Sunday, 22 October 2017

IN THEATRES: Waru & Geostorm (Bleergh!)

To celebrate Labour Weekend, here is another double review!


Waru is a little boy who has died as a result of domestic violence. The film that bears his name is composed of eight stories that take place on the day of his funeral, showing the ripple effects of his death through the perspectives of nine Maori filmmakers: Briar Grace-Smith, Casey Kaa, Ainsley Gardiner, Katie Wolfe, Renae Maihi, Chelsea Winstanley, Paula Jones, Awanui Simich-Pene and Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu.

The story behind the making of Waru is almost as interesting as the film. Each filmmaker had come up with their segment according to a set of strict rules: their story had to be a 10 minute-long single take, take place at 10 am on the day of Waru's funeral.

I missed this one at the Film Festival, but I was really happy this made it to a wide release. The screening I was at was also packed, so hopefully it has found an audience. 

Just on a technical level this movie is a marvel. Single takes can be horribly gimmicky and obvious, but the brilliance of Waru is that the camera never draws attention to itself. Each director, to varying degrees, keeps the camera moving according to the dictates of the main character. It creates a naturalistic rhythm and tempo to the scenes that creates a greater sense of intimacy. 

All of the restrictions the filmmakers had to work under are never visible. Each story is a tight little vignette that takes the central theme in completely different directions. Some feel directly related (Aunty Charm overseeing the kitchen preparations for Waru's tangi at the marae; Ranui taking Waru's body back home) while with other stories the connection is more metaphoric.

'Charm', the opening segment, is a terrific character study of a matriarch who has to juggle various pressures and crises, while also keeping her focus on the practical tasks at hand. Charm is the calm in the eye of the storm, and Briar Grace-Smith manages to waive in multiple storylines and characters in a naturalistic way that helps to add more layers of context to how much mana Aunty Charm has with her extended whanau. It is so difficult to make group interactions come off, and the sequence offers a mini-masterclass in how to make it work without losing focus on the central storyline.

In a similar vein, Katie Wolfe's 'Em' stands out because, once again, its focus on a single character in a specific situation (a woman trying to get into her house without keys) distracts from the technical aspects of its production. The effect of the single take is so immersive that certain story beats (which i will not spoil) are allowed to serve their dramatic function without the meta-thrill of 'how did they do that?'.

The admirable thing about Waru is that no segment feels bigger than the whole. It would have been unsurprising if one of the filmmakers had turned their segment into a flashy technical exercise, but they are in line with each other - while different, they all feel dialled in to the same theme, creating a cumulative emotional impact that is extremely profound and multi-dimensional.

As with all portmanteau films, not every segment is great - the one segment that does not quite work involves a Maori correspondent clashing with a Mike Hosking analogue. Conceptually it is a great idea, and it has a great point, but the execution is off - the dialogue clunks and not-Mike Hosking is underwhelming. It is not terrible, but it's the one part of the movie that does not quite measure up to the other stories.  

Other than that, Waru is pound-for-pound one of the best New Zealand films I have seen in a really long time. Highly recommended.

BONUS: Here's a great feature with all of the filmmakers talking about their segments.

In the near future, extreme weather events have become a major menace to the planet. 17 countries band together to build a massive network of weather control satellites designed to prevent such extreme weather events from happening. But then the satellites begin to malfunction, and it falls to one burly American scientist played by Gerard Butler to head stab the situation back to normal.

I can think of a better title...
I used to be fascinated by movies that sound like total disasters. This movie had a ridiculously complicated premise, was directed by Dean Devlin, the co-writer of Independence Day and Godzilla '98, postponed several times, and partially re-shot by Danny Cannon, the director of Sylvester Stallone's Judge Dredd. In other words, it sounded like a hot mess.

This movie has cured me of that fascination. It is a sacrifice of time and money that I regret, and I urge any right-minded person to save their money, or invest in something more worthwhile. This movie sucks.

First, I want to focus on the one good thing this steaming shit pile has going for it: Zazie Beetz.

Thank the movie gods for Beetz, because she was the only thing keeping me half-awake through this cinematic blackhole.

She plays a sparky computer maven who helps Butler's brother Jim Sturgess (the not-Asian guy in 21) figure out what is going on.  An obvious add from the reshoots, her character is basically a way to plug the holes in the script. She is only in a few scenes with two of the leads, and all of those scenes take place in apartments, meeting rooms and other places that do not require location permits or special effects. The other tip-off is that the dialogue in her scenes sounds completely different from the rest of the movie - mostly because it does not sound like movie cliches and exposition. Some poor comedy guy with ten un-produced scripts was probably brought in at the eleventh hour to slave over these scenes while some coke-addled studio exec screamed into his ear. Maybe.

Anyway, Beetz does a great job making this movie vaguely watchable, and for her efforts has her name buried at the bottom of the cast list. There is no justice in this world.

And now to the rest of the movie that does not feature Zazie Beetz. BIG SIGH.

With Dean Devlin at the helm, I was expecting a certain level of cheese and silly jokes. Based on his previous work, this was totally reasonable. And if the movie had aimed for that tone, maybe this silly premise would have come off. But clearly Roland Emmerich was the guy who brought the cheese and the jokes, because on his own Devlin is dull. It is probably a result of the studio tinkering, but Geostorm does not even work as a silly romp.

There is no sense of personality or fun here. It feels like everything has been filtered through the Hollywood blockbuster machine, and all the nutrients have been ground out. My biggest complaint with Geostorm is that it feels like a lot of bad blockbusters nowadays - it's just boring and super-generic.

Even Gerard Butler's wooden earnestness is not enough to save it. Butler is not a great actor, but as a beefcake action dude he can be really watchable - just see Olympus Has Fallen or its equally brain-dead sequel, London Has Fallen, where he makes a good fist of playing a homicidal action hero. In action movies, his brand of stoic sincerity can be really enjoyable, but he gets nothing ridiculous to do or say here.

The rest of the cast bum me out: Andy Garcia, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Alexandra Maria Lara and Ed Harris. This movie is beneath them. And the audience.

Speaking of which, this is how many people were in the theatre.

Hello darkness my old friend...
So while the rest of New Zealand was sitting with baited breath for the announcement of who the next government was going to be, I was stuck watching frigging Geostorm. I missed out on watching Mike Hosking's soul leave his body as he turned into an empty husk of a man - and that is something I will never get to re-live. 

Because of Geostorm. A movie I am already forgetting I saw. If you catch up with me next week I will have probably forgotten all about it. 

Anyway, go watch Waru. Or save your money and wait for whatever the hell this is...

No comments:

Post a Comment