Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Last Dogs of Winter

A good documentary takes you someplace else, introduces you to someone new or gives you something new to think about after you've had your attention occupied for ninety minutes or so. The last dogs of winter does all three. It was made by Wellingtonian Costa Botes who has done a variety of good stuff, including short film I'm quite fond of, Stalin's Sickle.

The someplace else in this film is Churchill, Manitoba which is famous for being the Polar Bear Capital of the World. I'd like to go Polar Bear spotting one day, so this is one reason why I went. The someone(s) new are Qimmiq (Eskimo Dogs) about which I knew nothing at all,  and about the man (Brian Ladoon) who, almost single-handedly, has brought the species back from the edge of extinction. He's aided in the quest by a New Zealander, Caleb Ross,  who brought Brian and the dogs to Costa Botes' attention and caused the film to be made.

The new stuff to think about is the logistics and the politics of bringing a domesticated species back from extinction when the species really has to live outside but has to be managed by people and can't be left to run free. Tricky stuff. You get plenty of opinion on the matter from the people interviewed in the film. You also get great footage of both dogs and bears who both have oodles of furry animal charm, and a landscape that couldn't be more different from Wellington.

My rating: 4/5.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

You could classify Moonrise Kingdom as a romantic comedy but perhaps love story is a more accurate description. It certainly has story-book elements like an over-the-top narrator who is separate to the action and fancifully dressed, and a heroine who lives in a house whose rooms don't seem to have doors, like a doll-house.

Suzy and Sam
This is a love-story between twelve-year-olds. He (Sam) is a bespectacled state ward who's attending a scout summer camp on an island in New England. She (Suzy) is the slightly difficult oldest daughter of unusual parents who reside on the island in the multi-storey dollhouse. Having hatched a plan by mail (this story is set in 1965), they run away , which could alternatively be described as going camping together without permission. He brings a backpack containing sensible stuff like cookware and a tent and she brings her pet cat,   a portable record player and a suitcase containing half a dozen books.

They are pursued by the scout troop and the first time they're discovered there's a battle involving bows and arrows and scissors and they escape. The second time they're camping on the beach and the search party includes Suzy's parents, the island's only cop  and the scout master, all of whom are larger than life characters. In one of my favourite scenes, one of the adult lifts the tent and 2 young people in their underwear are revealed to the adults and an entire scout troop.

As a result of Sam's misdemeanours, his foster parents refuse to have him back which means the naughty boys home is probably the next destination for him and Suzy is taken home in disgrace. Luckily, this is not the end. The Scout troop comes to the rescue and reunites the couple and a mad-cap day ensues with a wedding, a lightning strike, a big storm, and a lady from Social Services arriving on the island. Like any good story it all turns out well in the end, but you'll have to go and watch to see how that pans out.

There's lots to like in this film. All the actors (adults and children) are great, and endearing for the most part. Suzy's parents often communicate by megaphone since they're often on different floors. Sam and Suzy don't fight. The scout master wakes up one morning to find ALL  his scouts missing. Sam and Suzy dance on the beach in their undies. It looks pretty and since all the action takes place over a couple of days it's fast-paced. And it's novel - when was the last time you saw a love story between twelve-year-olds?

Anne's rating 4/5 Ian's rating 4/5

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

Do you think horror films are overly formulaic? Perhaps something like:
(es+u+cs+t)2+s+(tl+f)/2 +(a+dr+fs)/n + sin x - 1?
Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard seem to think so. In The Cabin in the Woods they follow the basic rules of US horror films - five college students (the hunk, the sexy blonde, the cute quieter brunette, the scholar and the pothead - looking suspiciously like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo) spend a weekend in cabin in the woods against the advice of a cranky old local man. Naturally they wake up something evil that shortens their life expectancy. There is no surprise in the order of their demise.
Fran Kranz as Marty
Fran Kranz as Marty
"It was the pioneer days; people had
to make their own interrogation rooms.
Out of cornmeal."

But luckily there is another side to The Cabin in the Woods, an exploration of why horror film plots have so many common elements. It pulls aside the curtain and shows us the strings and levers that maneuvour pretty young things into silly life shortening behaviours. This takes the film into an X-files / H. P. Lovecraft direction that works best if you don't read the plot spoilers on Wikipedia etc.

Shaggy from Scooby-Doo
The inspiration for Marty?
While The Cabin in the Woods is not the first horror film to deconstruct the genre (see Scream or Tucker and Dale vs Evil), this is the one that will appeal to Joss Whedon fans. It has his trademark high production values, spunky petite actresses and most importantly quotable lines and references to other films. Plenty for the fanatics to look for and tweet about over multiple watchings.

Anna Hutchison works her butt off in her short lived role that steals the limelight until her demise. Once she has gone Kristen Connolly (as Dana) is intended to carry the cabin story for the rest of the film but she doesn't quite match up to other feisty heroines in the genre. Fran Kranz as Marty supports her with some of the best lines in the film, which is lucky as the other two guys are almost interchangeable, but he is hampered by his light entertainment role.

The final act starts when Dana and Marty take the elevator down to Peter Jackson territory and CGI threatens to take over from dialogue and acting. This is a bit of a pity because snappy dialogue is a feature of this film. But if you like lots of monsters and gore then this will be your favourite part.

The other stand-out actor is Richard Jenkins as an unflapable, super capable, middle manager in the parallel story. Richard's face is far more familiar than his name in countless supporting roles as someone's sad-eyed dad or co-worker (Six Feet Under, Burn after Reading). Lurking in the background is Amy Acker looking perky but lacking opportunities to shine.

Anne complained that The Cabin in the Woods wasn't funny enough. I thought that the pacing was wrong. Too much plot given away too soon, and not enough character development for us to care about who if anyone survived. The climatic scene went on too long. A hand reaching out of mirror to strangle someone is shocking but the end of the world -- not so much. But I'm sure Joss Whedon fans will be too busy trying to pick up on all the references and memorise the best lines to notice the defects.

Ian 3.5/5 Anne 2.5/5