Tag Archives: Jemaine Clement

Eight That Were Great: Underrated Gems of 2015

The lull between Hollywood’s big Christmas releases and the whirlwind start of Oscar season is a great time to catch up on flicks you may have missed in 2015.

Or maybe you’re just sick of watching “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” for the 20th time. (Who am I kidding? Go see it for the 21st time already.)

If you’re wondering what you should add to your Netflix queue, here are some underrated films from last year that definitely deserve your viewing time.

(And it wouldn’t be a year-end list from me if it didn’t include at least one vampire movie. This list has two. And zombies.)

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1. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: I guarantee you have never seen a movie like this before. It’s a highly stylized German Expressionist/Western romance, directed by an Iranian woman (Ana Lily Amirpour), set in a fictionalized Persian town dubbed “Bad City,” starring a burka-wearing vampire (Sheila Vand) who is both adorable and creepy, and it was filmed in Bakersfield. If your mind isn’t already blown, it will be.

2. Maggie: On the surface, this thoughtful horror flick sounds like a bad direct-to-DVD thriller. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a concerned father whose teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin) comes down with a zombifying illness in a plague-ridden U.S.A. This is actually one of Schwarzenegger’s best performances of late. It’s like “The Walking Dead,” if America managed to contain the outbreak before it consumed the nation.

3. Slow West: For its violent, punch-to-the-gut of a twist ending alone, this revisionist Western is worth a look. As leisurely paced as its name would suggest, it stars Michael Fassbender as a morally ambiguous wilderness guide facing one increasingly absurd dilemma after another in a striking deconstruction of the romance of the American frontier.

4. The Walk: You really should have seen Robert Zemeckis’ playful high-wire act when it was showing in 3-D. It was hands down, the best use of the format all year. The comedy-drama is still relevant, thanks to its mischievous, experimental vibe. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s terrible French accent aside, it tells the gripping true story of Philippe Petit’s epic stroll on a cable stretched across New York’s now absent Twin Towers. The 2008 documentary “Man on Wire” is still better, but this comes close to replicating its ebullient spirit.

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5. What We Do in the Shadows: The utter unlikeliness of the setting is the primary source of humor in this vampire comedy, made by and starring New Zealanders in the capital city of Wellington — not exactly a recipe for the sexy, darkly thrilling horror offerings audiences are accustomed to. The akwardly hilarious film was written and directed by Jemaine Clement, the goofier looking half of comedy duo Flight of the Conchords and it’s actually one of the most original vampire movies in recent years.

6. Mr. Holmes: Director Bill Condon’s exquisitely acted drama manages the seemingly impossible — contributing something new to the ubiquitous legacy of Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary British detective. And of course, the film stars Ian McKellen, at the height of his powers, reinterpreting the great Holmes as something we would never expect — an aging, embittered, beekeeping recluse haunted by past tragedies.

7. Z for Zachariah: Post-apocalyptic thrillers are all the rage right now, from “The Hunger Games” to “Insurgent,” but this drama explores the decline of civilization and humanity’s propensity to destroy itself from a much more adult, intriguing and quiet perspective. Margot Robbie demonstrates surprising versatility as the lone survivor of a wordwide nuclear disaster caught in an unlikely triangle between Chiwetel Ejiofor’s rational scientist and Chris Pine’s mysterious stranger. It’s like “The Last Man on Earth,” but all serious and stuff.

8. Crimson Peak: The films of Guillermo del Toro are an acquired taste and “Crimson Peak” is no different. Though it was lavished with publicity, it still managed to flop, but that’s probably because it’s not the type of horror movie mainstream audiences prefer. However, if you’re of a literary persuasion and prefer macabre tales steeped more in mood and mystery than cheap gimmicks, this sumptuously grotesque thriller will be just your bitter cup of tea. Or if you happen to love Hiddles … er, I mean, Tom Hiddleston.

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Unlikely Vampires Inhabit Awkwardly Funny ‘Shadows’

What We Do in the Shadows
Two and half stars (out of four)
Not Rated (violence, sexual content, language)
86 minutes
(The film received an extremely limited release and is playing this week and next at BLVD Cinemas in Lancaster.)

When it comes to vampires and geography, we tend to think of Transylvania, New Orleans, London, Forks, Wa., even Santa Cruz (ah, “The Lost Boys”). We don’t tend to think of New Zealand.

To most Americans, New Zealand is famous as the location of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and not much else. It’s not a place we’d except to find a thriving coven of brooding bloodsuckers.

The utter unlikeliness of the setting is the primary source of humor in the vampire comedy “What We Do in the Shadows.” The film was made by and stars New Zealanders in the capital city of Wellington — not exactly a recipe for the sexy, gothic, darkly thrilling vampire movies audiences are accustomed to.

To be frank, the creatures of the night who inhabit “Shadows” aren’t very good at being vampires.

Drawing much of its appeal from its irresistible brand of awkward, laid-back Kiwi humor, “Shadows” was written and directed by Jemaine Clement, the goofier looking half of hilarious comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, and actor-filmmaker Taika Waititi.

Like the short-lived “Conchords” HBO series, “Shadows” revolves around oddball flatmates who fit together comfortably, whatever their quirks, but are clumsy when it comes to navigating the outside world.

In the movie, these flatmates are centuries-old monsters, holed up in a crumbling, genuinely creepy ruin on the outskirts of Wellington. They’ve invited a documentary crew to take a glimpse into their everyday lives, which are more mundane than anything Anne Rice or Stephenie Meyer ever envisioned.

The den mother of these fanged fiends is Viago (Waititi), a cheery Victorian nobleman with a flair for antiquated fashion, still pining after an unrequited crush.

Viago tenderly looks after pals Vladislav (Clement), a Dracula-type with a taste for orgies and sadism; 8,000-year-old Petyr, a hideous fanged thing who lurks in the basement; and Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), the 183-year-old youngster of the group and self-professed party animal.

Like most roomies, these guys squabble over chores, give each other fashion tips (it’s hard to put together a nice ensemble when you can’t see yourself in the mirror), play pranks on their guests (Here’s a tip: don’t eat the spaghetti), weather catastrophes, like “fatal sunlight accidents,” and look forward to the social gathering of the year, the Unholy Masquerade.

Improvising heavily and impressively, Clement, Waititi and the rest of the cast mine laughs by subverting vampire movie tropes from everything from “Interview With the Vampire,” to “The Lost Boys,” to “Twilight,” and classics like “Nosferatu.”

There’s nothing suave, sexy or even very sinister about these bloodsuckers, who dress like they’re appearing in a mash-up of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Saturday Night Fever” and struggle to adapt to modern technology, including cellphones and Facebook, with the help of their new human friend, IT guy Stu (Stuart Rutherford). Stu is so helpful, they’ve all agreed not to eat him.

“Shadows” has a very loose plot, revolving around the conflict that erupts with the addition of newly initiated, indiscreet vampire Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) to the group. Some viewers may find this tedious.

Still, the film’s got enough gore and fun special effects to satisfy horror aficionados. If the initially clever concept begins to feel a bit threadbare, there are more than enough high points to make up for it.

In one scene, Viago and friends encounter a pack of testy but polite werewolves, led by ginger-headed “Conchords” alum Rhys Darby.

“We’re werewolves, not swearwolves,” he declares.

That’s a hashtag if there ever was one.

Photo: movies.mxdwn.com