Friday, 12 August 2022

The Territory: NZIFF Review

The Territory: NZIFF Review

Cinematographer Alex Pritz turns his attention to the Indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau people of Brazil, in this doco that may shape some of your perceptions of life in Brazil.

With only 200 of their number alive, the Uru-eu-wau-wau people's story is one of a continual fight between the past and the future, as various incursions come into their land and the people fight back against deforestation in the Amazon.

The Territory: NZIFF Review

There's no denying that Pritz's sensibilities lies with the indigenous people, and that's perhaps to be expected, but what The Territory does is to label the fight with a degree of intelligent sensibility as it allows all sides of the arguments to be heard.

But it's the imagery in Pritz's film that make it stunning.

An opening shot of a drone being deployed to show the scale of the deforestation is jaw-dropping (one of those present describes it as ugly) as it reveals the extent of how close the work has come to their own land.

It's not that The Territory is not a worthy documentary, and it's not that the filmmakers have tried their best to cover all the sides involved, but at times it does feel like the film's a little too unbalanced, wearing its sympathies and its urgencies on its sleeve.

But with Pritz at the helm, and the fact time is running out generally, perhaps that's no bad thing here. The film's ace is letting its indigenous subjects tell its story, and its journey is one that doesn't feel like it has yet ended.

Flux Gourmet: NZIFF Review

Flux Gourmet: NZIFF Review

The stylised and highly fetishised filmmaking of Peter Strickland returns in a satire that lacks bite, aims for base levels and is slighter than any of his previous works.

It follows a group of sonic caterers, (a band which uses food and sound to create aural experiences), who have been chosen for a residence at an arty-farty mansion, run by Gwendoline Christie's flowery language spouting head. The trio uses cookery and Radiophonic Workshop stylings to create experiences and their time during the residence is being catalogued by a flatulent writer, whose growing discomfort becomes the main storyline.

Flux Gourmet: NZIFF Review

But with a rival group threatening to derail the caterers' career and the band itself threatening to implode thanks to tensions and insecurities, there's plenty of pressure to deal with - and not just horrific gas.

Strickland's pretensions are on full display, with aural self-indulgence being the main element employed here. There's no disguising the level from the get-go with this film, a movie that, while threatening to send up the arts world, never really feels like it's got a target in its sights and has zeroed in with extreme precision.

Collectively, the ensemble here are fine; perhaps Christie stands out as she dives full-tilt into the lunacy the script demands, and Strickland's aesthetics have never been more obvious, but this remains a film that's for acquired tastes. It's definitely arty-farty, but with some of its low hanging fruit, it's never anything more than it could be - slide into its rhythms and you'll be satiated. 

But it truth Flux Gourmet is a movie that makes a meal of its intentions - and is sadly all the worse for it.

Thursday, 11 August 2022

Marcel The Shell with Shoes On: NZIFF Review

Marcel The Shell with Shoes On: NZIFF Review

A delightfully sweet stop-animation tale about a 1 inch high shell and his relationship with his nan forms the backbone of the all-ages treat Marcel The Shell with Shoes On.

Based on a series of short films by director Dean Fleischer-Camp and comedian Jenny Slate, Marcel The Shell with Shoes On focuses on the trauma Marcel feels after having had his community of fellow shells ripped away.

Marcel The Shell with Shoes On: NZIFF Review

After Dean crafts a doco about Marcel and posts it online, Marcel becomes an online sensation, but the fame causes him issues worrying about his home and his nan's future - and heightens his hopes that his fellow molluscs can be found.

There's a sweetness in Marcel The Shell with Shoes On that's hard to deny - a tenderness and innocence that prove light is important in the world.

With Marcel's various reflections on life and the animators' clever touches (Marcel walks across walks thanks to the use of honey, and navigates the home with an ingenious use of a tennis ball), Marcel The Shell with Shoes On is a film that has cleverness within, but never shouts about it.

There's a kind of lo-fi charm to the proceedings, which is contagious. But there are also moments that revel in the poignancy and bittersweet sadness Marcel feels. A scene where he lets loose a paper lantern from the roof as a tribute to his missing family is tear-jerking. Moments later, Marcel's decrying the fact every time he does that, a dog barks and is a lunatic - it's moments like this that run the gamut of emotions both cleverly and endearingly throughout.

At its heart, Marcel The Shell with Shoes On is a simple tale, simply told. However, that's not to diminish its effect or intentions - its simplicity is its strength, and its kindness is its own reward.

Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Triangle of Sadness: NZIFF Review

Triangle of Sadness: NZIFF Review

Director Ruben Östlund knows how to orchestrate the awkward.

His Force Majeure took a moment of rash behaviour and transferred it into a whole world of existential dread. But at its heart, that behaviour was grounded in a human truth many of us are unwilling to acknowledge in the open.

Triangle of Sadness: NZIFF Review

Östlund's back at it again with Triangle of Sadness, the second of two foreign films out this year which looks at an unhealthy relationship (the first being Norway's Sick of Myself) and lays bare the minutiae of human dynamics and discomfort.

This time around, Östlund focuses on Carl and Yaya, two influencers whose stars are waxing and waning at different times, but whose incessant need for oxygen keeps them in each other's orbit.

Carl (Harris Dickison) is enraged that Yaya (Charlbi Dean) won't pay for their dinner in an expensive restaurant, despite saying she would fork out for the food. Obsessing on this point on principle, Carl orchestrates a row between the two that would necessitate a fallout due to the imbalance in the relationship - but the pair end up reconciling and soon find themselves on a yacht populated by the super rich, thanks to Yaya's online profile.

However, things go somewhat awry for the duo when a perfect storm of greed, and a typhoon hits the ship.

Triangle of Sadness is utterly hilarious in parts - thanks largely to a sequence involving a captain's dinner, a storm, and a grotesque mash up of Stand by Me's most famous sequence and seafood.

But the 150 minute film stumbles and loses its way in its final third part, (the film's divided into three sections) proving to be as washed up in its dynamics and narrative as its cast members' characters are. 

It's possible that in truth, no one really feels sorry for the super rich, and Östlund's targeting of them feels like shooting fish in a barrel, despite his penchant for laying bare the class elements that come to the fore. There are some savage moments as Östlund delves into the dynamics, but it's tricky to care for the grotesque when they're so readily available to be mocked and so horrible in their behaviours anyway.

Centre to proceedings is the aforementioned captain's dinner sequence which is disgustingly compelling comedic viewing that really ramps up the grossness jettisoning the social satire. Perhaps this is the film's biggest flaw - it doesn't quite zero in on one target, preferring to slather all of them with various levels of blame and horror.

There's wickedness on show in Triangle of Sadness, but in truth, that falls by the weyside as Östlund meanders toward the end. It's still superior, but its lack of focus toward the end means you're left feeling this triangle has little point.

Tuesday, 9 August 2022

Nope: Movie Review

Nope: Movie Review

Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun

Director: Jordan Peele

Nope: Movie Review

There's no denying Jordan Peele knows how to deliver horror and suspense.

Both Get Out and Us were masterclasses in the unsettling, meshing the horror genre with something more tactile in its social commentary.

So it's perhaps disappointing to reveal Nope feels less sharp than Peele's earlier works, less focussed on a specific message and more of a general rejoinder to various societal ills and concerns.

But that's not say it lacks the spectacle and tension to make its 130 minute run time worthy.

Kaluuya is rancher OJ, one half of a brother and sister Hollywood horse wrangling outfit, both of whom are descended from the rider depicted on Eadweard Muybridge's first moving picture. OJ is more reserved, while his sister Emerald is the more spunky and outspoken of the two - and their opposing characteristics cause clashes on the future of their struggling company.

However, when they seemingly discover something in the skies above their backyard, they rush to try and capture footage to sell to make their fortune (their so-called Oprah moment). 

Nope works best as a mystery puzzle, as it melds together the pieces of a sci-fi movie and a horror. And while its big screen intentions of spectacle are obvious and excellently presented, it almost feels like Nope is a spin-off episode of Peele's take on The Twilight Zone.

Nope: Movie Review

That's not to say it doesn't straddle the mix of discomfort, fear, horror, tension and humour with the usual aplomb - more that outside of its spectacle, there feels to be little else within.

Kaluuya and Palmer are excellent throughout - Kaluuya has his usual intensity mixed with a level of melancholy that's almost catatonic at times. But Palmer delivers a confident performance that bristles with energy in their yin and yang dynamic, and she easily burns up the screen. And much needs to be lauded about the soundscape created within as well.

But it's Peele's writing here that falters somewhat as it muddies a mixture of commentary on how Black society has been wiped from cinematic history, a take on slavery with cowed heads and subservience, how creatures are to be feared and respected, living life in a Covid world, our relationship to spectacle and little else. 

The lack of a subtext this time may disappoint some fans of Peele's oeuvre, and in fairness, what's on screen is still one heck of a rollercoaster ride, but shorn of the searing societal barbs, it feels less of an essential watch and more of a cleverly constructed  mystery thriller puzzle that doesn't bear up under continued examination.

It's probably best to watch Nope with little knowledge of what's to happen beforehand. 

Like all mysteries this doesn't appear to hold up under scrutiny, but when Peele finds his groove as he does in some sections, it's utterly thrilling edge-of-your-seat stuff. But don't be surprised if rather than leaving with a resounding Nope, many may head out of the film with a more despondent Meh than anything else. However, for those who submit to its spectacle, it's thrilling viewing.

Monday, 8 August 2022

Emily The Criminal: NZIFF Review

Emily The Criminal: NZIFF Review

Drowning in debt from art school and burdened by her past, Aubrey Plaza's Emily is fighting against a growing tide. But in this low-stakes highly connective thriller, she's mad as hell and she's not gonna take it any more.

Unable to get through job interviews without her criminal record being brought to the fore, and struggling to make ends meet in her catering contracting job, Emily's thrown a lifeline when she takes a shift for a co-worker, and he gives her a phone number to text for quick easy cash.

After yet another work disappointment, Emily gives in to temptation and signs up for a "dummy shopper" gig where stooges are given fake credit cards and make purchases for bigger buyers.

Emily The Criminal: NZIFF Review

But Emily discovers she has a talent for the role, a burgeoning friendship with the boss Yousef (himself a former grifter) and a chance to escape from the hole she's in - if she's able to do something illegal.

Emily The Criminal is a confident, assured debut from director John Patton Ford; it's a film that has inherent tension etched within, but which never overplays it for a series of simple adrenaline-fuelled moments.

That's not to say these are not within, but at its heart, Emily The Criminal is a compelling character piece anchored by the enigmatically dramatic Aubrey Plaza. Plaza makes Emily's descent into the criminal underworld feel plausible, tangible and tempting enough given her circumstance.

Ford isn't interested in delivering a didactic takedown on the state of zero contract jobs, and of a crumbling economy - much like 2019's Sorry We Missed You, he simply builds the situation around his player and watches as the stone gathers motion.

Both Plaza and Theo Rossi as Yousef make for a grounded pair, a couple of individuals who are in pursuit of their own dreams, but whose vision collides to stunning effect. With an easy chemistry and a great deal of charisma, Emily The Criminal inadvertently drags you all into its slipstream.

It's a small film, wide in scope, but one which thrills in the most human of ways.

Dual: NZIFF Review

Dual: NZIFF Review

Riley Stearns (The Art of Self-Defense) returns with a Black Mirror-esque movie that proves to be as tragic as it is poignant.

Doctor Who and Guardians of the Galaxy's Karen Gillan is Sarah, a remote and emotionally flat woman who discovers she's dying with a disease that's 100% going to kill her. Even though the doctors tell her there's a 2% margin of error, she's told to make her final plans for life.

Dual: NZIFF Review

Discovering a cloning service that will give her family and friends a version of her to live on after her death, she opts for the process. As the clone adopts her way of life, Sarah's stunned to find out that 10 months later, despite the initial prognosis, she's gone into full remission.

The only way to get her life back now is a fight to death with her clone...

There's a stilted unnatural bent to the dialogue and Gillan's performance throughout Dual, but the rhythms of this sci-fi tinged story are extremely satisfying, despite its lo-fi nature. It may be about high concepts, but this movie works on its basic levels by tapping into human insecurities, dystopian twists and a feeling that something's not quite right all the way through.

There's an intrigue coursing through Dual's veins, and while there's also some humour to be found in the offbeat moments, it's all rooted in a bittersweet feel that's based on veracity. Dual taps into the loneliness of life, the staccato speeches belying the emotional truths which are being passed, and an inherently subtle take on the human condition.

In among it all is Gillan, whose dual role here requires as much subtlety as it does hands-off. Her interactions with both Aaron Paul's trainer and Beulah Koale's partner work because of the edge Gillan brings to the party. You end up wanting her to win, but you know deep down, there's always a better version of you that's going to win over.

Dual is a thrill; a cold concept film that has deliciously deadpan edges, but also a uniquely human moral edge.

Sunday, 7 August 2022

Gloriavale: NZIFF 2022 Review

Gloriavale: NZIFF 2022 Review

In some ways, Gloriavale the documentary feels like it's been released at the wrong time.

That is to say, its story is incomplete with its resolution easily hinting much more is still tantalisingly to come.

But while Fergus Grady and Noel Smyth's documentary goes inside the closed doors of the New Zealand's Gloriavale Christian Community, it's still infinitely shocking how far those in charge are allowed to go in terms of coercion, oppression and abuse.

Gloriavale: NZIFF 2022 Review

Opening with a shot of mist hanging over a cow as it grazes, there's a distinct feeling of murkiness which covers a lot of the documentray that proves difficult to shake. The documentary is a compelling, but relatively down the line takedown of Gloriavale and its way of life.

As it follows John Ready, an escapee of Gloriavale, the film shows the heartbreak that comes from involvement within the community. John himself is painted as a fairly empathetic character, one whose wife and children have been forced to stay after he leaves, sparking a court case of human rights abuse rife within the community.

It's a classic legal tale of David vs Goliath, as the story begins to spin itself but Gloriavale's team is less interested in pursuing that for sensationalism and more interested in making something that feels sickeningly taut and disgraceful in the 21st century.

Questions of modern day slavery rear their heads and it's to Grady and Smyth's credit that the victims are allowed to tell their story, and archive footage from within the compound helps seal the deal. Restraint is the key here, and while there are moments that could have been overplayed (a meeting with a source at night, secret recordings unleashed), holding back pays dividends for the documentary.

It won't surprise anyone that nobody from Gloriavale sees fit to comment, but again, they're damning themselves with their own silence.

There are a couple of moments which falter - a time jump robs the movie of some of its agency, and a lack of distinct timelines on key occasions of the narrative occasionally muddies proceedings.

"Will you go to war with me, brother?" is one line intoned here. It won't surprise you that you're likely to feel as galvanised with this clarion call to arms piece. It gives you all the background you'd need to stoke a rage, but wisely never prods hard enough to fully provoke.

Saturday, 6 August 2022

Nothing Lasts Forever: NZIFF Review

Nothing Lasts Forever: NZIFF Review

Don't be surprised if you leave a screening of director Jason Kohn's Nothing Lasts Forever looking at that diamond on your finger and wondering if it is the real thing.

Throwing a spotlight on the synthetic diamond business and revealing how so many of us have been sold the illusion of a diamond, Kohn's delve into the secret world of diamonds is a compelling and tautly told tale.

Nothing Lasts Forever: NZIFF Review

"We're in the period of misinformation" one talking head exclaims at one point, and based on the evidence presented, it's hard not to believe that. A story that looks at the growth of diamonds in labs by the world's biggest diamond producer DeBeers, the expose looks more at how years of slick advertising, years of consumer jealousies and years of industry greed have all collided in a perfect storm.

It's not really aimed at getting answers to the issues within - and not once does there appear to be comment from anyone in DeBeers' diamond cartel about the questions raised, but Kohn's doco certainly does enough to ensure the sparkle has gone from the rocks.

Every single talking head involved is a lively addition to proceedings, and certainly designer Aja Raden throws more than enough bombs into proceedings to have left Kohn grinning behind the camera.

Slickly produced though with a whimper of an end than a major revelation, Nothing Lasts Forever: makes for solid viewing throughout its brief run time.

But if anything, Nothing Lasts Forever takes the sheen off an industry, but one can't help but wonder whether anything will remotely change by the truth bombs contained within. Diamonds will still be forever for many, but the taint of them may now just be beginning to be seen.

Loving Highsmith: NZIFF Review

Loving Highsmith: NZIFF Review

Gwendoline Christie's laconic voiceover turns frames of director Eva Vitija's tale of The Talented Mr Ripley and Carol author into something that's as soothing as it is meditative.

But what emerges from this portrait is a film that's as much about Highsmith as it is about the complex relationship she shared with her mother. 

Loving Highsmith: NZIFF Review

It also looks very closely at Highsmith's relationship with women, including comments from those she was involved with, adding an air of forbidden authenticity that's hard to shake.

Through narration over footage, diary entrants and animation, Vitija carefully constructs a poignant tale that's as revealing as any autobiography could have been, and as enlightening as any casual fan of Highsmith's work would expect it to be.

That's to say though for outsiders not engaged with Highsmith's writings and thoughts, it's not impenetrable, more that it remains somewhat of a cold and aloof story that tracks and traces relationships for its own use.

Yet, curiously enough, its raison d'etre is less about looking at Highsmith and seems to be more a clarion call for those in the closet to seize control of their destiny. On this front, its director's desire for the film to be "a plea for the women of the Highsmith generation who fought for the right to live and love according to their true identity", Loving Highsmith feels like a pertinent documentary that never quite reaches emotional highs, but may prove to be the fire some may need to feel justified in their lives.

Friday, 5 August 2022

Prey: Movie Review

Prey: Movie Review

Cast: Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers, Dane DiLiegro, Stormee Kipp, Michelle Thrush, and Julian Black Antelope.
Director: Dan Trachtenberg

Taking the Predator franchise back to its very basics proves to be potent for Dan Trachtenberg's Prey.

Set in 1719, it's the coming-of-age tale of Naru (The Ice Road's Midthunder) a highly skilled warrior in the Comanche Nation, struggling to break through the patriarchy of her tribe. Desperate to undergo a hunting trial to prove her worth, and possibly to lead her tribe, Naru is thrust into a deadly game of hide and seek with the Predator.

Prey: Movie Review

There's scant little story in this 90 minute revisioning of the Predator franchise, a series that's become mired in average entrants and sidelining its basic premise - a hunter and its prey locked in a high stakes survival tale.

But Trachtenberg has a good fist on knowing what the audience wants in this latest, and delivers in force.

Spending a third of the film building up to the eventual meeting of Naru and the Predator, Prey's interested in examining (but not developing) the dynamics of a tribe and the aspirations of its Horizon Zero Dawn-esque Naru. 

Throw in a wounded member of the tribe that needs to be returned home and a group of victims who are more interested in mocking Naru than listening, and you have many of the classic tropes of a horror movie as the clueless are picked off one by one. 

Despite one dodgy FX sequence involving a bear and the Predatory, a lot of what emerges from Prey is tense fare that immerses the audience in the simplicity of its premise. (Despite the fact 20th Century has committed this to streaming rather than a big screen outing).

Midthunder, channeling both Orphan Black and Aubrey Plaza is a commanding presence that resonates strength and stoic nature - but the message of empowerment is possibly what's worth taking away here. She is a character who early on is dismissed by the Predator as not worthy, but who emerges easily from her own shadow.

While there are some impressive kill scenes (an early scene of a snake being stripped of its spine to name but one), the film doesn't overdo things, and Trachtenberg knows that less is more. While the aforementioned bear scene is a blunder, the MO of this film is to make the Predator both cool and scary again. One could argue that by setting a Predator film within a jungle setting is awfully familiar, it's Prey's intention to honour and continue that tradition rather than simply ripping it off.

Prey is a knock-it-out-of-the-park return to form for the franchise. It proves that there's still a market for simple concept films, well executed under a 90 minute banner and shows that with the right mix of a strong lead and a grasp of the confines of the genre, greatness can emerge.

Even though it's been confined to small screen, this is one Prey that's worthy of being hunted down.

Prey begins streaming on Disney+ from August 5.

Sick of Myself: NZIFF Review

Sick of Myself: NZIFF Review

The utterly ghastly world of narcissism is given a scythe through with this Norwegian film that's about a horrifically competitive relationship.

Kristine Kujath Thorp stars as Signe, one half of a relationship with self-absorbed boyfriend artist wannabe Thomas (Erik Saether).

When we first meet the duo, Thomas is plotting to steal a $2300 bottle of red wine from a restaurant. As he makes off with the crime, Signe stands on the street dulled by the fact the waiter that's just served them has ignored her.

Signe gets her chance to take some of the spotlight back for herself when she helps a victim of a dog attack at her cafe. Enlivened by the limelight and desperate for more, Signe decides to consume vast quantities of a banned drug that has dangerous side effects...

Sick of Myself: NZIFF Review

Sick of Myself is scabrous, dark, funny and disturbing.

While it feels a little at times like the joke is wearing thin, the levels director Kristoffer Borgli is prepared to go to are shocking in extremis.

Thorp and Saether make for a grotesque couple with both proving game enough for what's required, but equally enough to let each other's acting shine. 

The tart comedy is as black as it comes, with flashbacks showing the lengths Signe will go to, and an examination of how victim culture has gone too far. It's bleak viewing in parts, and a lack of a real dive into Signe's psyche is both shallow writing but ultimately compelling viewing.

There are as many laugh-out-loud moments as there are shocking ones in Sick of Myself. For those who like their comedy dark, this is as black as the night comes, but it shines a bright light on the self-obsessed and the lengths people will go to in the Insta-TikTok famous culture we now reside in.

Thursday, 4 August 2022

Bullet Train: Movie Review

Bullet Train: Movie Review

Cast: Brad Pitt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Joey King, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada Sandra Bullock, Zazie Beetz, Michael Shannon, Bad Bunny,

Director: David Leitch

Bullet Train: Movie Review

Bullet Train is a thrill-packed ride in parts, but it takes too long to get to its destination and there's not an ounce of emotion throughout proceedings to pull you in.

Based on a 2010 bestseller by Kōtarō Isaka, it's the story of assassin Ladybug (Pitt, all surfer vibes, and chill out man attitude) who's trying to get back in the game after he believes he's down on his luck.

Told to get on a bullet train in Japan and simply retrieve a case, Ladybug doesn't think it's an easy job but his handler (Sandra Bullock, teaming up once again with her Lost City co-star) disagrees.

However, Ladybug soon discovers he's right as a series of circumstances pits him against a train-full of other assassins hellbent on ensuring it's the end of the line for him...

There's no denying that Bullet Train is a shiny, slick affair, one that's a few steps away from being an ACME cartoon hack'n'slash beat-em-up video game of a movie.

Bullet Train: Movie Review

Mixing the action with the comedy, and trying to be Guy Ritchie with Taylor-Johnson and Henry's London hitmen Lemon and Tangerine, the film's dangerously close to trying too hard early on - and for ekeing proceedings out so desperately as the movie edges closer to its final destination.

It's almost as if, in among all the impressively choreographed stunts and action, there's too many characters to deal with, and too much style that Leitch wants to get on screen. This is a film that even has a flashback sequence for a water bottle, so there are moments when it feels like it's too much.

Pitt, with his character's zen-like utterings - "Let this be a lesson about the toxicity of anger" being one example - makes an affable enough lead, but the relaxed nature of his character belies some of the danger and tension the script could have afforded proceedings. With so many others on the train, and so little time to spend on them all, characterisation goes by the wayside with quips and cartoonery feeling more like what's to be relied on.

Perhaps it's telling that Bullet Train is from the director of Deadpool 2. With its reliance on a CGI-heavy finale and action and comedy, it sacrifices the tension and potential the storyline offered. 

That's not necessarily a bad thing, as there's no denying Bullet Train is an adrenaline-fuelled ride once you're on the train. But the moment you've reached your destination and exited, it's worryingly forgettable.

The Humans: NZIFF Review

The Humans: NZIFF Review

Stephen Karam's adaptation of his one-set play is blessed with a stellar cast.

From the always watchable Richard Jenkins to Beanie Feldstein, this story of a family brought together for a Thanksgiving meal inside a rundown lower Manhattan apartment is more pertinent for what's not said than what is spoken across the table and in the build up to the meal.
The Humans: NZIFF Review

Thanksgiving meal stories are always of a similar ilk - an outpouring of tensions before an explosion and catharsis toward the end of the meal as the true evocation of Thanksgiving is invoked.

In many ways, Karam's story doesn't veer drastically away from the tropes and template of what's expected, but using a combination of some claustrophobically shot angles and some creepily timed noises, The Humans feels like it's aiming for a ghost story that never fully delivers.

Described as a take on existential dread, Karam's technically-adept film feels at once light on drama and yet confined by its stage limitations. But as the rhythms of the story begin to take hold and Jenkins' demons begin to manifest themselves as well as the tension between Feldstein and Amy Schumer's sisters, there's a veracity that proves hard to shake.

From close ups and a nervy soundtrack, there's a feeling that The Humans is heading for its pot-boiling-over-moment from its very first 10 minutes. It's fair to say the bubbling up moment isn't as dramatic as one would have been expecting, but thanks to the stellar work of its impressive ensemble, the journey to the end is just about worth clinging on for.

Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Win a Bullet Train prize pack

Win a Bullet Train prize pack

To celebrate the release of Bullet Train, in cinemas August 4, thanks to Sony Pictures New Zealand, you can win a Bullet Train prize pack.

In each pack is: 

  • Duffle Bag
  • Hoodie
  • Bucket Hat
  • Double pass to the movie
Win a Bullet Train prize pack

About Bullet Train

In Bullet Train, Brad Pitt stars as Ladybug, an unlucky assassin determined to do his job peacefully after one too many gigs gone off the rails. Fate, however, may have other plans, as Ladybug's latest mission puts him on a collision course with lethal adversaries from around the globe—all with connected, yet conflicting, objectives—on the world's fastest train. The end of the line is just the beginning in this non-stop thrill-ride through modern-day Japan from David Leitch, the director of Deadpool 2.

Starring Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Benito A Martínez Ocasio and Sandra Bullock

Bullet Train is in cinemas August 4!

To win, Just flick an email to and you're in the draw!

You Won't Be Alone: NZIFF Review

You Won't Be Alone: NZIFF Review

Don't be fooled by You Won't Be Alone's pitch of a shapeshifting witch.

Goran Stolevski's almost meditative take on what eternal life means is actually a thought-provoking piece that some are comparing to Terrence Malick's Tree of Life.

Set in Macedonia in the 19th century, it follows a witch who uses her one "witching spit" on a baby that grows up within a community and takes on various lives when it realises how it can become others. What follows is less a horror slasher of someone stalking a village, but a meditation on what life can be like for others, what aspirations there are, and where the journey can take you.

You Won't Be Alone: NZIFF Review

There's no lying that this is slow cinema in extremis, and with a near mute protagonist there are moments that it feels like an artsy-Witch infused version of Nell, but with a lyrical bent and a determination to get to its end, Stolevski's You Won't Be Alone does feel like the payoff is worth it.

In the latter third of the film, there's much to be said about toxic male behaviours, and an idea that manhood is something to be aimed for in life's progression is perhaps the wrong message to take from it all, but it's an inescapable feeling that rises from the film as it plays out.

But equally this section offers fascinating insights into society's expectations for women, gender expectations and the parenting role.

There are moments of brutality within, but there are never moments of deliberate exploitation, thanks to the alluring nature of the story and how its rhythms can wash over you.

Questions of language, civilisation and growth all come to the fore as this season of the witch plays out. You'll be surprised by how its lyrical qualities leave many seeds implanted in you long after it's done. A compelling debut for sure, and a refreshingly different and engaging take on what it takes to be a witch.

Shut Eye: NZIFF Review

Shut Eye: NZIFF Review

There's a woozy vibe to Tom Levesque's story of a disconnected student who becomes friends with an ASMR streamer - but there's not quite enough of a narrative to pull it fully through towards the end.

Thankfully, the Auckland-shot sets and the performances of the leads Mille Van Kol and Sarah May are compelling enough to get you to the finish line.

Van Kol is Sierra, a charity street worker who, to be frank, lacks the presence needed to pull in the punters in her organisation's quest to save the marine life. A lack of sleep and extreme insomnia forces Sierra to the doctor's, where she drifts off unexpectedly by focusing on the atmosphere of the room and the sound of the mint in the GP's mouth.

Shut Eye: NZIFF Review

Prescribing her a course of ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response), Sierra falls in the thrall of Sarah May's Kate, a streamer whose channel is popular enough and whose outgoing personality is the antithesis of Sierra's awkward attempts at connection.

Auckland's never really looked more different and vibrant than in Levesque's camera. Locations scarcely photographed or used have an energy and do much to convey the vibe of the film, which lulls you in with its rhythms. At its heart, it's a story of grief, and Van Kol makes great fist of the internal conflicts and the dreamlike world she exists in - the script brings you dangerously close to disaffection over the story, but thankfully her performance makes it worth clinging into.

There's a dreamlike aesthetic here and in a world increasingly rocked by a lack of connection, Shut Eye comes close to evoking a sense of sadness, disconnection and also the joy of a deep and warranted friendship.

The Forgiven: NZIFF Review

The Forgiven: NZIFF Review

It's hard to believe The Forgiven comes from the same pen of the man who gave us the biting The Guard and also Calvary.

In this latest from John Michael McDonagh, there's still a degree of bite from the story, but the screenplay lacks the precision to scythe through its targets this time, leaving the viewer feeling somewhat muted by the end.

The Forgiven: NZIFF Review

Based on a 2012 Lawrence Osborne novel, it centres around a party being thrown by Doctor Who and Game of Thrones star Matt Smith's Richard Galloway in the mountains of Morocco.

Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain star as bickering couple David and Jo Henninger, who've been invited to the party. On the way to their destination, an increasingly drunken David, resentful of both Jo and her friendship with Richard, puts them into dangerous territory after a distracted driving moment causes him to kill a boy in the road.

As the party gets in to full swing, the Henningers' world unravels as the price of their actions comes for them.

There are delicious barbs to be had early on in The Forgiven, and many of them hit home perfectly on target. But as the film goes through its 2 hour run time, there's a feeling the creative well has run dry, a takedown of the bourgeoise feeling more indifferent than anything else.

The ensemble is impressive. Fiennes goes from ghastly to recalcitrant with ease, and ends up with a degree of sympathy despite all the odds. Smith's lounge lizard approach is also welcome, and Chastain's growing disdain and character change are potent fuel to a fire that's simmering away.

But among all the stellar locations and the moral quandary cum journey into acceptance, there's a feeling that McDonagh's somehow lost some of the fire he's been known for. A final frame shock is perhaps aimed at jolting us out of our indifference, but all it really does is reiterate the fact this film could have been so much more.

Tuesday, 2 August 2022

My Old School: NZIFF Review

My Old School: NZIFF Review

Buoyed by some great energy and an unfolding tale that's firmly in the WTF territory, Jono McLeod's documentary benefits greatly from the spiralling onion of revelations from its subject.

One of those films that it's best going into with no prior knowledge, it's the story of Brandon Lee, a young student who became an international name for reasons that are too spoilery to reveal - if you don't already know.

My Old School: NZIFF Review

Some may have in mind the NZIFF hit The Imposter when viewing this, but McLeod's strengths in the film come from the deft way he uses talking heads from the school at the time (himself one of them) and a non-varying line of empathy to its subject.

While Lee said he wouldn't be interviewed on camera, the filmmakers' use of Alan Cumming to lip sync along to a few interview bites proves to be a clever twist. But in truth, it's the other participants of this who are worthy of the attention, immortalised as they are in cartoon characters similar to 1990s MTV hit show Daria.

But what emerges from My Old School is something more than a simple twists and turns story - it turns the incredulous into the tragic with aplomb, and manages to also condemn pressure from society as being a factor in what plays out. (Again, to say more is to spoil it, but there's much fertile ground for discussion afterwards here).

There may be a great deal of light-hearted playful touches deployed throughout My Old School, but if you have any humanity, you'll leave viewing it with a strong vein of sadness coursing through - at its heart, it's a tragic circumstance made marvellously entertaining by a docomaker who has the levity needed to handle all angles of this engrossing story.

Family Dinner: NZIFF Review

Family Dinner: NZIFF Review

Packing in the discomfort over a slow boil proves to be reasonably effective for this German take on a family reunion.

German director Peter Hengl provides a simmering discord between obese teen Simi (Nina Katlein) and her cookbook-writing aunt Claudia (Pia Hierzegger) as she visits ahead of an Easter weekend.

Family Dinner: NZIFF Review

Despite Simi's mum warning her that published author Claudia is a "bit esoteric", Simi is troubled by the dynamics at play, and the conflict between herself and her cousin Filipp, who's both withdrawn and sullen, yet angry at Simi's arrival.

When Simi approaches her aunt to help her lose some weight, a chain of events is set in motion...

Family Dinner is not a film that's in any rush to get to its destination.

By providing a slow-burn, Hengl manages to ratchet up the discomfort throughout the build up to the Easter weekend events, and also manages to cook up the awkwardness throughout.

While the material at times feels a little thin, it's in the smaller moments and interactions that Hengl's more interested in angling the film. From side looks to a relatively emotionless lead whose bewilderment becomes more obvious, the film's strength is in the subtleties, not the showiness.

Connoisseurs of folk-horror may harbour an inkling of where this is going, and the appearance of a bonfire pile in the middle of a field may ring some bells, but Hengl's movie isn't interested in ploughing through familiar territory, preferring instead to go its own path.

It's in the relationships that this frosty film is interested, and while it may take a while to inveigle its way under your skin, and leave you feeling the denouement lacks a little lasting power, it's cinema of unease in extremis.

Monday, 1 August 2022

Fire of Love: NZIFF Review

Fire of Love: NZIFF Review

There are a lot of cliched ways to present volcanoes on screen.

Disaster movies make great fist of their explosive power, sending out rumbling waves of destruction destined to wipe out many; and documentaries slow down exploding lava shots as they shoot high in the sky.

So you'd be certainly right to feel that a documentary about a pair of volcanologists probably couldn't really offer anything new to the genre.

But you'd be wrong - horrendously, utterly wrong.

Fire of Love: NZIFF Review

Fire of Love, directed by Sara Dosa, concerns itself with a pair of French volcanologists who met, fell in love and chased volcanos together - and it's mesmerising stuff.

Thanks largely to a swoon-worthy French OST and obligatory shots of explosions, Dosa threads together a narrative about Maurice and Katia Krafft that shows how their love grew through their work. It may be tinged with tragedy (as they died while exploring a volcano that had erupted) but there's nothing morose or mordant about Fire of Love.

With sequences of volcanos that show rocks falling from the skies while a pair of silver-suited explorers look on, the film crafts something that's utterly compelling and cinematically thrilling. It may be the duo look like some kind of extras from a bad BBC 1970s sci fi drama, but Dosa gets under their skin (and suits) by using their original footage and thoughts on volcanos.

Initially only interested in red volcanoes (the ones whose lava flows and bubbles), the film demonstrates how their interests shifted more into exploring "grey" volcanoes, the more deadly and volatile magma beasts, which would ultimately tragically consume them.

But what Dosa does is to tell a story that celebrates their life, praises their work and elevates the duo into people you desperately want to know more about. With humble footage carefully constructed and elegaically presented, Fire of Love is an unmissably original experience that manages to be spectacularly moving.

Muru: NZIFF Review

Muru: NZIFF Review

Billed as a "response", not a recreation of raids on the Tūhoe tribe through the years, director Tearepa Kahi's charged journey into the action of October 2007 is as volatile a powderkeg as ever you're going to see.

Centring on Cliff Curtis' Community support police officer Sergeant Taffy’ Tawharau, the film builds up a picture of a community under the watchful eye of its masters, and also in the sights of a government determined to take out its leader Tame Iti and his disciples in the wake of seditious comments.

Muru: NZIFF Review

Against a backdrop of anti-terrorism laws, some political climbing and career opportunities within the police's armed teams and a frustration that outside forces don't understand the internal politics and human faces of the region, Taffy finds himself caught squarely in the middle of what will turn out to be an extraordinarily bad day.

From driving around his community in a bus, transporting school kids and aunties to health appointments, as well as trying to deal with a loose cannon in the community, Taffy has it all to juggle - and Curtis delivers it all with superior aplomb.

Seizing in on the humanity of the situation, Kahi builds a house of volatility, fuelling the fire, but never over-milking it for effect. Expanding the scale of his filmmaking, Kahi moves into action movie territory in parts, with a soundtrack building to an explosive conclusion. But just as the audience believes the film will go one way, a simple holding back of the tension proves to be devastating.

It's not all perfect. 

There's clearly not room for nuance in the Government side here - and Kahi isn't really interested in ensuring a fairness from those in power. After all, the film is a response, not a measured expose of what happened - but by balancing this with the humanity of all those caught in the day and led by Curtis' Taffy, the imbalance is just about rectified.

Unfortunately, Manu Bennett is the weak link here, his character clearly seeming to think the brief is like something from an 80s revenge movie, and the lack of subtlety and almost OTT edges to the acting make him stand out like a sore thumb from the quieter more refined tones of Curtis, Simone Kessell et al.

Using children as a foil for the humour in the horror proves to be the relief that's needed, but it's in Muru's compassion that the film gains its strengths.

From a confrontational start to an emotionally devastating end, Muru has a rollercoaster of a journey to endure - and audiences will perhaps be surprised how much they're swept up in it, no matter what politics or affiliations they may hold.

NZIFF Q&A: Geoff Dixon: Portraits of Us directors Glenis Giles, Clare O'Leary

NZIFF Q&A: Geoff Dixon: Portraits of Us directors Glenis Giles, Clare O'Leary

Tell us about your 2022 Film festival film
Geoff Dixon: Portraits of Us

GG -         Geoff Dixon | Portraits of Us is a feature length documentary on the life and work of New Zealand born artist and surreal conservationist Geoff Dixon.  

The film explores the many layers of the artist’s life in his own words, from his studio in Cairns and his local environment: the peaceful sanctuary of his own garden and the awe-inspiring beauty of the rainforest and Australian and New Zealand landscapes.  Geoff has long been concerned with the fragility of the natural world, rubbing up against the human drive for collection and preservation.  

What inspired you to make this film?

GG -    Glenis is a passionate advocate of Geoff’s work, and it was proposed to her that someone wanted to  support a film about him.  She had a job at the time and suggested a couple of other people who might like to make it.  Nothing happened, and after she was made Covid redundant she decided, with the promise of private funding, it would be a great to opportunity to direct a documentary on Geoff.    She didn’t think she could tackle it alone and sold the exciting concept to Clare by introducing her to his work – deal done! 

We had worked together on several art docos through the early 2000.  We met working on Bread and Roses back in 1992/3.  But both of us gave up film and left the industry due to lack of finance! 

I’d been working for over 20 years as a production manager and producer. 

Clare: I have always worked across media and health (initially training as a nurse) and at times have had to forsake one for the other depending on funding or new professional challenges I wanted to do. One of those was establishing NZONSCREEN as the first Content Director – it was a great project by NZONAIR and glad to see it is still going strong. Others have been in health, hospice education and digital media and strategy. 

(GG)   The inspiration came with a new found freedom of being able to develop and produce a privately funded doco with no strings attached (we thought).  It also gave me the opportunity to direct, something I’d only watched others do!  We revamped our production company, gogo media AOTEAROA and began research on the project.  

The hardest thing was trying to raise production funding.  A full budget was delivered to our investment angel but he was taken aback with the true cost of film!  We received an initial payment of $15,000. 

We were turned down by CNZ but with our initial deposit we just decided to go ahead.  Penney Moir from Bowen Galleries was a terrific support and taking on the role of EP, she ploughed ahead and  went into fundraising mode. 

We managed to pay the crew over the production with strong support and discounted rates from colleagues. Clare works 3.5 days a week at Mary Potter Hospice whereas I only coped because I’m  a gold card holder!! 

How has your filmmaking changed during these Covid-19 times?

(GG) We started research and planning back in August 2020 – so what Covid did was make us re think our whole approach to the project.  We knew we couldn’t travel to Cairns but Geoff connected us to Dr Russell Milledge, his friend and experimental filmmaker, who was a professor of film at James Cook University in Cairns.  

We talked and discussed options for his end – we planned the Wellington shoot, how we thought the film would work, who/what we needed in New Zealand with the aim to follow Geoff working toward a exhibition in May 2021 at Bowen Galleries here in Wellington. 

Zoom became the big directorial link between Wellington and Cairns – we’d set up meetings, and interviews, what we wanted, what was possible……then we did the same thing with Euan Macleod’s interview in Sydney with a different crew. I called a dear friend and colleague from TVNZ days and asked her to if she could find us a crew in Sydney.

(Clare) Bringing Amanda Mulderry on board as editor really brought the film together – she’s a fantastic person to work alongside and has her own creative vision which she brings to the table.

What’s the moment you want your audience to remember most from your film?

Glenis: If I’m allowed two – one is the Sentinel exhibition showing his wonderful large paintings of birds and the other is the end interview, where Geoff says he is back working and inspired to continue.

Clare: Yes! Geoff’s dedication to ‘keep doing the work’ (the environmental and political work as well as the aesthetic creative work) and the fact that these beautiful paintings sometimes take a whole year to complete! When you think about his whole body of work – that is a huge commitment! 

The other thing is the importance of good friends and how they sustain us through the good and bad times.

Aside from your own, what’s the one film that you reckon everyone should see at the festival?

Glenis: Punch by director Welby Ings

Clare: Yes! But also A Boy Called Piano, Nina Nawalowalo directorial debut which won Best Indie  Film at the Montreal Festival this year.

What’s the last film you saw and how was it?

Clare: Whina – our history in Aotearoa – so much more to be told. Whina is a beautifully crafted slice of history of a wonderful political and staunch Māori woman leader – a little romanticised perhaps but that’s also it’s magic. For the full story, read the biography, Whina by Michael King.

Glenis : Elvis –  Baz Luhrmann

I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.  I’m a big Elvis fan and wasn’t going, but my son suggested Austin Butler was pretty good!  (I’d seen Whina much earlier)

What’s the film you wished you’d made, and why?

Glenis-  Nomandland – Written and directed by Chloé Zhao .    The film portrayed a particular lifestyle, not of someone’s first choice,  in such an effortless and natural way, making true to life drama – fantastic cast and real characters playing themselves.

Clare - Russian Ark – a most amazingly crafted feature film by Alexander Sokurov. A stunning visual feast.

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