Dominion Post and Newstalk ZB reviewer Graeme Tuckett joins Dan and Kailey to talk about Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s vampire mockumentary What We do in the Shadowswhich is out this weekend across New Zealand (September in Australia) as well as meta-sequel22 Jump Street which goes into it’s second weekend here and opening weekend across the Tasman.
This week’s Australian correspondent is Chris Elena and he’ll be giving his impressions of the recent Sydney Film Festival and telling us about shooting and editing a short film on film.
Also, we’re joined by joined by Kiwi playwright David Geary from Vancouver, Canada, who has just spent an evening with Oscar winner Oliver Stone at the Vancouver Biennale.
There are also a number of utterly non-gratuitous mentions of Game of Thrones in the programme that will no doubt be extremely helpful for search engine optimisation.
So, after trawling through the many thousands of words written about cinema in these pages this year, I suppose you want me to come to some conclusions? Do some “summing up”? Help guide you through the great video store of life? Well, alright then. Here goes.
We don’t do Top Ten lists here at the Capital Times — they are reductive, facile and, frankly, you have to leave too many titles out. I have taken to dividing my year’s viewing up into categories: keepers are films I want to have in my home and watch whenever the mood takes me; renters are the films that I could happily watch again; then there are the films that I enjoyed but am in no hurry to repeat, the films I might have misjudged first time around, the films I can’t get out of my head (for better or worse), the films I am supposed to love but you know, meh, and most important of all — the films you should avoid as if your very life depends upon it.
First, the keepers: a surprise for some will be Fantastic Mr. Fox which was released after my 2009 Year in Review was submitted and the only film in the list that I already own. Animal Kingdom was the film I most recommended this year — a stunning, tense piece of work that gripped me totally.
Taika Waititi’s Boy may well be the saddest comedy I’ve ever seen. Hmn, maybe I should put that another way: For a comedy, Boy might be the saddest film I’ve ever seen.
Consistently hilarious throughout, Boy steers a very careful course once it becomes clear that there is a very real heartache behind the laughter. A less confident filmmaker wouldn’t have even tried to perform that conjuring trick but Waititi turns out to have the talent to pull it off.
It’s 1984 and in the tiny East Cape village of Waihau Bay 11-year-old Boy (born as Alamein, after his father) has been left in charge of the whanau while his Nana goes to Wellington for a tangi. His little brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu) and his young cousins are looking to him for some parenting but the unexpected arrival of Alamein (Taika Waititi) sends all those plans packing.
I’ve been seriously busy since Christmas putting together a show for the Wellington Fringe (which has gone along very nicely, thank you for asking). It’s called “The Immortals” and you can find out all about it here. There are only three more performances and after that I’ll be retiring from actoring so if you are interested in seeing me perform this weekend is your last chance.
I’ve manage to file about four reviews for the Capital Times but haven’t had a chance to annotate, illustrate and linky them up for you good people, an omission which grieves me but that I cannot remedy until later in February (or maybe even March).
And so, after 191 films viewed and reviewed here I get to sum up the 2007 cinema year. As I said back in September it’s been a great year for good films but a poor year for truly great ones. Even my (obviously unimpeachable) Top Ten list contains only a few that I think will be regarded as classics in 20 years but these are all films that I’d happily see again or even own on DVD if the chance arises.
Best of the year turns out to be the most recent: Sean Penn’s Into the Wild is the real deal. As beautiful to look at and listen to as the finest art film, but remaining down to earth, it features a star-making performance from Emile Hirsch leading an ensemble of fine screen actors and it ultimately delivers a message that is completely different to the one you expect: He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.
The next two selections are also notable for being the lowest-grossing films of the year: the mesmerising Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait followed one man around a football pitch for an entire match and the wondrous and glowing aboriginal film Ten Canoes reminded us that great story-telling can be found anywhere, from the camp fire to the multiplex. The finest performances of the year from grown-ups were found in Sarah Polley’s Away From Her. Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie were a couple reeling from the impact of Alzheimer’s: the pressure of the disease slowly unravelling a relationship that on the surface seemed so pure. Best performance of the year from anyone was little Kolya Spiridonov as “orphan” Vanya in The Italian, determined to find his Mother wherever she may be rather than go to the west with new parents.
Best documentary turned out to be the unpromising Deep Water: a film about a yacht race that ended up being about the deepest, darkest secrets kept by a fragile human soul – it was even better second time around. Atonement was a sweeping and romantic drama showcasing the many skills of the latest generation of British movie craftspeople, not least director Joe Wright who, annoyingly, is only 36 years old. Best local film in an uneven year (and justifiably in this Top Ten) is Taika Waititi’s Eagle vs. Shark: funny and sweet and sad and the product of a singular vision rather than the committee that seems to produce so many New Zealand films.
My favourite commercial film of the year was the sweet-natured and very funny Knocked Up about a slacker and a career-girl getting to grips with responsibility, relationships and parenthood: He tangata, he tangata, he tangata once again. Finally, I’ve spent all year trying to justify leaving Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver out of this Top Ten with no luck whatsoever: the complete lack of flaws of any kind mean it gets in despite the fact that I didn’t love it like I did some others.
It’s a tough time for local paper film reviewers around the world. Cinema critics from publications like the Village Voice have been given the flick by penny-pinching publishers and even the Sunday Star-Times in Auckland has started running film reviews from sister papers in Australia rather than pay someone locally to represent you. So, I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to watch all these films on your behalf and want to thank the Capital Times for indulging my desire to cover everything rather than a select few releases. Thanks, also, to all the Wellington cinemas who have graciously hosted me despite my fairly constant bitching about standards. But, above all, thank you for reading. See you next year.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday January 2, 2008.
Eagle vs Shark carries a great burden of expectation: Taika Waititi’s Oscar nomination, invitations to Sundance, international Miramax support, pointless comparisons with Napoleon Dynamite. A film with less heart than this one could easily collapse under all that weight but this Eagle soars.
Loren Horsley is Lily, a hopeless romantic with her heart set on Jarrod (Jemaine Clement) from the video game shop a few doors down. Unfortunately, Jarrod’s a dick but she sees something in him and, over the course of a lovely and sad little film, teases it out despite all good sense telling her to run a mile. EVS is full of great (mostly small) comic moments and observations and on the rare occasions when something doesn’t quite work it’s easy to ride with it. A wonderful, unusual, soundtrack from The Phoenix Foundation, too.
Also not-to-be-missed is Ten Canoes, the first genuinely indigenous film ever to come out of Australia. The Yolngu people of Arnhem Land in Northern Territory collaborated with Rolf de Heer (The Tracker) to tell one of their own stories — and tell it their own way — and the result is beautiful and human and scatalogically funny. A reminder of what cinema can achieve when it is set free.
After a 12 year layoff Bruce Willis finally returns to the role that catapulted him to superstardom (and off the top of several exploding buildings) in Die Hard 4.0 (also known as Live Free or Die Hard in countries that still care about freedom). The technology-terrorism premise might as well be flower-arranging for all the sense it makes, but it gets us to the meat which is John McClane being an ass, taking a beating and blowing stuff up. It pushes most of the right Die Hard buttons, but in the end that’s all it manages to do — push buttons.
Michael Moore has been getting a hard time recently for all sorts of reasons (not making “proper” balanced documentaries, not fronting up to those who would turn his tactics back on him) but the criticism is misguided. Moore isn’t really a documentarian — he’s a polemicist. In his eyes he’s fighting a war for the ordinary citizen against an entrenched and corrupt capitalist super-state. Why should he ever have to fight fair? There is enormous wickedness and injustice in this world and if it takes Moore and a few low-blows to help turn that around then I’m all for it. As it turns out, Sicko is the best of his films to date with fewer of the cheap stunts that arm his critics and a finale in Cuba with some 9/11 rescue workers that I found quite moving.
Of course, there are no greater heroes in our modern age than New York fire-fighters which is why it was a smart move by Adam Sandler’s team to set their (ahem) sensitive plea for tolerance, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, among them. Larry (Kevin James) is a widower and the City bureaucracy won’t let him make his kids beneficiaries of his insurance. But if he goes to Canada and marries his best friend Chuck (Sandler) he can somehow sort it all out. This is, of course, fraud and when they are investigated the duo learn a lot about intolerance as well as the, er, gay lifestyle choice. My favourite moment in a movie sprinkled with a handful was the cameo appearance by closeted gay icon (and the first Jason Bourne) Richard Chamberlain as the judge at the hearing.
Finally, Te Radar is a micro-budget (and micro-scale) Michael Moore in Destiny in Motion, a thin documentary about the birth of the Destiny New Zealand political party and the connections (fairly obvious) with Bishop Brian Tamaki’s Destiny Church. The irony of this exposé of pentecostal political manipulation playing at the Paramount (a venue that now turns into a happy-clappy Church every Sunday) was not lost on me.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday, 15 August, 2007.
Full disclosure: Like many people in Wellington, and the motion picture industry, I count Loren and Taika as mates; I used to co-own the Paramount; Ten Canoes is distributed by Richard Dalton at Palace/Fresh Films who is also a mate.