Sunday, October 4, 2015

Australian and Kiwi films and TV

The first movie I bought on DVD was Dead Alive (1992), directed by Peter Jackson. From the opening scene with the Sumatran Rat-Monkey, to the unbearable mother and romantic connection between Lionel and Paquita, this movie stands out from the glossy Hollywood movies of the time. And once the priest is enlisted into fighting the zombie creations, the action just doesn't stop. From the first time I saw it, I was impressed with the pacing, the goriness, and the unabashed passionate movie-making. Since then, of course, Peter Jackson has gone on to portray the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films just as passionately, as well as King Kong, Heavenly Creatures, and The Frighteners.

The next group of talented New Zealanders are Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie, Taika Waititi, and Rhys Darby. Their introduction to America was Eagle Vs. Shark back in 2007.  Then Flight of the Conchords (2007-2009) hit it big, which broadcast the music of Bret and Jemaine, as well as introducing Eugene Mirman and Kristen Schaal. Next up, we saw Jemaine in Gentleman Broncos (2009), Men in Black 3 (2012, as Boris the Animal), and Muppets Most Wanted (2014, as the Prison King). Meanwhile, Bret did the music for both The Muppets (2011, for which he won an Oscar) and Muppets Most Wanted (2014). Taika Waititi is mostly credited as a director, while Rhys Darby has the most acting credits on his IMDb page, and may be most known as Murray in Flight of the Conchords. The four of them came back together for What We Do In the Shadows (2014), a full-length film that started out as a short directed by Taika back in 2005. The idea of ancient, supposedly mythological, creatures living in a modern environment, being flatmates, trying to reconnect with lost love via the internet, and having a turf war with werewolves who struggle to remain human, is played with such humor, and becomes a brilliant combination.

Even more recently, I've come across some TV shows via Netflix that have become integral to my viewing patterns. Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is set in 1920's Australia, and stars Essie Davis, who has also starred in The Babadook (2014), and who will be Lady Stork in season six of Game of Thrones. Miss Fisher is a strong character, defender of children and less-accepted members of society, and also a staunchly independent and sensual woman. She is an ahead-of-her time detective who tries to work with the police, but goes her own way more often than not. If you appreciate the classic Agatha Christie stories, but would like to see them portrayed with more liberal politics, this is a fun option. There are three seasons available on Netflix now.


Another show I've enjoyed and watched more than once is The Almighty Johnsons. A family of four brothers finds out that when each of them hit the age of 18 that they are the living incarnations of Norse gods. The entire show is the story of them seeking to find meaning in their lives, whether it's through their powers, their history, or shunning those things in favor of modern options instead. Along the way, they receive the help, and/or hindrance, of youngest character Axl's roommates, the Johnsons' grandfather Olaf, and a group of goddesses on the same quest, with occasional visits from the living incarnation of Thor (who is the opposite of Chris Hemsworth, if ever I saw it). There are currently two seasons on Netflix, and it is an adult drama, with plenty of sexual content, and characters acting under the influence of various substances.


Finally, there is Housebound.  The tension was strong throughout, from the beginning when Kylie goes into home detention until the end when we discover from which direction the true harm is coming. What would you do if you felt unsafe in your own home, but were not allowed to leave? This  film explores issues like making choices, coming of age, the value of boredom vs excitement, and the feeling of isolation vs embracing your family. The characters seemed familiar, although it is set on the opposite side of the world. I enjoyed this even more than The Babadook, which got a lot of praise for its atmosphere as well.

Back At it!

Happy October, the best month of the year!

The reason I view October as the best month of the year is because a) the weather cools off and it becomes tolerable to be outside again, b) autumn/harvest foods are delicious, and c) it includes Halloween. Because of that, I decided to spend the weekend watching scary movies.

Today I was in a mood to tackle spooky British isles movies. I considered rewatching favorites such as 1973's The Wicker Man, The Dark, The Others, or even though it's less rural, Thora Birch in The Hole. Also considered The Descent, because it feels like a British film even though it's set in America's Appalachian Mountains.

Since I wanted to find something new, I started browsing through Netflix's offerings and found Blood Lands (a.k.a. White Settlers).
It's a story of a London couple (Pollyanna McIntosh & Lee Williams) trying to escape from the busy life into a low-pressure fixer-upper Scottish home, and discovering how unwelcome they are. The start was a slow build, getting to know the characters, which turned into a home invasion film, akin to You're Next, but ended more satisfyingly than any of the other films in that genre that I've seen. I'm giving it a score of 6.

After that, I tackled Eden Lake.
This is another urban couple (Kelly Reilly & Michael Fassbender) going to a rural setting. First off, I thought it had a cabin in the woods feel, then it began to feel more like a road trip/adventure movie.  Michael Fassbender is always amazingly engaging, so even though the situation was disagreeable, I hung in there to see where the story would take the characters. So unpleasant, and at 40 minutes in, there is some gratuitous torture porn. I give it a 4.

Next up, for a change of pace, we're off to the theater to see Matt Damon in The Martian.