REVIEW: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

17 07 2016

Hunt for the WilderpeopleWriter/director Taika Waititi pulls off a rare feat with his film “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” – recreating an adolescent mindset without simultaneously infantilizing the audience. (No wonder Marvel wants him in their filmmaking stables.)

The movie adequately reflects the kind of “me against the world” headspace of troubled foster child Ricky (the riotous Julian Dennison) as he makes a last ditch stop with a rural-dwelling husband and wife before potentially ending up in juvy. Surprisingly, he ends up quite taken with the doting “aunt” Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and stoic “uncle” Hec (Sam Neill), so much so that he flees into the wilderness when extenuating circumstances lead child services to come back and collect him. Out here, “The Kings of Summer”-style, Ricky’s journey reconstitutes those who want to capture him as cartoonish villains and Hec, his reluctant forest companion, as a veritable folk hero.

“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” gets more mileage out of its central conceit than the director’s last film, “What We Do in the Shadows,” because Waititi leans into the absurdity rather than grounding it in reality. The larger-than-life humor of Ricky especially, but also the scenarios he imagines, really calls for the embrace of the ridiculous he provides. The film often glides by on charm over inventiveness or ingenuity, which is often just fine so long as Ricky’s potty mouth is running full speed. B / 2halfstars

REVIEW: What We Do in the Shadows

16 03 2015

what_we_do_in_the_shadowsAfter the vampire boom of the late 2000s (all thanks to the “Twilight” saga), it makes sense that we now get a reactionary boom of revisionist bloodsuckers.  From action flick “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” to hipster indies like “Only Lovers Left Alive” and “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” it feels like culture has begun to reclaim the terrifying creature from the Cullens.

Now, add Kiwi mockumentary “What We Do in the Shadows” to the pile. The film comes from the team behind cult hit TV series “Flight of the Concords,” Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, and their latest effort seems destined to dwell in a similar realm of fandom.  The movie is undeniably clever and funny on a number of occasions, yet those moments come inconsistently (and a little too infrequently).

When Clement and Waititi realize their vision for three centuries-old vampires who are hopelessly out of place courting fresh blood in the modern world, “What We Do in the Shadows” recalls “This is Spinal Tap” in the hilarity of its pathetic mundanity.  But when they miss, the film feels like an improv sketch that cannot achieve liftoff from the very beginning and then crawls its way towards a far-off conclusion.  Even at under an hour and a half, the uneven mix of these two extremes makes the whole thing drag.  B2halfstars