Rental Pick: Hunt For The Wilderpeople (2016)

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As I’ve mentioned in this post, I absolutely LOVE the vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows. It’s also written and directed by Taika Waititi, who’s been quite a force to be reckoned with as a filmmaker, so I’m glad he’s getting noticed by Hollywood!

Right from the opening scene when the 13-year-old Ricky is dropped off by child welfare services at his new foster home in a remote farm, the movie immediately grabbed me. Though his foster mom Bella (Rima Te Wiata) welcomes him with open arms, her cantankerous husband Hec makes sure he wants to be left alone. Julian Dennison is quite a revelation as Ricky, a juvenile delinquent I actually wish I could adopt! He makes quite an unlikely duo with Sam Neill‘s Hec, and their journey through NZ wilderness is a hilarious yet poignant adventure I could watch over and over.
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I absolutely enjoy the banter between ‘uncle’ Hec and Ricky throughout, as they went on the run from police who thought Ricky had been kidnapped. One of the funniest bits was when they encountered some hunters and somehow Ricky made it sound like he’s been molested. It’s truly a lot of fun to witness the duo’s journey, both physically and emotionally, as they grow to enjoy each other’s company. Waititi, who made a wacky cameo as a minister, has a real gift for storytelling and witty dialog. I love these types of comedies. It’s uproariously funny but also has a huge heart, not relying on crude gags masquerading as *comedy* Hollywood churn out these days.

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The supporting cast is quite a hoot as well. The ruthless child welfare officer Paula (Rachel House) and her rather useless policeman partner Andy (Oscar Kightley) are hot on Hec and Ricky’s tail. There’s a hilarious moment when Paula and Ricky faced off each other in the woods…

Paula: Yeah, and I’ll never stop chasing you – I’m relentless, I’m like the Terminator.

Ricky Baker: I’m more like the Terminator than you!

Paula: I said it first, you’re more like Sarah Connor, and in the first movie too, before she could do chin-ups.

I love the pop culture joke and it doesn’t feel stale. There’s also that bit about The Lord of the Rings that made me laugh so hard. I was hoping Waititi would include LOTR given that it was also shot primarily in New Zealand. Though perhaps not as quotable as What We Do In The Shadows that Waititi co-wrote, there are plenty of great, funny lines here that still made me chuckle every time I remember them. Dennison is definitely one of my favorite talent discoveries of the year and I hope this kid gets other prominent roles in the future. Neill is a talented veteran actor, and his character here reminds me of Dr. Grant in Jurassic Park as kids somehow flock to him despite his grumpy demeanor.

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The amazing scenery would certainly make you want to book your next trip to NZ pronto! This movie could practically doubles as a NZ tourism video. The third act gets over the top a bit, especially when the manhunt became a full-on ‘war.’ Fortunately it never got off the rails even as the action escalated to a rather bombastic finale. The ending is a sweet one, albeit a tad predictable. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and it made me anticipate THOR: Ragnarok a whole lot more because Waititi is directing it!

I rarely give a full score in my reviews, but this movie is pretty much perfect. As I mentioned in my Golden Globes post, it’s ridiculous this movie wasn’t nominated for Best Comedy! It’s not just the funniest film of the year, but it ranks as one of the best comedies of all time.

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Have you seen this movie? I’d love to hear what you think!

Rental Pick: Daybreakers (2009) – a novelty twist in a classic genre

I’m not into horror flicks but I kind of have a penchant for the vampire genre (the proper kind, NOT Twilight!) so when I saw the premise of this last year, I was intrigued. It took me a while to finally see it but I’m glad I did.

DAYBREAKERS (2009)

In the year 2019, a plague has transformed almost every human into vampires. Faced with a dwindling blood supply, the fractured dominant race plots their survival; meanwhile, a researcher works with a covert band of vamps on a way to save humankind.

This is one genre that’s been done to death that very few of them lack bite anymore, pardon the pun. But with Daybreakers, the filmmakers managed to have deliver new to say on this genre. Glad to see that it’s not the classic vampire/human gothic romance but more of a survival story, not just for the humans but for the vampire as well as blood is scarce. On TV we heard a Senator said that humans had been offered a chance to assimilate but because they refused, they’re now considered enemies of the state and will be captured and farmed for blood supply.

These vampires live in a world just like ours — they work in offices, they drive cars or take the subway, etc. They even line up to buy coffee in the morning (albeit with a percentage of blood in it). In fact, as the human blood supply gets lower and lower, so is the percentage amount in their coffee, and there’s an interesting scene where a riot broke out out of their frustration.

The protagonist is Edward Dalton (fortunately this Edward doesn’t sparkle!), a hundred-something year-old vampire who works as a hematologist at a Bromley Marks pharmaceutical corporation ran by Charles Bromley (Sam Neill). Dalton has been working on finding an artificial blood supply but when they finally tested it on one vampire, it didn’t work, leaving the subject in pieces, literally. The situation is pretty dire as the lack of human blood on these vamps eventually turn them into these horrifying creatures (basically a human bat) that would prey on anything and everything, even their own kind. Edward and his brother had a terrible encounter with one of them one night and it turns out that creature used to be one of the gardeners!

Edward detests being a vampire and he’s resentful that his brother turned him many years ago. So when he somehow encounter a group of humans who trusted him enough to take him to their hideaway, Edward was more than willing to help. The rest of the film becomes a cat and mouse game between the vampires and the small group of humans.

This film has some truly gory parts so it’s definitely not for the faint of hearts. I had to cover my eyes in some parts, especially the devouring scene at the end, but overall I really like this film. Ethan Hawke has the soulful, deeply forlorn look to him that suits his role perfectly. Nice to see Sam Neill playing the baddie and Willem Dafoe as a good guy for once. I really thought that when I saw Dafoe in the cast that he would be the lead vampire, ahah! The actress playing Dafoe’s cohort is amateurish however, I wish they had cast someone far more expressive in that role. Hawke and Dafoe are the only American actors as the cast are mostly from Down Under.

The cinematography set in Queensland Australia is quite beautiful, I think the filmmakers did a good job in creating a realistic-looking dystopian future (albeit it takes place only 10 years from now) that feels eerie and sinister. I also appreciate the small details like the lack of reflection of Edward in his car’s rear view mirror and how his house and car are styled to be sunlight-proof. Not bad for only the second feature film from Aussies Michael and Peter Spierig, known as the Spierig Brothers.

This dystopian horror thriller is definitely worth a rent if you’re looking for a novelty twist in a classic genre. I find the whole social satire idea more arresting than I expected. Strangely enough, at times I find myself rooting for some of the vampires, as just like in the human world, corporate greed abounds and the strong prey on the weak. After watching this, it actually makes me think about our own society and the idea of how a limited supply of precious resources does to people. I mean, just look at what happens with the gas shortage post Hurricane Sandy!

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Thoughts on this movie? Those who’ve seen this one, curious to hear what you think.

Tube Watch: Thoughts on JJ Abrams’ ALCATRAZ

All right, after months without a show to get excited about, finally Alcatraz arrives. I blogged about this back in September. Basically it’s a procedural mystery thriller with elements of time travel thrown in… the trailer promises all kinds of twists and turns only JJ Abrams & co. could muster, what with Alcatraz prisoners disappearing from 50 years ago and suddenly showing up on present day and bent on a shooting rampage.

So, is it worth watching?

Well, the short answer is YES. The 2-hour season premiere did its job  trick as based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m hooked. Now, I didn’t watch LOST so I consider that a good thing as I won’t have ‘LOST fatigue’ like some TV reviewers mentioned, and I also won’t be keeping tabs on how the two shows are similar, well apart from the fact that both shows involve an island and a boat load of unexplained scenarios.

What I like about the show:

The Premise

One benefit from not watching hardly any TV is that I’m not burned out by procedural shows. Yes I’m aware there are a plethora of it out there, and that this one involves a police detective trying to figure out the strange killings happening in the city, but the mystery/time travel elements sets it apart from the pack. The contrast setting between the ghostly, eerie atmosphere of retro Alcatraz island and the panoramic Bay City also adds visual interest.

This pilot tells us that each episode will focus on one prisoner (perhaps also the guard?) and how his story will help shed some light to the overall mystery. Just what in the world happened to that night in 1963 and why are they back in the present day? For what purpose?? The two prisoners so far seem to have totally different ‘missions’ if you will, that don’t seem to have any connection with each other. At least that’s how it appears right now.
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The Players

The most intriguing character so far is Sam Neill’s Emerson Hauser, the lead investigator of this whole Alcatraz enigma. He’s been there from the start as he was a young guard back in 1963 when 300 + prisoners and guards vanished from the island. It’s obvious that he knows more than he’s letting on, and so does his sympathetic scientist partner Lucy Banerjee (Parminder Nagra). Meanwhile, Detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) gets unwittingly dragged into Hauser’s team whilst investigating the murder of Alcatraz’s former Deputy Warden E.B. Tiller. With the help of some Google search (isn’t it nice to be living in the 21st Century?), she finds Dr. Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia), a comic book writer/Alcatraz expert who ends up becoming her partner on the case.

So far Garcia gets the best lines like “You’ve built the bat cave under Alcatraz. Why would you do that?” or “Anyone else’s head exploding right now?”, which is a nice balance to Jones’ serious demeanor. I’ve never seen Jorge before but he’s perhaps the most well-known TV actor here because of his role in LOST. I like him right away and he’s funny without being overly quirky (I’m looking at you Masi Oka).

Neill, Jones & Garcia on Alcatraz

It’s quite an eclectic mix of people and you could say the same about the cast. I quite like Neill in this role, a bit prickly but highly mysterious… oh and bad ass, too. At the end of the second episode he doesn’t hesitate to shoot the prisoner’s hand to keep him from shooting people at random. I can see how Neill can have tons of fun with this character if the writers did their job well.

Sarah Jones reminds me a bit of a Battlestar Galactica‘s Katte Sackhoff (Starbuck), but a softer, less tomboy-ish version. She seems believable in the role but lacking a bit in the charisma department (especially against a veteran like Neill). But hey it’s early yet, I’d give her some time.
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The Time-Travel Elements

Time travel movies are inherently intriguing and there are so many possibilities to explore! If there’s anyone who can freshen up a tried and true formula, that’d be Abrams. As proven with the Star Trek movie, good writing can somehow make something you’ve seen before feels new again. Now I’m not saying he’s got the formula down pat yet, it’s still too early to tell, but so far he’s done a good job in making us want to know more what happens next.

The alternating timelines between the 60s and present day keeps it interesting as well as gives us an insight into what each of the disappearing prisoner’s all about. I especially like the Jack Sylvane (Jeffrey Pierce) storyline, ok so Pierce is eye-candy material too, always a nice bonus 😉 I think the fact that he was imprisoned for something trivial (stealing at a grocery store) but ended up being jailed on The Rock is just as bizarre as him suddenly waking up in 2012.

I do have an issue with how the disappearing prisoners who suddenly pop up in present time don’t have that much trouble adjusting to 2012. When Jack stepped out of the prison after being awaken by a visiting tourist girl, he seemed disoriented for a while but recovered quickly and went on with his mission. I think it’d be more interesting if the writers explore the discombobulated ‘fish out water’ period a bit more, which is always the most interesting factor about time travel stories.

The Verdict

Well, now that they got me hooked, we’ll see how long it can keep me interested. I have a short attention span with shows, the last TV series I watched was Hawaii Five-0 but Alex O’Loughlin’s hunkyness aside, I got bored with it pretty fast as there is really nothing to look forward to week after week. With this one, there is almost a sense of urgency to find out just what the heck is going on, and with every episode, we (hopefully) get just a little bit closer to the heart of the mystery.

For example, as the first hour ended, we found out that Madsen’s grandfather was actually a prisoner, not a guard as she was led to believe. So there is a personal connection there that makes it all the more intriguing. The premiere ends with a WHOA moment involving Lucy’s character. I definitely didn’t see that coming! Does Hauser know all along that Lucy is the same person as Dr. Lucille Sengupta? Was that why the sniper prisoner targeted Lucy? Well, Abrams’ done the job well as I REALLY want to know the answer to those questions.

I just hope that there are sufficient pay-offs to the build-ups. I think the trouble with these types of shows is that the writers have too much fun thinking of all the twists and conflicts but in the end don’t know how to solve them. I sure hope that won’t be the case here.


So did anybody else watch this pilot? Well, what did you think?