Hunt for the Wilderpeople


An odder couple you will not find.

An odder couple you will not find.

(2016) Comedy (The Orchard) Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Oscar Kightley, Stan Walker, Mike Minogue, Cohen Holloway, Rhys Darby, Troy Kingi, Taika Waititi, Hamish Parkinson, Stu Giles, Lloyd Scott, Selina Woulfe, Mabelle Dennison, Timothy Herbert, Sonia Spyve. Directed by Taika Waititi

Florida Film Festival 2016

Kids aren’t always easy fits. They aren’t always little darlings. Some have had a tough go of things and they don’t always behave like angels. They act out. They lash out. That doesn’t necessarily make them bad kids though.

Ricky Baker (Dennison) is a kid just like that. After his mom gave him away, he has been shuttled from foster home to foster home. Each time he ends up back in the hands of child services and Paula (House), his exasperated case officer. Ricky has one more shot – out in the sticks with Bella (Wiata), a kind-hearted woman living on the edge of the bush with her husband, curmudgeon Hec (Neill) who clearly wants nothing to do with Ricky – and for whom the feeling is mutual.

Circumstances arise that force Ricky and Hec to go fleeing into the bush with the incorrect assumption that Hec has somehow abused Ricky (mainly due to the surprisingly naive Ricky himself) and that due to circumstances, Ricky will be remanded to juvenile jail until he turns 18 as he has used up all of his foster care opportunities. The two become the object of a massive manhunt, becoming a major news story in New Zealand and the two become folk heroes.

With the relentless Paula chasing them and bounty hunters on their tail, it will take all of Hec’s bush knowledge to keep the city-bred hip-hop loving Ricky safe. And all of New Zealand seems hell bent on capturing the two and sending them both to their respective jails.

From the co-director of the wonderful What We Do in the Shadows, this is one of those movies that either the humor will appeal to you or it won’t. For me and Da Queen, it definitely did. There’s a scene early on of Bella killing a wild boar which won’t sound funny on paper, but had me in stitches. Comedy gold, I tell you.

Sam Neill, who has been around for quite awhile, puts in what just might be his best performance ever here. It’s not that Hec is just grouchy; he has to deal with all sorts of emotions, including some tender ones, during the course of the film. I’ve always liked Neill, going back to his turn as an adult Damian in The Omen III to his work in Jurassic Park and one of my favorites, The Hunt for Red October. This is the movie that fans of this actor should make a point of seeing.

Also, mention must be made of Julian Dennison as Ricky Baker. This is a young actor who has amazing comedy chops. He is blessed with a script that doesn’t descend into chintz or shtick, nor does it unduly play off of Dennison’s size (he’s overweight as you can see from the picture). Yet they don’t make him a laughingstock, as the movies often do with portly kids. That’s a good thing to see, but as well, Dennison nails his role and makes Ricky Baker a memorable character. That’s not an easy thing to do in a film like this.

The scenery is beautiful – New Zealand came by its reputation as one of the most beautiful places on Earth honestly. The soundtrack is also chock full of some terrific Kiwi pop songs that will keep your toes tapping throughout. There literally is nothing not to like about this movie.

Okay, maybe one thing. Some of the humor might be a little more over the top than some American audiences are used to. There’s a character played by @Midnight favorite Rhys Darby named Psycho Sam who lives up to his name. His presence derails the movie a little bit even though Darby does a fine job. It just feels like the character came in from another movie.

Otherwise, this movie rocks from beginning to end. It’s funny, sweet and like Ricky himself has a heart of gold under all the bluster. Definitely one of the finer movies to be screened at the Florida Film Festival this year. It’s out and about the country right now, doing a walkabout of its on in American theaters. Catch it at one while you still can.

REASONS TO GO: Much funnier than I was led to believe it was. The soundtrack is abso-bloody-lutely terrific. Majestical scenery.
REASONS TO STAY: May be a little too out there for some.
FAMILY VALUES: A bit of foul language and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the birthday scene, ten takes were filmed of the cast singing “Happy Birthday” to Ricky until someone realized that they didn’t have the rights to use the song. Therefore, the actors made up a new song on the spot, the one which appears in the film (and also partially in the trailer).
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/1/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 80/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Buddymoon
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT: The American Experience begins!

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Fast & Furious 6


Vin Diesel is heartbroken to discover that Michelle Rodriguez looks better in a wifebeater than he does.

Vin Diesel is heartbroken to discover that Michelle Rodriguez looks better in a wifebeater than he does.

(2013) Action (Universal) Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Paul Walker, Luke Evans, Michelle Rodriguez, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Gina Carano, Elsa Pataky, Clara Paget, Joe Taslim, Kim Kold, Samuel M. Stewart, Shea Whigham, Benjamin Davies, Matthew Stirling, David Ajala, There Lindhardt, Magda Rodriguez. Directed by Justin Lin   

I’m not much of a car person. I seriously couldn’t tell a carburetor from an alternator. When I go car shopping, I look for dependable. I drive a Honda for god’s sakes.

Which would probably make the characters in this film franchise squirm in horror. Any one of them could rebuild an engine of a Ferrari with parts from a Camry with their eyes closed and half asleep. And can they drive? Hoo lawd! These gals and fellers could put a 12-wheeler through a doggie door in a steel house at 90mph. And this series has thrived on people who think that kind of thing’s cool.

In the sixth installment of the series, the members of the crew are living large internationally after their big score in Rio. However, things never stay quiet for long for these guys. Hobbs (Johnson) shows up at Dom’s (Diesel) door, not particularly welcome. Even less welcome is Hobbs’ request that Dom’s crew reassemble to nab an international bad guy who is out to assemble a super-weapon out of component parts. After all, as Dom is happy to point out, they’re all retired from the game.

But Hobbs has a wild card to play – a photo of Letty Ortiz (Rodriguez), Dom’s girlfriend who apparently was murdered in Fast & Furious. Nope. Like at least one other character in the series, she shows up from the dead (albeit with no memory) but as one of the crew of said Eurobaddie, Owen Shaw (Evans). This is all the incentive Dom needs. Family is family, after all so he puts out some calls.

Those phone calls find Brian (Walker) and Dom’s sister Mia (Brewster) as new parents, Roman (Gibson) and Tej (Bridges) living the high life in Spain, Han (Kang) and Giselle (Gadot) living together in Hong Kong. They agree to help Dom bring Letty back, but Dom wants more – pardons for everyone so that they can go home again.

While Mia and Dom’s new squeeze Elena (Pataky) stay home to guard the baby, Hobbs and his new flunky Riley (Carano) join up with the crew in London to see if they can catch the guy who has eluded Hobbs for years. But the stakes are sky-high, Shaw’s team is as skilled as Dom’s only more vicious and Letty can’t remember Dom at all – in fact the first time they meet face to face she shoots him. This isn’t like any other job; they will be betrayed from within and more than one member of Dom’s team won’t come back from this.

Now, I want you to understand something up front – this isn’t reality at all. There are car stunts that defy gravity, plot points that defy logic and human bodies getting beat up so bad that they defy death. Da Queen and I were consistently making the “jumping the shark” signal to each other (an inverted V on one hand with two fingers on the other making a parabolic arc over the first) throughout the movie. And you know what? It didn’t matter. As ludicrous as this movie often is, it doesn’t matter – the entertainment quotient is so sky high that you ignore these lapses and just enjoy the ballet of man, machine and road.

Vinnie D and the Rock are both fairy limited at this point in their careers in terms of acting ability. That isn’t a knock or a criticism, they both I think understand what their comfort zone is and tend to stay well within it. While that may make for some fairly one-dimensional performances (and occasionally have) they are both also highly charismatic so their own personalities tend to inflect themselves on their characters. It so happens I like hanging out with these guys (or would if I knew them personally) so that isn’t a bad thing at all.

There’s a lot of posturing, a lot of attitude and some great stunts and car chases. While there is a nod to the underground racing roots of the series, the franchise is way beyond that now which is a very smart move – I think the car racing thing got old after the first one and they’ve really allowed themselves to appeal to more than a niche audience, which explains that their highest box office numbers have come with the last two films.

There is a cut scene at the end that you should hang out for – it explains one of the most notorious continuity lapses in the series and introduces a surprise new character in one of the great twists you’re ever going to see in a cut scene (up there with the reveal of Thanos).

This is great summer entertainment and has helped make a solid opening to the 2013 summer blockbuster season. There is definitely a Fast & Furious 7 in the works (already scheduled as of this date to open on July 11, 2014) which the cut scene sets up. As much as a non-car person that I am (as delineated above) and as much as I was disinterested in the series for the first four movies, the last two have made me a fan and I can’t wait for the next one.

REASONS TO GO: Varies the formula from the first two movies nicely while sticking to the things that made the first movie great. More Jeong is never a bad thing.

REASONS TO STAY: Scattershot much more than the first two films.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of violence and automotive mayhem, some swearing and a bit of sexuality..

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Michelle Rodriguez didn’t have a driver’s license when the series first started and only obtained one after filming began on the first film in the franchise.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/2/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 72% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100; critics surprisingly have gotten behind this one.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Italian Job (2003)

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Frances Ha

The Expendables 2


The Expendables

Chuck Norris jut made that car burst into flames with the power of his steely-eyed glare.

(2012) Action (Lionsgate) Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Nan Yu, Jet Li, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jean-Claude van Damme, Chuck Norris, Scott Adkins, Charisma Carpenter, Amanda Ooms, Nikolette Noel. Directed by Simon West

 

Back in the 70s and 80s, action movies were at their pinnacle. Movies like The Terminator, Rambo, Die Hard, Timecop and Missing in Action were box office bonanzas. As time went on and the men who played those heroes aged, the popularity of these sorts of movies began to wane. Although new heroes like Jet Li and Jason Statham took those action spots, action heroes were as likely to star in family movies geared towards kids as they were in old fashioned shoot ’em ups.

In 2010, Sylvester Stallone wrote and directed The Expendables, an ensemble action movie uniting some of the biggest action heroes of the last 30 years, including Stallone, Statham, Willis, Schwarzenegger, Li, Mickey Rourke and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Just getting those names onto the big screen together was a feat in and of itself and it ignited the imaginations of fanboys all over the world. Schwarzenegger was still Governor of California at the time and hadn’t been in a movie for six years.

The movie was a big hit and of course plans for a sequel rolled around. Rourke dropped out, van Damme and Norris signed up (as did Liam Hemsworth) and Stallone relinquished the director’s chair to veteran action director West, who has Con-Air to his credit among others – the Stallion wanted to concentrate on writing – and here we go again.

This time, the Expendables – led by Barney Ross (Stallone) and his right hand man Lee Christmas (Statham)  are on a mission to rescue a Chinese billionaire and gets an extra added bonus attraction. Shortly thereafter, Ross has a meeting with Church (Willis) to whom Ross owes a favor – and Church aims to collect. He wants Barney’s team to head to Bulgaria to find a downed plane which was carrying a safe. The contents of the safe are something Church wants very much. He sends computer expert Maggie (Yu) along to help open the safe.

But things go south. They are intercepted by Vilain (van Damme) who also wants the contents of the safe. One of the Expendables doesn’t make it out of the encounter alive. Barney and the boys don’t take too kindly to it. They want that which is stolen from them but also they want payback. And we all know what payback is.

One of the problems with movies like this is that so many characters is that many of them get short shrift in screen time. That was also the complaint with the first movie in which Willis and Schwarzenegger only appeared in one scene. They have considerably more time onscreen this time out and get to do what we all wanted them to do in the first movie – shoot stuff up. But what the filmmakers giveth the filmmakers taketh away – Jet Li literally parachutes out of the movie after a single scene.

And there’s a whole lot of that. And if that’s all that you’re after, you’ve found nirvana here. The story is pretty….well, non-descript. There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before and no way you’re not going to figure out what’s going to happen next at every turn. And let’s face it – none of these guys are known for being amazing actors. But that’s not why you’d go and see a movie like this.

But still in all, the last movie had Mickey Rourke to elevate it. He gave a soliloquy during the first movie that still gives me the shivers it’s so good. There’s nothing like that here. I will admit that watching Chuck Norris save the day (as he does twice) put a huge smile on my face. There’s even a Chuck Norris fact for your cinematic enjoyment – it’s the one about the cobra, for those who are up on such things.

I have to admit that the thrill of seeing these guys together was kind of lost the second time out. It was nice and all but this is essentially a generic by-the-numbers action movie with a high-priced cast. It’s a novelty, but not much more. Sadly, I’m less eager to see The Expendables 3 than I was to see The Expendables 2.

REASONS TO GO: Seeing these old war horses in action again is a hoot.

REASONS TO STAY: Overreliance on catchphrase and cliché. A bit too predictable.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence and foul language, a little bit of sensuality too (but not much).

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The character of Gunnar Jensen has a degree in chemical engineering. So does the actor who plays him, Dolph Lundgren.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/25/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 66% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100. The reviews are mixed but trending towards the positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Losers

CATCHPHRASE LOVERS: Iconic catchphrases from action movies, like “I’ll be back” and “Yippie Ki Yay” are all uttered although generally not by the actors who first said them.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Cinema Paradiso

Lebanon


Lebanon

The perfect addition to any floral arrangement - a tank.

(2009) War Drama (Sony Classics) Yoav Donat, Michael Moshonov, Zohar Strauss, Dudu Tassa, Itay Tiran, Oshri Cohen, Ashraf Barhom, Fares Hannaya. Directed by Samuel Maoz

 

War is hell, and hell can be made of iron, oil and cigarette smoke. It can be the stink of perspiration brought on by being trapped in a metal box in desert heat, the acrid smell of gunfire and the horrifying smell of charred flesh. War is hell and you can bring that hell with you.

In the 1982 Israeli-Lebanon conflict, the crew of a single tank – the commander (Tiran), the gunner (Donat), the loader (Cohen) and the driver (Moshonov) are given orders to clear out a Lebanese village that the Israeli Air Force has bombed into next week. After the gunner makes a hash out of a shot, the repercussions of his failure reverberate throughout the entire film.

Mainly we are inside the tank and see only parts of the crew – a face, a leg, a torso – and other than a few scenes our world is theirs. We see through the eyes of their targeting scope, and what they see is grim indeed.

Director Maoz was 20 years old when that war broke out and he served in the war as part of a tank crew (in fact Shmuel, the name of the gunner on the tank in the movie, is Maoz’s nickname). The experiences that are shown here are not unlike the ones he experienced himself; the horrible burden of taking a human life, the terror at being in the center of a barrage of fire, the tension of being lost behind enemy lines.

There aren’t many characters beyond the ones in the tank. There’s an officer (Strauss) who may or may not know what he’s doing, an interrogator (Barhom) who will do or say whatever is necessary to make his charge talk, and a captive (Tassa) who is in mortal danger from the interrogator but could turn on all of them in the blink of an eye.

From the sense that the movie invokes many of the tensions and horrors that those who serve in war experience, it is successful. Unfortunately, the acting performances vary wildly from ice cold and hard to read to wildly over the top and not believable. Moaz had wanted the actors to experience their roles more than play them and in casting he went less for acting experience and more for wartime experience. That has its pros and cons, the con largely being that some of the performances were a little too uneven. I like what he was trying to do; I just don’t think he had the cast that pulled it off completely. However, some of the performances – particularly that of Donat, Moaz’s surrogate and in a very real sense the audience surrogate as well, and also of Tiran, the officer holding his crew together by his fingernails – were memorable.

Be warned; this is a dimly lit film because of its location. The production design of the tank is extremely impressive; the belly is filthy, with oil, water, blood, urine and whatever other fluids are nearby pooling in the bottom, discarded cigarette butts and other trash floating in the muck. We don’t always get to fully appreciate the look but we appreciate the feel of the tank because we’re as close as a movie audience can get to being in one. The tank rattles, shakes, burps, vibrates and lurches like a living drunkard. It throws the men inside it around and rattles them around until their teeth chatter like novelty items. There is nothing glamorous about being in a tank crew and Moaz conveys this with stark honesty.

The movie is described as Das Boot in a tank and that’s probably the best and most profound description you’re going to get. If you loved that movie, you’re going to enjoy this one. This one isn’t quite as good – there’s nobody in it quite as compelling as Jurgen Prochnow’s Capt. Willenbrock – but it does invoke the same feeling of being alone in a tin can in a dangerous place where death can come at any moment.

WHY RENT THIS: Claustrophobic and realistic.  The tension is at a very high level throughout.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The acting is rather weak in places.

FAMILY VALUES: Being a war movie, there is some bloody violence related to war, plenty of bad language including some sexual references and a bit of nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Michael Caine’s grandfather had a similar job to Hobbs.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: While most home video has a making-of featurette on the disc, this one is a cut above the rest as this film had a particularly arduous journey from conception to screen and more than being a back-patting lovefest as most making-of shorts are, this one is actually interesting.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.2M on an unreported production budget; I’m thinking that the movie broke even at best during its theatrical run.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

The A-Team


The A-Team

Here's another plan coming together.

(20th Century Fox)  Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson, Gerald McRaney, Henry Czerny, Brian Bloom, Omari Hardwick, Yul Vazquez, Maury Sterling, Terry Chen. Directed by Joe Carnahan

Adapting a beloved television show into a major motion picture carries its own pitfalls as well as a built-in audience. That makes it something of a double-edged sword for the filmmakers; how to keep fans of the original show satisfied while delivering something that stands apart from the original.

Colonel Hannibal Smith (Neeson) heads up a team of Army Rangers who specialize in tackling jobs that most covert teams would run away from screaming like little girls. They never fail because of their specialized skills; Cpl. Faceman “Face” Beck (Cooper) is a smooth lady’s man who is second in command on the team; Cpl. B.A. Baracus (Jackson) is as strong as an ox and is the team’s driver while Capt. H.M. Murdock (Copley) is just on this side of insane (and maybe on the other side) and is the team’s pilot.

They are in the process of leaving Iraq when they receive a visit from two separate people; one is Captain Charissa Sosa (Biel) who has a past with Face, but has come to warn the team to stay out of Baghdad. The other is a smarmy slimy CIA Agent named Lynch (Wilson) – one of many, apparently, with that name – who has a mission for the “Alpha” team; to retrieve plates from the U.S. mint that renegade Iraqis have stolen to print their own U.S. currency. While Hannibal’s superior officer, General Morrison (McRaney) has some reservations, ultimately he decides to allow Hannibal to go, even though it violates direct orders so this mission is strictly “off the books.”

It also pisses off a mercenary from the Black Forest Corporation by the name of Brock Pike (Bloom) whose team was originally set to retrieve the plates but is now being moved aside for Hannibal’s cast of characters. It’s a very tough job involving getting aboard a moving semi while avoiding a convoy of heavily armed trucks escorting the semi, but the A-Team pulls it off.

Unfortunately, when they return to base General Morrison is killed when his jeep explodes and the Black Forest team absconds with the plates. Despite their protests of innocence, the A-Team is accused – and convicted – of colluding with the mercenaries and get sent to prison.

Of course, no prison will hold them for long and with the help of Lynch – who wants to retrieve the plates – the A-Team escape from the four separate penitentiaries that are incarcerating them and go about the business of retrieving the stolen plates, find out who set them up and clear their names in the process. How? Hannibal has always got a plan in mind…

Director Joe Carnahan has a history of quirky movies like Smokin’ Aces to his credit. This is his biggest assignment to date, and he doesn’t do a bad job at all, considering the limitations he has to work with and they are the ones that came with the property.

One of the problems with any television series is that they have a tendency to have a very similar modus operandi for each episode; the details may be different but they tend to follow the same plot outline. When a big budget movie remakes a TV show, generally the film wants to retain many of the same elements of the show in order to establish continuity between the show and the movie; this is to attract the original audience to the movie. However, this can lead to the movie feeling more like a retread than a re-imagining.

To be honest, there is some of that here; however, enough of the movie is fresh and new enough to distance it from the show and make it a little more 21st century, a little different.

Part of the reason for that is the cast. There was some criticism of the casting in online circles which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Neeson is one of the finest actors in the world and while this is a role he doesn’t usually tackle, he is excellent in creating a Hannibal Smith that recalls George Peppard’s character but is completely Neeson.

He’s solid but Copley, so tremendous in District 9, makes Murdock fascinating; you want to see more of him every time he’s onscreen. Like the Dwight Schultz Murdock, he’s crazy like a fox; just sane enough to make you wonder how crazy he really is. Copley plays the character as a cross between Scott Bakula and Robin Williams. Cooper further cements his standing as a rising star; Face is not only a lady’s man but also a brilliant military strategist. Cooper makes both sides of the character believable and does it with leading man charisma.

Patrick Wilson, impressive as a middle-aged hero in Watchmen, plays a very different character here and he’s quite good. He’s shown some real versatility in his performances and is moving into the territory of actors I look forward to seeing in whatever role he might be cast in. He makes for a terrific villain, almost to the level of my favorite bad guys Alan Rickman and Sean Bean.

As summer movies go, The A-Team is a perfect fit. It’s frenetically paced, light-hearted, well-acted and above all, fun. When I go into a theater on a hot summer day (or even a warm summer evening), I want to forget my cares and be taken on a delightful ride. Here’s a movie that fits that bill to a Mister T.

REASONS TO GO: This new A-Team does surprisingly well. The action sequences are seriously fun and the pacing is fast enough to keep us off-balance. Wilson makes a great villain.

REASONS TO STAY: The same problems the TV show the movie is based on haunt the adaptation.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a lot of big bang explosions which may frighten the tykes; there is some bad language as well as a good deal of sexual innuendo and Hannibal smokes cigars throughout. In other words, probably mature pre-teens and above for this one.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The head judge at the court martial of the team is named Carnahan after the director; also an actor credited for “The Greater Escape” movie shown during the Murdock escape sequence is Reginald Barclay, the name of a character played by Dwight Schultz who played Murdock in the original television show.  

HOME OR THEATER: Big action movies deserve big screens; see it in the theater.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Killers