Skip to main content

Woah, he's giving that pig a piggyback.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople
(2016)

(SPOILERS) The accolades for Taika Waititi’s latest are of a piece with those for his previous picture, What We Do in the Shadows, in that they’re slightly over-effusive. Hunt for the Wilderpeople strikes unqualified gold with the odd couple relationship between Julian Dennison’s rotund juvenile delinquent Ricky and Sam Neill’s gruff bushman Hec, or “Uncle” as he objects to Ricky calling him. However, it’s less convincing when it comes to Waititi’s erratic comedy quality control. He’s more Paul Hogan than Monty Python.


Maybe such broadness of temperament is an Oz/Kiwi thing, or maybe it’s simply that Waititi’s always a draft or two from honing his material as precisely as he might. It could also be, without going all Mary Whitehouse on Hunt, that there’s a central awkwardness in what passes itself of as a family movie running a central plot motor wherein Uncle is accused of paedophilia (or being “a molesterer”). Even the Carry On… movies would have blanched at the scene in which Ricky is assumed to be describing how he was forced to masturbate Hec. Oh, those earthy New Zealanders and their loveable lewdness! If Victor Salva had been passing by the set, no doubt Waititi would have convinced him to cameo, just for added yuks.


There are jarring tonal shifts throughout, though, as the picture lurches from a poignant scene in which Hec loses Bella to Waititi delivering an indulgent (and not very funny) cameo as the minister at her funeral. Elsewhere, he seems fixated on lobbing us copious pop culture references (The Terminator, The Lord of the Rings, Thelma and Louise), but as randomly as Zuckers and Abrams rather than the at least germane manner Pegg and Wright would, while a stark rites of passage sees Hec putting down his beloved pooch.


It’s almost as if Waititi’s a little shy of letting the grounded, relationship side of the tale tell itself and feels obliged to pep it up in any way he can. Which is a shame, as this is definitely a case of less being more. It doesn’t help that, most of the time, the gags are verging on the second rate. At points too, he will compound this by feeding a character a line because it’s funny, not because they’d say it (Ricky’s “Too soon?” after suggesting Hec remarries), or allow a scene to pass purely because it’s been through his random reference generator (a vision of the ever-phallic ‘80s Flake advert anachronistically materialises before Ricky’s eyes when he meets Kahu, which can be added to the pile of inappropriate moments – if you were nursing the illusion this was a family movie). Generally, the sketch comedy routines are much more successful in the improvised vibe of Shadows, where hit and miss is par for the course. Here, his bungling social services worker (Rachel House) and redneck hunters tend to miss. Waititi even has Dennison administer a passing-out pratfall at one point, which indicates he’s been watching some kids’ TV for research too.


And yet, the Hec-Ricky relationship is genuinely touching (not in a Jimmy Savile sense, although that’s just the kind of gag Waititi would have cracked), and the early scenes with Rima Te Wiata as Bella succeed so profoundly in establishing her as a huge-hearted, kindly soul, that we’re entirely on board with these two lost ones making a fist of things. Sure, the template for Juvie Ricky just needing someone who will accept him and understand him is broad brush, but such uncynical sincerity is entirely appropriate for a kids’ movie. Just not the proliferation of child molestation jests.


Once the manhunt is well underway, Waititi loses focus on his trajectory rather, introducing Rhys Darby in one of his lesser cameos (I do like his bushman outfit, though) and a car chase that may have been a calling card to Marvel (although I’ve yet to be convinced of his blockbuster chops) but feels more like it’s there because referencing another movie is all he can think of for a big finale (which it doesn’t really need anyway).


Neill, who is also on board for Thor Ragnarok, has maybe his best big screen role since Dean Spanley, and it can’t be understated how much he makes Hunt for the Wilderpeople worthwhile for all its rocky passages, effortlessly inscribing it with heart and gravitas. Dennison makes up what he lacks in range and timing with enthusiasm, as the key quality is his strong chemistry with his elder. Maybe Waititi should take on a writing partner (I wonder if the better gags in Shadows didn’t come from Jermain Clement), to lend his screenplays that extra polish. Then he might make a really great movie. A majestical one.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

You must find the keys for me!

Doctor Who The Keys of Marinus
Most of the criticisms levelled at The Keys of Marinus over the past 50 years have been fair play, and yet it’s a story I return to as one of the more effortlessly watchable of the Hartnell era. Consequently, the one complaint I can’t really countenance is that it’s boring. While many a foray during this fledgling period drags its heels, even ones of undeniable quality in other areas, Marinus’ shifting soils and weekly adventures-in-miniature sustain interest, however inelegant the actual construction of those narratives may be. The quest premise also makes it a winner; it’s a format I have little resistance to, even when manifested, as here, in an often overtly budget-stricken manner.

Doctor Who has dabbled with the search structure elsewhere, most notably across The Key to Time season, and ultimately Marinus’ mission is even more of a MacGuffin than in that sextology, a means to string together what would otherwise be vignettes to little overall coherence…

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a noirish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Other people dying.

Game of Thrones Season Six
(SPOILERS) The most distracting thing about Season Six of Game of Thrones (and I’ve begun writing this at the end of the seventh episode, The Broken Man) is how breakneck its pace is, and how worryingly – only relatively, mind – upbeat it’s become. Suddenly, characters are meeting and joining forces, not necessarily mired in pits of despair but actually moving towards positive, attainable goals, even if those goals are ultimately doomed (depending on the party concerned). It feels, in a sense, that liberated from George R R Martin’s text, producers are going full-throttle, and you half-wonder if they’re using up too much plot and revelation too quickly, and will run out before the next two seasons are up. Then, I’m naturally wary of these things, well remembering how Babylon 5 suffered from packing all its goods into Season Four and was then given an ultimately wasted final season reprieve.

I’ve started this paragraph at the end of the eighth episode, No One (t…

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***