Hunt for the Wilderpeople (dir. Taika Waititi) 2016

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the antithesis of a Hollywood movie. It feels home made and local, but that is exactly what it sets out to do. This film makes a point of being unsophisticated. It is set in New Zealand, it has New Zealanders as characters and it shows a New Zealand ethic to the world.

It is a rough film with a warm heart, about a grumpy old man and a juvenile misfit who don’t understand each other at first, but who look after each other’s welfare when needed. Taika Waititi, the director, has a deft hand at showing characters expressing care without using soft words. True affection here is shown by honesty with humour.

It is not a perfect film, but it doesn’t try to be perfect, and that is part of its charm. This film revels in the rebellious; all the main roles are outsiders and happy that way. It is a strange mixture of rural realism and wild fantasy. Some of the characters, especially the baddies are comic book caricature. It is chock full of great lines and the good characters are well defined and warm. Sam Neill is good as Hec, and Julian Dennison is excellent as Ricky. There are also a few, beautifully quirky, cameos.

The scenery is, unsurprisingly, amazing; it is set in outback New Zealand, it is part travelogue, reminding the world why they should want to visit.  The soundtrack is unusual and endearing, the birthday song is surprising and funny. It is lovely to see a film that manages to blindside you, and I hope the success of this one results in more of this type of film being made.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (dir. David Fincher) 2011

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This is the Hollywood film adaptation of a hugely successful 2005 Swedish book. It follows a highly regarded 2009 Swedish movie of the same story. It is a brave undertaking to attempt the third retelling of a story that has already been done twice, so well and so recently.  However “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” acquits itself admirably – it is different enough to be interesting and stylish enough to be enjoyable.

The film is a thriller and it stars Daniel Craig, so comparisons are inevitable. He says that he worked hard not to be seen as James Bond in this film and the thrills are more psychological than action, but it still comes across as a more thoughtful installment of the 007 genre. If the film company did not want comparisons with that franchise, they should have avoided using the, admittedly very good, opening credits. Once you imagine  “What James Bond does on his holidays” at the start, the thought stays with you throughout the film.

I loved Rooney Mara as Lisbeth. She was nominated for an Academy Award as best actress and it was well deserved. The original title of the book in Swedish was “Men Who Hate Women” and Lisbeth is almost the woman who exacts revenge. In this version she is quite different from the character written in the book but she manages to keep the same attitude and demeanour.  The violence is pretty full-on, but it is an angry and aggressive story, so although I am generally not a fan of shocking brutality in films, there is a good argument here, that it is relevant to the narrative.

The acting throughout is admirable, Stellan Skarsgard is excellent as Martin. The scenery is gorgeous. The cinematography is lovely, this received an Academy Award nomination too.

The film is polished and sleek, beautiful to watch and directed with a cold detachment which adds, both to the climate in which it is set and to the chilling story it relates. It was nominated for five Oscars, it won the one for best film editing.

This is a professional, well made, efficient Hollywood movie. Recommended.

 

 

13 Reasons Why, Netflix, 2017

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13 Reasons why is the currently most talked about series on TV.  It is a teenage morality tale about a 17 year old girl who has committed suicide in the weeks before the series begins. She has left behind a suicide note, in the form of 13, C60  audio cassettes, each one naming a different person as having a hand in causing her to take her own life. Each cassette states what this person did to affect her and she has arranged that the whole series of tapes is delivered to each of the thirteen people in turn.

So far, so dark – a horrible premise of a teenager’s suicide and the ultimate naming, blaming and shaming fantasy. This could have been so awful that I almost gave up watching after each of the first three episodes.

However, Hannah, the girl who killed herself, is a likeable, witty, attractive personality and we want to find out what drove her to despair. She mostly avoids playing the blame game and the series is really a universal tale about the complications of dealing with serious and difficult problems, often for the first time, as a teenager negotiates the change from child to adult.

The characters are well written and well rounded. The story is told half in the current timeline and half in flashback, this is clever, as we can see the change that Hannah’s death has brought to each person. There are stereotypes, in that they fit into their groups at the school but each individual is given a three dimensional personality and the only caricature is the one who does not get to listen to the tapes.

The acting is great, everyone talks about how good the two leads are – they are excellent.  Christian Navarro is also very good as Tony, who serves as a kind of nuanced narrator. Kate Walsh is brilliant, playing two parts really, as Hannah’s mother, before and after the suicide.

I liked the fact that the show concentrates just as much on the devastation left behind as the reasons for the death. It is a thin line between negating the reasons for Hannah’s suicide and justifying them, the show manages to realistically state the reasons for her actions but never says that she was right to do so. There is talk of a second series because of the success of season one, and possibly because of the unresolved nature of some of the issues. I believe that the show had to leave these issues open because to close them would have implied that her killing herself would have achieved a closure that might not  have been attained had she lived.

I enjoyed this series very much but I hope they choose not to film a season two, either to resolve these issues or to follow the lives of some of the other characters, 13 Reasons Why, is all about Hannah, let’s keep it about her.

Tower Block (dir. James Nunn, Ronnie Thompson) 2012

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This is a no nonsense, horror/thriller movie. It is set on the top floor of a tower block that is about to be demolished. It is a British film and has an excellent British cast. It moves along exactly as you would expect, but the action is taut and interaction between characters manage to keep good tension going throughout he film.

Sheridan Smith, Russell Tovey, Ralph Brown and Jack O’Connell are all very good as the resourceful tower block inhabitants attempting to escape their situation, while quarrelling amongst themselves.  The set is excellent, the block is scuzzy, the area urban, the setting is as bleak as the position the tenants find themselves in.

The characters are flawed, but real, and there is not much pretense of politeness between them. The script is good and we grow to know, even if we don’t necessarily like, the protagonists. We want them succeed and applaud their increasingly desperate ingenuity.

This type of film generally follows a set narrative arc and the denouement is much as you would expect. There aren’t many surprises here, but it is a likeable film and very good at what it does.

Recommended.

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Penelope (dir. Mark Palansky) 2006

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Penelope has a high quality cast. It is a film studded with famous names. Christina Ricci and James McAvoy play the leads, but it also has Richard E. Grant, Ronni Ancona, Peter Dinklage, Nick Frost, Reese Witherspoon, Catherine O’Hara and many other recognisable people. In fact, I have to say we did enjoy playing spot the celebrity throughout this film.

The acting was actually good, but I cannot say that I enjoyed this movie. I didn’t like the premise. It is about a young girl who has a curse set upon her, causing her to be born with a pig’s nose. It set out to say that beauty is only skin deep and that the person is more important than how they look. However, the writer and director obviously did not believe this to be true, you could tell by the over-reaction of everyone to Penelope’s nose. Her parents believed that it was okay to keep her hidden from the world because of her looks. They felt that they would have to trick someone into marrying her. I was also not keen on a 21st century film suggesting that the only good outcome for a young girl is marriage.

I did not like the outcome of the film. I hated that the “happy ending” was not that somebody was able to love her for herself, but that her nose got fixed!

I understand that this film is marketed at children or young adults and that it is not aimed at my age group, but that makes it almost worse in a way. The film implies, as a joke admittedly, that it is normal behavior for people to run away and jump out of windows to get away from people who don’t conform to a look that we see as normal.

I realise that people have conflicting views and others may see this film differently, but if I had children of that age, this is not a movie that I would be taking them to see.

Green Room (dir. Jeremy Saulnier) 2015

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Green Room is marketed as a violent thriller, gory horror movie. It is actually a violent thriller, gory horror movie. It delivers.

There is lots of blood, lots of violence, lots of aggression. There are plenty of thrills, many tense moments. It has a good cast, some dark humour and a loud indie/punk soundtrack.

It has Anton Yelchin as Pat, a guitarist in a punk rock band who witnesses a death. It has Imogen Poots as Amber, who turns out to be very handy with a knife and not at all squeamish about using it. It has Patrick Stewart as Darcy, a white supremacist with a small army of thugs and attack dogs at his disposal. He is brilliantly menacing and when he says near the start of the film “Let’s be clear. It won’t end well” you truly believe him.

Slash horror movies are not usually the type of film that I choose to watch, but a good movie is a good movie and this is well written, well directed and well acted.

In short, it is an excellent example of its genre. If you like violent thriller, gory horror movies you will enjoy this.

Sing Street (dir. John Carney) 2016

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This film is written and directed by John Carney. He has a huge talent for writing likeable and recognisable characters. All of his films have some fantastic original songs in them  and this one mixes together a great 1980s soundtrack with some excellent original material.

The story is lovely, a boy forming a post-punk rock band to impress a girl who is out of his league, and to impress his stoner older brother, who he idolises. The older brother is played by Jack Reynor, who is outstanding and all but steals the show.

My one difficulty with the film was suspending my disbelief, the band became too good at playing their instruments too quickly and the happy ending was almost sad, because, as a walk off into the sunset, it was so doomed to end in disaster. This mattered because I liked everyone involved so much that I at least wanted them to have some realistic chance of success.

Having said that, this film is very enjoyable and it is rare that a writer can make you like almost everyone in a film, even the school bully.