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last update 10.Jul.07
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Eagle vs Shark   4/5 SHADOWS MUST SEE MUST-SEE
eagle vs shark Like Napoleon Dynamite, this Kiwi comedy pokes fun at the quirkiness of ordinary people. But unlike that film, this story has a real heart and soul. And it's also thoroughly hilarious.

Lily (Horsley) is too offbeat for her fast-food coworkers, so they conspire to sack her. Meanwhile, she's fallen for a customer, Jarrod (Clement), because he has the same mole on his upper lip that she has. They finally connect at a party dressed as their favourite animals (she's a shark, he's an eagle), battling it out on a violent videogame. There's a spark between them, and soon she's travelling to his hometown to help him get revenge against his high school nemesis. Jarrod is clearly a loser nerd, but that doesn't matter to Lily.

Waititi writes and directs with a colourful vigour that catches the absurd humour in every situation, along with the inner workings of the characters. Where Napoleon Dynamite took a point-and-laugh approach, this film uses a genuinely witty script and performances that have a warm undercurrent. The deadpan approach is absolutely hysterical; there's barely a moment when we're not laughing. And the tone is augmented by some clever stop-motion animation that, alas, turns a bit too sentimental for its own good.

With their straight-faced performances, Horsley and Clement cleverly maintain the dignity of their embarrassing loser-slacker characters. Lily's optimism and untapped talents are sharply contrasted against Jarrod's self-deluded bluster and misguided sense of justice. Both are battling against their inner demons in extremely oddball ways that are funny, sad and profoundly engaging. And the characters around them are just as intriguing--wacky and real at the same time.

The genius of this film is the way it keeps us laughing at the eccentricities while also challenging us to find a positive way to move forward with our lives. The film's message is about finding what Lily calls the "lovely bits" in the messy world around us, rather than merely finding someone to blame for our problems. This emerges naturally, without ever being preachy. And in the end, the film's bittersweet charm and scruffy goofiness win us over completely.

dir-scr Taika Waititi
with Loren Horsley, Jemaine Clement, Joel Tobeck, Brian Sergent, Cohen Holloway, Rachel House, Craig Hall, Morag Hills, Bernard Stewart, Gentiane Lupi, David Fane, Taika Waititi
horsley and clement release US 15.Jun.07,
UK 17.Aug.07,
NZ 30.Aug.07
07/New Zealand 1h33

15 themes, language, some violence
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Electroma   3.5/5   aka: Daft Punk’s Electroma
electroma This artful, experimental film from the guys behind Daft Punk is a strange concoction that will thoroughly entrance some fans while boring others silly.

It opens with two helmeted robots, one gold (Reich) and one silver (Hurteau), driving across the American southwest. They arrive in a small town where the townsfolk are also robots, wearing the clothing of businessmen, priests, mothers and fathers, going about their quiet lives. The gold and silver duo heads for an eerie treatment room, where they're given artificial faces. Back outdoors, this stops the residents in their tracks, until the faces start melting in the sun. This hits the silver guy very badly.

There's not a single word of dialog, nor do we see an actual face, but the film still manages to effectively convey a strong sense of emotion. It's intriguing, that the lyrical music is not by Daft Punk, but rather comes from the likes of Brian Eno, Todd Rundgren and Curtis Mayfield. And combined with the gorgeous cinematography and clever editing, there's a haunting and almost creepy tone that gets deep under the skin.

The performances are more like puppetry, as the story is told through body physicality, editing and sound-mixing, rather than faces or voices. So it's an impressive achievement that the underlying feelings come through so strongly, as does the relationship between the two robots. There's also provocative commentary on the cult of Americana, the numbness of routine and the extreme makeover obsession. Technically, it's extremely slick, with gliding camera movement that beautifully captures the expansive landscapes and familiar local features.

On the other hand, many of the takes feel like they go on forever, Bela Tarr style, merely following the duo as they gerry across the desert. Yes, like Gus Van Sant's meandering oddity, big chunks of this are indulgent and dull. Other sequences, no less ponderous, are so visually striking that we're transfixed. The white-on-white treatment room in which workers seem to blend into the walls, the sand dunes quietly morphing into naked skin, the burning man--these are unforgettable, hauntingly beautiful images.

dir Thomas Bangalter, Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo
scr Thomas Bangalter, Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo, Paul Hahn, Cédric Hervet
with Peter Hurteau, Michael Reich, Helen Stoddard, Vance Hartwell, Lilo Tauvao, Ken Banks, Howie Adams, Alina Bolsakova, Athena Stamos, Ritche L Bautista, Daniel Doble, Bradley Davis
hurteau and reich release Fr 24.Mar.07,
UK 15.Jul.07
07/France 1h14

15 themes, strong imagery
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once An exquisite combination of music and storytelling, this beautiful romantic drama really gets under the skin with its vivid characters and strong emotional resonance.

A busker (Hansard) meets a feisty young Eastern European woman (Irglova) on the streets of Dublin. He works in a vacuum cleaner repair shop with his dad (Hodnett) and is saving up to move to London to pursue his dream of working as a singer-songwriter, and also to reconnect with his ex (Plunkett). Meanwhile, the young woman turns out to be a gifted pianist living with her mother (Ktrestova), trying to save money to fly her husband (Haugh) over. There's a definite spark between them, and they're trying to channel it into creating beautiful music.

From the first scene, there's a sense of hope and longing and loneliness that grabs our hearts and pulls us in. It's a clever point that the singer can only sing his own songs at night, when there aren't many people around, because the daytime crowds only want to hear something familiar. But his music feels like a breath of fresh air. And this thought extends to the film itself: a blast of honesty in a medium where fake emotion is standard.

The film has an improvised, raw tone to it that draws on the open performances and makes the songs feel like they're pure expressions of the characters' inner lives. Yes, the music tells the story, but not in an obvious movie-musical sort of way. Writer-director Carney and actor-composers Hansard and Irglova are creating a completely new kind of musical here. And the result is drop dead gorgeous with quiet political commentary inside it.

Everything about this story feels tentative and realistic, awkward and sweet, never sentimentalised but thoroughly moving. Carney accomplishes this through long takes, subtle flashbacks, natural lighting and handheld camera work that put us right into the scene with the characters. And he surrounds Hansard and Irglova with side characters who are colourful and vivid, and often very funny as well. He's also not afraid to make both of his leads somewhat conflicted and unlikeable. This is simply one of the most breathtakingly romantic movies in recent memory. Savour every note.

dir-scr John Carney
with Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova, Bill Hodnett, Danuse Ktrestova, Hugh Walsh, Gerard Hendrick, Alaistair Foley, Geoff Minogue, Mal Whyte, Niall Cleary, Marcella Plunkett, Senan Haugh
irglova and hansard release US 16.May.07,
UK 19.Oct.07
06/Ireland 1h25

World Cinema
Audience Award:
edinburgh film fest
Best Film:
15 themes, language
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Rocket Science   4.5/5 SHADOWS MUST SEE MUST-SEE
rocket science With an astute take on teen angst, this film echoes the themes of gems like Igby Goes Down and The Squid and the Whale to take a fiercely personal and yet engaging--and often outright hysterical--look into a young man on the brink of adulthood.

Paralysed by his stuttering, Hal Hefner (Thompson) can't express how he feels when his parents (Bartlett and O'Hare) split up. Then the hottest brainiac in school, Ginny (Kendrick), invites him to join the fiercely competitive debate team at their suburban New Jersey high school. Which seems a bit hopeless, really. But if he really wants to find his voice, and stay near Ginny, he's willing to give it a go over the next year, despite teasing from his big brother (Piazza) and Ginny's obsession with getting even with her ex (D'Agosto).

Everyone in this film uses words as weapons, which leaves Hal at somewhat of a disadvantage. His ritual humiliation at the hands of the other students, and in his own eyes, is played with a remarkable balance that finds edgy humour without resorting to cruel jokes. These aren't your typical movie teens; they're smart as a whip, but not very good at expressing themselves quite yet. They're also obsessed with sex, and not so sure what to do with that either.

Thompson is superb in the focal role, letting us feel the agony of his stammer, as he knows exactly what to say but can't get the words out. He's also very funny and thoroughly endearing, and everyone around him is just as intriguingly complex and entertaining. This is jarring comedy about teens who know that adolescence is awful, and that being an adult isn't that much better. And still they strive to find their voices.

This kind of texture makes the outrageous comedy even more hilarious, as these kids seek revenge and redemption in a world where "you all can't win, but you're all winners". The film knowingly pokes fun at these nice-sounding principles, which actually undermine self-confidence. When Hal asks his dad when everything will finally start making sense, the answer is breathtakingly simple: "When you stop trying to figure it all out."

dir-scr Jeffrey Blitz
with Reece Daniel Thompson, Anna Kendrick, Vincent Piazza, Aaron Yoo, Nicholas D'Agosto, Margo Martindale, Josh Kay, Lisbeth Bartlett, Denis O'Hare, Steve Park, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Maury Ginsberg
thompson release US 10.Aug.07,
UK 28.Sep.07
07/US Picturehouse 1h41

Best Director:
SUNDANCE FILM FEST edinburgh film fest
15 themes, language, innuendo
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall