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REEL TIME

Reviews for Waiheke Cinema by Gemma Korff

THE MOON IS UPSIDE DOWN

The Moon Is Upside Down is a New Zealand film that weaves together three stories of love gone awry. Directed by Loren Taylor, this unconventional narrative explores themes of loneliness, vulnerability, and death, all while maintaining a quirky and thought-provoking tone.

The first story introduces us to Natalia (Victoria Hara-labidou), a Russian mail-order bride arriving at Auckland Airport. Her intended fiancé (Jemaine Clement) and his unpleasant sister (Robyn Malcolm) add layers of dysfunction to the mix. The film deftly balances humour and melancholy as Natalia grapples with her unexpected reality.

Next, we meet Briar (played by Loren Taylor herself), who engages in an online relationship with her sister’s ex. Their interactions via Skype include some hilariously awkward phone encounters. The film doesn’t shy away from exploring the complexities of modern connections.

Lastly, Faith (Elizabeth Hawthorne) takes centre stage. Her husband’s real estate investment turns out to be a bizarre situation involving a deceased tenant and her late canary. Faith’s determination to handle the remains herself adds an intriguing layer to the film.

The Moon Is Upside Down succeeds in portraying characters who don’t necessarily like each other. It’s a departure from typical romantic comedies, and the film’s refusal to conform to conventions is both refreshing and unsettling. Even beloved actors like Jemaine Clement, Robyn Malcolm, and Robbie Magasiva play unlikable roles, leaving audiences with mixed feelings.

Rachel House, a New Zealand actress known for her versatility, portrays a motel manager who despises her guests. Her performance adds to the film’s darkly comedic atmosphere. The uneasy comedy might not be palatable to every taste internationally, but it seems to be a genre that does well in New Zealand!

This polarising New Zealand entry challenges our perceptions of love, relationships, and human connection. It swings between tenderness and raucousness, leaving viewers to fill in the gaps and reconsider their opinions of the characters on-screen.

ORIGIN

Ava DuVernay, the inquisitive filmmaker, has crafted a thought-provoking investigative film in Origin. Adapted from journalist Isabel Wilkerson’s nonfiction work, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” this movie delves into the complex web of history, race, and collective grief.

The film centres around Isabel Wilkerson (Aunjanue Ellis), a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who grapples with the recent death of Trayvon Martin. Her journey takes her from the violent repercussions of American slavery to the Holocaust and India’s caste system. DuVernay masterfully weaves these threads together, creating a cyclical narrative that combines gnawing grief with a sense of historical continuity.

Isabel’s methodical research leads her to Germany, where she investigates whether the “Final Solution” borrowed from American slavery. The film captures her emotional labour, as she confronts Sabine (Connie Nielsen), a Jewish-German friend who questions her thesis. The tension between them crackles on screen, fueled by Ellis-Taylor’s powerful performance.

Visually, “Origin” is a triumph. Shot on film, it maintains consistency and avoids gimmicks. The camera captures both intimate moments and grand historical landscapes, emphasising the weight of Isabel’s quest. DuVernay’s direction ensures that the film’s ambition never overwhelms its emotional core.

Origin isn’t just a duty; it’s a cinematic journey that challenges assumptions and invites introspection. It’s a brilliant exploration of interconnected histories, leaving us pondering the echoes of the past in our present.

JACKIE STEWART

'Jackie Stewart', a tastefully and sensitively directed documentary, delves into the life of legendary three-time Formula 1 world champion, Sir Jackie Stewart. Set in the late 60s and early 70s, the film takes viewers on an immersive journey that transcends motor sport and explores universal themes of love, loss, and human vulnerability.

The film introduces us to the charismatic Scottish racing driver, Jackie Stewart, as he navigates the glamorous world of F1. From rubbing shoulders with the Beatles to encounters with Elizabeth Taylor, Stewart’s life is a rollercoaster of triumphs and tragedies. We witness his battles on the track, his relationships with fellow drivers like François Cevert and Jochen Rindt, and the unwavering support of his wife, Helen Stewart.

Director Patrick Mark skillfully weaves together historic footage, capturing the essence of an era when racing was both exhilarating and perilous. Stewart’s determination, courage, and advocacy for safety reforms shine through, making him more than just a sports icon.

However, the film is not without its flaws. Some viewers may find the use of modern commentary over archive footage distracting. The attempt to create a forced narrative occasionally falls flat, and mislabeled clips add to the minor hiccups.

'Jackie Stewart' celebrates the Flying Scot’s remarkable career while revealing the vulnerabilities beneath the helmet. Whether you’re an F1 enthusiast or simply intrigued by human stories, this documentary is worth a watch.

THE TIGER'S APPRENTICE

The Tiger’s Apprentice boasts an impressive Asian cast, including Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding, Lucy Liu, and Sandra Oh. However, despite its potential, the film falls short of delivering a truly captivating experience.

The story revolves around Tom Lee (voiced by Brandon Soo Hoo), a seemingly ordinary 15-year-old raised by his grandmother (Kheng Hua Tan). When Tom accidentally reveals extraordinary powers, he attracts the attention of Loo (Yeoh), who seeks a magical necklace guarded by Grandma. Enter Hu (Golding), a tiger in human form, and a team of guardians sworn to protect humanity.

While the animation has its moments, the film lacks depth. The plot feels familiar—ordinary kid discovers extraordinary powers—and fails to explore Chinese mythology as promised. It’s a missed opportunity for innovation.

The Tiger’s Apprentice caters more to younger audiences, offering charm and entertainment. But older viewers may find it lacking- that is unless the older viewers just want something to keep the young ones occupied for a time, then it certainly does not lack at all. The action scenes are well-executed, and the voice performances shine, but the narrative remains formulaic.

This animated adventure, though diverse, doesn’t break new ground. If you’re seeking comfort-food fantasy with a touch of Asian representation, give it a watch. If you’re a guardian of a young one and need a little bit of a break, then this is more of a must-watch.

CHALLENGERS

Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers serves up an intoxicating blend of tennis, desire, and intrigue. Set against the backdrop of the professional tennis circuit, this film deftly explores the complexities of love, ambition, and rivalry.

Zendaya leads the charge as Tashi, a former teenage tennis prodigy turned manager. Her husband, Art (played by Mike Faist), owes his success to her guidance. But Art’s existential crisis threatens their partnership. Tashi hatches a plan: enter Art in a low-level championship match to reignite his passion for the game. Yet, there’s more at play—a secret agenda involving Patrick (Josh O’Connor), Art’s estranged childhood friend.

The film’s genius lies in its metaphorical use of tennis. Every conversation becomes a match, every match a charged encounter. Tashi, Art, and Patrick volley emotions, their desires intersecting like forehands and backhands. Guadagnino captures this tension with flair, creating a visual symphony of lust and longing.

Challengers isn’t just about tennis; it’s a psychological game where love, lust, and ambition collide. Guadagnino serves up an engaging drama that leaves audiences powerless to resist. The cop-out ending may fudge tennis rules, but life, like the court, remains a zero-sum game of winners and losers.

KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

In the latest instalment of the beloved Planet of the Apes franchise, director Wes Ball takes us on a thrilling journey that honours the legacy of its predecessors while adding fresh layers of depth and excitement. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes continues the saga with a powerful narrative, groundbreaking visual effects, and a world-building experience that immerses the audience.

The film picks up generations after the events of War for the Planet of the Apes, following the time of Caesar—the iconic ape leader portrayed via groundbreaking performance capture technology by Andy Serkis. Young chimpanzees Noa, Anaya, and Soona of the Eagle Clan embark on a daring adventure, climbing massive heights to find an eagle egg, following a ritual that binds them to the majestic birds over the years. Their journey is both visually captivating and emotionally resonant, as they navigate a world where apes and humans coexist, each with their own set of rules and ethics.

Ball’s direction and Josh Friedman’s screenplay strike a perfect balance between action-packed setpieces and thoughtful storytelling. Every scene serves a purpose, contributing to the film’s overarching themes of fairness, loyalty, and communal solidarity. Unlike some soulless fan-service-driven franchises, “Kingdom” feels like a labour of love—a genuine effort to bring the story full circle.

The visual effects are nothing short of remarkable. The apes’ expressions, movements, and interactions with their environment are seamlessly integrated, making it easy to forget you’re watching CGI. The film’s attention to detail immerses you in this post-apocalyptic world, where the line between ape and human blurs.

While Kingdom doesn’t reach the Shakespearean heights of Matt Reeves’ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it still offers moral complexity and intriguing social commentary. The film invites us to reflect on our own humanity, our capacity for empathy, and the consequences of our actions. It’s a testament to the franchise’s ability to entertain while challenging our perceptions.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes remains an enjoyable and engaging cinematic experience that solidifies its place among the better entries in the franchise. Whether you’re a longtime fan or a newcomer, this film delivers on its promise of thoughtful storytelling and thrilling ape adventure.

JOIKA

No theme is more frequent in movies than very different people taking a journey together. They’re initially antagonistic, but they find a growing appreciation for one another throughout the story. Usually, one is careful and reserved, while the other is an impulsive and free spirit. The reason for the enduring appeal of these stories is the eternal human struggle between the ego and the superego. There’s something funny but also satisfying about seeing reconciliation, even the integration of the two.

The set-up immediately connects to us; all we need is some worthy details, vivid supporting characters, and, if possible, some nice scenery. And that is what we get in the watchable French film Two Tickets to Greece, the story of two middle-aged women who have not seen each other since their early teens and find themselves travelling together to the Greek Isles.

As a character points out to Blandine (portrayed by Olivia Côte), even her name sounds boring. Blandine’s husband left her two years earlier and is about to have a baby with his new, young wife. Magalie (played by Laure Calamy) lives for fun, excitement, and the triumph of petty cons like keeping the tags on an expensive shirt so she can wear it once and then return it.

When Blandine and her college student son are going through boxes of things that have been packed away for decades, she tells him about her old friend, and he surprises her by tracking down Magalie and inviting her to meet Blandine for dinner. She does not tell him it did not go well, so he surprises her again by inviting Magalie to accompany Blandine on the trip to Greece. 

Blandine has planned a stay in a luxurious hotel on the island of Amorgos, where she and Magalie once dreamed of visiting together, inspired by a film they had never watched, Luc Besson’s “The Big Blue.” But Magalie is a chaos agent. The careful, precise itinerary Blandine had in mind, with a notebook and glue stick to document every step, is jettisoned. Others might make Magalie’s choices because they cannot imagine the consequences. But Magalie is so determined to enjoy every possible outcome that she welcomes the consequences. So what if they get kicked off the ferry boat on a different island than the one with the fancy hotel? No problem! “We’ll sleep under the stars!”

Two Tickets to Greece is a charming exploration of friendship, spontaneity, and the unexpected twists that life throws our way. It’s a delightful ride that reminds us that sometimes the best journeys are the ones we take with unlikely companions.

JOIKA

Joika is an immensely powerful and brutally honest exploration of the ballet world, where grace and pain intertwine. Based on the true story of Joy Womack, New Zealand writer-director James Napier Robertson crafts a gripping narrative that delves into the sacrifices and determination required to achieve greatness.

The film follows Joy (portrayed brilliantly by Talia Ryder), a promising American ballerina who dreams of joining Russia’s prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy. Her journey is fraught with challenges, both physical and psychological. Ryder’s performance is a tightrope walk between determination and desperation. She is a person we root for even as she teeters on the edge of self-destruction.

Diane Kruger, as the cold and enigmatic instructor Tatiyana, adds depth to the film. Tatiyana’s gaze is relentless, her expectations unyielding. As an American in the heart of Russian ballet territory, Joy faces not only the pressure of her own aspirations but also the scrutiny of her peers. The dance halls echo with the sounds of clicking bones, stretching shoes, and the relentless pursuit of perfection.

Cinematographer Tomasz Naumiuk masterfully captures the chaos. Handheld camera movements thrust us into the heart of the dance, emphasising the raw physicality and emotional turmoil. The elegance of ballet clashes with the harsh reality of bloodied feet and shattered dreams. Naumiuk’s visual language mirrors Joy’s internal struggle, which is a battle fought not only against her own limitations but also against an entire system.

Joika doesn’t shy away from the darker aspects of ballet: the sacrifices, the pain, and the psychological toll. It’s a film that grips you from the first pirouette and doesn’t let go. As Joy spins and leaps, we witness the fragility of ambition and the resilience of the human spirit. The title itself becomes a haunting refrain, echoing through the dance studios and corridors of the Bolshoi Academy.

In the end, Joika poses a profound question: How far are we willing to go for our passion? Joy’s journey is both inspiring and cautionary; a testament to the indomitable will of those who dare to dance on the edge of greatness.

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