Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows) helms "Hunt for the Wilderpeople," a lively adventure about two people on the run in the woods of New Zealand.

A supposedly troubled kid Ricky (Julian  Dennison) is picked up by the cops and brought to a foster family. Bella (Rima Te Waita) as the head of the house does as well as she can, but the boy lusts for escape. After Bella dies suddenly, Ricky strikes a friendship with her husband Hec (Sam Neill) and they hit the trail.

The main spirit of the film is given by young Dennison whose wisecracks are more potent than a 1980's comedy and will have you in stitches. He is glib, brazen and self deprecating. Ricky sees himself as a gangster against the system, yet he is far from it, having the heart of a poet: he writes haiku.

This is essentially a picaresque road picture. Hec and Ricky meet lots of vivid characters on their trip. There are suspicious vigilantes. There is Psycho Sam    (Rhys Darby) a conspiracy obsessed person who disguises himself as a tree and Paula, (Rachel House) a self important foster care agent and frustrated police officer.

Ricky has the good fortune as well as the hinderance to think outside the box, to see survival as a concept, a fun game. Yet he is also struck with seriousness, mature for his age that individuality is being squashed by the pressure to conform.

The film is vivid and charming which evolves  into nothing less than a living comic book. Waititi's New Zealand is a place where the animals share equal weight with humans and even the trees appear to have a textured skin. Blood is spilled too, both in sternness and spoofing and it has pagan power.

This story dares to highlight a friendship between a kid and a curmudgeon without hyperbole or nonsense with a plucky, irreverent poignance, both savage and sweet. There is also something existential in young Ricky. Though well used to the digital age, he can either take TV and the internet or leave it. Ricky is content to let the babbling speech of his crush, Kahu (Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne) drift over him.

He remains disinterested.

While "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" makes fun of everything from "Mad Max", "Rambo" "Thelma & Louise" and "Fargo" with a hint of Roald Dahl, it is unique unto itself.

The magic of this film is that we see Ricky mature in front of our eyes from a stubborn boy into a worldly person and a creator of his own existence.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Absolutely Fabulous (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie

"Absolutely Fabulous" the cultish and very funny BBC series that originally ran from 1992 to 1996 with various specials in the millenium, now has a film with the same name subtitled as "The Movie".

The series detailed the quirky shenanigans of Edina (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley) as they carry on in their selfish search for recreational drugs, booze and money, usually in that order. The series worked because it lampooned social mores and proved daring, outrageous and fresh for its time in an era of staid British TV. One also had a real feeling for its motley characters with many guest stars skewering the realm of fashion and A-List parties.

In this film adaptation in the year 2016, it is more of the same as Patsy and Edina chase after fashion stories to make money so as to support their boozy habit. Edina is once again sloshing about while trying to get an advance on her book, but what was once fresh now feels rote with dialogue and reaction-shots on cue. Colorfully eccentric people fill the screen as the famous tipsy twosome chatter about and roll their eyes. The speech of every character is mumbling and rapid with hardly a quiet moment to be had. Edina's daughter, Saffron (Julia Sawalha) is here too, as is the dippy assistant Bubble (Jane Horrocks). Saffron has an oddly passive daughter Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness).

Edina has no money for champagne or vodka and schemes to get in good with Kate Moss. During a party, Edina knocks Moss into the Thames. What follows is a noisy goose chase from one jibber-jabbering party to the next. Characters zip to and fro like butterflies on methamphetamine interspersed with dance music. There are a few good lines and observations uttered by Joanna Lumley about aging and travel, but for the most part it is all about sloshing, wobbling, spilling and chattering with not much of it zany or fun because it feels routine. There are wonderful shots of Cannes but that's about it, aside from the fact that Patsy wears a mustache.

This outing is all pratfalls and motion having no space for the characters or the smart and cutting dialogue that made the original show so watchable. The film is too busy, replacing speech with attentively challenged sight gags galore as Edina and Patsy gargle with lobster and grapes.

There is one scene in an octagenarian dance party that may give a chuckle, but for the most part the yucks are all about the unfunny watery grave of Kate Moss.

Unless one is a die hard fan, "Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie", is a vapid vapor commercially concocted from what was once a  cocktail of stronger stuff.

Write Ian at ianfre1@yahoo.com

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Week of July 22 - 28 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Two New Films Mix It Up With Five Holdovers at Tropic
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Each week new films come to Tropic, old films leave, some linger behind. This time around a British comedy and a New Zealand dramedy join a literary biopic, a wacko documentary, a surreal story about a dead guy, a magic show, and an animated comedy about dogs and cats.

Quite a mix.

The popular British TV show “Absolutely Fabulous” has come to the big screen. This time around those Ab Fab gals Edna Moonsoon and Patsy Stone (Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley) go on the lam to the South of France thinking they’ve killed Kate Moss.  Tribune News Service calls it “a big, bright and viciously bold celebration of funny, flawed women, and the friendship that sustains them.” While Frisno Bee observes, “It all comes down to how beautifully Lumley and Saunders bring their characters to life. They have had so many years to play the roles that they come across as more of a second skin than an acting job.”

In “Hunt For The Wilderpeople” New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi gives us a cross-generational buddy film in which a chubby juvie and a grumpy outdoorsman (newcomer Julian Dennison and old pro Sam Neil) go on the run, chased by police and a misguided social worker  (Rachel House). Detroit News describes it as “a hoot with heart.” And Newsday finds it to be “a lopsided gem full of off-kilter humor, hard truths and real emotion.”

With “Genius,” writer Thomas Wolf spars with his editor Maxwell Perkins. Jude Law and Colin Firth bring the vociferous Wolf and taciturn Perkins to life. Boston Globe calls it “an intriguing study of the personalities and torturous process behind some of the early 20th Century’s great writing. And Philadelphia Inquirer sees it as, “well-written, gorgeously shot, and expertly edited.”

“Tickled” is a documentary that explores the absurd subject of “competitive endurance tickling.” MLive notes, “The old cliché about truth being stranger than fiction rarely feels so apt.” And PopMatters calls it “... an example of investigative journalism at its finest.”

Even more off the wall is “Swiss Army Man,” with Daniel Radcliffe as a dead body and Paul Dano as a castaway who seems to bring him to life. Spirituality and Practice offers this Cliffs Notes summary: “A lonely island recluse is given a new lease on life in this macabre buddy movie.” And Student Edge chuckles, “They say there are only six kinds of stories. Well, they finally found a seventh.”

Like its predecessor, “Now You See Me 2” is a heist film about a quartet of stage magicians (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, and replacement Lizzy Caplan) plus a puzzling FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo). Can they outwit a dangerous tech wizard (Daniel Radcliffe again). RTÉ says, “If you saw ‘Now You See Me’ and enjoyed it, take it from me: you’re going to love this sequel, which is pretty much more of the same and then some.” Also Digital Spy tells us it “improves significantly on the first movie, a more purely entertaining ride thanks to a couple of character shake-ups and tighter group chemistry.”

“The Secret Life of Pets” is the animated comedy that reveals what your doggie does while you’re away at work. Here two pooches (voiced by Louis C.K. and Eric Stonestreet) go off leash and face many misadventures … yet get home before their owner. Hindustan Times advises, “It is a wonderful answer to every pet owner’s paranoia and I recommend that you watch it, with your pets if you can. But maybe they watched it already while you were at work today.” And ABC News Radio finds it to be “solid family fun with plenty of cute and intelligent jokes, as well as a few scary moments that aren’t too scary.”

Dogs, cats, dead bodies, magicians, fashionistas -- the mixology is, well, absolutely fabulous.

srhoades@aol.com

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” Is New Zealand Gem
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Taika Waititi is a half-Maori Te-Whanau-a-Apanui from New Zealand. So who’d expect that he will be directing an upcoming Marvel movie, “Thor: Ragnaroc.” He also has a deal with Disney.

Waititi has been an actor, comedian, artist, photographer, and writer. And he’s becoming better known as a filmmaker.

He began making comical short films for New Zealand’s annual 48-hour film contest. In 2005 his short film “Two Cars, One Night” earned him an Academy Award nomination.

Subsequent films include “Eagle vs Shark” (2007) and “Boy” (2012). Last year his mockumentary about vampires (“What We Do in the Shadows”) was a hit. And now he gives us “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” an adventure dramedy starring Sam Neil.

 “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is currently showing at Tropic Cinema.

In this cross-generation coming-of-age on-the-run buddy film we meet a troubled 12-year-old Maori boy, Ricky Baker (played by newcomer Julian Dennison). Deemed to be a “bad egg,” his juvie record includes “disobedience, stealing, spitting, running away, throwing rocks, kicking stuff, loitering, and graffiti.”

Ricky’s nemesis is an overzealous social worker named Paula (Rachel House). She sends him off to live with foster parents, Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Uncle Hec (Neill). “There is no one else who wants you,” the social worker tells him.

But the chubby outsider comes to like it there under the care of Aunt Bella. Even if her curmudgeonly husband ignores him. When Bella passes away, Ricky realizes he’s at risk of being placed in juvenile detention. So he runs away into the wood, with Uncle Hec and his dog in pursuit.

Upon finding the pair missing, the social worker raises an alarm that Hec might have kidnapped the boy. With typical overreaction, she sends scores of police looking for the missing twosome, erupting into a nationwide manhunt with Paula leading the charge, spouting inane catchphrases such as “No child left behind.” Ricky and Uncle Hec haven’t always gotten along, but as fugitives, they must learn to bridge their differences in order to survive in the New Zealand bush. The city kid depending on the outdoorsman, then switching roles when Hec fractures his ankle on a root.

Sure it’s sappy and predictable, but Julian Dennison’s deadpan delivery is sure to make you break out a smile when he deals with danger or people or pop culture (e.g. “Lord of the Rings,” Tupac, and “The Terminator”).

Sam Neill (“Jurassic Park,” “Dead Calm”) is requisitely cantankerous, more like the boy than not, an outsider who doesn’t fit in with other people.

However, it is the chemistry between Dennison and Neill that bonds the film into a hold-together story.

The movie is based on the book “Wild Pork and Watercress” by Barry Crump. But the cinematic wizardry (camera swirling to mark the passage of time), the spectacular New Zealand scenery (the lush green landscape, pristine lakes, snowy woods), the movie’s score (by the team of Lukasz Pawel Buda, Samuel Scott, and Conrad Wedde), the witty repartee (“Faulkner is cauc-asian -- well, they got that wrong because you’re obviously white…”) marks “Hunt for the Wildpeople” as Waititi’s success.

srhoades@aol.com

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

BBC Fans Will Find “Absolutely Fabulous” Absolutely Fabulous
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Fans of “Ab Fab” rejoice. The much beloved ‘90s British telly series is coming to the big screen.

For those who don’t watch BBC, I’m referring to “Absolutely Fabulous,” a sitcom about Edna Moonsoon, a heavy-drinking PR agent, and her gal pal Patsy Stone, a magazine editor whose blowsy antics are equally self-destructive. The two middle-aged fashionistas are always pursuing bizarre fads designed to keep them young and “with it” in an ageist culture.

Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley star as this pair of loonies. It’s based on a comedy sketch created by Saunders and Dawn French, two comedians who met at the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama and discovered they shared a best friend. Their French & Saunders act morphed into the TV show.

“Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie” is currently making people laugh at Tropic Cinema. All Anglophiles will want to catch it.

In the movie version, Edna’s PR firm is about to go under, but when Patsy informs her that Kate Moss is looking for a new publicist, the gals go racing off to pitch the supermodel at a fashion show. Unfortunately in her haste, Edna knocks Moss over a balcony into the Thames. She is presumed to have drowned.

If that weren’t bad enough, while searching the river for the body, they supposedly kill Bubble, Edna’s personal assistant, in the process. So they flee to Cannes, taking along Eddy’s granddaughter Lola, so they can use her credit card.

Deciding they could get used to living a high life of glitz and glamour on the French Riviera, Patsy disguises herself as a man and marries the Richest Woman in the World. Next thing you know, the police are chasing them through the streets, the duo attempting to escape in a small, three-wheeled, fish-market van.

All turns out well, of course, but you might be able to laugh a little more freely if the recent tragedy of that truck rampaging through crowds along Nice’s promenade didn’t sour the comedy of a street chase in the South of France.

Nevertheless, take heart in the continuing misadventures of those fabulous Ab Fab gals. The film is populated with plenty of guest stars, ranging from Jon Hamm and Joan Collins to Dame Edna and Jerry Hall to Jean Paul Gautier and Stella McCartney. And the aforementioned Kate Moss, who manages to survive the contretemps. Plus more than 90 drag queens saucily parade through the movie.

Jennifer Saunders says she wrote the script on a £100,000 bet with her old comedy partner Dawn French. She says she couldn’t afford to lose that much money on a bet. This was before Brexit, when £100,000 was £100,000.

srhoades@aol.com

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Swiss Army Man (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Swiss Army Man

The bold and unapologetic "Swiss Army Man" by the duo directing team of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Schweinert may not be to all tastes, but it is to be applauded for being gleefully outside the norm and never holding back.

The chameleon actor Paul Dano once again pushes himself into fearless territory as Hank, an unkempt loner, pre-occupied with masturbation and unrequited love who happens to be lost on a desert island.

One fateful day, Hank decides to end it. With a rope around his neck, he sees a young man (Daniel Radcliffe) ashen and  unresponsive in the sand. This cadaverous man known as Manny becomes Hank's only friend.

What commences as a series of gags regarding farts, gasses and limp extremities, evolves into a film that is daring and thoughtful all at once. Daring as subversive kind of buddy comedy and thoughtful as a meditiation on childhood, memory and what it means to have a friend.

Dano, a great actor who is a master of the outsider, does terrifically as a slothful Robinson Crusoe for the 21st century. Radcliffe, no less masterfully, imbues his Everyman role with the existential importance of a  Frankenstein creation, a person who constantly questions his existence---one part Pinocchio and Edward Scissorhands.

The visual speed of the film alone will keep you guessing: festive, joyful, dark, and gloomy, the film carries all of these tones. It is a "Day of the Dead" banquet for the eyes scrambled in the irreverance of "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" with colors to match. The cinematography by Larkin Seiple bears a reverence for early MTV. One can see "Swiss Army Man" as a Peter Gabriel video on methamphetamines.

While some will no doubt object to projectile farting and the spilling of bodily fluids as a potable water source, one cannot say that the film is not free in spirit and entertaining. Above everything is the crucial ingredient: you care for these two eccentric (to say the least) characters who are very real people.

The film echoes many, "Frankenstein," "Harold and Maude," and even "Altered States" in its hallucinatory combinations, where bones, skulls and nudity become the hallmarks of a paganistic party. Here cheese puffs are revered as acid-orange cocaine.

"Swiss Army Man" may even offend a few with its horrid hijinks of flat-lining flatulence and emaciated erections. Others might be quick to call it a cult film. All have a point. But the film does more. While it begins  going for Monty Python laughs, "Swiss Army Man" teases us, blending into a hyperkinetic tale of a friendship and what it might feel like to truly 'let go'.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Tickled (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Tickled

As ridiculous as it might seem tickle torture as it is known, has been reported for a long time in history.  According to online research, the torture was used in ancient Rome, where a licking goat would go at a person lightly, then to the point of pain. The Nazis tickled prisoners to the point of severe anxiety during WWII, inducing visceral panic, along with great sobbing and sweating while boxed in shackles.

Unbeknownst to me before writing, tickling is a source of BDSM domination  that has the potential to cause retching, wheezing, vomiting and involuntary urination. All the more insidious, because (as most people might think, including myself) it appears on the surface, a harmless tease.  "Tickled" is the HBO-produced documentary that examines the greasly side of such a fetish and it will quite literally have you looking over your shoulder with jolts of fear.

One day, the film's director David Farrier, a pop culture gay journalist from New Zealand and co-director Dylan Reeve are intrigued by an online solicitation for the sport of competitive endurance tickling. Indeed there is such a sport. Farrier and Reeve are entertained in the manner of watching a John Waters film, and David sends an email to the producers in the hopes of getting more information.

The two are understandably shocked when they receive a terse anti-gay email in reply from Jane O'Brien Media. When an aghast Farrier emails once more, he gets several offensive emails. Farrier's curiousity is piqued. Just who or what is Jane O'Brien Media and why did Farrier deserve such hate mail? The film details Farrier's quest which oscilates between eccentricity, curiousity and very real horror.

What at first seems something that might be used for absurdist fun, is quite far from it. There are numerous video clips of tickling that at first might be taken from a party or a bizarre YouTube clip. When one catches a glimpse of chains and wooden stocks, something sinister is aflutter. These people are in actuality, suffering in pain. And, we as the audience, experience the same disbelief in what we see along with the filmmakers.

Director David Farrier is dauntless in getting at the truth of this sordid and eerie web of people in a film that takes on the tone of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman's earlier film "Catfish" about online dating deception.

Not since the early visions of David Cronenberg has there ever been something so horribly dream-like, off-putting and horrendous. The people portrayed here make the characters of  David Lynch into a Douglas Sirk romance. "Tickled" has the anxious effect that the film "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" had for singles in the 1970s.

Who is Jane O'Brien? And just what is "competitive endurance tickling" when seen online? The answers at best will astonish you. At worst, you will lose sleep and may just cancel any small parties, family-orientated or otherwise.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com