THE HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE TURNS UP A NEW ZEALAND GEM

His name is Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), he’s a big kid who’s had it a bit rough, he’ll tell you he doesn’t care about anything, ready to argue with anybody who puts him down and he’s constantly using words from pop culture to describe himself as a bad-ass street kid. Aunt Bella sees right through him in 10 seconds flat. A home maybe the most important thing you can give a child and by that I don’t mean a nice house to live in. Bella (Rima Te Wiata) lives with Hec (Sam Neil) who was a wanderer who used to live in the woods before he met her. Kids are not the only ones who need a good place to call home. Uncle Hec is even more standoffish than Ricky and the film remarkably even features him saying bitter emotional words to the young boy at times when a more mature adult wouldn’t. Some films wouldn’t stay true to his character nor some actors. I’m used to seeing Sam Neil be urbane and smart but quite enjoyed him playing against type while returning to his homeland to star in a big local production. There’s a nice moment they share up on a mountain where Hec reflects on who they are and what life holds for them. This is a film that remembers you have to have a first act for the rest of the story to matter and time is taken here to beautifully set up an important dynamic between these three characters that is very touching.

For reasons I won’t disclose here Ricky and Hec end up on the run in the New Zealand woods on a boy’s own adventure and there’s something nicely retro where a kid’s tale is mostly spent camping in the wilderness. They’re pursued by child services led by Paula  who is rigidly villainous but is given a spirited performance by actress Rachel House and delivers my favourite line of the whole film.

The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent but it is Julian Dennison who steals the show. It is a fantastic lead performance full of great humour and attitude before repeatedly hitting you with unexpected touching pathos.

The film is like a Hardy Boys tale for our time with playful film techniques including a Hunger Vision, a troubled youth for a lead, pop culture references and one spectacular car chase. Inherently a Kiwi tale with an appealing story that is universal to all cultures. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a charming film from beginning to end. Utilising the budget well, the New Zealand countryside hasn’t been captured this well on film since it was called Middle-Earth. The car chase alone is probably the biggest ever filmed in the country where even the NZ Army have loaned out their only two armoured vehicles! 🙂 I kid cous.

When the film’s director Taika Waititi was announced to be directing Thor: Ragnorak I hadn’t heard of the man. Well I’ve heard of him now and I look forward to his next films. As you for Ricky, you may not have chosen the Skuxx Life but you sure make it sound appealing. Big kids need homes and good movies – this is one.

-Lloyd Marken

ALICE GOING THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS AND THE SEQUEL MOTIONS

I loved reading Lewis Carroll as a kid, like Tolkien, Barrie, Dahl and C.S. Lewis he wrote with a limitless imaginiation and sly intelligence. All these old men implied the same fact – adults don’t believe in magic anymore the poor fools. They didn’t talk down to kids, kids are smart and were in on the secret and I loved the escapism of their tales.

That spirit is alive in this film I guess, the visuals are sumptuous and created with imagination, (Father Time in particular looks neat with his lit up blue eyes) and Wonderland remains a CGI feast. That CGI is a little too unreal for my tastes but that is a matter of taste. As the film draws on it seems there are only a handful of locations we are going to rather than free flight through a magical world like in the books but the artists involved have worked hard and made something beautiful.

The story starts with Alice (Mia Wasikowska) now a Sea Captain, living happily as an independent young woman going on adventures in our world. Suitors for marriage don’t encourage her back to Wonderland this time but rather underfoot financial attacks on her independence. Returning to Wonderland she finds the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) ill with remorse over his lost family and sets off on a time travelling journey through his origins and that of both The White Queen (Anne Hathaway) and Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). Depp plays the vulnerability of his character’s ailing health and regrets well. It has been a few years and audiences may find it hard to recall the events of the original film and the importance of Alice’s relationship to the Mad Hatter in the previous film (not the books) so Depp eliciting some sympathy is helpful to the narrative.

Wasikowska as the lead is likeable enough but gave a far more intriguing performance in the adult fare Stoker. Here she is the straight hero to every other performer, Helena Bonham Carter is still on form as the Red Queen, Hathaway plays some new notes with her character and Sacha Baron Cohen has some fun playing Father Time. One scene with him at a tea party has some good energy but the film overall feels a little flat and unnecessary. There’s some nice lessons about the need for family members to forgive and love and support each other. For parents to not only encourage their children to set sail for their own journey but to step forth onto the deck themselves.

Yet the film did not entrance me with its beauty, make me laugh with its playfulness nor hold me in suspense with its stakes. I thought it was all predictable, smug in my adult assuredness. Maybe that’s the problem, maybe I’ve become one of those poor fools but I like to think kids are smart and a smart kid knows this is a poor cash-in sequel and to go see Hunt for the Wilderpeople instead.

-Lloyd Marken

A COUPLE OF NICE GUYS TO SPEND TIME WITH

If there was a film that I was most excited to see this blockbuster season it wasn’t Captain America: Civil War or Batman Vs. Superman – it was this little gem. that tapped into nostalgia for an era that had passed before my birth.

For some of us the name Shane Black means something, even if arguably his best film remains his first and has just turned 29 years old.

This hairstyle will never date!

That film was Lethal Weapon which he wrote leading to him becoming Hollywood’s highest paid screenwriter in the mid 90s. He went away for a while before he made his directorial debut with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in 2005. His filmography often features two opposites buddying up to take down bad guys with witty banter and inventive action. The marketing for this film promised a classic Black vehicle, Kiss Kiss with the bonus of a period setting. The marketing of the time was second to none delighting in the tropes of the time, a rockin soundtrack, a cheesy cartoon version and the two stars touring with the same dynamic their characters have.

 

I’m not sure any film could have lived up to that marketing and maybe The Nice Guys doesn’t quite get there but it comes close, all the ingredients from the marketing are present in the film. Atlanta and CGI fill in for 70s smog filled L.A.. Shots are taken at the pop culture and counter culture of the day, it’s kinda again to see characters questioning the intentions of the government again by the way.

Tropes of the crime genre are intact, a small crime that leads to a bigger cover, an elusive dame always one step ahead of the heroes and two broken down men who can’t help at the end of the day but not try and do the right thing. despite their cynicism. In place of maybe a helpful secretary or former police comrade there is Angourie Rice playing Holly March, the daughter of Ryan Gosling’s P.I. Holland March. Russell Crowe seems to be having the time of his life as bruiser Jackson Healy enjoying the chemistry with his main co-star, acting his age and giving his character some depth. The former beefcake is beefier than he once was  with grizzled grey hair and an aged nonchalance that is instantly likeable. You still buy him in his fight scenes too of which there are plenty. He’s a thug that prides himself on having a brain, a little morality (beating up girls pests who harass girls) and keeping pet fish while he remembers despondently an ex-wife “Marriage is buying a house for someone you hate.” Jackson Healy is in the lineage of great American heroes going back to Ethan Edwards right through down to Rusty Cohle and how Shane Black originally positioned Martin Riggs. Men who saw and did stuff long ago and can no longer be part of the rest of the community in peace time but can protect society from other bad men in times of trouble. Some stories deal with bringing such a man back into the fold, others with returning him to this state. Crowe with his impish smile and easy charm points to possibilities, the film’s best scene maybe in park late at night with Healy talking to the younger Ms. March. She tells him you’re not a bad person and the look on Crowe’s face says he wants her to believe it. Gosling played such an anti-hero himself in the excellent Drive, so in a change of pace here he is a domesticated everyman and comic foil. Holland March is a former cop, bad in a fight, cynical, not above ripping people off for an easy buck to buy some more booze – a screw up. It’s interesting these two slobs are poor but still have cool cars and live in cool places. Was everything cheaper then, are my tastes bad or is this just typical Hollywood fantasy? Come to think of it, there is a plot point that might explain this.Holly March his daughter also knows the world is a bad place and bad things happen, divorce will age kids up and Holly is smart and capable. Rice though does play her with just the right amount of innocence though and a touching faith that her Dad can be a good man again. She’s the heart of the film, maybe why these two men try so hard and the promise of the next generation shaking off the gloom of a decade of Americans hit by Vietnam, Watergate and recession.

There’s a lot to love in this film, the characters most importantly. I would gladly see these characters again in a sequel. Men being men, witty dialogue, trippy dream sequences with giant bees but the film maybe runs a little too long. Matt Bomer’s John Boy is a fantastic idea for a henchman but becomes less threatening the more his prey survive, main villains remain off screen too long and the third act finale has the right setting (a car show in a high rise hotel) but doesn’t quite fire with the excitement of say…well any other Shane Black movie. Still these are minor quibbles and that soundtrack is rockin! The mantra of good filmmakers is the story is key. You can’t make a good film without a good script. That’s good advice but the older I get, the more I give a movie a free pass sometimes on how well realised the characters are and how much they draw you in. Gosling. Crowe. These are two cool guys that are nice to hang with for a couple of hours or more.

-Lloyd Marken