The Stolen

thestolenThe relatively talented cast can’t rise above the many cliches which are slathered liberally on a stale loaf of archetypal characters. And while the film takes great pains to make the most of New Zealand’s cinematic landscape, which is, yet again, quite stunning, it struggles to impress in areas that matter. Even the multi-talented Stan Walker’s small part has the unsavoury whiff of tokenism and does little more than offer cultural flavour and plot convenience.

Read the full review for the NZ Herald here.

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Human Traces

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In his first feature, New Zealand writer and Director Nic Gorman has crafted an impeccably paced thriller that sits well within New Zealand’s own “cinema of unease”.

Read my full review for the NZ Herald here.

Lets talk about race.

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My latest rant at Witchdoctor.  Read it here.

Ingrid Goes West

ingridIt’s always a sobering experience when a film knowingly holds a mirror to modern society.  Director, Matt Spicer, has done just that with his first feature film, crafting a modern tale that is astute, cynical, and very self-aware—a cinematic selfie of our social media woes, so to speak.

Ingrid Goes West jumps boldly out of the starting gate with an opening montage of self-indulgent Instagramming, hash-tagging, duck-face selfies, foodie pics, emojis, the kind of stuff we all roll our eyes at despite ringing true for many of us. It then paints the titular Ingrid as an emotionally frail slave to the intoxicating lure of this social media landscape. It is a post-satire comedy where its characters’ outlandish behaviour is both abhorrent and yet completely believable.

Ingrid, played by Aubrey Plaza (Safety Not Guaranteed), is always on the outer and desperately craves the attention of those who are popular on social media. Unfortunately, her sociopathic tendencies hamper her ability to gauge social norms and it’s not long before she finds herself in trouble. After burning her bridges with her old friends she develops an unhealthy social media crush on Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). Taylor, a socialite with many Instagram followers, is popular and everything Ingrid wants to be, but Ingrid finds it increasingly difficult to maintain her “perfect” life which is perpetuated by her appetite for social media.

Ingrid Goes West is nothing short of a damning comment on the ills of pretending to be someone you’re not and presents a world where perceived popularity is measured by your number of followers. As Taylor’s husband says, “it’s exhausting”.

The film descends into some fairly dark places but its exploration into the murkier waters of social media and mental illness is unfortunately met with a noncommittal ending that doesn’t do either topic justice.  Nonetheless, Ingrid Goes West confidently struts a fine line between twee and brooding and still manages to expose the dark underbelly of social media with a few chuckles along the way. #stillworthseeing.

You can see my published reviews here.

 

Murder on the Orient Express

motoe.jpgI’d like to have seen each of its many characters fleshed out a little more—perhaps an impossible task for a two-hour film.

Read my full review for the NZ Herald here.

Detroit

detroitSet to the backdrop of the Detroit race riots, the film begins by explaining that the pointy end of the maligned racist stick is the result of historically deep-seated problems.  Certainly, Detroit and Raoul Peck’s recently released I Am Not Your Negro would make the perfect double bill.

Read my full review for the NZ Herald here.

No Ordinary Sheila

nosI went into No Ordinary Sheila ashamedly not knowing anything about the titular Sheila Natusch.  Thankfully her cousin and the film’s director, Hugh Macdonald, knows a thing or two about film-making, so within no time I was hooked into the life-story of this natural historian, illustrator and writer who has lived a life less ordinary.

This gentle doco tells the story of Sheila’s life, from her early years growing up in the deep south to the present day in Wellington. The film is littered with fascinating anecdotes; her friendship with Janet Frame, cycling the South Island top to bottom, and climbing multiple mountains.  It illustrates an admirable woman who has sucked the marrow out of life and can easily be considered a genuine slice of Kiwiana.  There is a veritable nostalgic vibe to Macdonald’s film that sits perfectly with a life that is rooted firmly in New Zealand’s great outdoors.

Interviews by Kim Hill, Susan Hamel, Dinah Priestley, Shaun Barnett, and Ken Scadden, among others, provide the structural backbone to Macdonald’s film, all who seem content to gently and prod the nonagenarian for stories. Although, I suspect she could’ve handled some tougher prodding, as it is apparent that Sheila possessed a defiant skill of stoically holding emotional responses at bay. Throughout her interview, she remains guarded when pushed on sensitive subjects such as her brother’s death, her ailing health, or being that last surviving member of her family. Her response can only be described as consummately practical … “oh, you just get on with it.” And her thoughts on going into a rest home? “Bugger that … double bugger that!”

The homegrown amateurish nature of Sheila’s artwork and research appropriately comes through in the film. Thankfully, Macdonald does not get too caught up in the artifice of film-making and lets Sheila’s story gently spill out through her interviews and some well researched archival footage.

No Ordinary Sheila is an important historical document about New Zealand and one of its more resilient treasures who, despite her recent death, is still shining brightly.

  

You can see my published reviews here.

Maudie

maudThis small but delightful film is not going to threaten Taika’s superhero behemoth for box-office takings anytime soon, but it’s good to see that there is room in the spring release schedule for something at the other end of the spectrum.

Maudie is a gently observational piece that takes a slice of Canadian rural life and lets a discordant zephyr blow through its fields. Set in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, the titular Maud, played by Sally Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky, Paddington) suffers a life-long form of arthritis. Through dogged determination, she pursues a passion for painting whilst holding down a job as a housekeeper for the gruff and bad-tempered loner, Everitt (Ethan Hawke). They are an ill-fitting couple that, as Maud quips, are like “a pair of odd socks”. Yet through their differences, they find a commonality that extends to a curiously touching relationship.

Despite the demands of what is a very physical performance, Hawkins displays a wonderful ability to convey emotion through subtle expression. Thankfully, her skills are not lost on Director Aisling Walsh, who elevates this further by letting the camera sit with her performance for long periods. Walsh’s kinetic restraint only serves to enhance this character-driven film allowing their relationship to subtly bristle with drama and the occasional smile. With such a focus on its two protagonists, it is a relief that the chemistry between Hawkins and Hawke (clearly a casting director who likes birds of prey) is one that successfully elevates the film rather than lowers it.

The film is occasionally framed with painterly qualities that mimic her artwork, but on the whole, the visual style is dialled right back and seems to eschew the need to create visual drama where it’s undue. And despite being a little too coy in parts, Maudie is a warm and inviting film that gives Maud Lewis’s true story the telling it deserves.

 

You can see my published reviews here.

Walking Out

walkingWalking Out deftly balances its pervasive tension with tender moments that insightfully express a father-son dynamic. At one point Cal pontificates “You want so badly for him to know who you are, you could cry”—it is an understated, yet achingly beautiful moment delivered with pin-sharp clarity.  Bomer and Wiggins competently carry the weight of this film’s heavy heart with nuanced performances that feel convincing and authentic.

Walking Out seems content to tell a simple story that avoids deep subtexts or weighty expositions. The Smith brothers have provided a good example of how directorial restraint can be more provocative than the blustering noise of its contemporaries. In its quietness, Walking Out proves to be an elegantly tense story worth wearing out the edge of your seat for. Its soundtrack evokes a haunting cinema of unease that ratchets tension with a discordant score working in chorus with the eerie calls of big game wildlife.  Cinematographer Todd McMullen’s stunning camera work further enhances the films visual style and sketches a mountainous Montana in all its remote beauty.

Read my full review for the NZ Herald here.

Blade Runner 2049

br2049It can’t be an easy task following up one of the most iconic films of all time.  Despite many millennials who decry the slow pace of Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner, there is no denying its place in cinema’s pantheon.  It is a film that almost single-handedly brought about the modern sci-fi noir genre with a stunning rendition of Phillip K Dick’s dystopian novel. Its sequel, Blade Runner 2049, does not break from Dick’s existential treatise on what it means to be human and explores his pessimistic world further with a new set of characters.

As the title suggests, the film is set in 2049, thirty years on from its predecessor and focusses on Ryan Gosling’s character, a replicant (biologically artificial human) known only as “K”.  Working for the LAPD to hunt down illegal replicants, he stumbles upon a case that contains evidence that is oddly connected to his own artificial past.  It prompts K to investigate his own background; Are his artificial memories actually real? Is he in-fact human? The search for answers leads him down dark alleys filled with shady characters, wrong turns and misinformation—arriving eventually at the original Blade Runner’s protagonist, Deckard, played by Harrison Ford who turns in a surprisingly nuanced performance.

At one point K’s senior, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) comments “We’re all trying to find something real.”  It’s a seemingly throw-away comment, but nails Blade Runner 2049’s central thesis—at what point do we become a real human?  However, unlike Scott’s first Blade Runner, which critiques this subject matter through a haze of provocative ambiguities, Villeneuve’s film is, unfortunately, a little too obvious in its exposition.  Despite this, there is plenty to love about Blade Runner 2049’s style which allows ample opportunity to sit back and soak in the film’s visual and audible splendour care of music by Hans Zimmer and cinematography by the great Roger Deakins. Deakins, who is probably the greatest cinematographer working today, could frame a polar bear in a snowstorm and still deliver colour and depth. Here, he has done a wonderful job working around what must be the constant bugbear of cinematographers today; digital effects.  With 2049, he has worked his camera among the digital fakery with aplomb. It doesn’t have the heft of Scott’s pre-digital original, but it’s the next best thing.

Blade Runner 2049 falls short of the masterpiece that was envisaged. It is a very clever film but doesn’t capture the mystery and ambiguous wonderment of its predecessor.  And although it’s difficult not to make comparisons, 2049 feels like a replicant of its original … which perhaps is quite appropriate given the subject matter.
 

You can see my published reviews here.