Tag Archives: Taika Waititi

Movie Review: Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

hunt-for-the-wilderpeople-poster

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)

Advertisements

Scarfies (AKA Crime 101) (1999)

scarfies taika waititi

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.

scarfies

Eagle vs. Shark (2007)

anthony_eagle_vs_shark_poster_by_grafikdzine

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.

eagle-vs-shark

Boy (2010)

Boy2010movieposter

“Boy” is an appealing film and an arresting look into another time and place, so it’s a shame it relies heavily on coming-of-age cliches to tell it’s story. Never fear, though- despite the feeling of been-there done-that that pervades this feature, “Boy” has charm and sweetness to spare, and is worth watching despite it’s rather standard execution.

At the center of this sentimental picture is an 11-year-old Maori lad (James Rolleston)  who calls himself ‘boy.’ Boy’s life is far from carefree- he lives in poverty, the responsibility of his younger brother Rocky (Te Aho Eketone Whitu) and his cousins often fall into his hands, he is besieged by bullies at school, and the girl (Ricky-Lee Waipuka Russell) he likes doesn’t know he exists. But he approaches his challenges with a freshness and active fantasy life that belies the direness of his situation.

Boy is surrounded by quirky and hardscrabble characters, not least of which is his shy brother, who believes he has superpowers. While Boy’s grandmother is out at a funeral and entrusting his multitude of relatives to him for a couple of weeks, Boy’s biological father Alamein (actor/director Taika Waititi) comes crashing into his life. Boy is entranced by his charming dad, despite the man’s ne’er do well ways and gang affiliations.

Anyone but Boy can see that Alamein is a worthless chode, so it just becomes a waiting game until the big reveal where Boy realizes it too. Meanwhile, Alamein and his equally useless friends start digging for a stash of money they buried years ago. Alamein seems caring and paternal on the surface (at least to a naive kid in desperate need of a father figure like Boy,) but in reality he is concerned with people only to the point that they serve his best interests.

Boy_waititi

The child actors perform admirably (you can keenly see the pain in Boy’s eyes when his dad hauls off and slaps him,) and the crayon ‘fantasy’ sequences add a little originality to a mostly tired plot. It actually works better in terms of story that Boy is not always a boy scout even before his father comes into the picture and changes his attitude for the worse- he torments his brother and hurls rocks at the village idiot (Waihori Shortland,) but for the most part his intentions seem to be good.

Taika Waititi does an effective job as Alamein, playing the somewhat tired character of the charming rogue with big plans and no backing-up of his multitude of promises. You kind of want to like him despite the obvious signs that he’s bad business, and you could see how an inexperienced child might be sucked into his high-wire act way of life. But it’s also bitterly clear that he’s bad business for Boy. As Boy spends more and more time with Alamein, feeding off his manic energy, Boy’s brother and cousins go without the much-needed care and concern of their young caregiver. It’s just a matter of time until something gives, and with Alamein’s unreliable ways that shift will be sooner rather than later.

There are multiple Michael Jackson fantasy dance scenes (the year is 1984, and Boy is a massive fan of the Jackster,) and they fit into the narrative more than they probably should- the movie is a surprisingly cohesive mix of laughter and sadness, fantasy and harsh reality. It’s frustratingly predictable, but also solidly sweet, charming, and well-acted, with a steady combination of nostalgia and hard times.

I can definitely see the kid actors going somewhere, and “Boy” has an abundance of warm feelings that help it through it’s more so-so parts. We know that Boy will reject his dad’s false promises and that he will give up pursuing his crush to be with the girl who’s loved him all along, triggering an inevitable coming-of-age, but it’s nice to take the journey nonetheless.

Boy-3

What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

whatqw

Living among the undead can be an uproarious experience, as this side-splitting found-footage comedy proves. Okay, there’s a small margin for error while filming a documentary of a group of vampire roommates (in other words, don’t piss them off you you just might be dinner) but what are vampires really, if not just a couple of the guys? They yearn for the same things everyone else does- closeness, companionship, a scrap of normalcy, and just because their continued existence has a body count doesn’t mean they aren’t sympathetic or possessors of nearly human hearts- right?

In the main trio of bloodsuckers, Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) is the Lothario, Deacon (Jonny Brugh) is a bit of a ‘bad boy,’ and  Viago (Taika Waititi) is the sweetly pedantic glue that holds the odd little family together. They cohabitate in a stereotypically old Gothic house where their maker, Petyr (Ben Fransham, who looks more than a little like the antagonist in F.W. Murneau’s silent classic “Nosferatu,”) resides in the basement, and they allow a small group of filmmakers into the house to observe their way of life. That’s when the hilarity starts, and it doesn’t let up until the end credits. Who knew vampires could be so persnickety, moody, and altogether human in their foibles?

whatwedo

Vampire cohabitation, it turns out, has the same pitfalls as human cohabitation, plus tricky issues like bloody plates and saucers and troublesome ribcages tossed haphazardly upon the floor. It is not what makes the vampires different, but what makes them similar to the humans they prey on (in a bloody and hilarious fashion) that makes up the film’s humor. They are not above heckling each other and their werewolf rivals, bitching about housework and division of labor in terms of chores, and even the occasional gloomy day (the difference is, Vladislav deals with his depression by abducting and torturing unfortunate humans, a sure sign that he is in ‘a bad place’ mentally and emotionally.)

My favorite vampire is Viago. I don’t think the movie would have been half as good without him. He’s more than a little camp (I would have pegged him for homosexual,) but he came to this country for love (with a woman) who passed him by and has aged well into her twilight years. He’s the supportive backbone for his friends and he seems oddly empathetic and likable despite his bloodlust. All three of the leads do a great job though, and the laughs arrive in a machine gun fire of hilarious lines.

Light-hearted and simultaneously bloody and raucous, “What We Do in the Shadows” never causes us in shrink back in revulsion from our heroes (despite their ne’er do well nighttime activities) but makes us laugh with them and regard them with mirth and good humor as well as genuine admiration. They do what they have to do, and they make us laugh like Hell in the process. The jokes are deadpan and brilliant in their execution, making the viewer all but fall of the chair giggling at the filmmakers’ wit and creativity.

The plot isn’t epic or anything, it’s a vehicle for the jokes. It makes you feel light and happy leaving it, refusing to get too serious despite some dark implications lingering within the script. Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, gifted directors as well as actors, have created a wonderful movie that will be enjoyed through the ages (unlike most found footage films, which lay flaccidly on the market as soon as they are distributed and add nothing new, thereby being rendered obsolete and forgotten within a couple of years.) I sense a cult following for this one, guys, I really do. You don’t have to be a horror fan to recognize the comedic genius at work here, and I recommend this to anybody with a sense of humor (you know who you are) and an hour to kill.

whatwedo