Tag Archives: New Zealand

Movie Review: Deathgasm (2015)

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Rating: D/ My dad chose this movie and Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead for our horror film night a couple of days before Halloween. It’s times like that when my mom and I think he should not be allowed to choose movies, ever. Deathgasm is pretty much what you’d expect if you crossed Evil Dead with Beavis & Butthead, and if that gets you jazzed up, great. It wasn’t for me. The first ten minutes or so got me anticipating a funnier movie than I actually ended up getting, and the premise of a group of teen death metal fans living in a oppressive, bible-belt town accidentally summoning a horde of demons by playing a possessed song sounded like it would be… well, not Oscar-worthy, but a lot of fun. Continue reading Movie Review: Deathgasm (2015)

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Movie Review: Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

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Rating: B+/ There was a lot of excitement in our household for the upcoming release of Hunt for the Wilderpeople. We loved Taika Waititi’s previous effort, What We Do in the Shadows, which has become one of our top movies to rewatch and quote. Eagle Vs. Shark didn’t exactly do it for me, but it’s abundantly obvious that Waititi has loads of talent and a knack for dry, sometimes borderline dark humor and eccentric characters. So it should come as no surprise that Hunt for the Wilderpeople, based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, is no exception. Continue reading Movie Review: Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Movie Review: The Dark Horse (2014)

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Rating: B-/ I know I’m in the minority in finding this feel-good Kiwi drama a little over-rated; it’s perfectly charming and watchable, yes, but also perfectly formulaic. It’s the kind of movie you can watch and go “Yeah, I enjoyed that,” but it’s predictability makes it hard for it to make much of a lasting impression on you. That said, the actors here are a standout. There’s clearly so much underrated dramatic talent on display here, and they successfully maneuver The Dark Horse through it’s moments where it is just ‘blah’ at best, frustratingly cliche and pat at worst. Continue reading Movie Review: The Dark Horse (2014)

Housebound (2014)

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Best described as a ‘haunted house movie that’s not a haunted house movie,’ “Housebound” starts out rather unimpressively and gradually takes hold of your attention with an intriguing mystery and a surprising twist. Once I realized it wasn’t going to be a laugh-out-loud giggle fest like another recent NZ horror/comedy, “What We Do in the Shadows” (although “Housebound” as it’s chuckle-worthy moments, however modestly offered up) I settled in and enjoyed the mix of camp and cult sensibility combined with some legitimate creepiness and entertaining, if cheesy, practical effects.

Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) is a world-class bitch and juvenile delinquent which a long standing bad attitude toward adults, authority figures, and the world in general. She is picked up by the police while bashing open an ATM to satisfy her methamphetamine habit and sent to live with her family on house arrest. Worse, Kylie hates her overly gregarious, soap opera-watching mom (Rima Te Wiata) and taciturn stepdad Greame (Ross Harper,) so she’s pretty much as pissed off about the arrangement as she could possibly be.

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Until the supernatural gets mixed into the arrangement, and her bratty, futile anger turns to fear. Her mom has always suggested that the house could be haunted, being a hotspot for strange and ghostly activity. The weird happenings intensify when Kylie arrives in the house, but who, besides her oddball family,will believe her? Certainly not the authorities who put her under house arrest; certainly not the cops. Or so she thinks- until the realization that her parole officer Amos (Glen-Paul Naru) is a huge paranormal enthusiast and could not be more eager to accompany her on her spooky investigation.

The beginning of this movie doesn’t bode well for the film as a whole, with too little humor and too few things of particular interest going on. Plus, Kylie isn’t exactly a likable character,  with her self-absorbed disdain for anyone who tries to stop her from doing exactly what she wants to do. At the beginning, I was tempted to pack it up and go to bed, but by the end I was glad I didn’t . This movie’s twist is creative and astonishingly well-thought-out.

“Housebound”‘s acting is halfway decent (nothing that’s going to win a Academy Award, but good in the context of the movie) and the identity of the true baddie is a shocker- in classic mystery fashion, they’re the last person you would expect! I’m not sure why this was so highly lauded by Rotten Tomatoes, but I’m glad I watched the whole thing. The movie, while not being the future horror classic some made it out to be, has it’s charms. It’s no “What We Do in the Shadows” (a movie I feel in love with immediately upon watching) but it’s got some value in the horror/comedy world of the great, the okay, and the just plain awful.

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Out of the Blue (2006)

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When a character in a mainstream film wields a gun, there is usually a method to his madness. Sometimes he’s a hero, protecting innocent civilians and upholding American values (not sure what that says about us, but whatever) against a villain. A baddie, on the other hand, uses the weapon as the means to an end. He has a plan for revenge, or world domination, or seeks to simply send a message to the good guy that yes, evil will triumph against the benign forces who seek to battle crime. Everything makes sense, at least on the level of indisputable action-movie logic. Everything is simple.

This assumption made by the mass media- that every act of violence has a reason, which can be dissected and fought by an opposing force, is what makes “Out of the Blue” so jarring. Because in the popcorn flick, kids don’t die. Victims are props to be used within the context of a bigger picture. It doesn’t seem so personal. “Out of the Blue” is a movie about a man who goes on a mass killing spree.

He plasters a number of residents in the seaside community of Aramoana, New Zealand; men, women, children, old people, for no fucking reason. He just goes off. That’s it. Now I’m sure in the true story this movie is based on, the shooter, David Gray, had more motivation than what what was initially evident. Family problems, money problems, relationship problems; all that crap. But “Out of the Blue” refuses to focus on the ‘why’ of what makes David Gray tick. Instead, it concentrates on the victims.

Aramoana’s police force’s biggest problem at the beginning of the film is rounding up errant dogs and investigating the apparent theft of ladies panties from David Gray (Matthew Sunderland,) the local weirdo. Kids go to school. Grown-ups go to work. Vacationers go fishing on the pier. Dogs and cats do whatever the hell pets do when their people aren’t home. It seems like a boring, regular day. But this is also the day where something inside small-town outcast David Gray’s brain snaps for the final time. He goes and buys a gun from a local shop, arbitrarily ranting and raving as he goes about his day. No longer will be remembered as David Gray, pervert and pantie raider. Things are going to go down in a big way.

It’s obvious that director Robert Sarkies has developed more of a sense of technical verve since his feature film debut, “Scarfies.” “Out of the Blue” is a taut, studied meditation on human nature, the good and the bad of it. Police officer Nick Harvey (Karl Urban) goes about an ordinary day, dealing with ho-hem pedestrian problems . Sweet old lady Helen Dickson (Lois Lawn) sees her grown son Jimmy (Timothy Barlett) off to work, completely ignorant of the fact that she will show uncommon bravery and soon be considered a hero by the media. Garry Holden (Simon Ferry) prepares to tell he and his girlfriend’s kids that they’ve gotten engaged.

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It would be easy to go for nihilism in a story like this, but to take a ‘fuck humanity, we’re gross’ approach would be a disservice to the people who had their lives taken from them or altered forever in the carnage. Instead, we see the mad contrast between human ugliness and the redemptive power of the spirit. As David shoots up the town, a woman risks her life to pull her pet goat into the house. Now that’s the fucking human condition there. One person shoots indiscriminately at unarmed civilians, one person goes out of her way to rescue a farm animal. We’re cut from the same cloth, but we’re by no means the same. Some of us might as well be a different species all together.

Meanwhile, elderly Helen, who recently had hip replacement surgery, proves herself to be a bigger badass than anyone could have imagined. And while I usually feel weirdly sorry for mentally ill murderers, David Gray was making me involuntarily yell at the screen “Kill him, kill him, kill him!” in futile exasperation. And the end? What he got was too good for him. The acting is suitably outstanding from all, even the nonprofessionals (are we sure this was Lois Lawn’s first and only film role?) Karl Urban talks with his eyes in what is probably one of the most heart-wrenching performances of recent years.

Among the bloodshed, we do get to see some beautiful footage of New Zealand and we are offered beautiful shots of the mundane serenity of daily life. The steady, unblinking look into everyday existence contrasted with unthinkable violence is kind of like Haneke, if Haneke didn’t hate the fuck out his characters. I did think the movie was a little too long and tended to meander a bit too much (with lots of unnecessary shots of Garry’s burning house) but that is pretty much the only complaint. The other is that as desensitized as I am, this movie made my stomach flutter with anxiety and my heart hurt.

People who constantly bitch about even the most reasonable gun control laws need to watch this movie. It could just as well be called “Why Crazy People Shouldn’t Have Guns.” Background checks? Unfathomable! Then this happens, and this country says it’s going to change, but it doesn’t. The problem is, people who push the right for every man to have a gun his his hand and his other hand down his pants to wank at his power trip probably don’t want to watch a movie about the actual consequences of violence.

“Out of the Blue” is super realistic, even agonizingly so. But it’s an important watch, and a achingly well-made movie on it’s own terms. The actors are portraying the victims stories like it’s their last role on earth, and breaking our hearts in the process. It takes it’s place for me as my second favorite New Zealand film (nothing beats “What We Do in the Shadows,” guys!) and one of the only films that truly disturbed and shocked me in recent times. But there is a meaning behind the violence, one that unfortunately will fail to reach those who need it most. I recommend this for everyone who likes movies as art as well as entertainment, and even more to those who like social commentary in their filmmaking. This s what Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” tried and failed to be, a truly profound statement on human nature and gun violence.

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Scarfies (AKA Crime 101) (1999)

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Take this film for what it is (an uneven and extremely low budget thriller and morality play) and you may find yourself enjoying the effective acting displayed within and bruising social commentary concerning the self-absorption and sometimes outright shittiness of humankind. It’s Danny Boyle’s “Shallow Grave” meets “Lord of the Flies” meets early Quentin Tarantino with a distinct lack of the technical verve Tarantino showed even early on into his career.

That said, this is one of the more psychologically harrowing and disturbing ‘black comedies’ of recent times. Dark humor, or just plain dark? When the douchebag college kids glue their weed-peddling captive’s lips and hands together and force him to squat with his pants pulled halfway down and shit into a bucket, I was struck by the indignity of it all. “Scarfies” remains relatively compelling despite the almost nil production values and contemptuous cast of characters because it starts out with a somewhat sympathizable ‘what would you do?’ scenario until it takes a sudden plunge into the darkest of places, where sadistic mind games and senseless violence overtake rationality and basic human decency.

The film follows a group of college students who squat in an abandoned house that incongruously has electricity. Initially they are relatively carefree, partying and drinking like there’s no tomorrow, bonding and making love and getting high. Impulsive frat boy-type Alex (Taika Waititi) uses a monumentally awful pick-up line on the object of his affections, straight-laced Nicola (Ashleigh Seagar) and coaxes her into his bed, while Scott (Neill Rea) and Emma (Willa O’Neill) make moon eyes at each other but don’t act on their mutual attraction. Graham (Charlie Bleakley) has a crush on Nicola, but waffles around it and acts generally irritating.

It’s all fun and games until the five students open and jammed-up door in the basement of the squalid building and find a collection of pot plants, all primed and ready to smoke. After a fierce debate, they sell the lot and blow the entirety of their drug money on various electronics and personal vanities. So when the dealer (Jon Brazier) shows up volatile and royally pissed at the loss of his crop, they lock him in the basement. And that’s when the real fun begins.

Movies and literature continually show that kids are scary as hell. So why shouldn’t a group of well-groomed, outwardly innocuous college youngsters be any different? It is Alex (Waititi,) however, who makes me suspect that his brain is made of bits and bobs and cogs that render him not quite a person, at least not in the spiritual sense. Despite being good-looking, calm, seemingly ordinary, and well-liked, Alex possesses the heart of killer, a sense of apathy and sadistic glee at his misdoings, and the self-confidence to coerce his frightened roommates into obedience and stunned silence.

Graham, however, while initially appearing to be a ineffectual innocuous type (pining pitifully for Nicola and crying at the slightest provocation,) proves to be the kind of guy who held your hands behind your back as you got punched in the gut in high school. He enjoys the high-stakes excitement of having a prisoner to heckle and hurt, so he follows the smugly cruel Alex’s lead in what is essentially torture, culminating in a electronic device to control the prisoner’s behavior through electric shocks.

“Scarfies” is not really a comedy, except in the sense of ironic human indecency. However, it is an interesting study of human behavior and the innate sense of self-interest exhibited by people everywhere. “Better him than me.” How many times have we innately said that to ourselves, believing that it would be ultimately preferable that someone else take the fall for us? The acting and the story are better than you might expect, and there are a few laughs to be had among the dark sense of foreboding and transgression.

If nothing else, you’ll watch to the end hoping the ‘protagonists’ get what they deserve. Taika Waititi definitely shows early promise in a precursor to his work as a director. His not only smug and self-satisfied, but (in this reviewer’s humble opinion) downright sociopathic character’s face needed punching. Make no mistake, this movie is no masterwork of cinema, but if you like cynical social commentaries that pull no punches in regards to how they view people (superior to apes? I think not!) you’ll probably enjoy this movie. Just don’t expect a laugh riot or a glossy Hollywood film.

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Eagle vs. Shark (2007)

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Was I the only one who hoped this movie’s sweetly awkward heroine would unceremoniously dump Jemaine Clement by the end credits? Jarrod, Clement’s character, was by far one of the most infuriating, self-absorbed, callous romantic leads I’ve had the (displeasure) of encountering. I know he was supposed to be socially retarded as all fuck or have severe Asperger’s or something (probably the latter) but seriously, he was a jerk.

The heroine in question is cute girl nerd Lily (Loren Horsley,) who fools around on her guitar crooning Kimya Dawson-esque melodies in the privacy of her room and is laid off from her menial job at the local burger joint shortly into the movie. She lives with her supportive movie fanatic brother Damien (Joel Tobeck) and seems to have an Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

The object of Lily’s awkward affections is Jarrod (yes, the jerk,) who works at the video game store and remains bafflingly self-obsessed throughout the movie. Lily pursues him, and the pursuit continues for a while, until finally they get together at a ‘dress as your favorite animal party’ (Jarrod as the eagle, and Lily as the shark, hence the title,) have singularly unerotic sex and start tentatively dating.

The problem is, Lily has an all-consuming desire to hold on to Jarrod, a real catch (or so she thinks,) and Jarrod’s barely able to put in an effort. He continually treats Lily like crap and has the two excuses handy that either (a he’s frustratingly complex or (b he’s got clinical depression and therefore it’s his right to be dick. This would be unconscionable if it weren’t abundantly clear that Jarrod was even more severely impaired at dealing with the real world than Lily.

Lily goes on a roadtrip with Jarrod to his hometown where he hopes to get revenge on a guy that bullied him in high school. They stop by Jarrod’s home and Lily meets his bizarre family, including Jarrod’s loser sister (Rachel House)  and brother-in-law (Craig Hall) who shamelessly peddle shit merchandise to anyone and everyone they encounter and his wheelchair-bound father Jarrod (Brian Sargent,) who idolizes Jarrod’s dead older brother but won’t give Jarrod the time of day.

“Eagle vs. Shark” is actor-director Taika Waititi (“Boy,” “What We Do In the Shadows”)’s weakest film, but that doesn’t mean it’s a completely tepid affair. The stop-motion animated sequences are whimsical and charming. And Loren Horsley is sweet as pie as Lily in a performance that makes you want hug her and knit her a warm sweater. Jemaine Clement is markedly less appealing as an offbeat weirdo who does nothing but take, take, take from Lily’s fragile confidence and self esteem but still manages to win her over for good in a finale that’s probably more depressing than it ought to be.

It’s not laugh-til-you-cry funny, but it’s chuckle-worthy and cute, though it seems an odd directorial choice to make the majority of the characters not only almost Autistic in their social ineptitude, but also act quite literally like they’re on the spectrum. It’s a movie where quirky people do quirky things at the exact right moment, but it’s hard to believe such a plethora of oddballs could even exist in the same story.

In other words, “Eagle Vs. Shark” is okay and worth watching once for its myriad moments of mild humor, but it doesn’t measure up to Waititi’s other features (“Boy,” which was quite charming and dramatically effective if formulaic, and “What We Do in the Shadows,” which was outstanding and one of the funniest horror-comedies of the 21st Century.)

To say it is better than the thematically similar “Napoleon Dynamite” is not saying much, but this sometimes overly quirky dramedy has it’s undeniably sweet moments.

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