Month: April, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

gotgv2“I have famously huge turds!” is a line that you might find irksome rather than funny, but when it’s delivered with the understated clarity and bombastic bluster of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, you’ll be all aboard that laughing gig.

The first Guardians film was a hilarious thrill-ride, and going into the cinema I was hoping for more of the same from its sequel. It is largely produced by the same bunch that gave us the surprisingly entertaining original. I say “surprisingly entertaining” because the recent deluge of comic book adaptations has left me with a severe case of hero fatigue, but Vol.1 felt like a genuine breath of fresh air. It also did a wonderful job of paying homage to many of the classic adventure comedies of the eighties. Helmed again by James Gun who directed what will most likely be a career defining original, Vol. 2 only took as long as its opening sequence to plant me firmly back in its exciting and absurdly hilarious universe.

Having been found by his long-lost father in the outer reaches of the cosmos, Peter Quill, AKA Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), comes to terms with the immortality his father bestows on him, versus the mortality of what he considers his real family — the rag-tag bunch that make up the Guardians of the Galaxy.  His Guardian buddies, in particular love interest Gamora (Zoe Saldana), are suspicious of Peter’s father, Ego (played by Kurt Russell), and set about uncovering the truth. The plot mainly serves to flesh out each character rather than much else and veritably takes a back seat to the film’s sassy style and swagger. Yes, Vol. 2 won me over entirely with its adept repartee coupled with incredibly stylistic set pieces all set to the back-drop of some pretty cool music. What’s not to like?

But most importantly, like its predecessor, this film is fully aware of itself and its objectives — take you on a jaunty adventure and make you laugh in the process.  It is Indiana Jones, Romancing the Stone, and Back to the Future all bundled together in a cassette tape and shot into space, although unlike Messrs Jones, Colton and McFly, it hasn’t followed up its iconic original with a rubbish sequel.  If Vol. 1 gave us that heady mix of comedy and adventure that the eighties got so right, then Vol. 2 has given us the sequel that the eighties never managed to deliver … just watch other studios turn this formula into a cliche. Hopefully Waititi’s Thor gets in before the stampede.

You can see the published review here.

Beyond the Known World

Beyond the Known World R

Chelsie Preston Crayford in Beyond the Known World

Hot on the heels of Lion comes another needle in a haystack mystery set in India. Beyond the Known World will no doubt garner many comparisons to Lion; it is set predominantly in India, concerns the search of a missing family member, and has a contingent of Australasian cast members — one of whom is David Wenham (who also starred in Lion).  However, despite these similarities the film is quite different in many respects … and it will cost you a lot less in tissues.

The New Zealand/India co-production, helmed by Indian director Pan Nalin (Samsara) and written by New Zealander Dianne Taylor (Apron Strings), begins its story in Auckland. Carl (Wenham) and Julie (Sia Trokenheim) are not on good terms due their recent divorce. But when their nineteen year old daughter Eva (Emily McKenzie) doesn’t return from India, the couple fear the worst and put their differences aside to go and look for her.  Their search takes them into the pot-smoking expat villages of the Himalayan foothills, where they are met with locals who are frustratingly indifferent to their plight. Both Trokenheim and Wenham offer powerfully raw and authentic performances that capture the couple’s anguish at the lack of power they wield over their situation. It is also a situation that forces the couple to examine their own relationship and the impact it might have had on their daughter.

Beyond the Known World benefits from Pan Nalin’s local knowledge (a loose term in a country as vast and varied as India) as Director. He sketches a mountainous India with ironic subtlety that normalises the characters’ surroundings rather than bringing undue attention to itself. Nalin’s combination with cinematographer Ian McCarroll (a New Zealander in his second feature film after Fantail) thankfully avoids the temptation to just show off the film’s stunning locations. Instead, we are treated to wonderfully textured scenes that are complimented with an editing pace that matches the narrative requirements of Dianne Taylor’s very tight screenplay.  It gets the balance just right.

With a rich combination of New Zealand and Indian talent, Beyond the Known World is a strong piece of cinema that stubbornly remains in your mind like a limpet. It is certainly a sobering story, and although probably not far from the truth, Beyond the Known World remains a fictional account of a tale that is believably told.

You can see the published review here.

Their Finest

tfinestDanish director Lone Scherfig has certainly taken a shine to English stories.  She piggy-backed on Nick Hornby’s screenplay with her 2009 surprise hit, An Education, which brought the wonderful Carey Mulligan to a wider audience; then in 2011 adapted David Nichols’ best selling novel in One Day. Now Scherfig has Gemma Arterton putting on an awkward Welsh accent in a war-time film that has equal measures of romance, drama, and comedy.

Set in London during the Second World War, Catrin (Arterton) accidentally lands a role as a script writer for a studio that is commissioned to make propaganda films that buoy the spirits of the nation. She soon discovers that creating the perfect script means walking a narrow path fraught with the terms and conditions set by the Secretary of War — “authenticity informed by optimism” is their catchphrase. Most notably, it requires that the story be factual, which is easier said than done when Catrin discovers a workable story but from a unreliable source. Oh, and the film must have an American … because “Your film must show your American sisters that this is a war their husbands should be fighting.”  The search for American talent reveals an obligatory chiseled jawed “hero” whose inability to act offers hilarious results as they attempt to make him look “authentic”.

Of course there is the love story that is de rigueur for films such as this.  Catrin’s fellow script writer (and boss) Tom, played by Sam Claflin (Me Before You), waits in the margins while Catrin sorts out the relationship with her cheating husband. Its all fairly predicable, but thankfully not handled with a heavy hand. Their Finest really elevates itself above mediocrity however, in the on-set wrangling of the eclectic bunch of actors who need to work closely with the script writers — one of whom is the charming and affable Bill Nighy. He plays the consummate goof, an actor lost in his art and constantly losing sense of the occasion.

Although predictable in parts, Their Finest remains an interesting story that is delicately laced with an appropriate level of tragedy given its war-time setting. It unabashedly contrasts this with plenty of feminist rhetoric, which on occasion feels a little forced. It certainly isn’t a remarkable film by any stretch, but as a piece of sentimental entertainment it is easily digestible and certainly worth your time, if only just to see Nighy’s delightful antics.

You can see the published review here.

The Salesman

Much was made of The Salesman’s nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars this year.  The film’s Iranian director, Asghar Farhadi (A Separation), stated that he would not attend the ceremony due to Donald Trump’s executive order barring Iranians from entering in U.S., and upon winning, his prepared speech was instead read by proxy. Unfortunately, much of its sting was deflated due to the best picture announcement debacle, but it still raises questions over Farhadi’s Oscar nod being a protest vote. Some anti Trump sentiment by the voting Academy perhaps?  We’ll never know, and all I can offer is a critique of the film on it own merits.

Set in Tehran, a middle-class couple Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) and Emad (Shahab Hosseini) are forced from their apartment due to construction faults.  The opening scene that depicts the building’s imminent collapse is tense and superbly sets the film’s tone; clinically stark, devoid of warmth or any musical score and working within a very drained palette — a style that appears to be straight out of the Michael Haneke handbook (Amour, Funny Games). It is a stunning opening sequence nonetheless and works to facilitate the film’s brooding atmosphere and sense of tension.  The couple eventually find alternative accommodation, but only too late do they discover its previous tenant to be a prostitute who had unsavoury customers calling in at all hours. One night Rana buzzes open the door thinking that it must be her husband.  Big mistake. Her assault and the pursuit of the assailant brings about a captivating mystery that ends with an unexpected (if somewhat drawn-out) ending.

Unfortunately, the film presents a nagging problem throughout. In their spare time Rana and Emad are members of a theatre group who are putting on a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. There appears to be an assumption by Farhadi that the viewer has seen or read Millar’s play, which for me, has since been lost in the foggy memory of my final year at high school. Yet, it is obvious that the role Millar’s play has within the story is an important one, as is evident in the film’s title and most likely forms some sort of subtext that was unfortunately lost on me. Despite this, I found The Salesman a refreshing and taut mystery and perhaps a more informed critique might be offered if only I could remember that damn play … I blame my seventh form teacher.

You can see the published review here.