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last update 28.Oct.07
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Black Sheep   4/5
black sheep The perfect movie for a late-night screening in a crowded cinema, this Kiwi horror comedy springs from the simplest premise, turned into a raucously hysterical romp by some seriously twisted filmmakers.

After many years, the sheep-phobic Henry (Meister) returns to the family ranch to sign over the business to his brother Angus (Feeney). But something is up on the farm, as animal rights activists (Mason and Driver) inadvertently free a genetically altered mutant lamb, and the infection spreads rapidly, turning hundreds of sheep into ravenous killers. Henry teams up with his childhood friend, the ranch hand Tucker (Davis), to figure out what's going on, while Angus carries on with his plan to present his new technology to visiting businessmen. But the herd is coming.

Writer-director King packs this film with zinging dialog and hilarious sight gags from start to finish--exaggerated gore, rude puns, outrageous action and every sheep joke imaginable. Yes, including methane, mint sauce and, erm, "animal husbandry". It's so gleefully crazed that we barely pause for breath between the gut-busting laughter, grisly ickiness and surprisingly scary situations.

The cast are very good, although they basically just hang on for the ride. Complex characterisations aren't exactly the main idea, although there are plenty of interpersonal wrinkles, plus loads of innuendo and telling back stories. As a result, each actor creates an indelible character amid the frantic goings on. Meister is terrific as the everyman who takes us through the story, and Mason is very funny as the clueless activist-cum-hero. But this is a film about crazed sheep, and they're brilliantly filmed--looking typically stupid and also murderously malevolent.

This is extremely clever filmmaking that's ridiculously good fun as it gets increasingly out of control. It follows in the fine tradition of early Peter Jackson horror comedies like Bad Taste or Brain Dead, so it's fitting that the gonzo creature effects here were done by Jackson's Weta. This is the kind of movie you could watch over and over again, and the bigger the crowd the better it is. In other words, it has cult classic written all over it.

dir-scr Jonathan King
with Nathan Meister, Peter Feeney, Danielle Mason, Tammy Davis, Oliver Driver, Glenis Levestam, Tandi Wright, Ian Harcourt, James Ashcroft, Mick Rose, Nick Blake, Kevin McTurk
mason, meister and davis release NZ 29.Mar.07,
US 22.Jun.07,
UK 12.Oct.07
06/New Zealand 1h27

15 language, violence, grisliness
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Brand Upon the Brain!   4/5
Brand Upon the Brain Audacious Canadian genius Maddin (THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD) is back with another film that's both magical and completely bonkers. On the surface, nothing should work. But it's thoroughly charming.

Archly narrated by Rossellini, the story follows Guy Maddin (Maahs), who returns to the island where he grew up. While painting the lighthouse there, he remembers his adventures as a child (Brown), watched over by his obsessive mother (Krich), who ran an orphanage on the island with her scientist husband (Moore). Guy remembers the crush he had on Wendy (Scharhon), a visiting celebrity sleuth who disguised herself as her brother and began a romance with Guy's sister (Lawson). Meanwhile, the three of them discovered some creepy secrets about the orphanage.

Even the scratchy monochrome images can't distract us from an involving story, which takes so many bizarre twists and turns that we are completely swept along for the ride. The plot swirls around to include all kinds of strange and perplexing events but, by telling the story through Guy's foggy memory, it doesn't really need to make perfect sense. The older Guy is trying to paint over the past, which he obviously finds impossible. Because by trying to forget, he brings it all back.

The cast is terrific, even though none of them have any on-screen dialog. Their actions and expressions convey real emotions, while Maddin uses lots of witty on-screen captions, plus clever sounds and music (Mother speaks in radio static, while Father is a foghorn). And despite the serious and strangely sad undercurrent, the film is infused with a lively sense of humour that keeps us laughing all the way through it.

This film is a bundle of memorable scenes, with echoing lines of dialog and fantastically inventive visuals. Outrageous touches fill each scene (such as the matching mother-daughter scars, in the shape of "Rumania!", or the kissing gloves, which later become undressing gloves). And by examining the yearning for eternal youth and the desire to control our destinies and histories, Maddin has created a film that's dense, chaotic and utterly wonderful.

dir Guy Maddin
scr Guy Maddin, George Toles
narr Isabella Rossellini
with Erik Steffen Maahs, Sullivan Brown, Gretchen Krich, Maya Lawson, Katherine E Scharhon, Andrew Loviska, Kellan Larson, Todd Moore, David Lobo, Eric Lobo, Cathleen O'Malley, Susan Corzatte
brown release Can Sep.06 tff,
US 9.May.07,
UK Oct.07 lff
06/Canada 1h36


london film fest
15 themes, violence, nudity
24.Oct.07 lff
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redacted Returning to the themes of his 1989 drama Casualties of War, DePalma takes a storytelling approach that's both utterly unlike anything he's ever done and remarkably effective at telling this particular story. And at getting an important message through.

In summer 2006, a group of American soldiers are stationed at a checkpoint in Baghdad. Their master-sergeant (Jones) doesn't put up with much, but these guys are all strong personalities. Salazar (Diaz) is documenting everything with his video diary, constantly asking probing questions. McCoy (Devaney) is a natural leader trying to maintain a sense of order. Blix (O'Neill) is the brainy, sardonic one. And Flake and Rush (Carroll and Sherman) spend a bit too much time frisking a 15-year-old Iraqi on her way to school girl each day, then decide to make a night raid on her house.

The plot is loosely based on the true story of American soldiers who raped and murdered a teenage girl and also killed much of her family to cover up the crime. It's such a horrific story that the film leaves us deeply shaken, not only by the evil actions of these soldiers, but by the widespread arrogance that leads to it. As one character notes later on, America continually makes movies about 9/11, but not about the civilians who are dying each day in Iraq and Afghanistan, because America believes their lives are more important than everyone else's.

DePalma tells the story as if it's a documentary assembled from found footage--Salazar's diaries, surveillance cameras, news coverage from a local channel and a European news service, an evocative French doc, internet webcams and blogs, and even a video chat. As a result, it feels so real that we become voyeurs watching the story with perhaps a bit too much inside detail.

Intimate and revelatory, and often unspeakably grisly, this approach really gets to the bottom of the issue, drawing on the naturalistic performances of the brave, unflinching cast to make us think what we would do in each situation. The central point is that an atrocity is an atrocity, no matter who commits it. We may believe we're "saving the world", but that doesn't mean we're above question, or that asking tough questions is unpatriotic.

dir-scr Brian DePalma
with Izzy Diaz, Rob Devaney, Patrick Carroll, Daniel Stewart Sherman, Kel O'Neill, Ty Jones, Mike Figueroa, Ohad Knoller, Francois Caillaud, Paul O'Brien, Abigail Savage
release US 16.Nov.07,
UK 14.Mar.08
07/US Magnolia 1h30


london film fest
18 themes, strong violence, grisliness, language
18.Oct.07 lff
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Son of Rambow   4/5
son of rambow Charmingly subversive humour brings this whimsical childhood comedy to life, and makes it both more engaging and funnier than expected. It's a bright and very silly film with solid, provocative themes that really stick with us.

Will (Milner) is a pre-teen in early 1980s Britain, living with his single mother (Stevenson) in a strict isolationist religious community, which leaves him on the fringe at school. A chance encounter with the class bully Carter (Poulter) changes everything, as Will's intense imagination is given an outlet in Carter's home-video movie project, a riff on Sylvester Stallone's 1982 franchise-spawning hit First Blood. But the production is invaded by the cool French exchange student (Sitruk) and his posse of fans, which strains Will's budding friendship with Carter. And there's also the matter of Will's furious church leaders.

The film definitely has an autobiographical feel to it, catching tiny details of children whose personalities are just emerging, just as they begin to understand who their friends and family really are. The connections between the characters are powerfully well-defined, and beautifully played by the cast. Newcomers Milner and Poulter are terrific together as a memorable odd-couple movie team. And they get fine support from the adult actors, each of whom fills their scenes with realistic interaction, plus throwaway comedy gold.

In fact, the entire film is an engaging mix of offbeat slapstick and truthful emotion. Jennings' script and direction are energetic and lively, stirring in superb visual effects that blend perfectly with the story and characters, often hand-drawn in the style of Will's doodles. The witty camera work and smart editing keep us both gripped to the story and constantly laughing both at the pointed jokes and goofy physicality.

Even when things get serious or scary, the film keeps us in its grip. Jennings fills each scene with random gags and terrific period touches. This is an perceptive look at teenage antics, including telling examinations of peer pressure and personal insecurities masked by a thin veneer of bravado. But beyond all of this, the film is a celebration of imagination and creativity. Not just in children, but within all of us.

dir-scr Garth Jennings
with Bill Milner, Will Poulter, Jessica Stevenson, Ed Westwick, Jules Sitruk, Neil Dudgeon, Eric Sykes, Anna Wing, Adam Buxton, Adam Godley, Paul Ritter, Edgar Wright
release UK 4.Apr.08,
US 2.May.08
07/UK Paramount 1h36


london film fest
12 themes, language, some violence
27.Oct.07 lff
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2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall