Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

imageWhen troubled teen Ricky Baker is taken in by Bella and taciturn husband Hec, things start to look up for him and them, till Bella dies suddenly and nightmarish Child Welfare lady Paula – motto: “No child left behind” – decides she’s taking him away from the first real home and family he’s ever had and back into the system instead. Of course, Ricky’s not having this, he and Hec end up on the run in the bush and…. anything else would be telling, but trust me, it’s tremendous.

More an eccentric comedy fairytale than a realistic social drama, New Zealand Writer/director Taika “What We Do In The Shadows” Waititi’s distinctive, delightful style is stamped all over this quirky, funny, heartfelt adaptation of Barry Crump’s novel Wild Pork and Watercress, and the performances he coaxes out of seasoned old hand Sam Neill and new young talent Julian Dennison are just terrific. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is irresistible; somehow managing to blend sharpness, sweetness, and satire in an utterly charming, original and joyful way, while never shying away from the undercurrent of sadness underneath, it’s never less than wonderful and I absolutely adored it.

Public Service Announcement 34 of 2016: In a Lonely Place (1950)

We don’t normally do this for movies, because TV is, of course, Unpopcult’s bae.  But I’m making an exception for Nicholas Ray’s post-war film noir classic In A Lonely Place (on More4 at 11.20 am on Tuesday 22 November) which stars Humphrey Bogart as violent, volatile screenwriter Dix Steele, and Gloria Grahame as Laurel Gray, a neighbour who gives Steele a false alibi when he’s accused of murdering a hat-check girl. Laurel falls for Dix, but then starts to believe that he might have killed the girl after all.

Offscreen Ray and Grahame were husband and wife, but their marriage was falling apart, and they separated during filming; Ray, in fact, had Grahame sign a contract in which she undertook that Ray would be “entitled to direct, control, advise, instruct and even command (her) actions during the hours from 9 AM to 6 PM, every day except Sunday… I acknowledge that in every conceivable situation his will and judgment shall be considered superior to mine and shall prevail”, and that she would not “nag, cajole, tease or in any other feminine fashion seek to distract or influence him”. The full story of Ray and Grahame’s relationship – and how it influenced Ray’s rewriting of the film – is explored in episode 68 of Karina Longworth’s excellent podcast You Must Remember This.

“I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.” Dark, sweaty, passionate, and nasty, In a Lonely Place is an absolute masterpiece.

Arrival (2016)

Wow.

Denis Villeneuve’s beautiful, spellbinding Arrival, about a linguistics professor trying to find a way to communicate with aliens who are hovering above earth and scaring everybody senseless, is film-making at close to its best. It’s not only a gorgeous, deeply intelligent piece of sci-fi, but also a haunting, melancholy human drama about connection and choices, with a soundtrack that seeps into your bones and a mesmerising, astonishing central performance from the incomparable Amy Adams. I loved it.

Café Society (2016)

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Woody Allen’s love letter to the 1930s starts in Los Angeles with Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) leaving New York, looking for more excitement than the family jewellery business can provide, and arriving at the office of his uncle, big-shot Hollywood agent Phil Stern (Steve Carell) looking for work. Bobby falls in love with Phil’s assistant Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), who already has a boyfriend, and although Vonnie has feelings for Bobby, when forced to make a choice she picks the other man. A devastated Bobby returns to New York, where he successfully runs his gangster brother’s Ben’s nightclub, and marries a beautiful divorcée (Blake Lively). But when Vonnie visits, with her now husband, she and Bobby are thrown together again, and left to reflect on what might have been. The ending is beautifully-judged, and more melancholic than I was expecting, freighted with the sort of measured, reflective, equivocal regret that comes with age.

Café Society is admittedly slight, but it’s elegiac and entertaining late-period Allen. Significantly, it looks utterly glorious: Vittorio Storaro (Last Tango In Paris, Apocalypse Now) is, for the first time, Allen’s cinematographer, and he suffuses just about every scene with a ravishing golden light. And, as ever with Allen, the performances are good. Eisenberg is excellent, transitioning smoothly from faux-Woody (the younger Bobby in LA), into the more cocksure New York nightclub proprietor. Steve Carell is entertainingly bullish. Blake Lively might, had she been given more time, have stolen the show. But the real star is Kristen Stewart, who turns in a subtle and moving performance; it could be argued that she looks and sounds a little too modern for a film set in the 30s, but one suspects that the camera would have loved her in any era.

Central Intelligence (2016)

Central Intelligence stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a CIA agent who drags uptight accountant (no, really) Kevin Hart, the only guy who was nice to him in high school 20 years earlier, into a mission to clear his name, save the Western world, launch a new buddy comedy franchise for the 21st century…. Whatever. This is not a plot you need to think about. But it is a film fully aware of what it’s got in its two immensely likeable, comically gifted leading men and how best to use them. Thanks in large part to Johnson and Hart’s easy charm and a script that, rather than taking itself too seriously, lets them have fun with each other, this is a funny, silly, surprisingly warm-hearted and entertaining movie. Not one for the ages as such but one for this otherwise miserable, scary summer where the world seems to be crashing down around us; if you’re at a loose end and fancy a laugh, you could do worse than give these guys a shot. Worked for me.

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

Sometimes, well enough should just be left alone.

The original Independence Day was a big, brash, incredibly fun movie I saw and thoroughly enjoyed 20 years ago, but this bizarrely belated attempt to cash in on its continued popularity is less disaster movie than just disaster. The version I saw/ cinema I saw it in seemed to have appalling sound which didn’t help at all – I struggled to hear most of the dialogue – and made it even more of a chore to try and work out what was going on beyond “People from the first movie! New people! Alien Ships! Explosions! Lots and lots of CGI!” but it doesn’t really matter. The mish-mash of sub-plots, stereotypes and plain stupidity means the whole thing’s incoherent and creatively bankrupt anyway. The new characters might as well have been created by questionnaire, they’re so transparently written with particular markets in mind as opposed to actual storytelling, and while it’s nice to see Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldlblum and Judd Hirsch’s characters again, that’s somewhat diluted by the fact that every single one of them deserves better than this rubbish. A waste of time, money and talent. Hurrumph.

Love and Friendship (2016)

What a delight this is.

Adapted from Jane Austen’s unfinished novella “Lady Susan,” Whit Stillman’s film is a slight but marvellously entertaining Regency comedy which had me laughing throughout. In terms of flaws, I don’t really understand the thinking between changing the name to “Love and Friendship” when “Lady Susan” is a much better title and doesn’t risk confusion with the original “Love and Friendship.”And Chloe Sevigny is a fine actress, I’m sure, but a completely incongruous presence in a 19th century historical drama; for whatever reason, she never comes across as anything but a 21st century person playing dress-up. But these are minor quibbles; overall, this is a real joy of a film, with a particularly delicious performance from Kate Beckinsale as the venal, terrible, wonderful protagonist, a bitingly sharp, hilarious script and a terrific supporting cast. I loved it.