The first of the cars I got to test drive for FishHead magazine, the $170,000 BMW M3.
It has been nearly four months since I posted something other than a podcast to this site and two years since I posted one of my “Best of the Year” film roundups. I haven’t seen enough this year to justify one of those but, seeing as the year is reaching its conclusion, I feel I ought to prove to myself that I can still produce a few words every now and then.
If all you knew of me was my output here at F&S then you could be forgiven for thinking that I had gone off the boil a bit. After all, the site became popular for my regular film reviews and the audio content that now dominates was simply an added bonus. I have taken to calling 2014 a sabbatical year, a palate cleanser, but that means that at some point I need to get back on the horse and start riding. I have every intention of doing that in 2015 but — if it proves anything like the last 12 months my wishes might not matter a damn.
So, what have I been up to? How do I justify calling 2014 a great year?
In Gerard Johnstone’s tightly put together comedy-chiller Housebound, Morgana O’Reilly plays rebel-without-a-cause Kylie, forced by a judge to spend nine months of home detention with a mother she detests in a house with a hidden history. It’s a star-making performance from O’Reilly in a film that’s full of them. In addition to our surly heroine, we have an expertly pitched Rima Te Wiata as mother Miriam (why she hasn’t been seen in more feature films is a long-standing mystery that is only deepened by her performance here), Glen-Paul Waru as Amos, the security guard attached to Kylie’s detail and dragged into investigating the bumps in the night that plague the house, and the debutant writer-director himself.
Johnstone’s control of his material is first-rate, producing comparisons in this reviewer’s mind with Edgar Wright of Shaun of the Dead fame, probably the highest praise that I can come up with for a film like this one. He keeps the mystery mysterious even as more clues are unveiled, delivers gags that work to propel the story and illuminate character rather than just being yucks for their own sake, and makes sure that there are enough scares that an audience can never really relax.
That word ‘audience’ — it’s key to the success of Housebound. There’s no question that this film won’t have a long and successful life on various forms of home video, but it really comes to life with a full house.
Last year, one of the most surprising successes in local cinemas was Gardening With Soul, a documentary about Sister Loyola Galvin, nonagenarian tender to the Sisters of Compassion garden in Island Bay. In 2014, we have another documentary about an older Wellingtonian. Jean Watson isn’t quite 90, but the revelation that she is actually in her 80s still comes as quite a surprise as we watch her pedalling her bicycle around the small Indian town she loves — and whose children’s homes she has supported for over 30 years, despite living in a modest Berhampore flat back in New Zealand.
Like the earlier film, Aunty and the Star People is full of generosity and wisdom, reminding us that we should be paying much closer attention to our elders. They have much more than just their experience to offer us.
Printed in the September issue of FishHead magazine in Wellington.
As they say in the movies, “It’s quiet… too quiet.” Yeah, sorry about that but I’ve had a lot on recently.
Here’s the deal. In October last year (2013 if you are visiting here via Google and the date is not otherwise obvious) I had to stop editing ONFILM magazine due to the inconvenience of not being paid and had to find another gig. Cinematica was taking up a lot of also-not-being-paid time and, even though it was an enormous amount of fun and enjoyed by many people, it was impossible to justify financially the amount of time it took every week. Kailey leaving was probably the final straw.
Since Christmas I have been working as editor of FishHead magazine in Wellington, firstly as interim, then as former, and finally appointed to the permanent position in March. Learning a new magazine and a new market as well as getting a handle on the business side of things has meant that I haven’t had any time to keep these pages up. This may shock you but I haven’t even been able to watch as many films as I used to.
Anyway, FishHead is almost under control, Nine to Noon is chugging along and the private life is in the best shape ever, so it’s time to reinvigorate my personal expression engine — Funerals & Snakes. In June you will see a new look here and a return to regular reviewing. Subscribers to the email newsletters will also get their weekly updates once again.
When we meet Texan man’s man Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) at the beginning of Dallas Buyers Club he is a mess – a shocking, disreputable, selfish combination of drunk, thief, womaniser and gambler. He doesn’t look so hot either. Soon after that, during a routine hospital check – routine for Ron is the equivalent of an emergency for the rest of us – we discover why: he has AIDS and, because it is only 1985 he has very little time left to live.
But because the word “ornery” was invented in Texas, Woodroof has no intention of succumbing quietly, even stealing the experimental drug AZT from the hospital stores until he discovers that it is even more toxic than the disease he is afflicted by. A last chance stoned drive to Mexico introduces him to a struck-off doctor (Griffin Dunne) and a cocktail of drugs that could extend his life – and millions of others – if only he could get at them.
I went into The Turning in the dark and in some ways I wish I hadn’t and in others I’m glad I did. I’ll see if I can explain.
The film is a collection of related shorts, each based on a single story from Tim Winton’s acclaimed collection of the same name. That much I knew. As story after story rolled through, each produced by a different Australian creative team, each taking a unique and original approach to storytelling, I started to see connections between them. Many of these connections were visual – the recurrence of rusty abandoned cars, people living in caravans. Some were geographic – a Western Australian mining community surrounded on one side by red dirt and on the other by the ocean. Damaged, corroded and corrupted masculinity. Redheads. The name “Vic”.
Afterwards I read a copy of the glossy souvenir booklet that viewers get to take away with them when they buy a ticket for this “special cinematic event” and those connections became clearer. In Winton’s book all of the stories inter-connect – characters re-occur (often at different stages of their lives) and events we see in one story might be referred to obliquely in another.
Now, Blue Jasmine, in which Mr. Allen uses the notorious Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi crimes as inspiration for a story about the fraud’s victims as well as the collateral damage inflicted on a woman oblivious of her own complicity. As the eponymous Jasmine, Cate Blanchett plays the wife of Alec Baldwin’s shonky NY businessman, their relationship told in flashback while she tries to rebuild her life in her adopted half-sister’s (or something – the relationship seems unnecessarily complicated for something that has no material impact on the story) apartment in an unfashionable area of San Francisco.
[pullquote]As they used to say on television about kittens, “a child isn’t just for Christmas, a child is forever.”[/pullquote]Blanchett unravels beautifully and almost maintains our sympathy despite the repeated evidence that she doesn’t really deserve it. In support, Sally Hawkins as the sister is more watchable than usual and others – notably Andrew Dice Clay, Michael Stuhlbarg and Louis C.K. – get moments to shine even though some of those moments can seem a bit repetitive. Mr. Allen’s ear for dialogue seems to have entirely deserted him – these people talk like they’re being quoted in New Yorker articles rather than conversing like living, breathing humans – but the structure is satisfying and Blanchett takes the entire project by the scruff of the neck and makes it her own.