NZIFF 2018 mini-reviews (T to Z)

Flicks has sent its mighty writers all over the Auckland section of the New Zealand International Film Festival. Here are the films we’ve seen and what we’ve thought of them. (This page is updated daily-ish.)


What an absolute masterclass in horror jump scares! Writer/director Demián Rugna doesn’t bother with trying to make things realistic or complicated, instead going for over-the-top, haunted house thrills and nailing them. There are some really great visual tricks pulled to maximise the shocks, but there’s also a nice, silly tone to it all that’s refreshing for the genre this year. -DANIEL RUTLEDGE

Once this Argentinian horror-comedy gets over some weird structural issues and settles into being a gonzo haunted house movie it snaps into focus, capitalising on a handful of cool ideas and executing some classic jump scares with exceptional panache. Veers into weirder territory than you might expect and is stronger for it. -TONY STAMP

Argentine haunted-house horror Terrified provides scares aplenty, as well as a few unexpected smiles. Not particularly slick, it does have its own suburban charm, and what it lacks in gripping tension, it makes up for in adventurously creepy startle-gags and likeable characters. -SARAH VOON

Directed by Demián Rugna, this Argentine horror delivers blood, gore and paranormal activity by the blood-soaked bucket-load. Made with enough cruel imagination and demonic energy to please even the most cynical paranormal horror buff, with twisted thrills, spills and jump-scares aplenty in what, judging by the loose ends left by the end credits, promises to be just the first in a damn fine, fearsome franchise of Latin American, poltergeist pulverising, haunted-house horrors. -ADAM FRESCO

Terror Nullius

An audaciously entertaining cavalcade and engrossing shit-stir of (mostly) Aussie film and TV samples reworked into a new, urgently agitating whole by two-person art collective Soda_Jerk. Three acts of loose narratives unfold, with public figures rubbing shoulders onscreen with familiar fictional presences often transplanted from their original screen environments. Many are summarily bumped off to the audience’s delight during the queering of mainstream national mythos, slaughtering of sacred cows, transplantation of the refugee crisis into Mad Max‘s post-apocalypse and liberal borrowing of the sheep slaughter from Jonathan King’s Black Sheep. You won’t look at The Babadook the same way again, like many of the films included in this provocative questioning of “Australian values”. -STEVE NEWALL

Three Identical Strangers

Tim Wardle’s entertaining documentary on triplets separated at birth, who meet up, then uncover a dark secret from their past, is in the same “so crazy yet true” vein as Crystal Moselle’s The Wolfpack. Whilst the structure and storytelling feel a bit old hat, there’s no escaping the sheer oddity and “WTF?!” surprises along the way in a true tale that’s never less than fascinating. -ADAM FRESCO

Proving one of the most popular films at the festival this year, and playing to a packed out Civic at the screening I attended, I was naturally expecting a lot from Three Identical Strangers a doco directed by Tim Wardle. Slightly disappointing in its formulaic approach and with way too much repetitive footage, the story about triplets separated and adopted to different families at birth then discovering each other later in life is a compelling one, and the dark secret uncovered a fascinating twist – however, it failed to fully engage, or pierce my doco-fatigue. – SARAH VOON

Damn. This was a trip. Bursting out the gate with the positive energy of three 19-year-old identical brothers uniting for the first time, director Tim Wardle finds an immediate grip on its audience before taking them down the very long, very unnerving origin to why these siblings were separated in the first place. It fascinates, but that fascination carries a lofty weight of disgust and despair that really should be talked through with whoever you see this with. And it really should be seen. -LIAM MAGUREN


The performances are stellar and there’s an affecting story in here swirling with love, grief, fear, redemption, deception, and the limbo that claims them all. However, with a voice-over narrator that almost always states what we’re seeing and a contemporary setting that’s well-intended but distractingly inconsistent, Petzold’s latest left me wishing for a better film. -LIAM MAGUREN

Another captivating, emotionally rewarding work from Petzold. Alternate-history conceit scarily authentic, much like how The Onion doesn’t read like satire these days. Fave of fest so far. -AARON YAP

The Trial

If you go into this one with little knowledge of Brazil’s political system or its former president Dilma Rousseff, you won’t be much better off when you leave. But it’s engaging in the way that court procedurals often are: legal theatrics can be very entertaining, and several characters emerge as the stars of the piece. The story itself follows a rather depressing path, but the glimpse behind the scenes at the hugely skilled and impassioned defence team is fascinating, and may even prompt you to check on how the country is doing these days (heads up: not good). -TONY STAMP

Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist

Lorna Tucker’s documentary on British designer, Dame Vivienne Westwood proves as difficult to grasp as the concept of a “Dame” being “Punk”. Tucker charts the business career, highs and lows, of this aging, self-proclaimed anarchist, who is now more focused on environmental activism than haute couture. Centred on a stubbornly defiant subject, this doco does a great job of filling you in on Westwood’s past, and whilst never enlightening, it remains, like Westwood herself, colourful, energetic and entertaining. -ADAM FRESCO

Vivienne Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist is also a freaking genius. This smartly paced, good looking doco celebrates her often hilarious and very unique way of getting things done. Candid, though grumpy about having to be – Vivienne sighs and eyerolls through the early years of her life and career with the annoyed impatience of someone who moved on ages ago. Director Lorna Tucker spends a fair amount of time on where the British Designer is at now, though was condemned on the eve of the film’s release by Vivienne for not spending enough time on her activism. Interspersed with recollections from her sons, devoted Austrian lover and partner in design Andreas Kronthaler (half her age, gloriously attired, camp-yet-butch), and a couple of old supermodels – as well as some fascinating archival footage, I found it very refreshing to see such an unrelenting, subversive designer refusing to bow to any kind of convention, kicking fashion’s ass, riding her bike, and pursuing environmental activism, all in the most exceptional style. – SARAH VOON

The Wild Pear Tree

A bullet train, compared to recent Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Absorbingly discursive meta gab-fest laced with bristly humour, delivering home truths around fathers, sons, art, dreams, morality. That ending: wow. -AARON YAP

Wings of Desire

First released in 1987, and looking astonishing in 4K, Wim Wenders’ Berlin-set tale of angels still bedazzles. Bruno Ganz’s performance is as spellbinding as the cinematography, in a long, deliberately slow, cinematic tour de force, featuring stand out supporting roles from Peter Falk and Nick Cave, in a feast for eyes, ears and mind, blending art, philosophy and fantasy into one seamless, beautifully realised whole. Wunderbar! -ADAM FRESCO

The 4K restoration of Wenders’ 1987 masterpiece is such a great big screen experience, all soaring camera-work and thematic loveliness. Newcomers may be surprised to recognise Bruno Ganz from his role as Hitler in 2004’s Downfall (and the ensuing meme), here exuding warmth as a literal angel. Plus Bad Seeds cameos! -TONY STAMP

Such a good looking film, Wings of Desire still bewitches today, somehow managing to be both modern and iconic. Unafraid of lingering at a slow pace or of lengthy philosophical monologues, Wim Wender’s stunningly restored, mostly black and white story of an Angel unfulfilled by his celestial existence, also gives a fascinating historical snapshot of 1987 Berlin, just pre the demise of the Wall. Enchanting performances by Bruno Ganz and Solveig Dommartin, a hint of vintage New York noir from Peter Falk and a memorable Nick Cave performance make this one of the best arthouse date movies of all time. – SARAH VOON

The World is Yours

Sizzlingly styled French gangster film The World is Yours is a refreshingly trashy shyster romp from the drug dealing ghettos of Paris to the garish nightlife on the Benidorm coast. We follow the slack-mouthed but ultimately ingenuous François (Karim Leklou), slave to his Mum’s (the unashamedly enhanced Isabelle Adjani) dodgy enterprise cracking safes and organising crime sprees of technicolour audaciousness, as he carries out a drug heist that takes a few hilariously gormless wrong turns. With comedic stints from Vincent Cassel playing Henri, an Illuminati obsessed sidekick, pragmatic pre-teen Scottish gangster’s daughter Brittany (Gabby Rose) and a dubiously allianced love interest, Lamya (Oulaya Amamra), this is one thoroughly entertaining escapade! – SARAH VOON

Yellow is Forbidden

I’m pretty sure Nick Cave was fabric shopping in the back of shot in Pietra Brettkelly’s doco Yellow is Forbidden and that’s just one of a myriad of surprising observations captured in this truly beguiling doco about Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei. Following her quest for an invitation to join the elitist Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, the stress builds as we flick between Guo Pei’s personal life, design process, and some of the many hours of intricate detailing work carried out by her legions of specially trained artisans, as they meticulously construct the opulent designs for her Paris couture debut show. Like Liberace meets Marie Antoinette on steroids, it is impossible not to be captivated by the magnificent magnitude of her vision. -SARAH VOON

Local master Pietra Brettkelly makes great films, and her on going collab with camera savant Jake Bryant continues to pay top dividends. This has all the sheen and excitement of the best fashion world docos, with the trademark PBK nuance and hawk eye for the important human stuff, the humour, the absurdity and the tells that subjects let slip. A nearly full Civic was glowing after, even the lovely woman who my partner assaulted via an exploding drink bottle was smiling like a loon. What a treat. -PAUL CASSERLY

With great access to her subject, OTT fashion designer Guo Pei, Pietra Brettkelly’s superb new documentary also benefits from excellent timing. Known for her opulent designs, Guo Pei made a name for herself in her homeland of China, but how she fares when trying to make her mark on the capital of couture, Paris, is something Brettkelly is on hand to capture. Collisions of cultures are seen throughout – how will the long tradition of Western fashion react? How does Guo Pei adapt her aesthetic for them? – and so, alongside the stunning designs, creative process and catwalk shows, Yellow is Forbidden becomes something more than its already interesting core subject matter. -STEVE NEWALL

You Were Never Really Here

A promising start with a tense, seemingly morally ambiguous Joaquin Phoenix playing a troubled hired gun rescuing a young girl from a paedo ring, gradually descends into a hotbed of flashbacks, beatings, body count and a storyline that feels not fully formed. My questions are mainly practical, why does there seem to be no repercussions with all the dead people? Why does he just rescue one child? Why is his suit kinda dry when he’s just walked out of the river? Who exactly is this girl? Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here apparently screened an unfinished version at Cannes and got a standing ovation, and while there is some masterful work here, with the story lacking substantiation I’m not sure the budding vision has been fully realised. -SARAH VOON

A straightforward crime story rendered in Lynne Ramsey’s elliptical style, You Were Never Really Here follows Joaquin Phoenix’s husky hitman on a mental downward spiral as he dispenses justice to some very nasty people. Ramsey keeps her focus on the aftermath of violence rather than its execution, but this is still very rough stuff. Brutal, but always compelling, and in the end weirdly beautiful. -TONY STAMP

Joaquin Phoenix delivers 50 shades of brood as one sad beast of a man whose many MANY close-ups are earned thanks to a transfixing performance. Not so much a character study as it is a character experience, the film’s editor sparsely but artfully bashes in fragments of his past as violently as the lead does to dudes’ skulls. It’s purposeful filmmaking that uses acting and editing to say more than the core plot does, though I still found it a bit too light to linger long in the memory. -LIAM MAGUREN

Slow-burn, moody, combat vet-rescues-kid movies are always in the shadow of Taxi Driver, but director Lynne Ramsey delivers the existential dread in spades. With shades of brutal Brit noirs Get Carter and Mona Lisa, a dash of Man on Fire, and a powerhouse performance by Joaquin Phoenix, it’s mesmerising, dark and broody, but never connects emotionally, leaving the viewer a voyeur to the seedy underbelly of modern life on screen. Which may well be the point. Worth seeing for Joaquin’s immersive performance and Ramsey’s taut direction, but ultimately it can’t escape a feeling of been-there, seen-that, washed-up tough guy gains redemption by rescuing innocent kid déjà vu. -ADAM FRESCO

Joaquin Phoenix – what a fucking unit. Massive and mesmerising, his OTT physicality and A+ dishevelment are perfectly employed as the damaged, violent fixer employed here to liberate a child from a paedo sex ring. As a perhaps too-familiar grubby narrative unfurls, Phoenix never fails to enthral, and Lynne Ramsay is eager to unsettle, her direction and choices in sound design and editing leaving me jittery long after leaving the cinema. -STEVE NEWALL


Incredible vistas and some of the most pleasing costuming I‘ve seen in recent productions did not make staying in my seat for the entirety of Argentinian writer/director Lucrecia Martel’s Zama any easier…. I’ve never felt so envious of the 8 or so people who decided to call it quits and walk out, but this is a film exquisitely made, and meant, I think, for a certain curious and cerebral audience who can patiently allow the layers to peel back to get to the somewhat oblique finish. Based on a 1958 novel of the same name, Don Diego de Zama is a wholly unlikeable, racist, abusive Spanish conquistador who has endured a lengthy posting in a remote village in Paraguay, but longs to get home to his wife and children. As he perves, slaps and simpers his way through a relatively plotless story, the bigger picture is perhaps a commentary on the distant licensing of disgusting behaviour under the umbrella of colonisation. -SARAH VOON

Spanish colonial history via absurdist, purgatorial lens worthy of Beckett. Martel’s formal prowess undeniable, hypnotic. Truly odd. Of course, I loved it every languid minute. -AARON YAP

NZIFF 2018 mini-reviews index:

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