Saturday, April 30, 2016

Z is for: Z-Nail Gang

Z-Nail Gang (2014)
Director: Anton Steel
Writer: Anton Steel
Producer: Kylie Dellabarca
Stars: Paul Ballard, Paul Barrett, Geoffrey Dolan, Vanessa Rare, Erroll Shand

The first film from director Anton Steel is self-funded, made because of community support in the small town of Te Puke. Based on actual events from the Coromandel in the ‘80s, it follows a small community as they battle for their land.

Consumed by debt, surfer Dave has the rug pulled out from under him when a multi-national corporation shows up in town, intent on mining gold in the hills. Dave’s wife Mareeka isn’t as laid back as Dave, and won’t let the big baddies push them around. She gathers the community around her and pushes back, creating waves that threaten to tear the town, and her marriage, apart.

This is a good-hearted film that doesn’t ever quite hit its marks. The characters are stereotypes from the oddball townsfolk to the overeating cop to the farting Aussie prospectors.

Clearly a passion project, and made on the scent of an oily rag, this is true-blue, number 8 wire, kiwi filmmaking.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Y is for… Well, nothing actually

Yes, that's right.  I was stymied by this one.  There are no New Zealand films that start with 'Y'.  At least, I can't think of one...  Not even a short!

I thought about cheating on my theme and writing about a TV show called Back of the Y, but you know... it would be cheating.  Then I thought maybe I could throw in a random film from somewhere else, like You've Got Mail, or Youth, or Yabba.  But... cheating.

So rather than cheat, I'll just write this random post about how there are no New Zealand films that start with Y.

Filmmakers, get onto that, okay?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

X is for: Xposure

Xposure (2001)

Director: David Blyth
Writer: Ian Coughlan
Producer: Grant Bradley, Richard Stewart
Stars: Ron Silver, Alexandra Paul. Susan Pari, Paul Gittins, Tim Balme
I know...  It doesn't really start with X.  But early on the title was Xposure (at least, I believe so and I'm sticking to my story). Who knows when the grammar police took over and decided it had to be spelled the accurate way?

In this straight-to-video thriller, Ron Silver plays a former war correspondent and photo journalist. He’s jaded and disillusioned with the world and consigned to taking semi-nude photos for a men’s magazine. When one of his models is murdered, he’s the chief suspect. But a serial killer is on the loose. As he investigates who might have murdered the model, he becomes prey as well as suspect.

It’s gorgeously filmed by DOP Waka Attewell, but there is definitely a reason this one never hit a theatre near you.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

W is for: What We Do In The Shadows

What We Do In The Shadows (2014) 
Director: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement
Writer: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement
Producer: Chelsea Winstanley, Taika Waititi, Emanuel Michael
Stars: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh

Long-time friends and collaborators, Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement have a ball in this outrageous mockumentary about vampire flatmates in Wellington.

Simple things like chores become a bigger deal when you’re immortal, and a bad flatmate isn’t just for a few months, but eternity. The central character is the film is Waititi’s Viago, a 369 year-old vampire who is the centre of the household in suburban Wellington.

Life gets turned upside-down when fledgling vampire, Nick, joins them in the flat. With Nick comes his human friend, Stu. The group has never had a human in the house, but agree that he is off-limits for snacking. Nick revels in his new status as vampire and shouts it out to everyone he knows, much to the consternation of the ones who prefer to lurk in the shadows…

This is a very funny film and one that has been very successful both in New Zealand and overseas. With vampire fatigue being a very real thing, it's nice to see an addition to the genre that doesn't take itself too seriously and considers the various downsides of immortality.  And did I mention the super-polite werewolves?  They're werewolves, not swearwolves....

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

V is for: Vigil

Vigil (1984)
Director: Vincent Ward 
Writer: Vincent Ward, Graeme Tetley
Producer: John Maynard
Stars: Fiona Kay, Penelope Stewart, Bill Kerr, Frank Whitten

There is little dialogue in Vigil, giving the performers a presence reminiscent of those in silent films. Set on a remote sheep farm, the film explores the psyche of, Toss, a 12-year-old girl, in the aftermath of her father’s death. As her mother becomes involved with another man, Toss struggles to understand the strange new feelings swamping her.

This is one of the darkest coming-of-age stories ever told, the lines between sex and death blurred to a point they are barely recognizable. Stark cinematography captures the bleakness of the landscape that perfectly matches the fractured psyches of its inhabitants. Yet at the same time, the film has its own unique beauty, a kind of blasted poetry that will leave viewers rocked to the core.

Vincent Ward’s debut feature was the first New Zealand film selected to screen in competition at the prestigious Cannes film festival.

When I first saw this film, I was too young to fully understand or appreciate it.  I thought the landscapes were beautiful, but the themes and layers were beyond me and I was unused to films that told their stories in a wholly visual way.  Definitely a lesson to be learned there, that just because a film has a child protagonist, doesn't make it a suitable film for children.  Coming back to it as an adult was a wonderful experience, and I would now list this as one of my favorite kiwi films.

Monday, April 25, 2016

U is for: Utu-Redux

Utu Redux (2013)
Director: Geoff Murphy
Writer: Keith Aberdein, Geoff Murphy
Producer: Kerry Robins, Graeme Cowley, Don Blakeney
Stars: Anzac Wallace, Bruno Lawrence, Wi Kuki Kaa, Kelly Johnson, Tim Elliot, Tania Bristowe, Tim Elliot, Tania Bristowe, Ilona Rodgers, Martyn Sanderson

Geoff Murphy's original 1983 classic, digitally re-mastered and with some excised scenes added back in.

Meaning retribution, Utu takes an unflinching look at the British colonial presence in the country during the 1870s. Te Wheke, a scout and guide for the British army, comes across his village, wiped out in a massacre by the British. He deserts and vows to take revenge against his former employers. Joining a group of other, equally angry Maori, he sets in motion a brutal campaign of terror and murder. It begins with a single woman and the burning of her house and spreads far and wide from there.

As Te Wheke, Anzac Wallace gives an unforgettable performance, ably supported by Kiwi icon Bruno Lawrence. Utu has lost none of its power or relevance in the years since its initial release, and this version gives new life to a story that should never be forgotten.

On a recent visit to New Zealand, Quentin Tarantino named Utu as his favorite New Zealand film and it's not difficult to see why he might have been drawn to its brutal violence and the moral complexity that comes hand-in-hand with films dealing with colonialism (especially as a white person).

Saturday, April 23, 2016

T is for: Two Little Boys

Two Little Boys (2012)
Director: Robert Sarkies
Writer: Duncan Sarkies and Robert Sarkies
Producer: Vicky Pope and Timothy White
Stars: Bret McKenzie, Hamish Blake, Maaka Pohatu

Based on the comic novel by Duncan Sarkies, Two Little Boys follows two friends in the aftermath of an incident involving a meat pie, a ginger cat and a Norwegian soccer player. Their friendship, already stretched to the limit, is tested time and time again as they struggle to hide the truth from everyone around them.

Things grow even more complicated when the unfortunate Nige invites Gav to the family bach in the Catlins, a place Deano and Nige have been going to since childhood.

To give away more of the story would be to ruin what is a hilarious, irreverent and quirky film. But rest assured, bogons have never been funnier. The scenery is gorgeous and striking and becomes as much a character as the three guys travelling through it.

There are flashback moments and fantasy moments that are both laugh-out-loud funny and poignant, none more so that when Nige imagines himself and Deano in the trenches of WW1.

Friday, April 22, 2016

S is for: Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs (1977)
Director: Roger Donaldson
Writer: Ian Mune, Arthur Baysting
Producer: Roger Donaldson
Stars: Sam Neill, Ian Mune, Nevan Rowe

Roger Donaldson’s feature debut was the first local feature to gain international recognition and get distribution in the USA, and this military fantasy has even more resonance today than it did on its release.

With a tiny budget, Donaldson manages to depict a nation’s civil war by keeping the focus on one man caught up a conflict he wants no part of and only opening up for some well-thought-out action sequences.

The tension is kept at a high pitch through the drip-feeding of information. We don’t discover Smith’s situation all at once, but as it becomes clear, his motivations for doing what he does also come into focus. We are kept almost exclusively in Smith’s point-of-view, showing a man unwittingly being used by both sides of the conflict as the government becomes a dictatorship and the police force an army.

A very young Sam Neill shows the mixture of vulnerability and steely determination that has characterised many of the roles he’s gone on to play in the years since this startling debut.

Sleeping Dogs kick-started the New Zealand film industry in the 1970s and was instrumental in the establishment of the New Zealand Film Commission. So I have to thank Roger Donaldson for making this film or I might not have the job I have today.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

R is for: Rain

Rain (2001)
Director: Christine Jeffs
Writer: Christine Jeffs
Producer: Philippa Campbell
Stars: Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki, Sarah Pierse, Marton Csokas

This moving tale of the end of childhood and the loss of innocence uses the landscape to effectively reflect the psyches of its characters.

Janey, at thirteen, is determined to grow up by the end of summer. The endless booze-soaked parties her parents throw bore her and she finds herself drawn to Cady, a rugged drifter who also begins a relationship with her mother.

Both parents are shown to be suffering from a similar boredom, trapped in a relentless cycle of partying as they struggle to cling to their youth. Desperate to keep her parents together, Janey uses her untested womanhood to draw the stranger away from her mother.

This is a haunting film, fragile, sensitive and ultimately tragic just like the people whose lives it examines.

I first saw this film in Australia and was struck by how familiar everything felt. The locations and the whole feel of the summer holiday with family made me ache for home and my own childhood summers at the beach.  Although I'd like to think I was better behaved than Janey...  But I probably wasn't.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Q is for: The Quiet Earth

The Quiet Earth (1985)
Director: Geoff Murphy
Writer: Sam Pillsbury, Bruno Lawrence, Bill Baer
Producer: Don Reynolds, Sam Pillsbury
Stars: Bruno Lawrence, Anzac Wallace, Alison Routledge, Pete Smith

The film opens with Bruno, as Zac Hobson, waking up with one hell of a hangover. It comes to light that he’d actually been trying to commit suicide, and what he’s waking up from is an overdose of pills, not a hard night on the town. He’s not entirely with it, so it takes a while for him to realize that he is all alone in the world. There are no people or even animals around.

It’s not until he arrives at the laboratory where he works and finds the dead body of his project director that the truth begins to sink in. He uses a dictaphone to announce his discovery: a malfunction in the project he was working on has resulted in a massive electrical wave that has either killed the entire population of earth or thrown them into another dimension.

Zac realizes he is alone.

The first half of the film explores Zac’s solitude and the way it drives him slowly mad - he winds up in a pink petticoat running around a football field. Once other people show up (it turns out that if you were dying at the moment the pulse hit, you survived), they try to overcome their myriad differences to work together. Zac’s scientific mind figures out that the pulse that destroyed the world may happen again soon, and if they manage to destroy the equipment in the lab, they may be able to save what’s left of the earth.
I know I've used this film before during the A-Z, but I have a renewed appreciation for it now after having seen a beautiful new digitized version in a cinema last year, and heard Geoff Murphy talk at length about it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

P is for: The Piano

The Piano (2003)

Director: Jane Campion
Writer: Jane Campion
Producer: Jan Chapman
Stars: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, Anna Paquin

Passion is the most basic and primal human emotion and The Piano captures this in all its ecstasy and unpleasantness. When Ada, a mute woman with an illegitimate daughter, arrives in New Zealand in the mid-1800s, she brings with her a piano. The man she has been sold to, Stewart, refuses to bring the piano up to the house, telling her it is too bulky.

When he then sells it to a fellow-Englishman, Baines, the indignity is almost more than Ada can bear. As part of the deal, Baines, who has embraced the Maori way of life, asks Ada to teach him to play the instrument. When he offers her a way to get the instrument back, Ada is unprepared for the price she’ll have to pay.

Rich with symbolism, and featuring Anna Paquin’s breakthrough, Oscar winning performace as the mischievous daughter, this film deservedly won the Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix. Featuring glorious cinematography and a muted colour pallet that highlights the desolation of the coast, this is a film that will not easily be forgotten.

Monday, April 18, 2016

O is for: Once Were Warriors

Once Were Warriors (1994)

Director: Lee Tamahori
Writer: Riwia Brown
Producer: Robin Scholes
Stars: Rena Owen, Temuera Morrison

One of the most successful New Zealand films of all time, Once Were Warriors portrays the horrible reality of domestic violence in a South Auckland family.

Jake and Beth Heke appear to have a good relationship. But when alcohol is added, as it is far too often, both can become new people. Jake’s temper is terrifying, especially in its unpredictability and savagery. When Beth wakes to a face swollen beyond recognition from another beating, she says to a friend “I have to learn to keep my mouth shut”.

The kids are among the biggest victims of their volatile parents’ drinking. One has already moved out to join a gang and a second is on that path too. Their daughter, Grace, escapes into her journal and with her druggie boyfriend who lives in a junked car.

Never before has the devastating effect of alcohol on a family been so vividly evoked on film. On its release, the film provoked much discussion and outrage about the cultures of drinking and violence so inherent in New Zealand society.

More than 20 years on, the issues the film deals with are just as relevant as they were then, and the film remains a seminal part of New Zealand's film history.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

N is for: The Navigator

The Navigator (1988)
Director: Vincent Ward
Writer: Vincent Ward, Kelly Lyons, Geoff Chapple
Producer: Gary Hannam, John Maynard
Stars: Bruce Lyons, Chris Haywood, Hamish McFarlane, Marshall Napier

In medieval Cumbria, a young boy is plagued by visions. It is 1348 and the small mining village lives in fear of the advancing Black Death. Convinced by his hallucinations that he is destined to save his village, the young boy convinces a group of men to follow him into a tunnel. They dig deep and find themselves emerging into Auckland, New Zealand in 1987.

Following the boy’s portents, the time-travelers must negotiate such strange terrors as motorways and nuclear submarines while they attempt to save their own.

Nominated for the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, this film won awards at both Australia and New Zealand’s film awards.

I was taken to see this on a school trip when I was about 14 or 15.  At the time, I didn't appreciate it at all and remember writing a very scathing essay when I got back to school about all the people who looked like Baldrick (yes, Blackadder was popular at the time) and thinking I was very clever. I wasn't.

Friday, April 15, 2016

M is for: Mr Wrong

Mr Wrong (1986)
Director: Gaylene Preston
Writer: Gaylene Preston, Graeme Tetley, Geoff Murphy
Producer: Robin Laing, Gaylene Preston
Stars: Heather Bolton, David Letch, Perry Piercy

The idea that a car can be haunted must have been in the zeitgeist in the '80s because like Christine, this film has a haunted vehicle at its center. Maybe it is the terrifying notion that this massive piece of steel could take on a mind of its own...

When Meg buys a used Jaguar from a shady car dealer so she can visit her parents on their rural farm, she gets a lot more than she expects. Soon after getting it, she starts hearing choking sounds coming from the back seat. Things get even weirder when she picks up a pair of hitchhikers who mysteriously disappear into thin air.

This thoroughly engrossing ghost story toys with traditional thriller tropes and tosses in enough red-herrings to keep viewers constantly second guessing what might be going on. Meg is an engaging protagonist, an every-woman, modest and unpretentious. Yet she is able to dig deep and find strength she never knew she possessed when face with the terrifying unknown.

In its examination of fear and women’s reaction to it, Mr Wrong is far more than just another ghost story.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

L is for: Love Story

Love Story (2011)
Director: Florian Habicht
Writer: Florian Habicht, Peter O’Donoghue & The people of New York City
Producer: Florian Habicht
Stars: Florian Habicht, Masha Yakovenko, Frank Habicht

Love Story is idiosyncratic director Florian Habich’s love letter to New York and its people. It is also a clever deconstruction of the filmmaking process as he discusses the film he’s making with his father in German via Skype, and with random strangers on the street.

Florian, playing himself, sees a beautiful woman on a subway platform, a delectable slice of red velvet cake in her hands. They speak and she suggests they take different trains and meet at Coney Island. She’s not there when Florian arrives and he wanders around, asking people about women and cake and the probability of meeting someone again in NYC.

Amazingly, they do manage to meet again, and the woman, Masha, agrees to be a part of his film. It’s here that the lines begin to blur between the film being created and the reality of a relationship developing between the pair. Florian uses the public to script his film, asking for plot developments from a group at a restaurant, or students at an all-night drugstore, even leaping into an occupied cab in order to ask the woman occupant advice on courting.

Florian is so artless, you can’t help but follow. His father’s advice is taken, and some of the film’s funniest moments come when Florian tries to fit his dad’s commercial ideas into his quirky vision.

As the film nears completion, and Florian’s days in New York grow numbered, the ending becomes less and less clear, as does the reality of the relationship that appears to have developed between filmmaker and muse.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

K is for: Kaikohe Demolition

Kaikohe Demolition (2004)
Director: Florian Habicht
Producer: Florian Habicht
Stars: Uncle Bimm, Ben Haretuku

This high-energy documentary fully captures the spirit and verve of people living on the poverty line in New Zealand’s far North. The film centres on three middle-aged demolition derby drivers and they are three of the funniest blokes you’ll ever have the privilege of meeting.

In Kaikohe, any holiday calls for a derby, and Habicht’s film documents the destruction only an Easter/Mother’s Day/Christmas long weekend calls for. These derbys are orgies of destruction as metal, rubber and mud collide at great speed.

In contrast to the pedal-to-the-metal action, we see the drivers in more reflective mode, relaxing in the town’s hot pools. The film broadens to show the community as a whole, and is an eye-opening portrait of a way of life few of us in cities ever get the opportunity to see.

A real piece of Kiwiana, Habicht’s film is endlessly entertaining as well as somewhat sobering.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

J is for: Jack Brown Genius

Jack Brown Genius (1995)

Writer: Tony Hiles, Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson
Producer: Jamie Selkirk
Stars: Timothy Balme, Nicola Murphy, Edward Campbell, Stuart Devenie

This quirky romantic comedy tells the story of a thousand-year-old monk named Elmer who invades the brain of young inventor, Jack. Elmer is desperate to escape eternity in hell and persuades Jack to fly him to heaven.

Of course, as soon as Jack starts raving about flying and millennial monks, he’s dispatched to a mental institution. There he is quite happy to experiment with wing designs, determined to fly. But Jack isn’t left alone to pursue his quest for flight, and soon he’s crashing from cliffs, racing through burning buildings, plummeting from sky-scrapers and encountering deep passion.

Featuring early work from Weta Workshop, this is a rollicking adventure film that mixes fantasy, reality, whimsy and romance.

Monday, April 11, 2016

I is for: In My Father's Den

In My Father's Den (2004)

Director: Brad McGann
Writer: Brad McGann
Producer: Trevor Haysom, Dixie Linder
Stars: Matthew MacFadyen, Miranda Otto, Emily Barclay, Colin Moy

Based on a novel by prolific author Maurice Gee, this is a rich, complex and intimate film. When Paul, an award-winning photo-journalist, returns to his isolated New Zealand hometown after his father’s death, he’s world-weary and scarred by the horrors he’s witnessed. When he meets Celia, a sixteen-year-old who has rarely left their small town, he introduces her to a world she has only ever dreamed about. She pursues a relationship with him, fascinated by his insights and cynicism about the world outside.

Paul’s presence in town is viewed with suspicion. When Celia disappears, long-held secrets and grudges re-surface as Paul is suspected of being involved. As the mystery deepens, Celia’s fate collides with devastating family secrets.

This is a beautifully layered film as well as being extraordinarily beautiful. The relationships are built up in a raw, realistic manner, making the devastating climax all the more explosive and shattering.

Sadly Brad McGann died not long after making this film, so there can be nothing more from this very talented filmmaker.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

H is for: How Far Is Heaven?

How Far is Heaven (2012)
Director: Christopher Pryor, Miriam Smith
Producer: Miriam Smith

Shot while the filmmakers were living in the tiny settlement of Jerusalem on the Whanganui River, this gentle pictorial film shows the changing beauty of its location over four seasons. In the predominantly Maori community, three Pakeha nuns live and work in the church and convent founded in 1880 by Sister Suzanne Aubert. Whether their presence is necessary anymore is a question that threads its way through the film.

The sisters work the land, make jam and preserves and teach at the local school. They too question their relevance to the community, none more so than the newest arrival, Sister Margaret Mary. She’s very conscious of how much she doesn’t understand, and how much she needs to learn, but has a way with the children she teaches, especially when the subject is music.

The clash of cultures is evident in the way the taniwha under the bridge has a greater resonance to the kids than the Christmas nativity play. And what gems these children are. We meet several, including the precocious Chevy, gleefully mad Damien, and DJ, a thoughtful boy whose every thought crosses his expressive face and whose tongue has no filter.

Whether or not these sisters belong in Jerusalem, their influence on the community is clear, even if they will forever remain outsiders there.

Gorgeously shot, the camera is non-intrusive in this film, not taking any particular point of view but preferring to just document and show what life is like in this tiny settlement. This lack of narrative focus could be jarring to those who are used to documentaries having an agenda, but I found it refreshing. The questions the film raises are left unanswered so the viewer is forced to think long after leaving the theatre.

Friday, April 8, 2016

G is for: Goodbye Pork Pie

Goodbye Pork Pie (1981)
Director: Geoff Murphy
Writer: Ian Mune, Geoff Murphy
Producer: Geoff Murphy, Nigel Hutchinson
Stars: Tony Barry, Kelly Johnson, Claire Oberman, Bruno Lawrence

From one end of the country to the other nothing could stop the men, the mini, the madness.

When a middle-aged man whose wife has just left him and an unemployed teenager hit the road in a yellow mini with the cops hot on their tail, madness and a cross-country journey ensue. The difference in the pairs’ ages creates an unusual dynamic.

The scenery is glorious, showcasing many of the different landscapes New Zealand has to offer. The people the pair meet up with on the way are interesting, friendly, likable and often hilariously kooky. What they all have in common is the desire to stick it to the man and help out the guys on the lam.

Geoff Murphy’s film has attained well-deserved classic status for its humour, energy and realistic portrayal of the country and the spirit of its people.

Goodbye Pork Pie is getting the remake treatment this year, with the reboot being directed by Matt Murphy, Geoff's son.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

F is for: Forgotten Silver

Forgotten Silver (1995)

Director: Costa Botes, Peter Jackson
Writer: Costa Botes, Peter Jackson
Producer: Sue Rogers
Stars: Sir Peter Jackson, Leonard Maltin, Costa Botes

This one should have been my first post of the Challenge because Forgotten Silver is akin to the best April Fool's joke ever.

The morning after its screening on NZ television, the whole country was abuzz with the incredible story of previously unheard of local filmmaking pioneer, Colin McKenzie. According to the documentary made by Peter Jackson and Costa Botes, McKenzie made his own film stock out of flax and egg whites, invented his own sound and colour processes and used both tracking shots and close-ups before anyone else. He later singlehandedly built a Biblical city for his epic adaptation of Salome which was funded by Soviet Russia and the Mafia.

It was just so far out there, it couldn’t possibly not be true.

The outrage and vitriol that followed when the filmmakers announced their documentary was in fact a mockumentary has yet to be seen again.

It's impossible to imagine a hoodwink this big being pulled off today.  The internet has made this type of prank almost impossible.  People working on this film had to sign non-disclosure agreements, stating they wouldn't talk about the project they were working on, but it only takes one slip of the tongue these days to set off a social media avalanche.  Not to mention anyone passing by might get curious about what these people are doing building something that big in the bush and take a quick snap on their phones.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

E is for: Eagle vs Shark

Eagle vs. Shark (2007)

Director: Taika Waititi
Writer: Taika Waititi
Producer: Ainsely Gardiner, Cliff Curtis
Stars: Loren Taylor, Jemaine Clement, Craig Hall

Taking cues from Napoleon Dynamite, Eagle vs. Shark is a misfit love story that celebrates geeks in a joyful and infectious way.

Lily has a dead-end job at a fast food joint, no friends and a crush on Jarrod, a video store clerk who doesn’t know she exists. Any wonder she’s depressed? At a costume party, she impresses him with her favourite animal costume (a shark) and they soon become one of the oddest couples you’re likely to see on screen.

Their relationship falters when Jarrod tells her he needs to focus on his martial arts training so he can take down a rival he’s had since his schooldays. Lily refuses to accept this, and together she and Jarrod navigate the hurts and joys that love can bring.

With a kooky visual sensibility to go along with the characters’ quirks, Eagle vs. Shark is a loopy and charming film about friendship, family, love and obsession.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

D is for: Desperate Remedies

Desperate Remedies (1993)

Director: Peter Wells and Stewart Main
Writer: Peter Wells and Stewart Main
Producer: James Wallace
Stars: Jennifer Ward-Lealand, Kevin Smith, Cliff Curtis, Michael Hurst, Lisa Chappell

Set in a highly stylized nineteenth century, Desperate Remedies is a subversive, operatic melodrama in which women hold the upper hand and outmanoeuver the men.

Drothea runs a successful drapery business. Her sister, Rose is addicted to opium, and her supplier, Fraser. Lawrence is a tough, penniless immigrant. Dorothea wants Lawrence to marry Rose, to save her from herself, but Rose has only eyes for Fraser. Dorothea finds herself increasingly attracted to Lawrence, despite her longstanding relationship with her companion, Anne. And as he endeavours to dispatch Fraser, Lawrence falls for Dorothea. Sensing a rival for her affections, Anne pushes Dorothea toward a marriage of convenience with William, a politician who will do anything to get ahead.

As the various plots and entanglements of the heart converge, Dorothea finds herself torn between her head and her heart in a battle that only love can free her from.

Shot entirely in a studio, the film employs lush lighting and highly stylized art direction that draws heavily on women’s films of the 1920s. It premiered at Cannes in 1993 and screened at numerous festivals after that, picking up awards around the world.

Monday, April 4, 2016

C is for: Crush

Crush (1992)
Director: Alison Maclean
Writer: Alison Maclean, Anne Kennedy
Producer: Bridget Ikin
Stars: Marcia Gay Harden, Donogh Rees, Caitlin Bossley

This is a steamy film, from the bubbling mud-pools of Rotorua to the ambiguous sexual tensions simmering beneath every relationship portrayed. Christina is a literary critic travelling with an American friend to interview a reclusive award winning author. The relationship between the pair is ambiguous.

Lane takes the wheel of the car and manages to crash, seriously injuring her friend while she walks away with little more than a scratch. Leaving Christina in the hospital, Lane continues on to the author, but meets his daughter first and takes her out for a wild night after which she seduces the youngster.

When the author discovers his little girl in bed with Lane, he’s initially crushed, but it isn’t long before Lane moves into his bed.

The title, Crush, is apt. Everyone has a crush on Lane, and she is excellent at crushing anyone who doesn’t help her get what she wants. But what that is, we can’t be sure.

This film was my introduction to Marcia Gay Harden and she has been one of my favorite actors ever since, especially in Mystic River where she plays a character about as far away from Lane as she could possibly get.

This is the last film Alison Maclean made in New Zealand before moving overseas to work.  She returned to New Zealand recently to make The Rehearsal, based on the novel by Booker Prize winning novelist Eleanor Catton.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

B is for: Boy

Boy (2010)
Director: Taika Waititi
Writer: Taika Waititi
Producer: Cliff Curtis, Ainsley Gardiner, Emanuel Michael
Stars: James Rolleston, Taika Waititi, Te Aho Eketone-Whitu

The most successful local film ever at the New Zealand box-office, Boy is the hilarious and heartfelt coming-of-age tale about heroes, magic and Michael Jackson. Set firmly in the 1980s, the film is narrated by an extremely likable 11-year-old known as Boy. When his father, Alamein, sweeps back into town, towing a couple of members of his motorcycle gang, Boy is thrilled, certain his dad is back just for him.

In fact, Alamein has returned to find the money he buried somewhere near the family home. Unfortunately, he can’t remember exactly where. The film generates much of its tension around the uncertainty of the relationship between Boy and Alamein. Boy worships his father, but rather than this misguided hero-worship exploding in a single act, Boy’s eyes are opened to his real father little by little and through this discovery, he grows up.

With colorful fantasy sequences used to show Boy’s exuberant, childish imagination, the film’s visual style is fun and quirky. The film doesn’t shy away from showing the darker side of this seemingly idyllic place, but it doesn’t dwell on the darkness because Boy doesn’t.

As Boy, James Rolleston is perfect. He is natural, unguarded and exudes hope even in the face of adversity. It’s impossible to imagine the film with any other actor in the role.

From Taika Waititi, director of Eagle Vs Shark, What We Do In The Shadows and the recently released Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Friday, April 1, 2016

A is for: An Angel At My Table

I somehow missed the 'introduce your theme' day a week or so ago, so allow me to do so now...  My theme for this year's A-Z Challenge is New Zealand films.  I'm not sure there are enough films to get from A-Z, but we'll give it a shot!


An Angel At My Table (1990)
Director: Jane Campion
Writer: Laura Jones
Producer: Bridget Ikin
Stars: Kerry Fox, Alexia Keogh, Karen Fergusson

Dame Jane Campion, 2014 Cannes Jury President and twice winner of the Palme d'Or, brings to the screen the harrowing true-life story of Janet Frame, New Zealand's most distinguished author.

This striking film has become a well-deserved classic. It traces the life of author Janet Frame, from her childhood as an outsider in a comfortable family, through the awkwardness of adolescence and young-adulthood. Painfully shy, she finds socializing painful. When she freezes under the glare of a school inspector during her first job as a teacher, a series of doctors misdiagnose her as schizophrenic, sending her on a torturous journey through New Zealand’s arcane mental health system.

Two-hundred electro-shock treatments later, she is released and wins a grant to study overseas, and in Spain, she finds a community amidst a group of artists and writers. Destined to always be a little odd, she becomes more comfortable with life and her role in it, and her creativity flourishes.

Simply told with a quiet beauty, this is a wholly absorbing film that will capture you from its very first moments and never let you go. Its focus on the details of a single life make it a compelling and absorbing journey.

I re-watched this in 2015 for the first time since I saw it at a film festival in the early 1990s and was surprised how much I enjoyed it - and how much I had forgotten. I was also surprised at how little time was spent on the mental hospital scenes because I remembered them being much more significant and harrowing.