Tag Archives: Small Towns

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)

Book Review: I’m Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti

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Rating: B+/ A quick read that sucks you in immediately with it’s fascinating premise, I’m Not Scared actually pales a little in comparison to it’s outstanding film adaptation, but is nevertheless absolutely a compulsively readable and extremely entertaining book. I bought the book because I was a huge fan of the film, and I finished it in a day. I think I would have liked it better if I didn’t know almost exactly what was going to happen from the movie version, which robbed the suspenseful story of the element of surprise; and the ending did not quite work for me. I think it will make for a better experience if you read the book first. But nonetheless, I’m Not Scared is a compelling read with a likable boy protagonist who is forced to come of age and make some very hard decisions over the course of a sweltering summer in a small Italian village in 1978. Continue reading Book Review: I’m Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti

Movie Review: Breaking Away (1979)

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Rating: B/ A film about bicycling might seem like a odd choice for someone who’s never gotten past peddling up and down the road on their bike as a small child, but I’ve always said that for me a sports movie is only as good as it’s characters and bigger themes. I have literally zero interest in sports or anything physical (as you’d be able to tell from my decidedly lumpy physique,) but luckily, Breaking Away is made up out of all the things in life; coming of age, romance, family, relationships… sure, it’s a little bit corny watching it now, but there’s so much more to this movie than the protagonist’s obsession with biking, a fixation that, like his fascination with everything Italian, only seems to grow over time. Continue reading Movie Review: Breaking Away (1979)

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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The Other by Thomas Tryon

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Being an identical twin can be murder. Just ask Niles Perry, a well-mannered thirteen-year-old whose twin brother Holland possesses a sadistic streak and a penchant for causing deadly ‘accidents.’ Niles both loves, fears, and is in intense awe of his enigmatic brother, but all is not what it seems in Thomas Tryon’s Gothic psychological horror novel.

I had a rocky start with this novel, because I kept on wondering how Niles could not suspect his brother of wrongdoing. I was relieved to find, however, that the (cleverly wrought) twist midway through the book rendered these concerns obsolete. If Niles seems outrageously naïve, that just makes the revelation all the more effective.

Novelist Thomas Tryon evokes the homey mystique of a 30’s Connecticut farming town. Pequot Landing, as it so happens, is an idyllic place to grow up for children who are independent and reasonably well-adjusted, because of the freedom such a locale offers (kids can go wherever they want and do whatever they want, within reason,) but the stifling gossip of the town ladies also makes it important to tread carefully while within earshot of anyone who might decide they want your family problems as fodder for discussion.

For the Perry’s, for which insanity seems to  run in the family, the continual stream of hearsay is never-ending. If you can get by Tryon’s penchant for long, elaborate, needlessly wordy sentences, ‘The Other’ might prove to be your new favorite creepy-cool summer read. You might be surprised that despite the fact that it was published in 1971, it’s aged quite well and doesn’t seem watered-down in terms of horror by jaded modern standards.

There are deaths a-plenty in “The Other,” and the one that bothered me most (even more than the particularly taboo murder at the end) was the demise of elderly widow Mrs. Rowe. Damn it she just wanted to have some tea and lemonade with the local children! Why must the lonely old bird be treated so? :_(

“The Other” makes you think about what people do to keep their loved ones out of the mental health system, and how that initial act of mercy can prove to be destructive later on. Doesn’t the boys’ Russian grandmother, Ada, know her grandson is a raving lunatic? Of course she does. But she refuses to anticipate the consequences of keeping such a boy at home with her, and her naiveté is punished tenfold.

I’ve heard of people whose family members continually lashed out at them; people who’s loved ones had to be locked in their room at night. In the end, the decision lies with the caregiver, but sometimes it’s not only easier, but kinder just to let go. This is an extreme version of a situation many people deal with- the seemingly impossible challenge of loving and caring for a severely emotionally disturbed child.

Ultimately, I think Tryon is too hard on old Ada. Yes, it was her ‘game’ that led to much of the insanity in the first place. But she is only human. And If the game had never came to be? What? Tragedy may have been avoided, but sociopathy and madness still ran thick in the Perry’s blood. While Ada’s final act seemed somewhat out of character, it was a decision born of extreme desperation, not evil or cruelty.

Although I found Niles annoying throughout (though he seemed surprisingly less so after I found out the twist,) I thought ‘The Other’ was a chillingly rendered, deliciously Gothic read. I love those kind of Gothic stories involving family secrets and sequestered craziness, so this was right up my alley. Now I want to rent the movie.

The Captive (2014)

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All in all, “The Captive” is a pretty lame movie. It incorporates a ‘ripped from the headlines’ story with an admittedly good performance from Ryan Reynolds (who’s obviously trying to shed his ‘pretty boy’ image, with some success, but that doesn’t make this movie good,) but ultimately proves to be an unthrilling film that fails to be realistic or compelling.

Most of the fault seems to be with Kevin Durand, who plays a mustachioed pedo freak which such cartoonish abandon that one can only sigh and weep for the direction this movie takes. Durand’s Mika (but I’ll call him pedostache, mm-kay?) kidnaps young Cass (played by Peyton Kennedy as a child and Alexia Fast as a teen) from under poor Reynolds’ nose and does unspeakable things to her.

Reynolds, her dad, is blamed by his grieving wife (Mirielle Enos) for leaving Cass in the car for just a minute as he went into the pie shop to get dessert for his the three of them. Luckily, police officers specializing in child abduction and sexual abuse Nicole  (Rosario Dawson) and Jeffrey (Scott Speedman) are on the case.

It’s every parents worst nightmare, and great fodder for a thrilling, terrifying crime story, but something is missing. And it’s a shame that, with Reynolds performing so admirably, the central villains performance often lowers the film to ridiculousness.

Mika is an ever-so-slightly effeminate deviant with a pencil-thin pedostache, bleached buck teeth, a habit of crossing and uncrossing his legs constantly, and a penchant for opera, in other words, a live-action cartoon character who is impossible to take seriously in a film that is otherwise for all intents and purposes, earnest.

What the film doesn’t realize is that pedophiles look like regular people. They look like the kindly old man halfway down the block, the big bearish uncle who used to placate you with sweets and hug you a little too tightly. To portray an offender as a John Waters-esque creep is to do a disservice to reality. And Durand’s overly zesty performance doesn’t help.

Let me tell you about the ending. Obviously, **spoilers. Read at your own risk. Cass, who looks thirteen like Dame Maggie Smith looks twenty-five, is freed, and the baddie is smote. She returns to her regular life almost immediately, and the film closes on her ice-skating with a happy grin on her face. After years of Tina (Enos) psychologically abusing Matthew (Reynolds) and blaming him for their daughter’s’ disappearance, it seems like the duo will automatically get back together.

Aw, how Kodak. Bring out the camera, folks! Smile! Except all I can say is, really?!! Not only does the film completely fail to mention that Cass will be scarred for life and saying she will have trouble adjusting is a massive understatement, the revelation of Matthew and Tina hooking up at the end seems completely false. Their daughter is back, suddenly everything is swell! Never mind that the whole family has been completely through the ringer and will probably be deeply damaged for the rest of their lives. **end of spoilers

It would have been interesting to see Reynolds play the bad guy like he (sorta) did in “The Voices” (the “Voices” anti-hero wasn’t a pedo though, just a nice old fashioned serial killer.) To see Ryan Reynolds play a perv would be so totally different that I would kind of have to applaud it. As least “The Voices” felt like a unique experience. “The Captive” feels like a nighttime crime show that you half-watch while occupying yourself elsewhere. A really bad crime show. Ryan Reynolds, I don’t think this movie is the best way to further your career.  Although, I must admit, playing alongside Durand did make you look damn good.

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The Voices (2014)

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Jerry Hickfang (Ryan Reynolds) is the kind of man no one would suspect of any wrong doing- well-groomed, mild-mannered, and charmingly naïve and uncomplicated, he gets along with all his co-workers at the bathtub factory at which he works, and lives a comfortable life with his cat and dog in the podunk town of Milton.

But Jerry has deep-seated problems- problems that stem from his Schizophrenic mother, his abusive stepfather, and his own out-of-control fantasies and delusions that manifest themselves in voices and often comforting, if woefully misleading, visions. Like many mentally ill people, Jerry finds that all the color is drained from his life when he takes the zombifying pills his psychiatrist (Jacki Weaver) prescribes.

But Jerry has a secret. It’s not that shocking that Jerry talks to his pets (Hell, doesn’t everybody?) But his animals have been particularly vocal lately. His cat, especially, has been known to push him to the edge. And Mr. Whiskers has an agenda- an agenda that turns downright murderous after Jerry accidently kills his indifferent love interest Fiona (Gemma Arterton) in a fit of panic.

Mr. Whiskers is insistent that Jerry kill again, but Jerry’s lovable mastiff, Bosco, tries to convince Jerry to live a morally righteous life. Jerry’s descent into madness is both wickedly funny, fairly disturbing, and oddly touching. “The Voices,” helmed by the graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi (‘Persopolis,”) is an offbeat morality tale about the pressures of being a ‘good boy’ Vs. giving in to your inner sociopath.

The script is convoluted, and downright ridiculous at times- the deer scene will make you laugh if you aren’t too busy cringing at the copious gore. But it’s all part of the blackly comic vision screenwriter Michael R. Perry has offered up on screen for us. “The Voices” is also visually striking; there’s a distinct contrast between the beauty, presented up in rich hues that makes up how Jerry sees the world and the dank, dark reality of Jerry’s bloodstained apartment.

Ryan Reynolds gives a commendable performance as Jerry, an upbeat man-child with a homicidal streak, and disturbingly, you’re forced to sympathize with his earnest if deranged worldview, and thus, to some extent, his crimes. Bosco and Mr. Whiskers are also voiced by Reynolds, which makes perfect sense, being that they are quite literally extensions of Jerry himself.

Considering the talent that is on display here, the totally WTF ending is regrettable to say the least. It’s like the writer went ‘what the hell’ after days of writer’s block, got high, and quickly scrawled down an ending with no real cohesion or connection to the rest of the story. Why not have a big song and dance sequence at the end of your horror film? Add Jesus? What the hell! We don’t see enough of that guy these days anyway.

For people who wanted an actual conclusion to Jerry’s story, that you know, made any kind of sense whatsoever, the ending will be a huge disappointment. Simply put- this is not a great movie. But it is the kind of movie I like to watch, off-the-chain and quirkily, even shallowly psychological, so I’m bound to cut it more slack than some people might.

For those viewers who set their expectations (reasonably) low and prepare for a stinker of an ending, for those movie lovers who like their comedies pitch-black and all kinds of twisted, The Voices” might turn out to be a strangely gratifying experience. Because like poor Jerry Hickfang, we all see the world the way we want to see it. But unlike Jerry, most of us are unwilling to kill for that vision.

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