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It was a very good year...

By Asides
The first of the cars I got to test drive for FishHead magazine, the $170,000 BMW M3.

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?

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Review: Housebound & Aunty and the Star People

By Cinema and Reviews

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.

Call to Arms

By Blogging, Cinema and meta

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.

FH_COVER_May2014Since 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.

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Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Review: Dallas Buyers Club and Blue Is the Warmest Colour

By Cinema and Reviews

Dallas Buyers Club posterWhen 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.

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The Turning poster

Review: The Turning, Twenty Feet from Stardom and The Butler

By Cinema and Reviews

Hugo Weaving in Tim Winton's The Turning (2013)

The Turning posterI 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.

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Blue Jasmine poster

Review: Blue Jasmine, Riddick, What Maisie Knew, Romeo & Juliet: A Love Song and The Best Offer

By Cinema and Reviews

Max Casella, Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins and Bobby Cannvale in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine (2013)

When did “late-period: Woody Allen start? Was it with Match Point (when he finally left New York for some new scenery)? Or should we con­sider these last ten, globe-trotting, years as late‑r Woody? The last ten years have cer­tainly been up and down in terms of qual­ity. Scoop was all-but diabol­ic­al. Vicky Cristina Barcelona was robust and sur­pris­ing. Midnight in Paris was gen­i­al but dis­pos­able (des­pite being a massive hit) and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger was barely even a film.

Blue Jasmine posterNow, 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.

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