The Dead Lands

My research tells me there are few feature films entirely in Māori, and I certainly haven’t seen any of them before now, so this was fascinating.

At its heart is the story of a young man seeking revenge on a much more skilful and brutal warrior after some horrible things happen to his extended family on their own land. Will he perpetuate the deeds of the past? Will he do the honourable thing? How will he gain the skills and knowledge needed to carry out either? Then there are the spiritual aspects – speaking to and seeking guidance from deceased ancestors; what’s honourable and what’s not. And also there are some (at times gory) fight scenes, showcasing the skills of the actors and the almost balletic moves of the warriors in action – different in style from other ‘martial arts’ films.

This is one of those films where I not only enjoyed the entertainment, but also (taking for granted that the historical representation is accurate) learned about the culture and history of the people at that point in time.



Long takes, still camera and minimal dialogue. It’s all a bit Tarkovsky, but left me asking what and why, which generally isn’t the case with the Russian director, who is clearly a massive influence here. It has also has a definite Western vibe (yet another in 2015 – see here for others) and is framed like images on those View-Masters we had as children.

This film was on the most anticipated list, but left me disappointed. I wonder if Viggo Mortensen thought this was the film he was actually making?


Surprisingly, this film doesn’t contain a training montage to the soundtrack of an Eminem rap.

Naahhhhh, only kidding – of course it does. You didn’t expect anything else, did you?

I’m not a fan of boxing, or the boxing movie genre, so I can’t tell you if this is good or bad in the long line of such films.

I can tell you that it’s too long and very episodic. Just when you’re thinking that no more horrible things can possibly happen to Billy Hope, Forest Whitaker appears like some strange Yoda-type guru spouting all kinds of motivational guff, half of which I couldn’t actually decipher.

However, the reason I went to see this was Jake Gyllenhaal. He was excellent given what he had to work with, and the scenes with him and Oona Laurence, who plays his daughter, were probably the best thing. They were totally believable together, and I even think I had something in my eye on a couple of occasions.

Gyllenhaal won’t get his Oscar for this because the film isn’t good enough. But it’s only a matter of time.


Much as I enjoy a good documentary, in the past few years I have struggled with them as I’ve felt manipulated by a number which others have rated really highly (Stories We Tell and Mistaken For Strangers to name two).

Asif Kapadia and his team seem to have found a way around (most of) this for me, as in both this film and Senna, he tells his story using original archive footage, avoiding the intrusion of talking heads and editorial questioning.

Clearly the editing can still be manipulative, but the way Kapadia puts things together, I can live with that.

What’s striking about Amy Winehouse’s story is that, even from a young age she is clearly a troubled and vulnerable soul who needs a firm guiding hand which she herself admits she didn’t get.

As her fame (and wealth) grows, self-serving individuals appear and make decisions for her which seem to largely revolve around her income stream (which they can now tap in to), and it’s difficult to see how they were doing this in her best interest.

We know how it all ends for Amy, and so it’s heart-breaking to see her demise described and documented from the various points of view of her friends and family.

The thing I struggled with most was the amount of paparazzi footage used – they clearly added to her troubles, we know that, but watching those sections left me feeling more than a little uncomfortable, and wondering why those around Amy didn’t do more to shield her from them. It also made me wonder if there is any ounce of humanity in a person who would push others out of the way to take a photo of a vulnerable, mentally ill young woman when she is clearly suffering.

10 most anticipated films of the next 3 months

I’ve had varying success in watching my last 10 most anticipated films. I’ve so far managed to see 7 of them – Jauja was only around for a short time and work kept me away so I’m awaiting it on DVD.  The Dead Lands hasn’t actually made it to a cinema near me yet, so I’m heading DVD-ward for that too.  And Miss Julie looks like it’s had its release date pushed to 8 July for some reason.

Anyway, I’ve had a look forward to the next three months, and I found it hard to find 10 to anticipate, what with summer and all. But I persevered, and here’s what I finally chose.

Mad Max: Fury Road

OK, what have I missed here?

I will readily admit that technically this has upped the game for action films.

But having established that, I have to say that I found it a little repetitive and simplistic. I even wonder why it was called Mad Max, as he plays backup to much stronger and more rounded characters. Yay for the women.

My absolute favourite shot was not action at all. It was total in-action. We’re looking at something and we can’t tell immediately if it’s something big that’s far away, or something smaller that we’re near to. It’s only with a tiny movement that we realise which it is.

You probably loved this film. I thought it was OK.

Clouds of Sils Maria

The Clouds of the title are a meteorological phenomenon which happens in the mountains, where the clouds swirl through the peaks and valleys like a serpent. The clouds will look different depending on where you are viewing them from, but they also shape shift while you are actually watching them.

The film’s plot does exactly the same.

We know we are watching two people having a conversation, but there are times when we’re not sure if it’s for real, or if they’re rehearsing lines from a play they’re working on.

This is a powerful representation of how (some) women see themselves and how they perceive others see them at different points in their careers and lives, admirably portrayed by Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart. I’m the same age as Juliette Binoche, and so I could identify easily with many aspects of her situation. I have been Kristen Stewart’s and Chloë Grace Moretz’s ages too. Just not this century. And so it was easy to feel the gap and understand things from the older perspective. I’d really like to know how younger women viewed this film, but I also fear the response.

I have a feeling that, when I revisit this film, I will see different things in it and its nebulous characters.

Hauntingly accurate.

Spooks: The Greater Good

When the final TV series of Spooks finished in 2011, I was sad because I had watched Harry Pearce and his gang since the beginning.And so it was with mixed feelings that I’ve been waiting for this film to hit the screens. While I was both curious and happy to see Harry back, I also wondered whether the transition to a big screen was wise, let alone revisiting the characters.

So, London looks brilliant in this format, and Harry is great. Beyond that however, I’d go so far as to say that this was really just a longer version of the TV show, and could have been left like that. There’s also some unimaginative casting going on. Both Tim McInnerny and David Harewood play parts they have played multiple times before, and Jennifer Ehle looked like she was trying to hold a fart in for her entire time on-screen. Even Kit Harington looked decidedly lacklustre.

The thing about the big screen is that there’s more room for action, yet Spooks is (beyond the set-piece explosions) a cerebral spy series and so is better suited to television, which this film showed up.


Gael García Bernal manages to choose roles which have something to say about the world, often political, and frequently featuring real people or events (I’m thinking No, ¿Quién es Dayani Cristal? or También la Lluvia, for example).

Here again, he plays British-based Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari, arrested for ‘espionage’ while covering Iranian presidential elections in 2009. We stay with Bahari during his 118 day incarceration and interrogation, as he finds ways to relieve boredom and maintain hope of release. The interrogations are not as brutal as you might expect, and there are times when it’s actually quite amusing.

Naturally it’s stifling as we are inside with Bahari, but those few moments of fresh air, sunlight and hope are really uplifting.

It’s a competent, fairly interesting directorial debut from Jon Stewart, but perhaps a little too careful with the material.

Far from the Madding Crowd

I haven’t read the book, nor seen the 1967 version, so I have no comparisons to make, which for me is a good thing.

Director Thomas Vinterberg has brought in his cinematographer from The Hunt (Charlotte Bruus Christensen) and together they have captured some beautiful images of an idyllic English countryside which serve as a backdrop to the travails of Bathsheba Everdene and her never-ending queue of suitors.

Carey Mulligan brings life to an interesting character – far more confident and independent than most women of her time, able to take over the running of her uncle’s farm, but still making some monumentally stupid decisions regarding her romantic liaisons.

Matthias Schoenaerts has the toughest job – a man of few words but unswerving loyalty, he expresses himself through his actions, yet is very still (he’s not called Oak for nothing, you know). He is absolutely adorable.

I was pleasantly entertained for a couple of hours, but I can’t say that this is anything more than a beautifully shot period piece.