Monday, October 16, 2017


The dark corners of Maori society are prodded, probed and laid bare in the multi directed Waru. The linking element is the death of a young boy at the hands of a caregiver. The split is that the action is told by eight different female directors covering the same 10 minute period from a different direction. The shooting style of a one shot take that is evident in all of the segments is best presented in the first segment that focuses on the family Auntie as she runs a military style kitchen preparing food for the mourners. She finds the Waru's mother sobbing in a storage room delivering to her tough talk enabling her to stand and somewhat compose herself.  The two weaker sections focus on the child's kindergarden teacher Anahera (Roimata Fox) who's trying to explain the situation to Waru's classmates while juggling a workplace affair. The other the media reaction directed by Chelsea Cohen giving the majority reaction to the Maori problem through the slow burning eyes of a Maori anchorwoman.

The common elements help the production establish and keep cohesion. Drue Sturge serves as cinematographer using blown out grainy natural elements in most of the vignettes except for the sterility of the television studio scene another reason why that passage sticks out from the rest. The action all takes place at 10 AM in all sections plus the commitment to a one shot take that is also common amongst the films.

Two of the stronger segments point a finger at the failure of male authority figure in the community. In one directed by Paula Jones a young woman backed by her mates takes up makeshift arms against her male abuser. In the other helmed by Awanui Simich-Pene two sisters Titty and Bash head to a male dominated drinking hole to take back what's hers. Both of these sessions end at the moment things are about to escalate. The gaze back by Bash (Miriama McDowell) to the camera as she is about to enter the breach is the harrowing moment of the film.

The potential standout portion centres on the funeral (tangi) for the young boy. Both grandmothers adorned in green spar for the fate of the body. Renae Maihi's camera weaves between the two like a third character as the matriarchs try to settle the dispute. When the body is finally carried out to a waiting vehicle. The sobbing mom appears from the first scene to play a part in the fate of her child.

Waru is a powerful story told by voices that are not often heard in greater society. The content is somber as base feelings including grief, remorse, anger and guilt are explored throughout alongside the underlying question of how can this pattern be stopped from happening again? The well-trained lenses sharply deliver their snippets that despite needing a bit of tuning in a couple of instances make it a story I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Waru | Renae Maihi / Awanui Simich-Pene/ plus 6 others | New Zealand | 88 Minutes.

Tags: Maori, Abuse, Waru, Tangi, Funeral, Dragons, Gas, TV Station, Female Directors, One Take, Spare Key.

TAD17 Film Review - Rabbit

Michael Darren's score is the first think that hits you from Luke Shanahan's Rabbit. It announces loudly that chilling events will follow with its mix of classical instruments and high pitched tech beats leadings one's mind to anticipate violence pain and suffering. In the opening frames we see a young girl in two different settings attempting to escape something terrifying. As the narrative begins it's explained that Maude (Adelaide Clemens) who is staying medicine in Germany has a twin sister also played by Clemens who had disappeared over a year ago. Since her sister Cleo has gone missing Maude has these dreams that appear to be Cleo's experiences or an attempt to tell Maude where she is. One day while studying a cadaver for class Maude becomes agitated seemingly needing to get some air then collapses. After this event she returns home to Australia determined to find her sister.

The next part of the narrative looses the frenzied quick opening replacing it with an expositional heavy slow trot. Maude's parents are introduced along with her sister's fiancee Ralph (Alex Russell) who's been helping out at the house. There is tension there as her parents had a funeral for Cleo which Maude did not attend while the local now on leave police detective who was consumed with the case Henry (Jonny Pasvolsky) still feels that Ralph had something to do with the death.

The action quickens when Maude follows her visions out to a Caravan full of American Horror Story types with Ralph and Henry in tow. Here cinematographer Anna Howard shines as her lens illuminates the southern Australian palate regardless if the sun or moon is at a highpoint in the sky. Maude tries to put substance to her dreams trying to determine if they are a path to Cleo. Amongst the fringe they meet a normal couple a German trained doctor Nerida (Veele Baetens) and her husband Keith (Charles Mayer) From there the story moves to one last port of call a sterile yet ominous Victorian Mansion which doubles as a medical facility appearing to be the spot where Maude's dreams and the bits and pieces she's picked up along the way will lead her to answers.

Rabbit is a psychological thriller that has several compelling elements but just does not seem to get to the juicy centre. The score overwhelms leaving a lot for the story to colour in. It's a beautiful looking landscape with an ensemble cast that supports the material. However, several passages require more bite to bring the entire project up to the level of the visual and auditory elements of the piece.

** 1/2 Out of 4

Rabbit | Luke Shanahan | Australia | 2017 | 103 Minutes.

Tags:  Disappearance, Twins, Medical School, Caravan, Forest, Southern Australia, Hide n Seek, Experiments.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Kinosmith Film Review - 78/52

78 pieces of film from Alfred Hitchcock and 52 cuts from editor George Tomasini throw in the chilling score from Bernard Herrman, a helping of Hershey's chocolate syrup and you have the essence of the shower scene from Psycho. Director Alexandre O. Phillipe has put together the all encompassing detailed frame by frame analysis of the film with a band of the films aficionados interviewed in a setting similar to the Bates motel to provide their thoughts. The discussion looks at the US in the time before the film juxtaposed with what was to come after, Political Assassinations, Civil Rights, Women's Rights, Vietnam and Protest. The participants point to three films Some Like It Hot, Anatomy of a Murder and Suddenly Last Summer that began to push new boundaries. Where these films pushed, Psycho smashed leaving many wondering how Hitchcock got away with what he put on the screen.

No stone is left unturned. Marli Renfro who was Janet Leigh's body double for the scene features heavily in the production. She answered an ad for the role, stripping down for Hitchcock then again for Janet Leigh before getting the gig a couple of days later. Renfro talks about prop difficulties on set to that fact that she was hired for a couple of days work that turned into a week. Hitchcock in fact shot the scene entirely separate from the rest of the picture.

To really experience the horror of the scene one has to go back to the time and the directors' recent history. He had just come off North by Northwest pus several Technicolor marvels before it. He was also hearing the talk that Henri-Georges Clouzot was coming for his title of master of suspense with 1955's Diabolique being exhibit 1. Hitchcock was having none of it wanting to make a mike drop statement in black & white in a motel shower.

Among the commentators are Directors Eli Roth, Guillermo del Toro actors Elijah Wood and Jamile Lee Curtis alongside composer Danny Elfman who comes to the fore when Bernard Herrmann's  slashing strings music that opens the attack followed by the lower octave baseline as Marion Crane slowly takes her last breaths. Director/ Actor/ Critic Peter Bogdanovich was at the press screening from the opening. He recalls that from the moment mother pulls the curtain back and the knife comes into frame the audience started a sustained screen that did not stop until the scene faded to black. Bogdanovich felt like he was assaulted not to mention Hitchcock's misdirection as Vera Miles appeared in the shower in the trailer. Plus it was unheard of in mainstream films of the day to kill off you presumptive lead character 40 minutes into the film. Phillipe also recruited a series of editors including Chris Innis ( Hurt Locker) Walter Murch ( Apolocype Now) and Bob Murawski (Spiderman) to break down Tomansini's work. They focus in on the dead space to the left of the frame, the switch from Marion's back to the wall to back to the curtain in order to introduce Norman Bates into the scene and the knife stabs themselves cutting through the shower spray and only touching Marion's body in on frame near her belly button.

78/52 is a film historian, director obsessed, editing nerds Valhalla. The documentary has clips of the director from his Sunday night show, interviews, doc with Truffaut doc and stories of his idiosyncrasies. The score is dissected, Saul Bass' storyboards examined along side the battle with the sensors. It's a master class in filmmaking that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4

78/52 | Alexandre O. Philippe | U.S.A. | 2017 | 91 Minutes.

Tags: Documentary, Interviews, Shower, Murder, Shots, Cuts, Film, Psycho, Hitchcock, 1960, Black & White, Body Double, Bates Motel, $40,000.

Fox Searchlight Film Review - Goodbye Christopher Robin

London playwright Alan A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) suffered from a serious case of shell-shock known today as PSTD when he returned to England from The Great War. Loud noises, corks popping, bright lights and especially bees would bring him back to the Western Front in a trench at  the Somme seeing men's lifeless bodies piled up with files spawned from maggots buzzing around. During one of his episodes his illustrator friend Ernest Shepard (Stephen Campbell Moore) who was at Passchendaele during the war commented that for him it's his motorcycle backfiring. Shepard then summed up that they both would be fine they just need to get things right up here pointing to his temple.

The English people were collectively down after the war. A generation of first sons lost leaving a shortage of marriage options with many who returned prone to sudden fits of anger. Milne had to get out of the city which his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) who craves fast pace action opposed remarking that a Westend playwright needs to be in London. Soon after their arrival in Sussex Christopher Robin (Will Tilston) their largely ignored 8-year-old son arrives. His mother wanted a girl telling anyone who would listen that the birth almost killed her. Milne had remote contact with the child leaving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald) to be the child's default parent.

Director Simon Curtis takes his time with the material introducing the iconic toys slowly with each member of the family playing their part in providing the names. Pooh was initially directed at another animal entirely, Daphne who did most of the playful voicing came up with Kanga and Roo while Alan Milne the author himself felt that Eeyore would be a good name for donkey. A bear that Billy saw in the Zoo named Winne short for it's birthplace Winnipeg became the titular character Winnie the Pooh.

Cinematographer Ben Smithard is greatly responsible for bring the story to life. From the opening shot light and shadow play a major role displaying the mythical Hundred Acre 100 Wood. Including the wooden footbridge across River Medway where Smithard lens captures the energy of each game of Poohsticks flowing downstream below.  Natural light also cuts into interior scenes at the country house through windowpanes. At nighttime it's the moonlight that lights the actors as it hovers about the quiet Sussex countryside.

Goodbye Christopher Robin is a fitting backstory for characters that are universally known and loved. The reveal here is the strain that the books put on Milne son who had to bore the mantle of Christopher Robin. As a child he was a show pony trotted out to events to sell product. By his teens ridiculed and bullied then as a young man seeking anonymity headed off to the front for the Second World war as Private Milne. It's a sweet tale that children of all ages will find nuggets that make them smile making it a film that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

Goodbye Christopher Robin | Simon Curtis | UK | 2017 | 107 Minutes.

Tags: The Great War, London, PTSB, Sussex, Toy Bear, Ashdown Forest, Vanity Fair, Book Signing, New York, London Zoo.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Film Review - Blade Runner 2049

Set 30 years after the Ridley Scott original Denis Villeneuve wades into hollow ground to direct the sequel that fanatics have both dreamed of and dreaded since viewing the ending credits of the 1982 film. There was much risk here, 150 million budget, an original that pre-dates the millennial crowd plus an extra long run time that challenges today's short attention spans to let the material breathe.

However Villeneuve has planted the seeds that sprouted a visually spectacular film underpinned by a compelling narrative that starts on a remote farm on the outskirts of 2049 Los Angeles. LAPD officer K (Ryan Gosling) is this generations Rick Deckhard (Harrison Ford) a replicant hunter specifically the Nexus 8's that are designated for retirement. Underlying is the 10 day black out that wiped all digitally stored records on the androids from the system. K arrives at the farm for a seemingly routine mission that set ups totems that will play out throughout the film. His target Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) verbally attacks him for hunting his kind spiting out that K can only do his job because he has not seen a miracle.

Beside K and Deckard Villeneuve's universe is occupied by a series of memorable characters. K's boss Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) cold blooded and focused seeming at times more of an android than K. At home in his apartment where he is ridiculed by human residents he is waited on by his holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) who has a fifty foot ad along the city's skyline promising to fulfill the pleasure of any man who purchases her program. Sylvia Hoeks shines as Luv the right hand woman to replicant reviver Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) a martial arts assassin that doesn't give a second thought to killing scavengers via satellite as she casually has her nails done in a comfortable recliner.

Villeneuve comes off as having a keen knowledge of the source material. The essence is the movement between dreams and reality peaking when K goes to have a discussion with memory implanter Carla Juri (Dr. Ana Stelline) then as he enters the home of his main totem a sand swept dead space with decaying erotic idols mixed amongst a living bee colony of insects K has never seen. Final proof casting Mackenzie Davis as Mariette a pleasure provider who's a dead ringer for Daryl Hannah's persona Pris from the original. It's a sensory filling cinematic experience that I can highly recommend.

**** Out of 4.

Blade Runner 2049 | Denis Villeneuve | USA/UK/Canada | 2017 | 164 Minutes.

Tags: Sequel, Sci-Fi , Dystopian, Replicants, Hologram,  Pregnancy, Android, Farm, L.A., Las Vegas, Peugeot, Pan Am, Atari, Toy Horse.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

TIFF 17 Film Review - Molly's Game

Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) is competitive having been driven by her psychologist dad (Kevin Costner) who produced three kids with a shot to make the U.S. Olympic ski team. Director Aaron Sorkins first feature film is wordy as expected. Bloom describes her last run to make the U.S. ski team up down forwards and backwards. After crashing out she goes to L.A. ahead of Law School takes the job as an assistant for a sleazy L.A. producer who gets mad at her for picking up the wrong bagels but lets her host his weekly poker game for tips. The underground soiree is THE GAME in L.A. $10,000 buy ins potentially a million changing hands in one night with A-list actors, sports stars financiers, fund managers and moguls in attendance. Bloom studies, learns and two weeks in knows the in's and outs of Hold'em poker positioning herself to swoop in and take the players when the inevitable dispute occurs with her boss.

However she did not see the next blind side coming which lead her two New York, an even larger game (250K Buy-ins) plus now she's taking a rake therefore officially breaking the law. The shady characters increase as does the game's frequency bringing her to the attention of the mob and the feds coupled with her memoir see's her arrested with assets seized a move by the Feds trying to flush her out and give up bigger fish.

Screenwriter Arron Sorkin can talk up a subject. The opening skiing sequence followed by Molly learning the skills of poker are narrative ballets dancing across the screen. With Bloom he found a strong personality to anchor his directorial debut and in Chastain the perfect person to play her. To say the piece is fast paced would be the ultimate understatement. The titular's character's scenes with her lawyer Charley Jaffey (Idris Elba) consist of verbal badminton where he's looking out for her best interest but she is refusing to do anything that she feels is not right to say nothing of the fact his frustration since she can't cover his $250,000 retainer. Sorkin even blows up Psychiatry as a profession when Molly's dad appears in New York to give her all of the answers that would have normally taken three years of psychotherapy to achieve. Chastain continues her run of being the female in an male dominated area where she not only survives but excels.  

Molly's Game is a finely measured maiden outing from a screenwriter that everyone knew would eventually find his way behind the camera. For his maiden outing he is blessed with a strong real life characters and a principal cast filled with acting precision. It's a fresh look at poker, power, wealth and fame that I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Molly's Game | Aaron Sorkin | USA | 2017 | 141 Minutes.

Tags: Voice Over, Biopic, Texas Hold'em, Private Game, Hostess, Tips, Player List, Fund Managers, L.A., New York, Russians, FBI, Poker Princess, Informant, Arrest, Trial, Hard Drive, Sentence.

TIFF 17 Film Review - Faces Places

The oddest of couples helm Faces Places early thirties graffiti/ large form print artist JR teams with Master Agnes Varda who is more than 50 years his senior to take a ride across the villages in France posting large format print of the characters they run into along the way. Chance has always been my best assistant she declares near the films opening. Not a truer sentiment could have been stated to introduce the events that follow. JR has recently been in the news having completed a 70 foot instillation at the Mexico-US border of a baby peering over the wall from the Mexican side.

The pair set out in Jr's Mercedes van that doubles as a large black and white camera, photo booth and print shop. Their first stop an abandoned northern mining town with one remaining resident. There they post photos of the former minors on the row houses plus one of the last resident adorning her home. Next there off to see a farmer that once had 2000 acres under his care. They learn about his current experience and leave him with a souvenir print of himself on the front side of his barn.

Varda and JR share directing credit for the piece. They spend their time together teasing and provoking. Varda constantly at JR for never removing his sunglasses or fedora while he fires back at Varda on just about every topic imaginable. They are both so forward and forthright that their natural personalities fill the screen and theatre with constant laughter.

The most profound portions of the project include a stop at a shipping yard in Le Harve an all male domain. Here the pair bring the wives of three of the dock workers giving them 100 foot monuments plastered on shipping containers. The other an ill-fated train trip to go and see Goddard a long time friend of Varda and her late husband director Jack Demy who stands her up. Seeing how disappointed she is with that event Jr finally gives Varda what she wants and removes his hat and sunglasses. Special mention to a recreation of Goddard's dash though the Louve scene from Band of Ousiders with Varda in a wheelchair and JR pushing her maniacally from behind.

Faces Places is a joyful romp across the small towns of France featuring the best opening and closing credit sequences of the year. The film brings ordinary people to the forefront in the most simple manor bringing joy to them and their communities. The two principals are a perfect match even though you would think they have noting in common being generations apart. Varda youthful exuberance along with JR laid back calmness make for the perfect mix that underpins a film that I can highly recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Faces Places | Agnes Varda / JR | France | 2017 | 89 Minutes.

Tags: Documentary, Street Artist, Cole Miners, Church Bells, Le Havre, The Louvre, Jean Luc Godard, Rolle Switzerland.