Sunday, 1 September 2019

IN THEATRES: Angel Has Fallen

After an assassination attempt on the US president (Morgan Freeman), Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is the chief suspect. With the government on his tail, Banning goes on the run to find the real villains before an international crisis turns into war.

After the concept-focus of the original, and the more expansive sequel, Angel Has Fallen sees the head stab-happy series reach an unlikely new mode: respectability.

Gone is the outright xenophobia of its predecessors. Reduced is the red meat machismo. Muted - sadly -are the head stabs. 

Instead, more focus is placed on fleshing out Banning, and casting him as a veteran dealing with the physical and psychological traumas of his various wars.

Perhaps as a reaction to the super-heated racism of its predecessor, the threat this time is a group of amoral military contractors using an assassination attempt on the president to justify an escalation of the US’s military posture.

The budget is smaller this time, and the action somewhat more compressed, with the genre touchstone is The Fugitive, with a bit of First Blood mixed in.

While the budget cuts are visible in the reduced supporting cast of big names and smaller set pieces, the movie does not feel cheap. Compared with the $60 million London Has Fallen, the $40 million Angel never feels like it is reaching beyond its means. There is some ropey CGI towards the end, but nothing compared with the exploding bridges and buildings of London, which feel like clips out of a 2007 video game. 

The reduced budget might have also had a hand in the film's focus on its characters. Considering the source material, it might seem laughable to suggest that characterisation is a selling point for a Mike Banning movie, but Angel is a savvier picture than advertised.

Butler is not the most nuanced performer, but his obvious enthusiasm for Banning has been part of the draw of these movies. He really tears into this iteration of the character, and emphasises how drained and disoriented Banning has become. He is like a veteran prize fighter, punch drunk and increasingly weary of the one thing he he is good at. I was surprised at how much Butler was willing to expose himself. 

Once Banning runs into his dad Clay (Nick Nolte) in the second act, the movie gains two things it has never had - pathos and wit. 

Continuing the film's focus on the toll war takes on its participants, Clay is a veteran who cannot deal with the world and has literally retreated into the woods. Nolte gives this movie a new centre of gravity - even Butler seems to be on a different plane in their scenes together.

Weirdly, for a franchise that sold itself as a brutally earnest (and earnestly brutal) action extravaganza, this movie feels more at home when staging verbal exchanges between two damaged men talking about their pain than in any of the combat sequences. When Nolte and Butler are not together, the movie loses its spark.

The movie-makers clearly recognise they are onto something with Butler and Nolte, ending the movie with a mid-credit sting that gives the series its first genuine laugh. 

Danny Houston has become a shorthand for smug, low-aiming-for-high status villains, but he is pretty good here. It would have been more interesting if he got to play a different kind of role but as with Banning, the script does try to give him some colour - like Banning, he is a veteran but unlike Banning he misses the action. There’s not a lot more to it, but it gives their conflict some symmetry.

While the focus on character adds some meat, as far as the direction goes I was a little underwhelmed - there were too many points where the camera was too close to whatever was being photographed, with awkward editing making some of the close quarters combat incoherent. 

Which is a pity because the setpieces conceptually are pretty good - I especially liked the truck chase (although I wished I could see more of it). 

There is a great moment in the final fight, which takes place on the roof of a building, where the filmmakers cut to a wide high-angle of the entire location, so we can see where the actors are in relation to each other as they dodge and weave behind cover.

It is a weird thing to say but this might be the most well-written instalment in this franchise while simultaneously being the most underwhelming in the areas that made its predecessors so memorable.

While it may not satisfy you in the ways you have come to expect, Angel Has Fallen brings new things to the table, and makes the prospect of a Mike Banning Goes Fourth rather exciting.

If you are new to this blog, I also co-host a podcast on the British girl group the Sugababes, cleverly entitled SugaBros

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Friday, 23 August 2019

IN THEATRES: Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

1969. TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) has hit rock bottom. Formerly the star of Bounty Law, his movie career has stalled and he is consigned to guest shots on TV shows, playing villains of the week.

In juxtaposition to Dalton's plateau, director of the moment Roman Polanski (RafaƂ Zawierucha) and his new bride Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) have moved in next door.

While Dalton tries to sort out his career and life, his stuntman/friend Cliff Booth stumbles into the circle of a strange group of hippies led by a mysterious man named Charlie...

This movie feels like the end of the road. Not just within the text, but both for Tarantino's career, and the type of cinema that he represents.

Tarantino has said in the past that he only wants to make ten movies because he is afraid of running out of gas. It feels like he might have hit that point.

This movie is almost three hours long. This is not alien territory for Tarantino, but if you are going to go for an epic runtime, you really have to pay it off. This movie does not even begin to pay the interest.

Firstly, it feels like a retread of Tarantino's past films, from the historical re-writing of the climax to the use of old-school production techniques. We even get a killer stuntman (allegedly).

DiCaprio's travails as Dalton are a highlight - he is a hopeless narcissist, but DiCaprio's fragile, exposed performance makes Dalton for more sympathetic than he may have appeared on the page. When the movie is solely focused on this vain man trying to rediscover his mojo, the movie is kind of involving.

Watching him struggle to remember lines and stay off the sauce, or cry in front of a more dedicated child co-star, it gives this movie something it otherwise sorely lacks: depth.

Outside of Dalton's antics, the rest of the movie just seems to be in neutral, with little sense of connection or development.

When we are watching Dalton try to rediscover his acting toolkit, the movie has shape and purpose. When we are watching 55-year-old Brad Pitt throw a cartoonish Bruce Lee around, the movie feels juvenile and frankly, old-fashioned. The sequence with Lee (Mike Moh) has been criticised for reducing Lee to a punch line, but alongside that I had no idea what the purpose of the scene was for Cliff's character. Aside from setting him up as superhuman, all it does is make him look like an asshole (PLUS by including Lee, it just highlights how un-involving Dalton's story is, while ignoring the more dramatic story of an Asian man working in the Hollywood system).

He is intended to be a mythical man of action, but beyond that? It could be Tarantino's attempt to push the archetypal man's man into full-on sociopath, but I am struggling to see what the ultimate intent is. That the traditional mode of the loner old white guy can be bad?

Part of the reason why I found it hard to figure out what this movie is about is really a result of how slapdash the movie is. Just at a structural level, it never really feels like it is building toward anything.

Most of the action takes place in February, a specific which proved to be completely irrelevant - is it meant to be pilot season? If so, then why is Dalton starring in Lancer, a show which premiered the previous year?

About two-thirds of the way through the movie, there is a time jump that feels totally inexplicable but is only necessary to get us to that fateful night in August, 1969. There is one scene which features a flashback within another flashback. The movie features an entire subplot based around Sharon just enjoying life which will probably appeal to her fans, but which just adds more minutes to the runtime.

If you have no knowledge of the Manson murders this movie probably feels even more directionless than I found it, and I am only know the bare bones.

Speaking of which, I am still trying to figure out what Tarantino is trying to say with his portrayal of the Manson Family and what they did. For most of the movie, they are an unseen presence, and the movie seems to be -through Dalton's story - building toward some kind of end of the road metaphor via the 'death of the sixties'. It also feels like a movie that will sync with what really did happen.

But then Tarantino tries to change what happened, and everything goes up in the air: after an altercation with a drunken Dalton outside Tate's home, the killers decide to strike his house first, and come face-to-snout with Cliff's pitbull Brandy.

We then get a comical, hyper-violent set piece during which a dog attacks multiple people, Brad Pitt uses a can of dog food to brain Sadie Atkins, who is then torched by a flame thrower. While the device is similar, the intent is baffling.

In Basterds, the final conflagration in the theatre works because it uses the power of cinema as an in-text weapon, while also offering a prime example of how cinema can provide primal emotional catharsis (like killing Nazis).

In Once Upon A Time..., it is nigh-on impossible to get what the intent is: Are we meant to rejoice that the Family are killed? If so, what is he saying by having Tate's saviour being a self-obsessed TV star and a (allegedly) wife-killing stuntman? It feels like an attempt to muddy the waters of our anti-heroes' morality, but without any greater point behind it.

That is ultimately the deeper problem I have with this movie. There is a hollowness at the heart of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood that I could not shake off.

If you are a fan of Tarantino or the period, you might be satisfied - but the directorial flourishes have been done before, and the historical context is never justified to a meaningful degree (or a near-three hour runtime).

If you are new to this blog, I also co-host a podcast on the British girl group the Sugababes, cleverly entitled SugaBros

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Friday, 16 August 2019

NZIFF 2019: The Art of Self-Defense

Shy and retiring, Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) spends his life in the background and minding his own business.

After a mugging, Casey's already shaky self-esteem is shattered. He spirals, seeking solace in anything that will make him feel safe.

After he wanders into the local dojo, Casey falls under the sway of the charismatic Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) who runs the school.

As he builds his skills, Casey gradually realises that there is more to the school and its macho leader than he initially perceived...

A pitch black comedy about toxic masculinity, The Art of Self-Defense was the first film I caught at this year's New Zealand Film Festival.

What defines a man? According to Sensei, unarmed combat, heavy metal music, and a German Shepherd.

Visually, this movie felt like a meeting point between comedy, and the vocabulary associated with martial arts training sequences – flat, symmetrical compositions, with flat (ish) lighting. The way this movie is shot is designed to keep all the characters at a remove to highlight their ridiculousness, but it also feels like a satire of the way Hollywood has framed martial arts.

It may seem minor, but the lack of mise-ene-scene and the focus on shots which emphasised the uninviting atmosphere of the dojo, helps to Sensei the sense of mysticism and power that he clearly wants to emanate.

His spartan lifestyle comes across as sterile and insular, rather than a signifier of any kind of enlightenment. It also just feels like a middle-aged loser who does not know how to make the dojo a financial success.

The performances are terrific - Eisenberg walks the line of audience sympathy. While it is easy to empathise with him after the mugging (and after his dog dies),

The other standout is Alessandro Nivola as Sensei. Deadpan and dead-eyed, Nivola is hilarious and terrifying as Casey's nemesis, delivering his macho pronouncements without a hint of irony. While I have been aware of his existence, the only credit I can recall seeing him in is Face/Off. After watching him in this movie, I am eager to seek out more of his work.

Imogen Poots has had a rough go of it in Hollywood. As Sensei's best student, Anna, she is like a contained detonation. Although relatively muted, she is almost scarier than Sensei, stalking through this movie like a lioness searching for prey.

Cold-blooded and blood-soaked, The Art of Self-Defense always very funny, but there is little release from the laughs.

From the outset it is clear that Sensei's arbitrary rules are really just his own misogynistic assumptions, but the lesson Casey ultimately learns is that strength is not based on rules but breaking them – his victory over Sensei is merely one form of toxic masculinity by another.

Casey may triumph at the end, but the end of Sensei does not mean the end of the system and philosophy he has created - which might be the film's greatest punch-line.

If you are new to this blog, I also co-host a podcast on the British girl group the Sugababes, cleverly entitled SugaBros

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Monday, 12 August 2019

NZIFF: The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil

After he survives a serial killer's assault, a crime kingpin (Ma Dong-seok) turns to the dogged cop on his tail (Kim Mu-yeol) and makes him a proposition: he will assist the cop to hunt down the killer, but whoever gets to the perp first gets to dispense their own version of justice...

A pop for the John Wick set? Ocean's Seven? 

The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil should not work. What it does well is tone - it does not dwell on the villain's crimes, and while the gangster's acts have a layer of black humour, it never feels like the movie condones it.

Written and directed by Lee Won-tae, The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil is pure, unapologetic pulp. A darkly comic romp about an unlikely pair of crime fighters.

As the gangster, Ma Dong-seok (most known for his turn in Train to Busan) is the standout - juxtaposing brute force and slow-burn reactions, he seems to have the best understanding of the movie's tone, moving effortlessly between playing to the stakes of the situation, and providing a straight man to the incompetence of his subordinates.

In a role that could be rote, Kim Mu-yeol gives his good cop a passionate sense of right and wrong - his enthusiasm for his work is so heightened it becomes a target for comedy. What makes this character interesting is how the movie puts him in situations that differentiate him from just being an action hero. He is not the most physically capable character, or the smartest, but he is the most driven. He is revolted by the gangsters' methods, and is revolted by violence, crying over the body of a man he kills. As the devil, Kim Sung-kyu is fine - the role is fairly small, compared with his co-stars. The character is more of a catalyst for our anti-heroes to come together.

Stylistically, the movie plays to its roots: Every shot looks like something out of a comic book - the night-time exteriors are filled with vivid colours and chiaroscuro. The score is eclectic - when the pair come up with their plan, the score reminded me of David Holmes' jazzy scores to Out of Sight and Oceans 11. While there are some moments of darkness and violence, the overall vibe is almost akin to a heist movie, as a group of gangsters and cops join forces to hunt down the serial killer.

While it is fun, there is a vague sense of the movie feeling like a combination of different tropes. It also feels a little non-specific in context. Exchange knives for guns and this movie could be a Hollywood product (apparently, the rights have been bought by Sylvester Stallone). The key difference that elevates the movie is tonal - juggling between a buddy cop movie and a serial killer thriller, the movie never leans too hard toward either comedy or the grue, which prevents it from ever feeling distasteful.

An odd beast when you dissect its parts, but that is part of what makes The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil so much fun.

If you are new to this blog, I also co-host a podcast on the British girl group the Sugababes, cleverly entitled SugaBros

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Sunday, 4 August 2019

IN THEATRES: Hobbs & Shaw

Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) are brought together to track down a double agent who has stolen a virus with the potential to wipe out the human race. The assignment gets personal when Shaw discovers their target is his sister (Vanessa Kirby), and the real bad guy is a super-powered assassin Brixton (Idris Elba).

In a race against time, Hobbs and Shaw have to learn to work together in order to save the world.

This movie is like getting to eat a plate of my two favourite ice creams for dinner. I liked it at first but then the plate is empty and I’m sunk in my seat regretting my own indulgence. I missed the rest of the ensemble - especially Tyrese (a phrase I thought I would never say).

Apart from their fighting styles, there is no real difference between our heroes. Hobbs is a tough guy one-liner machine; Shaw is a tough guy one-liner machine. Their conflict amounts to a dick-measuring contest, with Shaw's sister the unsuspecting battleground.

If I was to compare this movie with anything, it feels like a more polished Tango and Cash, with two superficially mis-matched leads who really are not that different.

I can barely remember anything in these movies but I was actually wondering if the movie was going to finally deal with the fact that Shaw killed longtime family-member Han (Sung Kang) - it would have been something.

This movie really crystallised how uninteresting - in 2019 - Johnson and Statham playing into their established personas is. In the ensemble format of the previous Fast movies, their antics feel special: in a 160(!) minute movie, it feels tired.  

Beyond this, both actors have proved themselves to be far more interesting when they are playing against type (most recently, Johnson's creepy re-working of his A1 persona in Central Intelligence; Statham's outright parody of his filmography in Spy). In Hobbs and Shaw, we are presented with the broadest, simplest images of its stars. Shorn of its parent franchise's style and ethos, it would have been interesting to see this movie define itself as a self-sustaining entity.

And now onto the self-proclaimed bad guy.

I felt bad for Elba. Once again, he is stuck playing another generic role. He is a great actor who is frankly far better than this kind of cookie-cutter nonsense. The only moment that felt like something new was his little chuckle when he realises he has been abandoned by his paymasters.  

One thing that I always liked about the previous Fast movies is that they never seem to plan ahead. This is the first one where we are promised a bigger baddie. It undermines Brixton, who just becomes a lackey for a bigger villain we never get to see.

The set pieces are pretty good, although the film never really capitalises on having a villain who is "Black Superman". Johnson and Statham are already hyperbolic action heroes and the movie never really delineates between the skills of heroes and villain to give their various confrontations any sense of stakes. 

Vanessa Kirby is really good - the script is smart enough to never turn her into a damsel in distress. She manages to get herself out of every situation she is in, although there are a few moments (such as the scene where she is leaping from roof to roof in the bad guy's underground base) where she shares her co-stars' aversion to physics (which in turn makes Elba's bad guy even less impressive).

In a more retrograde move (that really reminded me of Messers Tango and Cash), part of the title pair's enmity comes from Shaw's belief that Hobbs has eyes on his sister. Thankfully the movie soft-pedals this maybe-attraction. Maybe because their antagonism seems so sexual, this subplot comes off as gross. Hopefully this is completely ignored in the probable sequel.
Hobbs and Shaw is a serviceable enough popcorn flick, but it feels like the law of diminishing returns is catching up with the Fast and Furious franchise.

If you are new to this blog, I also co-host a podcast on the British girl group the Sugababes, cleverly entitled SugaBros

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Wednesday, 24 July 2019


While a Category 5 hurricane rages outside, a young woman attempts to protect her father from a pack of hungry alligators who have taken over their flooded neighbourhood.

Watching Crawl, it felt like I was watching a cinematic rebuttal of last year's The Meg: small-scale where The Meg sprawled; deadly earnest where The Meg coated everything in faux irony; and more brutal in showing the danger its scaly antagonists pose.

Directed by French horror alum Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes remake), Crawl is my kind of genre flick: a simple concept; a claustrophobic location; and most importantly, a willingness to put its main characters through absolute hell.

It is such a perfect example of this kind of small-scale genre filmmaking that - if it were not for the CG gators - I would have thought this was a b-thriller from the 70s or 80s. 

The main characters (played by Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper) are straightforward, and their conflict -resolved in a key moment before the climax - somewhat predictable. But that is part of the fun.

To give the movie some more juice, we get a couple boatloads of minor characters to give the gators a bodycount. 
The creature effects are pretty good - the gore looks mostly practical and Aja keeps the CG monsters in the shadows and under the water, which gives them more weight. 

Setting most of the movie in the house's flooded basement is a brilliant decision that adds to the movie on a couple levels: one, it traps our heroes, two, it gives the movie ticking clock as the flood waters from the storm slowly rise. Finally, it helps to hide the CG monsters with shadows and under the water. If this movie took place in daylight, the effects would look terrible. Aja does not hang the entire affect of his movie on them, and gives the creatures more weight.

If I have one criticism, it's around injuries. Our heroine gets bitten a couple of times, but after the first injury there is little affect to her ability to perform physical tasks. I watched this movie after taking a pretty bad tumble down some concrete stairs and I was walking like an old man for a couple days. I will chalk it up to adrenaline, but it did start feel a little repetitive. 

One thing I did not expect, was how the movie re-wrote a familiar character turn: as somebody who watches a lot of action and disaster movies, one character turn that always turns up is the dad no-one respects who ends up proving to be totally right and accepted by his family at the end. Instead, the big turn here is Dave (Pepper) telling Haley (Scodelario) that his marital split was not her fault, they just don't love each other any more. He even says his wife did nothing wrong and deserves to be happy with her new partner. It is a small moment, but in a movie that is enjoyably cookie cutter, a welcome swerve.

Crawl has not been dealt the best cards at the box office. It will probably become a streaming perennial, but if you - like me - enjoy smaller genre efforts like this, buy a ticket and take your family to see it this weekend (Someone took their baby into the screening I was at, which made for some very interesting commentary).

If you are new to this blog, I also co-host a podcast on the British girl group the Sugababes, cleverly entitled SugaBros

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Tuesday, 23 July 2019

REDUX: Little Woods (Nia DaCosta, 2018)

On probation for smuggling medicine over the Canadian border, Ollie's (Tessa Thompson) problems are piling up: her mother's house is being foreclosed and her sister Deb (Lily James) is pregnant.

With time short, Ollie goes back in to business, putting her on a collision course with a rival drug dealer, Bill (Luke Kirby) and the law...

Little Woods was one of the highlights of last year's NZ International Film Festival. When it finally made its way to general release a couple months ago, checked it out again. After the formless dreck of Tessa Thompson's last vehicle, this was a real palette cleanser.

Re-watching Little Woods made me really appreciate the craft of writer-director Nia DaCosta.

This movie is so economical. The movie is filled with moments like this - none of the film's stylistic choices are that overt. 

The opening sequence is a marvel; Thompson is shot in a long shot coming from the woods onto a road. As she moves into the middle ground, the camera pulls out the famous pull out-zoom in (from Vertigo, although DiCosta uses it to similar effect to Spielberg in Jaws) as a police vehicle speeds past her and pulls up behind her.

As Thompson runs into close-up, we hear the hard hammering of what sounds like the judge’s gavel, passing sentence on Ollie. Cue a hard cut to Ollie waking up to someone hammering on her door.

In a few minutes the film has brought the viewer up to speed on Ollie, and set up the laser focus of both its story-telling and the mindset of its central character. There is a strong sense of functionality to the story-telling, which keys in the viewer to the world that these characters live in. Ollie does not have time for contemplation or luxury. She has to move forward or die.

One of my (other) favourite sequences is in the diner when Ollie is interviewing for a job out of state. Bill arrives, having sniffed out that Ollie is back selling meds. 

Initially we do not even see him - DaCosta plays his arrival on a tight OTS shot of Thompson's face, with the sound of a door and her eyes snapping to focus on a point over the interviewer's shoulder.

In an extended tracking shot along the diner booths, we follow Bill as he storms toward the table. Ollie excuses herself just before he arrives and heads down the line of tables, so they appear to walking in lock step with each other. DaCosta does not over-use editing - she lets scenes play out. This tracking shot works to show Ollie's adaptability, as she shifts gears from anxious interviewee to cool professional, matching Bill's stride as she heads off Bill's attempt to dominate the scene.  

When there are cuts, they signal important shifts in power: in the following scene, Bill confronts Ollie in the bathroom. Ollie tries to defuse the drug dealer but Bill grabs her by the throat and slams her against the wall. DaCosta cuts here to a tight two-shot of the characters face-to-face. When Bill threatens Ollie, and demands a cut of her earnings, DaCosta cuts from the two shot to an ever-so-slightly low angle close up of Luke Kirby's face. When the filmmakers cut back to Ollie, it is back in the same two-shot as before. Ollie has lost this struggle.  

In my last review I focused on the film’s association with noir; on this viewing the film felt even more like a western - albeit one in which the frontier is gone, and all the mythology of exceptionalism and progress has evaporated.

On this watch, I was struck by how much Thompson's Ollie reminded me of a classic western archetype - the no-nonsense man of action, with a personal code and a past of misdeeds. No matter the setback or obstacle, she has to move forward. Like the gunslingers of so many westerns, people expect her to do the dirty deed - in this case, run and sell drugs, that she has given up on. However, circumstances dictate that Ollie has to 'get back in the saddle'.

Even the way Deb describes Ollie is all about action - she is called ‘practical’ and a ‘doer’. But the movie highlights the difference with the archetype: while she is an incredibly active and forceful presence in the movie's narrative, Ollie is not physically imposing - there are two physical altercations in the movie (one which she initiates) and both of which she loses. In this universe violence is not a vehicle for character or narrative progression.

Like that archetype, Ollie is also defined as an outsider - she is a woman in a world of men (I remember an old John Oliver segment that explained the ratio was 2:1 in North Dakota), and a black woman in a world of white people. The only other person of colour is Ollie's parole officer Carter (Lance Reddick), someone whose ideological and professional role makes him an (unknowing) adversary. Ollie is alone.

Despite her loner status, Ollie is also defined in terms of her relationship with/juxtaposition to her sister Deb (James). Deb is initially presented as the opposite of  Ollie - while Ollie looked after their dying mother, and lives in the family home, Deb is a single mother living in a trailer park. She is presented as a more passive presence, and in contrast to Ollie, never thinks ahead - a trait which leads to the film's biggest narrative turn.

While Ollie's race is never openly acknowledged, it provides the subtext to a terrifying sequence towards the film's end: while her sister is getting a forged Canadian health card, Ollie waits outside a bar. Framed in the foreground of a wide shot, Thompson looks small and vulnerable. In the far background, the door to the bar opens, and the familiar shape of a policeman's hat appears under the entrance light. A police officer steps out, stands for a beat and then turns to face Ollie. It reminded me of the way John Carpenter presents the Shape in Halloween

The sequence is one of the film's highlights - DaCosta intercuts Ollie's interactions with this cop with Deb and the two forgers.

One choice I liked was that DaCosta only provides a rough sense of geography - while we know that the bar is close to the house where Deb is negotiating, we never get of sense of where the house is in terms of line of sight or distance. The sisters feel more separate than ever before.

The house where Deb confronts the forgers has almost no musical score, and DiCosta frames most of the scene from Deb's POV, with the forgers at the edge or in the back of frame. Like the cop they are threats, although their intentions remain more oblique (at first).  

These two sequences emphasise the different tensions and threats the main characters face - while Deb has to deal with the threat of physical violence and sexual assault, Ollie has to deal with the representative of an institution with an established bias against people like her. 

There are no helping hands in Little Woods - in a place of supposed prosperity, this is a world defined by limits and obstacles. Men are either clueless or obstacles themselves (Ollie's parole officer Carter (Lance Reddick), Deb's alcoholic ex Ian (James Badge Dale), Bill and the forgers).  

Ollie and Deb ultimately have to depend on each other: when the forgers betray the deal, Deb steals a bunch of stolen Canadian health cards and bolts. Unintentionally, her quick thinking winds up saving Ollie, who is on the losing end of the policeman's interrogation. 

Set amid North Dakota's oil boom, the contemporary equivalent of the gold rushes and other ventures of America's real and cinematic past, Little Woods is a place where the illusion of Manifest Destiny has evaporated. Capitalism has triumphed, hollowing out the ground and the people: There’s a scene about midway through set at a rodeo in which we see the performers re-bandaging old injuries and covering them with their shirts. In a brief cutaway, the movie undercuts a popular image of machismo, revealing it as nothing more than set-dressing.

Right, this review is really starting to ramble all over the place. 

I loved Little Woods even more this time around. It is so well-crafted and acted, it deserves as many eyes on it as possible. Check it out, wherever you can find it.


Little Woods (NZIFF 2018)

If you are new to this blog, I also co-host a podcast on the British girl group the Sugababes, cleverly entitled SugaBros

You can subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts!