What We Do In the Shadows

Once more the folks from New Zealand have managed to provide anotherclassic and as with much of the output from New Zealand, there is a calm “home-grown” feel to the work. Mocumentary films have generally left me feeling unsatisfied whilst the Point of View or “discovered lost footage type films also generally do very little for me; although As Above As Below (2014) was a notable exception. Often these films try to be too earnest or try to achieve too much on too small a budget to disastrous effects.

What we have here is a perfect example of knowing what you can do and making it work. As the film starts we are introduced to the cast of characters through Viago (Taika Waititi, The Green Lantern, 2011) a 350 year old vampire who, we learn, came to New Zealand in search of the love of his “life” after she moved there. The fact that his servant put the wrong postage on the coffin meant that it took him 18months to reach there, by which time she had fallen for another. Such are the stories which brought Viago and his flat-mates to where they are. We have Anton (Rhys Darby, MIB 3, 2012) and Vladislav, (Jemaine Clement, Flight of the Conchords) the lothario or the group, but we learn his powers have been seriously weakened by his crossing paths with “The Beast” and Petyr (30 Days of Night, Heron, 2007) who is the oldest vampire and resembles the classical “Nosferatu” given to us by Max Schrek ( Nosferatu, 1922). Deacon (Jonathan Brugh The Almighty Johnsons, Mascot man, 2011) the youngest and most rebellious of the group, he has serious issues about doing the washing-up.

Together, they make up a “normal” group of flatmates who are basically trying to get on with life (or death) as normally as possible. We see the flatmates through various stereotypes ; organised & controlled, sloppy , “divil may care” etc. The plot as such is that of a camera crew following the guys in the weeks leading up to the Un-holy Masquerade Ball. This film should not be funny because many of the standard vampire gags which you might expect are all there and in many cases are well sign-posted. But for those that are sign-posted there are many other gags which also work just as well which are fresh to the production. We see the guys go about their lives and join them on their night’s out and feeding habits. Their feeding is facilitated by Jackie (Jackie van Beek, Shortland Street , 1999), Vladislav’s human Familiar who through her not very competent efforts finds them two not very virginal virgins to feed on, they subsequently end up turning Nic (Cori Conzalez-Macuer (Eagle v shark, 2007) in to a vampire, much to Jackie’s disgust as she has been wanting to be turned for quite some time. Nic has a friend Stu who he invites over to meet the guys and against their better judgement the they strike up a friendship with Stu who heads out with them on their nights’ socialising.

Such is the friendship that he is invited to the Ball by the guys, the fact that he is alive does not go down well with a number of the guests, including “The Beast”. A subsequent run-in with some of the local werewolves provides for a minor comic twist near the end, capping out the story.

The movie works for a number of reasons, the script is sharp and flows well with some quit finny lines spread through-out. Dealing with a subject matter of vampires one might expect hugely expensive visual effects or indeed attempts that are so pitifully awful they make us cringe. Not having the budget for the former and too much class for the latter Clement and Waititi who both directed the film struck the right note. The special effects are kept to a level which does not over-extend their abilities while at the same time restricting them for best comedic effect.

This is not an overly long movie, which moves quickly while bringing you with them all along the way. The jokes follow the situations with some excellent delivery. **** movie.

Housebound

Ah, yes, you can always trust the New Zealanders to do the right thing. Housebound is one of those rare events; a comedy horror movie which actually delivers on all fronts. We start off at a bank, where our star Kylie and her boyfriend are failing miserably to rob an ATM. The court later sentences her to 8 months home detention. And so she arrives home to her Mother’s house far out from her city life. As it happens the security guard, Amos, (Glen-Paul Waruto) monitor her is a local, something that proves useful.   As she begins to settle in, or not settle in she also has to talk with Denis, her court appointed counsellor , yet another annoyance.   One of her biggest annoyances is her mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata, Sons and Daughters, 1982) Miriam runs an ordered house along with her second husband, Graeme (Ross Harper, The devil Dared me to, 2007) and both “lazy” daughter and “uptight “ mother are having to come to terms with each other.

In to this mix is her mother’s belief that the house is haunted, she accepts this as a fact and is not too bothered by it, by standards. Kylie is having none of this nonsense, or at least nothing until she notices some strange sounds and happenings. Through the usual disasters Amos is brought in and together they eventually go ghost hunting.

What they find is a mystery which might involve a young girl who died many years ago when the house was a care-home, maybe she is the disturbance, or is it the strange boy/man who used to live next door, the same boy nobody has seen for over 10 years.

Kylie is now convinced there is something in the house, there is, and on one particular night when Denis and her doctor are present, there is an attack, Denis is injured and taken away to hospital.

Kylie and Amos try to find out what happened, as they do the mystery deepens – but here is the important part, never overly darkens.

This is not a big movie with a huge story line, loads of sets and special effects, no it is a simple ghost story type movie told well and with a sense of humour. The sense of humour is important, it is excellently carried through without changing the essential nature of the movie or taking away from the suspense.

I’m deliberately not giving too much away. The cast is typically understated and calm as is with many of the ANZAC offerings, the suspense works and the story never gives too much away before it needs to. You will sit down and enjoy this film. It is good old-fashioned fun, with perhaps a subtle message about appreciating what we have and not rushing to judgement.

7/10 purely because it kept me entertained without having to get too bloody or too silly.

Man About Dog

Set in Ireland it is the story of three perpetual losers, who despite their many schemes are still as broke as ever and find themselves driving the length of the island trying to pull of that One scam which will set them up. Events kick off in Belfast where the guys, looking for a few pounds, agree to interfere with a greyhound race, in return for a greyhound to them from a local bookie, the kind of bookie (Sean McGinley, Republic of Doyle, 2010) who you do not want to owe money to and things go downhill from there. Directed by Paddy Breathnach (I went Down, 1997) and staring Allen Leech (The Imitation Game, 2014), who is nominally the brains of the outfit, Ciaran Nolan (dead Men Walking, 2008) the superstitious and unlucky unfortunate who at least tries to do something; and of course “Cerebral Paulsy” the grass smoking, brain fried one of the three constantly catching up.

Having been sold a pig-in-poke as it were, the dog they were given is useless and not capable of doing any good. This of course provides a whole set of challenges for the boys. Their luck might be changing though. They have been noticed by others. The wealthy widow of a former dog owner has a dog that can do what is needed, she gives them the dog, as a means to destroy their not so friendly bookie.

They enter the dog I a race only to find it did not even leave the box at the start. As if their day could not get any worse, the bookie finds them, kidnaps them and lets it be known that he finds them personally responsible for the race they nobbled and demands £50,000 from them. Not having this, they need to produce it fast.   They head south to the Republic to try the dog but to no avail. About to give up, they sell the dog to travellers (Pat Short, Garage 2007) where they quickly realise the dog is actually guite good, it is just that he does not chase plastic hares, only real ones.

They guys decide to rob back the dog. Needless to say this does not exactly go as planned and a night of mayhem ensues. The rest of the film is about the three boys making their way south to the coursing fares and in the process trying to raise cash to enter the dog in the necessary races while at the same time avoiding Belfast bookies and various travellers.

Eventually as they get set-up at the Clonmel Coursing festival, their bookie and the travellers are also there and all want their share of the guys. The dog proceeds to win its races and of course draw the attention of said folks. Ultimately the boys are trapped in to a corner which Scud manages negotiate themselves out of.   The negotiations work for them, and the film closes with us seeing how the guys are finally seeing some success.

What Breathnach manages to do is not only to pull together the story by Pearse Elliot (Shrooms) who he wrote with a number of times, but managed to do it so well. There are a number of set-piece situational gags, some excellent one liners and even a couple of continuing character jokes. The movie works well, some of the gags are sign-posted but that possibly adds to the enjoyment as we have a certain sense of expectation. It might be tempting to compare this movie to others such as RocknRolla (Guy Ritchie, 2008). On the surface they are both drama comedies but are very different styles, Dog is more of a series of well stitched together sketches while with RocknRolla the humour flows differently, bit excellent comedies, but both very different comedies both is style and nature. Man About Dog needs to be viewed as an Irish comedy and with the associated style.

The Quiet Man

This has proven to be a surprisingly controversial movie, dividing many as to whether or not it is a great comedy/drama or an insulting pastiche of stage Irishness. At first glance the insulted side of the room may have the case, however if you actually watch the movie for the nuances it is more complex than the first glance might suggest. I fall in to the camp that suggest the movie is a classic.

Despite the famous scene of Wayne grabbing O’Hara and kissing her, we should remember that the female characters are quite strong in this film, Not only do we have her but also “The Widow Tiillane”, note the title of “The” Widow Tillane. Some reference sites simply give the character’s name, this is to underplay the title. In Ireland the prefix of “The” was and is still used to denote a person of singular importance; for example a not dissimilar work, The Field by the late John B Keane gives us the main character of “The Bull McCabe” again reinforcing the impact of the person. This is by way of commenting on the attention to detail in the movie which is often over-looked.

Directed by John Ford (Rio Grande, 1950) and starring just about anybody in Hollywood who ever claimed to have an Irish connection. The story is a steel-worker and retired boxer, Sean Thornton, played by John Wayne (She wore a Yellow Ribbon, 1949) who having had enough of the violence of the ring (event become clearer as the movie progresses) where he was a champion boxer who once killed an opponent in the ring, something which weighs heavily on him. He is returning to the place of his birth, a small cottage just outside the town of “Inisfree” after growing up in Pittsburgh. We don’t know much about his background, it was poor and likely that of tenant farmers.

On returning he engages the services of local hackney driver , Michaleen Oge Flynn,[ Michalín Óg Flynn – in the correct form] (Barry Fitzgerald, The Naked City 1948) who as it turns out, is also the local match-maker. Life is never as simple as it might otherwise be.

Shortly after returning Thornton spies the fiery Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara, Only the Lonely, 1991), who is very much the red-head in looks and temperament. Pretty soon Thornton expresses an interest, only to be told by Michaleen that there are rules to follow, Thornton does not have much time for the rules, but goes along with the customs. Now, Mary Kate lives at home with her brother, known by various people as “Squire” or “Red” Will Danaher (Victor McLagen, The Informer, 1935) , and Squire Danaher has his eyes on two things, a piece of land next to his own and the widowed owner of that land. Needless to say he’s not only unhappy about his sister being associated with the “Yank” but also majorly upset when he hears that Thornton is buying the property.

The film progresses with Thornton settling in and getting to know the locals, not least of all the Reverend Cyril Playfair (Arthur Shields, The River 1951) who as an enthusiastic sports fan was aware of Thornton’s history and the fight that caused him to turn from boxing. These friendships allow Thornton to get an understanding of where he is and what he can do.   One thing he is intent on doing is buying the old family homestead, which The Widow Tillane (Barefoot in the Park, 1976) is happy to do. This is the land Squire Danaher wanted and the selling of the land to Thornton makes for trouble.

Danaher may not be able to stop his sister from marrying Thornton, but he can withhold her dowry of cash, furniture and heirlooms . This causes Mary Kate much upset, who is made even more upset by Thornton not being overly bothered by the dowry, not appreciating the importance of it. All this tension rises set against the backdrop of a small Mayo village where life goes on, or at least tries to. This is where the attention to detail is important, such as the attempts to by rounds in the bar, as funny as they are, it is the character of the “Brigadier” who shows the understanding Ford had for the times and the people, because in the pub with also was the local [old] IRA commander, the War of Independence is over and there is no malice between them (there might never have been). An important part of the village life is the part played by the local clergy, both Catholic and Anglican.

Father Lonergan (Ward Bond, Rio Bravo, 1959) is the local Parish Priest who is assisted by Fr. Paul (James O’Hara, Suddenly 1954 – James was the brother Of Maureen). Fr. Lonergan must be the voice of reason advising and plotting to get all the right people married and happy. His plotting extends to helping the local Anglican Minister when his Bishop is visiting; Fr. Lonergan hides his collar and tells the parishioners to shout like “good Protestants” cheering when the Bishop passes, Rev Playfair’s parish is small and he fears he might be moved to another Parish, so Fr. Lonergan’s help is much needed. This should not be seen as anything special, there was never any issues between the vast majority of Catholic and Anglican clergy at this time with many working together to face common challenges.

Needless to say all the tension between Danaher and Thornton reaches boiling point, here Thornton brings Mary Kate back to Danaher, no dowry, no marriage. The money is forthcoming, he would accept the wedding over the disgrace of forcing his sister’s marriage to be annulled. We see that the money was not important to Mary Kate despite all the tension, it was the principle of the matter.

Given the people in question, it is only a matter of time before there is a fight, today we have car chases, then there were the fights up and down the length of the main street, here was no better. Adding to the comedy of the situation, the fight will be under “Marquis of Queensbury” rules. I’m not sure if the good Marquis such a lose interpretation of his rules. The local train is delayed as the locals all rush to follow the fight as it makes its way through the village, even Rev. Playfair has a bet with his Bishop as to the possible winner. At one stage the fight breaks for a drink in the pub before continuing.

As is often the case in these situation , the fight ends with both men starting to become friends, Mary Kate returns home with her integrity intact and ultimately we see Squire Danaher eventually courting with the Widow Tillane; happy endings.

This film is rightly regarded as a classic. Having won a Oscar for its director, Ford, it is still as fresh today as when it first appeared. What makes the film works is the light-hearted approach to the situation. The cinematography is magnificently suited to the locality, the script is tight and nuanced. Usually only appearing every Christmas of St. Patrick’s Day, dig it up, sit back and enjoy. By the way, as a trivia exercise you might want to look at who is related to whom; The Shields Brothers, the O’Hara family, the Wayne family and also Ford’s only family members are all involved in one way or another.

Some great quotes from the movie:

I knew your people, Sean. Your grandfather; he died in Australia, in a penal colony. And your father, he was a good man too.

There’ll be no locks or bolts between us, Mary Kate… except those in your own mercenary little heart!

9/10

The Family

I’ve been catching up on my notes and publishing a few reviews as I find them. One such is The Family, which I had almost forgotten about until I was reminded of it in a conversation. My earlier post here was of Predestination, a film which I almost overlooked, except for the cast caught my attention, this one caught my attention straight away when it was released. With Robert De Niro (The Godfather Part II, 1974) and Michelle Pfeiffer (People Like Us, 2012) leading the charge as the husband and wife team leading their family to various safe-houses for their own protection after turning against their mob background. They are supported by Tommy Lee Jones (Men In Black, 1997) a long suffering US Federal Agent who must ensure their safety, something which is a lot easier said than done, given the Blake family’s inability to put mob-style habits behind

The family is completed by son, Warren (John D’Leo, Wonderlust, 2012) who together with his sister Belle (Dianna Agron, Glee 2009) must settle in to a new school, by now this is “old-school”. Quickly both apply their talents to settling in. Warren has a knack for identifying potentially financially rewarding situations while his sister proves to be more than able to look after herself, either with the local boys who want to get to know her or some of the more light fingered students.

What we have is a comedy of errors, associated with the family trying to settle into rural France, Normandy to be exact. As various challenges crop up, they must struggle to cope with them as a normal family rather than apply mob-style solutions.

This can have its own difficulties, but with the family  being hunted by the Mob, things get even more difficult. Eventually just as the family is starting to settle in , after the barbeque, the pummeling of a plumber who tried to rip them off and the father, Frank, sinking himself in it by describing himself as a history writer and sparking the interest of the village movie club.

The Mob get to find the family and descend on the sleepy village removing the police and fire-brigade before they attack the family, unfortunately for the mob hit men, they are recognized by the kids traveling to the house what ensues is a typical Besson style action sequence, namely one which has no reflection on reality but is fun to watch.

To sum-up “The Family” is a lighthearted romp through the often cliched mafia movie genre. De Niro has settled in to the comedy role as he matures, a role which suits him, hopefully we will get a few more. This film is never going to win best movie or any of number of would-be awards but it is entertaining and delivers what it set out to do. When you get a Besson film, you get entertainment and fun, not necessarily always too conventionally, but always in a way that enures things get blown up and people die loudly.

A safe *** movie.

Roseanna’s Grave


Ah yes. This was the movie that convinced me that Jean Reno (Empire of the Wolves, 2005)is one of Europe’s best actors. Equally as comfortable in high-octane action roles as he is in comedic roles such as this. Classed as an America film, it was directed by English man Paul Weiland (City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold, 1994). This is not the most important movie of the 20th century and does not overly challenge us with deep insights into the human condition but it does entertain. You will laugh (deliberately), possibly cry but certainly enjoy this movie. This is another one of those “under the radar” movies which deserves to be remembered, watched and appreciated.

For Roseanna is a bitter-sweet comedy, set in a small Northern Italian town. Our Hero, Marcello, Loves his wife and will do anything for her, theirs is a happy marriage, which unfortunately has been touched by more than its fair share of sadness. After the loss of their only daughter some years earlier, they are now faced with the news that, Roseanna (Mercedes Ruehl, Doubt, 2013) is dying, her heart can give out at any time. Marcello who adores his wife, will do anything for her. The only problem is that he has to do anything. There is one very serious issue. More than anything Roseanna wants to be buried in the same graveyard as her daughter and there are only three graves left. The graveyard is full, there is no room for expansion.
There are a couple of options to solve this, firstly buy the land next to the cemetery and expand. This of course is the obvious solution, except for one issue. The owner of the land knows exactly how important the sale is to Marcello and point blankly refuses to sell the land; many years ago was in love with Roseanna, but she had only eyes for Marcello, decades later he still burns a torch for her and refuses to allow Marcello a final happiness, he still regards him as his love rival.
Added to this is Marcello’s one man mission to save everybody in the village. Not from any altruistic love for humanity but rather to ensure there is a grave left for his wife. This mission obviously causes some great comedic moments which also manage to add to the emotion of the total production.

So, faced with caring for his dying wife, ensuring the town-folk don’t die and trying to get the land for the cemetery, Marcello is under pressure. So much so that Roseanna decides he needs help and so enlists her sister Cecilia (Polly Walker, John Carter, 2012) to not only help around their bar, but also to “take care” of Marcello once she is gone. Marcello is having none of it.Marcello is running himself into the ground trying to make life as easy as possible for his wife, while saving the locals from their various dangers, often to the amusement of the villagers.
As Marcello struggles to find a solution for his ailing wife, there are multiple challenges thrown their way, with Marcello and Roseanna deftly overcoming them and never losing sight of the future. As with all good movies, there is a twist near the end, one which perfectly compliments the overall production and finishes the movie off nicely.
A good movie can be like a good meal, made of simple, but perfect ingredients, well produced with care, the end product is unassuming but excellent. That’s what this movie is like. Ask anybody to name a few Jean Reno movies and the usual selection will appear, but look to his credits and you’ll notice a number of films you may not recognise, the vast majority of them excellent, this first among them.

Kolya

From 1997, the film is set in the dying days of the old Soviet “empire” in what was then Czechoslovakia. It is about 15 years since I first saw this film and it still brings a smile. Directed by Jan Svĕrák (Dark Blue World, 2001) and staring his brother Zdenek SvĕráK. It was written by Zdenek and Pavel Taussig. Our hero is Louka (Jan SvĕráK, Empties 2007). Louka used to be a cellist with the Czechoslovak Symphony Orchestra but was removed for reasons falling somewhere between deliberate and mistake, this was in the days of bureaucratic decisions being made by the technocrats regardless of the effects. Light-hearted and warm it tackles the events of the time in a manner which might just bring your finger to your eye to wipe away something…nudge nudge. You will laugh.

Being unemployed, our confirmed bachelor, must have an income. He manages this by performing at weddings and funerals. He also supports himself by painting tombstones. In with all of this is his relationship with his on/off girlfriend. Between performances which to say the least, he has no interest in, he talks with his friend the gravedigger. It is here that he learns of a way to make some money fast; marry a Russian bride so she gets her visa out of Russia. Sounds like it could be done, so he agrees.

The arrangements are made and before long, Louka is married to his Russian bride. At this stage we could say they lived happily ever after, but then there would be no film, in fact things go down-hill at an appreciable rate. His Russian bride has her heart elsewhere, namely with her boyfriend I West Germany. Before long she leaves Louka and heads to Germany leaving her son, Kolya behind. Kolya goes to live with his grand-mother for a while but she dies and the authorities decide the child must live with his step-father; Louka

After some resistance, from all side, Louka and Kolya begin to settle down together with room being made in his dingy garret flat. The fact that neither of them speaks the other’s language doesn’t help either. As they progress slowly coming to terms with each other, fate throws another spanner in to the works, Kolya contracts meningitis which requires specific medication for him. This all brings the situation for the two into focus with the authorities. Louka is threatened with prison.

As the world is about to come tumbling down around him, events in the outside world gather pace and the old regime is swept away by the Velvet Revolution. This together with the events in Germany, Kolya’s mother is able to be reunited with him. Things end well for Louka also, he and his girlfriend soon have a new family member to care for.

This is an easy going film, looking at life from the point of view of somebody who despite having things go against him, is determined to get on with things. There are some great moments of simple verbal and situational comedy scattered in here, which make it a cut above the rest. Dig it up, watch it and feel better about life.