Monday, August 22, 2016

Film Review - Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is apparently a real bad egg. We're talking disobedience, stealing, spitting, running away, throwing rocks, kicking stuff and graffiti. That's the resume of the portly 13-year-old presented to his new foster mum Bella (Rima Te Wiata) by Child Welfare loudmouth Paula (Rachel House). Bella outpost rundown farm near the Bush is the last stop for Ricky before he's off to juvenile prison. Paula's motto is no child left behind but it should really be no kid will ever get the better of her. Ricky slowly warms to Bella and her grumpy Husband Hector (Sam Neil). As Ricky finally starts to feel that he has found a home a tragic event strikes the Faulkner farm leading Ricky followed by Hector to Go Bush.  

Friendship, family, independence, thumbing your nose at authority and the need to belong are all represented prominently in writer director Taika Waitit's film. Waitit director of 2014 wonderfully entertaining Vampire mocumentary What We Do In the Shadows is an every growing voice in New Zealand and world cinema. He is sure to emerge from art house obscurity with his next ventures behind the camera for Thor: Ragnarok and penning the Disney animated feature Moana.  Waitit adapted the story from beloved local writer Barry Crump's book Wild Pork and Watercress. Having a knack for appearing in front of the camera during his films Waitit does the same here as an authority figure in a somber scene that he singlehandedly turns into a circular farce.


Once Hector catches up with Ricky in the Bush he suffers an injury that grounds the pair for 6 weeks until he can recover. During that time the rumour mill spins out of control, which is not helped by the suicide note and burnt effigy Ricky left behind to fool the authorities. The result is a pair of fugitives on the run, grabbing supplies from hunting cabins, mixing it up with a trio of hunters and keeping a couple of steps ahead of Child Services and the might of the police that Paula brings to bear.  The media soon pick up on the story leading the duo to national prominence especially after they perform an act of kindness along the way.


Julian Dennison is a rising star that shows off a vast range of acting skills lead by his pinpoint comedic timing as Ricky. He is just at home singing and dancing as he is sulking or playing want to be gangster. The consummate professional Sam Neil displays his chameleon skills once again as the curmudgeonly Uncle Hec. He's gruff, monosyllabic; isolationist and moody up front but grows to be a great teacher, mentor and guardian to Ricky as the action progresses. Rima Te Wiata's Bella has enough verbiage, energy and heart for the troika in the opening third. She's warm, practical, intuitive and resourceful as she runs the remote farm.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a delightful journey that the audience will be happy they boarded. Director Waitit builds on the original story while Lachlan Milne's lens expertly portrays the hilly New Zealand Mountains and valleys through several seasons. The acting is more expressive than precise which serves the material well.  All of the productions combined elements fit together perfectly to make it a film that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople | Taika Waitit | New Zealand | 2016 | 101 Minutes.

Tags: New Zealand , Go Bush,  Child Services, Foster Care, Juvenile Detention, Police, Army, Zag, Tu-Pac, Fugitives, Haiku

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Film Review - Faults

Riley Stearns who is probably best know for his short film The Cub tries his hand at a full feature for the first time with Faults a film that shares some of the shorts' irony and themes. Religious Cults have been the focus of many films over the years; Ttwo recent examples were Martha Marcy May Marlene from 2011 and 2012's The Master. A very powerful older Canadian film from the 80's Ticket to Heaven features similar acts of kidnapping and deprogramming that occurs in Faults.

In the opening frames we meet Ansel Roth (Leland Orser) a formerly renewed expert on cults that has fallen on bad times. In his introduction he is caught reusing a voucher for a complimentary meal from the hotel that booked him to speak about religious cults. At the meeting Roth is approached by a father (Chris Ellis) and mother (Beth Grant) who want Roth to help them get their daughter Clair
(Mary Elizabeth Windstead) back who ran off and joined a little know cult called Faults.


Over the final two thirds of the film Stearns explores a claustrophobic relationship between two people in very tight quarters. The pair spar back and forth switching dominant and submissive roles as each tries to gain the upper hand throughout the piece. The two lead actors excel at their parts clearly not limited by the cramped main setting of a single motel room.

Roth begins his work with an attempt to lean more about the cult. Claire does not want him to use her given name but other than that is very accommodating to her abductor/ helper. The first signed that Roth may not be in char is Claire's foreboding response to being asked her age; she replies Do not ask questions to which you already know the answer. Sterns takes a writing credit as well for the film that gives a lot for the two lead actors to do.


The psychological battle during the piece is central to the production. Stearn's writing highlights many different aspects of Windstead's thespian skills. Character actor Leland Orser embraces the chance to play a lead role as the has been expert Roth. Orser flips from cheap, to hoarder, on to authoritarian then submissive as the reels roll along. The small supporting cast do not make a wrong step in the film. Chirs Ellis is forceful as Claire's dad while Beth Grant is the complete opposite as mother Evelyn. Look for Lance Reddick of Fringe and The Wire fame as the muscle, looking to recover for Roth's ex-agent the advance for our protagonists latest failed book.

Faults is a strong well written debut film from director Riley Stearns. The two main actors shine on the screen supported by a rich script that forces the audience to so some heavy lifting that offers great rewards in the end.  The small cast excel in their roles as the frugal production use every corner of its  restricted space to produce a very watchable film.

*** 1/2  Out of 4.

Faults | Riley Stearns |  U.S.A. | 2014 | 89 Minutes.

Tags: Religious Cult, Kidnapping, Deprograming, Agent, Brainwash, Mind Control, Belief, Divorce, Seminar, Motel Room, Book Deal.




Sunday, August 7, 2016

Film Review- Train to Busan


What happened to the classic zombie? They used to make a lot of noise move slowly and deliberately and act in a mindless manner. Today's version are light on their feet, resourceful and work as a team to attack their human prey. The modern version is very much on display in Yeon Sang- ho's Train to Busan. The film is the director's second of the year having completed an animated Zombie piece Seoul Station that plays as a companion to this production.

Sang-ho's Zombies turn very fast, signaled by veins creeping across the skin, milky white eyes followed by a contortion of the body and a snap of the back. As always with Zombie pictures the audience is looking for how the infection will spread. Who is patient zero and the unlucky person that will be bit first. The film delivers the answer early on in the first reel.


It's early morning when Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) a high stakes fund manager sets out to bring his daughter Su-an (Kim Su-an) to see his estranged wife who lives in Busan. They board the train with Soek-woo buried in his phone as the narrative introduces several key people on the trip including a pregnant woman ( Jung Yu-Mi) the protective father to be Sang-hwa (Ma Dong-seok) along with a baseball team and an uptight business executive Yong-suk ( Choui Woo-sik).  Just before the train leaves an obviously sick young girl stumbles on sporting pronounced creeping veins on her legs giving us our patient zero.

Several hot button issues in Korean society are discussed over the next 118 minutes class snobbery being the first as the train employees are more concerned with a homeless man held up in a bathroom rather than the infected girl that just entered the train. Seok-woo is the embodiment of the over working businessman. He has to ask his junior colleague what to get his daughter for her birthday then gets her the same thing he did for the last holiday. He also scolds Su-an on two occasions once when she does something on the train for someone else then later when she wants to share vital information with the other passengers. The actions of the authorities are also brought into question as they were in Seoul Station. The storyline predicts a kill everyone in the quarantined zone stance opposed to helping survivors to safety. Lastly the piece touches on the dangers of mob mentality. The perpetrators seeming getting their just reward soon after they take their stand.



The action sequences in the film are extraordinary. The speedy Zombies add the hectic frantic pace. The first shout of RUN after patient zero bites her first victim sets off a wave of passengers attempting to make their way to the other end of the train. Riders are bit, turn, then bite others as the rush goes on. The next occurs when the KXT 101 leaves the first stop full of infected soldiers. As the train pulls out the zombies crash though an upper window cartwheeling down on the train below. The third shows the Zombies working together as they throw themselves at the back o a caboose building a ramp to get at the humans onboard.

Train to Busan is lightning fast white-knuckle ride on a Korean Bullet train. Gong Yoo leads the cast as Seok-woo who transforms from cold and calculated to embracing teamwork and sacrifice. There is not a weak link in the supporting cast. Director Yeon Sang- ho uses the vehicle to point out South Korean societal issues. The breakneck pace featuring sharp dialogue backed by stunning visuals make it a film I can recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Train to Busan | Yeon Sang- ho | South Korea | 2016 | 118 minutes.

Tags;  Fund Manager, Civil Unrest, Bullet Train, KTX 101,Quarantine, Zombie, Birthday, Teamwork. Seoul, Busan.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Film Review - Suicide Squad

The D.C. universe has taken a hard turn to port and into a dark and dreary corner. The shift stems  from this Spring's Batman vs. Superman featuring rain and darkness in just about every frame. Its as if Batman was given the rebranding job so he remade the D.C. Universe in his image. It's from this background that Suicide Squad emerges. A world where Superman has taken a pause leading the shady government types to crunch the numbers and analyze. Their stats tell them that the world was lucky that Superman was a friendly and not a hostile. If he were a hostile or a terrorist they would have no means to oppose. Therefore the next Meta-Human might fall on the other side.  To prepare for this government heavy Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles a group of desperate skilled villains beholden to her answer the call should it arise.

The narrative shifts to its weakest section as the next half an hour is spent in exposition on too many of the group, true fans already know them while newbies could figure them out with a few hints as the action progressed. The three main baddies are Harley Quinn, Deadshot and the Joker. The are also the most fully fleshed out participants. Margot Robbie's Quinn former Arkham Asylum Psychiatrist turned Joker Gal pal after shock therapy and an acid bath has the most to do in the piece. Will Smith's want to be good dad wile working as a hired assassin Deadshot pairs well with Robbie on screen. Jerad Leto puts his own stamp on the Joker building on the rumors that he sent disgusting gifts to his castmates and never broke character while on set.


A crisis develops where the Squad's services are needed so they assemble to head into Midway City to battle a 4000-year-old supernatural brother and sister duo that are building a weapon to destroy the earth. Beside the three headliners the other supporting characters are only given a couple of distinguishing features if they're lucky. Jai Courtnery's Boomerang is obliged to enter every scene swigging a beer then making a wisecrack in is Aussie accident. Mexican gang-banger Diablo (Jay Hernandez) attempts to walk a path of non-violence owner of the only with is backstory that flows with the pacing of the film.


The other main irritant is the overuse of pop songs to introduce and underpin just about every scene. We get House of the Rising Sun alongside the opening credits and Eminem's superhero spoof Without Me as the team gears up to go out on their mission. The production feels the need to club you with top 40 instead of employing a score that could have resulted in more impact from a few selected songs.

Suicide Squad has several good elements that get bogged down with uneven writing and an overbearing soundtrack. The top of the credit cast members help to drive the action but the supporting members are left two dimensional at best. If the viewer considers this a test run a second outing void of the rambling exposition might focus on a couple of the below the fold characters in the rhythm of the story. If that's the case the sequel could easily be better that the original.

** 1/2 Out of 4.

Suicide Squad | David Ayers | U.S.A. | 2016 | 123 Minutes.

Tags: D.C. Comics, Prisoners, Enchantress, Shock Therapy, Maximum Security, Special Ops, Joint Chiefs, Father-Daughter, Brother-Sister.




Fantasia '16 Film Review - Kiki Love to Love

When you think of Spain certain flair comes to mind, openess about any topic, warmth, rich colours, passion and an indulgence in all of the senses. Paco Leon hits all of these notes with his film Kiki, Love to Love. The opening sequence of different pairs of animals copulating to a driving Latin beat interspersed with shots of fruit being devoured and rich vegetation gives the viewer a clue where this affair is headed.

The narrative follows 5 different stories each featuring a player that has a sexual fetish. Whenever the fetish is first described or presented on screen it is followed by a popup giving a dictionary explanation. The five story lines appear to be completely independent but Leon wraps them together at the end at an open-air festival. Leon himself takes a role in one of the stories to go along with his directing and writing credits. The inspiration comes from the Australian film The Little Death but Leon injects more drama into his film along with a Spanish soul.


Alex (Alex Garcia) and Natalia (Natalia Molina) have just enjoyed a spirited romp when she tells her partner how she became very excited while being held by a masked robber the other day. Alex wants details and to know if her reaction was more than it is when they are together. Up pops the term Harpaxophilia followed by madcap attempts by Alex through the rest of the film to stage an event where he can duplicate that day sparking the same reaction from Natalia. Next up are Paco and his wife Ana (Ana Katz) who's sexually relationship has hit a wall. In walks Paco's old flame Belen (Belen Cuesta) who has just broken up with her girlfriend, crashes with the couple and invite them to the sex club where she works. The pair are both taken by her open and frankness sparking their fetish of being aroused by a multi partner relationship. The coupling of Jose Luis ( Luis Bermejo) and Paloma (Mary Paz Sayago) brings the most laughs for all the wrong reasons. He's aroused by his partner sleeping, so he gives his disabled wife medication each night then has sex with her. Jose Luis moving around his dead weight wife is priceless along with her reaction to her new bumps and bruises plus the need to bribe the live in maid to keep her quiet.


Belen Cuesta leads the cast with her performance. She portrays all that is fantasized about Spanish women. She's relaxed, passionate, open sexually, freely discussing all aspects of her life ready to absorb  the next adventure from wherever it may come. Mary Paz Sayago's Paloma is the exact opposite. She is confined to a wheelchair, treats her husband with contempt, puts him constantly on the defensive and can only give him sexual satisfaction when she has no idea what's going on. Look for Alexandra Jiminez as Sandra. She's deaf, has constant problems with her hearing aid, works as a telephone translator with a strong fetish for fabrics especially silk. She's involved in the funniest scene in the film where she has to interpret a call to a sex line.

Paco Leon's Kiki Live to Love captures the Spanish spirit along the lines of a Pedro Almodovar film. There are many tip of the caps to Almodovar sprinkled throughout the piece. The narrative is peppered with many memorable comedic moments dotted by dramatic passages to balance out the scrip. Overall its a film that will have you leaving the theatre with a smile on your face and one that I can recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Kiki, Love to Love | Paco Leon | Spain | 2016 | 102 minutes.

Tags: Sexuality, Fetish, Harpaxophilia, Sex Club, Robbery, Plants, Fruit, Plastic Surgery, Silk, Open-air Festival.






Thursday, August 4, 2016

Fantasia '16 Film Review - We Go On

A large full page ad appears prevalently in a major Los Angeles newspaper; the headline $30,000 reward to anyone that can show proof of the afterlife. The author Miles Grissom (Clark Freeman) who suffers from just about every phobia in the book with Thanatophobia, the fear of dying sitting at the top of the list. He will take an angel, a ghost or a demon as proof. He also warns that he will know if you're lying due to his job as a video editor that should help him catch any tricks. Miles gets over 1000 responses to his ad he narrows the number to 3 with the help of is feisty and protective mom Charlotte (Annette O'Toole) that he plans to check out.

Fear is the major theme of the film. It can consume, isolate and make lives completely miserable. The key point of the production is to get to a level to cope enough to make it reasonably through the day. Miles plan is to find something to help him alleviate his biggest fear thus allowing him to deal with the minor ones as well.


Two of the three finalists do not have an answer for Miles while the third's response is to chaotic coupled by  a negative comment from Charlotte forces Miles to leave the scene. Back at home he circles back to an odd voice message that leads him in the direction that he wants to go.

Co directors Jesse Holland and Andy Miton present a story that's more in the realm of the supernatural than the horror. The narrative presents a different type of hero. A grown man that has multiple flaws is paralyzed by fear for large chunks of the piece relying on his mother for protection.


Annette O'Toole commands the screen as Charlotte. She has enough backbone for both herself and her son. She speaks frankly and plainly to all ad respondents. Her clearly stated goal is to make sure her son does not get fooled or ripped off. Giovanna Zacaris turns in a strong performance as (Josephina) She works in a family restaurant by day but is surrounded by different spirits who are constantly trying to communicate. She makes a connection with a close family member of Miles but protective Charlotte stomps on her ability.

Subtlety and nuance set the tone for We Go On. There are no big effects or grand events to provide proof of the existence of the afterlife. The goal instead is to get Miles what he needs to get on with his life which the narrative succeeds in providing.

** 1/2 Out of 4.

We Go On | Jesse Holland / Andy Mitton | U.S.A. | 2016 | 89 Minutes.

Tags: Phobias, Reward, Afterlife, Ghosts, Angels, Demons, Funeral, Horror, Thriller.





Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Fantasia '16 Film Review - Blood Father

Does art imitate life or is it the other way around? Mel Gibson in recent years has been caught on the street saying mean things, caught on tape saying even worse and spiraled downhill from an A list perch as an actor. In the world of Hollywood he hit rock bottom then fell through to the sub basement. Therefore it's fitting that he would take role in a foreign backed father-daughter protector film by a French director. Gibson is largely playing to type here and does a very good job in doing so.


In his first moments on screen John Link (Gibson) is celebrating his two year sobriety and his one year anniversary of being out of prison. He's in an AA meeting in a California desert community where he makes a few bucks working out of his trailer as a tattoo artist with his sponsor Kirby (William H. Macy) a stones throw away. Link has two worries, keeping sober and giving his parole office no reason to pay him much attention. Both of these goal are put as risk once his estranged runaway daughter Lydia (Erin Moriaty) gives him a call looking for help. It turns out she's been on the wrong side of the law for a while now as well. Her boyfriend Jonah (Diego Luna) is a leader of a notorious Latino gang plus he's run a foul with the Cartel back in Mexico.

Most of director Jean-Francois Richet's piece has the pair on the run on the road. The script hits all of the necessary cliches, the APB flashed on the motel room TV, the young desk clerk that taking a liking to one of our hero's and helping them out. The need to shave and or change hair colour. But the narrative has some original passages as well; one a visit to an old pal who has changed and disappoints. The other into the last place you'd expect a fugitive from the law to go to obtain vital information on their main advisory.


Erin Moriaty holds her own on screen opposite Gibson in the role of Lydia. At the time when she makes the call she is more of a criminal than her dad. On the road she shows her resourcefulness in gathering helpful information. She's even willing to go it alone to protect her father, as she's the main target of the gang and the police. Gibson for his part is very ruff at the outset of the film. His real life hard living, self-inflicted wounds looking larger that life on the big screen. He's very at home in the role and highly believable as an ex-con, prison smart tattoo artist. The role givens him a chance to rage once again.

The premise of Blood Father is very simple and there are no real surprises in the story. The production is a revenge action thriller with a short run time that will play well to the films target audience. If the right people get to see the film domestically Gibson's performance might be enough to spark a comeback Stateside.

*** Out of 4.

Blood Father | Jean-Francois Richet | France | 2016 | 88 Minutes.

Tags: Ex-Con, AA Sponsor, Biker, High Desert, Mexican Cartel, Sicario, Biker, White Supremacist.