Tag Archives: New Zealand

‘Slow West’ Holds Big Payoff for Patient Moviegoers

Slow West
Three stars (out of four)
R (violence, brief language)
84 minutes
Antelope Valley moviegoers can catch this film at the BLVD Cinemas in Lancaster, where it continues to play through next week. It’s also available On Demand. 

The Western genre shows no signs of dying — with its boots on or off — thanks to “Slow West,” John Maclean’s aptly named but striking deconstruction of the romance of the American frontier.

Shot in New Zealand (which isn’t quite convincing as Colorado to American eyes, but is epically wild and gorgeous, nonetheless), the film stars Kodi Smit-McPhee as a 16-year-old Scottish lad clumsily traversing the Rockies in search of his long lost lass.

That premise is about as cliche as it gets, but nothing about this story of a young knight in shining armor riding forth to rescue his damsel in distress transpires in the way you’d expect.

Jay Cavendish is traveling solo through Colorado territory — with an over-burdened pony and a laughably optimistic how-to guide to the West — in hope of reuniting with his girl, Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius), whose hearty beauty we glimpse in flashback.

The boy is delivered from his own naivete, not to mention a band of Army deserters, by Silas (Michael Fassbender), one of those tall, mysterious, silent types who tend to populate the movie Western.

Silas demands Jay fork over what cash he has in exchange for his services as a guide. He’ll ferry Jay safely to his beloved Rose, but his real motivation for this good deed is unclear, at least initially.

To say more would potentially spoil the surprises in store. “Slow West” meanders along at an occasionally trying pace, but if you’re patient, a little delayed gratification pays off in a big way during the film’s violent finale, so full of irony and tragedy, it’s downright Shakespearean.

This is one of those films in which it’s all about the journey, not the destination, and the relationship between the two main characters, simmering with a subtle tension.

In his feature film debut, Maclean reveals himself as a talent to keep tabs on. The director studied drawing and painting in Edinburgh and London and has an artist’s eye for landscapes and human tableau, honed while making videos for his music groups, The Beta Band and The Aliens, as well as a couple of short films with Fassbender.

Maclean has crafted a revisionist Western that feels fresh, modern, almost post-apocalyptic, punctuated by absurd, comical (sometimes sad) twists of fate — a flash flood creeps up on a pair of sleeping travelers, a desperate couple with the worst case of bad luck ever attempts to hold up a trading post.

Eccentric characters wander in and out of the frame, including that guy who plays The Hound on “Game of Thrones” (Rory McCann), Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn, clad in an outrageous fur coat, and a German anthropologist named Werner who is uncannily similar to a certain German documentarian.

As a child actor, Smit-McPhee racked up an impressive body of work (“The Road,” “Let Me In”). Older and a little ganglier here, he continues to show uncommon maturity, smoothly capitalizing on his innocent, naturally awkward appearance.

Fassbender also plays to his strengths. He’s always been attracted to morally ambiguous characters, although Silas is a little less ambiguous and a little more likable than the dark misfits he tends to specialize in.

Still, it’s a treat to see him doing something different in a movie that’s not like anything we’ve seen before.

Photo: http://www.youtube.com

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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