed   festivals that the film is, for now, really finding its audience! Which, to be honest, is already a huge win ! 
New Zealand International Film Festival Q&A 2020: Zoe Wittock, Jumbo

What's the moment you wish audiences were seeing in a theatre, and why?
“Elephant man” – I actually went to see it as it played in select theatres after Paris’ reopening of theatre (post-COVID). And wow! It was just the biggest emotional punch I’d had in years. The first time I had seen it (on a small screen unfortunately), I had been moved, but I couldn’t remember it as one of the most exceptional screening experience I had had. Originally left with only a vague memory of the film, I am now haunted by it… The solitude of the characters, their distress and most importantly their beauty… I think this is film essential to the morose times we are currently experiencing.  
“Interstellar” or “Apocalypse Now” – More obvious choices of cinematic experiences – but still worth a thousand rides! 

What have you learned about film-making, the film-making community and the film-going audience during the pandemic?
I’ve learned that even the biggest fan of theatre screens have lost (a bit of ) the habit of going to theatres. Hopefully this will change, but it most definitely forces you to think of how to make sure your next films remain a true cinematic experience that can only really exist on the big screen ! 

What's the single best moment of your film?
I think that’s up to the audience to decide. I of course have my favourite moments, but they wouldn’t be the ones you’d expect. It has more to do with the artistic freedom I felt as I was shooting them then the actual end result. ;) 

What do you plan to do next in terms of film-making?
I’m most definitely looking for character stories that can be both emotional and caustic at the same time!  Or at least one or the other. The two things I love the most when watching a film is to be emotionally moved (if I cry, even better! Haha) and/or to pushed to think outside of the box when asked to be rooting for a character. 
And then of course, if there is a fun visual component to the film, it’s always a plus ! I like to play with genres to elevate intimate character stories. 

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Tench director Patrice Toye - New Zealand International Film Festival Q&A 2020

Tench director Patrice Toye - New Zealand International Film Festival Q&A 2020

Your Name My name is Patrice Toye

Title of your film Tench Tell us about your 2020 Tench had its international première at the Rotterdam Film Festival, that was great ! But soon Covid changed all my plans of travelling around from festival to festival with my delicate film. First I was very frustrated and sad about that, but once I accepted things as they are, I saw the advantages: more time to spend with my family, time to read and time to write. There is beauty in being silent for a while…

How has Covid-19 impacted you and your film? Tench had just been released in theatres in my home country when Corona closed everything down. I hope we will have a ‘re-birth ‘ online and in some arthouse cinemas later this year. 

What's the moment you wish audiences were seeing in a theatre, and why? I wish they would see the whole film on big screen, but I’m sure it also works on a smaller screen. 

What have you learned about film-making, the film-making community and the film-going audience during the pandemic? A creative mind always finds solutions. The master shows himself in the limitation. One can still make powerful, inventive films even without any means. I teach film directing in a film school and my students had to start making ‘minimal’ films at home, with no crew, material etc… but some really fantastic short films came out as a result of those limitations. 

What's the single best moment of your film? I really can’t say. Maybe the moment when Bess and Jonathan have lunch and eat ‘schnitzel’ together. 

What do you plan to do next in terms of film-making? I’m working on a new script, but I don’t like talking about it, I’m superstitious.

Tench plays at Whanau Marama, the New Zealand International Film festival. You can get all the details here -

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Whanau Marama - the New Zealand International Film Festival 2020 Preview - five of the best

Whanau Marama - the New Zealand International Film Festival 2020 Preview - five of the best 

The hybrid film festival is just days away from launch.

This year's festival will offer a selection of screenings in cinemas and online to deal with the ongoing Covid-19 situation which continues to affect the film industry globally.

There may be a reduced programme on hand, but there are no lesser offerings in this year's event, and certainly some will need to be snapped up before they reach online capacity.

Here are five titles that you absolutely cannot afford to miss

Just 6.5
Just 6.5
Just 6.5
As searing a drama as last year's Les Miserables was, this Iranian cop drama focuses on the war against drugs in Iran.

Masterfully put together by its director and screenplay writer, Saeed Roustayi, this is a visceral thriller
that commands every frame as it unspools. 

Focussing in on the cops as they try and take down a druglord, the film's got a way of sideswiping you - and certainly by the final frames, you'll be unsure where your allegiances lie.

Some Kind of Heaven
Some Kind of Heaven

Director Lance Oppenheim's peek behind the curtains of The Villages in Florida in the US is a crafty little doco that finds a way of inveigling itself under your skin.

It starts with a series of golf carts being organised in a synchronicity and from then on, Oppenheim leads you through the lives of some of the residents.

Part of the joy of Some Kind of Heaven is seeing it unfurl and its poignant surprises - but its look beneath the polished veneer of OAP happiness is as disturbing and as tragic as they come, without ever feeling exploitative.


Aussie director Natalie Erika James' generational horror may be being lauded for being female-led, but that's not the only reason to see this smartly executed psychological terror.

When Emily Mortimer's Kay finds her mother Edna missing, she sets about dealing with the realities of what lies ahead - and soon finds herself and her daughter (Bella Heathcote) having to tackle a bigger problem than they imagined.

Slow-burning and akin to The Babadook, this horror's likely to leave an impression after it's ended. And that's a great thing.


Easily the oddest sell in the Incredibly Strange, this is the tale of Portrait of A Lady on Fire's Noemie Merlant's Jeanne who falls for a rollercoaster at the amusement park where she works.

What could easily be exploitative and laughable, becomes surprisingly intimate and unconventionally humane, preferring never to mock its subjects and leaving you with a wistful and thoughtful meditation on what desire means to many.

Don't overlook Jumbo - it's one of the programme's hidden secrets that's well worth discovering.


Easily the most affecting movie of the entire festival, Andrew Ahn's intimate picture of a young Asian boy's friendship with his elderly neighbour (Brian Dennehy) is the first unmissable film of 2020's festival.

Sweet, innocent and yet profoundly moving, the story is one of those that can be filed under "Life happens"; and yet, it's a little more than that. 

It may be one of Dennehy's last roles, but that sentiment isn't the reason to adore Driveways - it's a timeless film of connection that doesn't rely on cheap narrative tricks and reveals to hammer its point home. In fact, it's the antithesis of such films - and it's all the better for it.

Driveways also has the most bittersweet final shots of the festival too, so don't be surprised if it catches you off guard.

Whanau Marama - The New Zealand International Film Festival 2020 runs from 24 July to August 3. 
All the details can be found at

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