Hunt for the Wilderpeople

After watching this movie, one question is uppermost in my mind: WHY DON’T I LIVE IN NEW ZEALAND??

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Director and Writer: Taika Waititi
Adapted from: the book “Wild Pork and Watercress” by Barry Crump
Starring: Sam Neill and Julian Dennison
Released: 2016
Rated PG-13 (in the U.S.)

The movie begins when Ricky Baker, a rotund foster kid who fancies himself a gangsta, is placed with a kindly old couple in the New Zealand countryside. Well, the wife is kindly. Her husband, Hector, is kind of standoffish and grumpy, seeing the new kid as a nuisance. So naturally, circumstances conspire to leave Ricky alone with Hec. Afraid of being dumped back into the foster care system (since Hec can’t be expected to raise him on his own), Ricky runs away and gets lost in the bush (New Zealand code for pristine, gorgeous wilderness). Hec rescues him, but a series of misunderstandings conspire to make it look like he’s kidnapped the boy. Pretty soon, the two find themselves outlaws in the wilderness, with the police, the army, and one dangerously obsessed Child Welfare agent hot on their trail.

First, let me talk about the scenery in this movie. I’ve never been there, but between The Lord of the Rings and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, I’m now convinced that New Zealand is the most beautiful place on earth. And here we see tons of panning shots of mountains, forests, lakes and flats that seem utterly deserving of Hec’s made-up word, “majestical.” The soundtrack, made up of delightfully quirky techno-pop by the band Moniker, only adds to the beauty of the atmosphere. I’d say it’s worth watching for the scenery alone.

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“It’s majestic.” “That doesn’t sound very special. Majestical’s way better.”

But that’s not all the movie has going for it. It’s also hilarious. Hec and Ricky play off one another wonderfully, and I got a lot of laughs out of their often prickly relationship and their different ideas of what it takes to be a tough guy. Then there’s Paula, the Child Welfare agent, who does such an over-the-top Inspector Javert impression throughout the movie that it’s impossible not to chuckle at her. The pair of outlaws run into several other quirky characters on their adventure, from a spacey priest who keeps mixing his metaphors to…”Psycho Sam,” who dresses like a bush to hide from the government. They are all amazing. Especially Psycho Sam.

But even though I laughed out loud several times during it, I’d hesitate to call this movie a straight-up comedy. In between the laughs, there are several extremely sad moments, and some that tug at the heartstrings for different reasons. Underneath the exaggerated action and adventure, this is a movie about two outcasts who decide to run from a society they feel has rejected them. It’s not just about Ricky teaching Hec what it means to be “skux” (sort of like being a “playa” here in the States) or Hec teaching Ricky how to survive in the wilderness. It’s about both of them helping each other to deal with the different sorrows they’re carrying from equally tragic pasts. Eventually, by becoming “wilderpeople,” they learn that they’re not alone and that the world doesn’t have to be as bad a place as they thought it was before the movie started. Their unlikely friendship is as heartwarming as it gets.

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All the best father-son type relationships start with hunting wild boar.

I was reminded of several other movies while watching this one. The relationship between Hec and Ricky is a lot like the one between Carl and Russell in one of my favourite Pixar movies, Up. The humor and some of the more surreal elements of the story remind me of the Coen brothers’ work, especially O Brother, Where Art Thou? But at the same time, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is very much its own story. I’ve seen quirky comedies before, but never one whose quirks were quite like these. I’ve seen epic, scenery-driven movies before, but not many whose stories seemed so perfectly fitted to the landscape. And I’ve seen plenty of father-son bonding type movies, but this one is so unconventional that it affected me a lot more than most.

Also, I loved Sam Neill in Jurassic Park, obviously, but I didn’t realise what serious acting chops he had until this movie. And I keep forgetting he’s from New Zealand.

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And if you even recognised him under that beard without being told, kudos.

Another note: This movie contains a beautiful Lord of the Rings reference, and I saw it coming a mile away. And it still made me geek out.

The only complaint I can think of is that the movie starts off a bit slow. We’re a good 20-30 minutes in before the plot really gets going. But even then, I’m not sure if I can complain, because so much of that beginning was used to develop an important character without whom the movie wouldn’t be the same. The tone is all over the place, with deeply tragic scenes constantly being followed up by something goofy and over the top–but that just makes both the humour and the emotion even more effective. It’s a masterfully told story with a great script. And the director’s next project is going to be Thor: Ragnarok, which gives me an enormous amount of hope for that film.

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If he can do action like this on a $77,000 budget, imagine what he’ll do with Marvel’s bajillions!

So in the end, I think it’s only proper to sum up my feelings about this movie the way Ricky would. In haiku.

Ricky and Hector
Outlaws living the skux life–
Grade A adventure.

 

 

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Ghostbusters

I take it back; Finding Dory is not the most unnecessary movie of the summer. That title goes to the remake of Ghostbusters.

Let me begin with a huge, embarrassing confession: I have not watched the original Ghostbusters all the way through. I saw the beginning and the ending, enough to understand most of the references, but even that was rather a long time ago. If you believe that disqualifies me from having an opinion on the new one, feel free to quit reading now. I won’t even disagree. But the way I see it, even a remake should be able to stand up on its own if it’s going to be, in any sense, a good movie. So here’s the fairly unbiased opinion of a newcomer to the franchise.

The new movie starts with two childhood friends, a science professor and a paranormal investigator, reluctantly teaming up to investigate a haunted house in New York City. The team-up becomes permanent after they actually meet their first ghost. Together with an unbalanced particle physicist and a street-smart subway attendant, plus a pretty-but-brainless secretary, they form the Ghostbusters and start seeking out spirits to send packing. But their job becomes a little bigger when they discover that someone is plotting to release millions of ghosts into NYC in an attempt to take over the world.

Without a doubt, the biggest problem with this movie is that it exists. The fact that a studio felt the need to remake a beloved classic like Ghostbusters to fill their summer roster, instead of coming up with a new idea, is yet another depressing sign that originality no longer has a place in Hollywood. Nobody asked for a Ghostbusters remake, and judging by the amount of hate it got on YouTube before the real trailers even emerged, most people weren’t happy to see one (especially not an all-female one). And I can’t really say from personal experience, but I’m guessing the new movie doesn’t live up to its predecessor. How could it? The idea just isn’t fresh anymore.

Meh. Seen it.

But if you can ignore that problem, there really aren’t too many others to find. I enjoyed this movie. It made me laugh. The main cast does a great job in their roles–particularly Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzman, the crazy physicist, and Chris Hemsworth as the brainless secretary. (Heh.) You can argue all you want about whether the new actresses are as  good as the all-male ’80s cast, but I found them hilarious in their own right. And most of the laughs come from the characters’ goofy personalities rather than toilet humour, which I appreciate. The only time when the action dragged a bit was at the end, when an overabundance of CGI made the climactic battle look too much like a noisy laser light show. Other than that, though, it was fun. It didn’t blow my mind, but it was an entertaining two hours.

It did strike me, as I was watching, that this is the first female-driven comedy I’ve seen in a long time that wasn’t all about sex or romance. There are a million buddy movies out there about guys just being best friends, but it’s rare to see a movie about female friendships that isn’t also about their dating lives. So this movie, which features exactly zero romantic subplots (unless you count Kristen Wiig’s character’s crush on Chris Hemsworth), was kind of refreshing in that way.

Hunting ghosts is always an excellent bonding activity.

I don’t know if Ghostbusters will make enough money to spawn the sequel it teased at the end of the credits, but I do hope it spawns the right kinds of imitators. Namely, more female-driven buddy movies. They really can work, especially with good actors, as this movie demonstrates. But no more remakes, please. We don’t need any more ghosts from the ’80s haunting the box office.

Grade: B