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Sam Neill (#110 of 5)

Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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Tribeca Film Festival 2016: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

The Orchard

Tribeca Film Festival 2016: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople is told from the point of view of a chubby, self-confident orphan, Ricky (Julian Dennison), with a rich inner life who composes haikus for fun. As the film begins, he’s delivered to the last foster home willing to take him in, a small farm carved out of the edge of New Zealand’s bush country. Ricky has a bit of trouble in his past and fancies himself an outlaw, but he’s really a goodhearted kid, as his enthusiastic and intuitive foster mother, Bella (Rima Te Wiata), sees from the start.

The film’s childlike point of view gives it the slightly fabulous, exaggerated quality of a fairy tale, even as it deals with some pretty tough subjects. Ricky barely has time to settle into his new home, relaxing into Bella’s love while learning to tune out her glowering, monosyllabic husband, Hector (Sam Neill), than Bella drops dead and leaves Ricky alone with Hector, whose grief makes him even more taciturn. Then Hector retreats into the bush after telling Ricky to go back to the city, since the boy knows nothing about surviving outdoors. But Ricky insists on roughing it too, sure that he’d be put into juvie if he went back into the system, so the two wind up living in the bush for weeks.

Jurassic Park as a Means of Discussing Fractals, Chaos Theory, and Scary Movies

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Jurassic Park as a Means of Discussing Fractals, Chaos Theory, and Scary Movies
Jurassic Park as a Means of Discussing Fractals, Chaos Theory, and Scary Movies

With the arrival of the 20th anniversary, 3D re-release of Jurassic Park, what I’d like to convince you of is that the film watered down, significantly, the soul of the novel from which it was based (and we’re talking about a Michael Crichton page-turner for Christ’s sake). Instead of being the kind of decadent, lost-in-the-jungle, labyrinthine cinematic fever dream it could’ve been—one in which the production of the film would’ve eerily re-enacted and factually re-performed the hallucinatory chaos of what it was trying to fictionally record (a la Coppola’s Apocalypse Now or Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, and their respective making-of docs, Hearts of Darkness and Burden of Dreams), Spielberg’s Jurassic Park instead played it safe, and did so in a way that was slick, corporate, and patronizing to its audience. And one of the ways it punted artistically was to almost entirely purge from Crichton’s novel its heavy theorizing about chaos theory and fractals, which, in those days (the late ’80s/early ’90s), had just made its way into the intellectual mainstream. I’d like to briefly make the point that this was a grievous mistake (for the movie), because chaos theory and fractals have everything to do with scary movies, and horror and terror and the kind of man-eating monstrosities Spielberg and his team put so much goddamned time and money into making look realistic.

15 Famous Cabins in the Woods

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15 Famous Cabins in the Woods
15 Famous Cabins in the Woods

This weekend sees the release of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods, the most anticipated and buzzed-about horror film in some time. The setup is indeed the same one you’ve experienced over and over: a group of partying, young-adult archetypes head to a remote getaway, only to find terrifying carnage. But the guys behind Cabin delve far deeper into the geek abyss than many viewers will expect, emerging with a gonzo, convoluted send-up that stirs the pot even as it flies off the rails (no spoilers here, kids). The titular locale is but a dilapidated entry point, and we’ve got 15 more shacks that have opened their doors for audiences through the years.

Andrzej Zulawski @ BAM: My Nights Are More Beautiful Than Your Days, Possession, Boris Godounov, Blue Note, and Fidelity

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Andrzej Zulawski @ BAM: My Nights Are More Beautiful Than Your Days, Possession, Boris Godounov, Blue Note, and Fidelity
Andrzej Zulawski @ BAM: My Nights Are More Beautiful Than Your Days, Possession, Boris Godounov, Blue Note, and Fidelity

Andrzej Zulawski’s most lyrical movie to date, 1989’s My Nights Are More Beautiful Than Your Days, begins with a stroboscope frenzy of radiating colors, as computer programmer Lucas (Jacques Dutronc) watches garish x-rays of his brain and learns about his mysterious—and terminal—condition. As if in accordance with that rousing opening (scored to Andrzej Korzyński’s hypnotizing electro-throb), the movie itself is structured as a relentless series of emotional paroxysms. They’re all centered on Lucas’s strange relationship with Blanche, uneducated medium and fluent nightclub mind-reader, played by Sophie Marceau at her most radiant and cushy. Since she was Zulawski’s real-life partner from the time L’Amour Braque hit them both in 1984, and until their post-Fidelity break-up in 2001, it’s difficult not to approach My Nights as an autobiography of sorts. A story of a generationally mismatched couple feeding off each other’s powers and languages has a distinctive Pygmalion ring to it—an angle Zulawski often used when speaking about his relationship with the young Marceau. By the end of the film, Blanche is speaking in Lucas’s florid (and malady-affected) syntax, while the man regresses to an almost pre-verbal state of coarse directness (“That’s my word!,” Blanche cries out as she hears Lucas using one of her street-smart formulations). The astonishing central sex scene has as much to do with lovemaking as it does with mental dueling. Zulawski’s is a vision of a total irreconcilability of sexes and classes—as galvanizing as it is sad and stifling.

No Room for Love: Andrzej Zulawski’s Szamanka

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No Room for Love: Andrzej Zulawski’s <em>Szamanka</em>
No Room for Love: Andrzej Zulawski’s <em>Szamanka</em>

A man meets a woman, and we’re not even five minutes into the running time of Andrzej Zulawski’s Szamanka before they are having sex on the floor of her rented apartment. Immediately thereafter, this man is revealed as an anthropology professor excited by the discovery of a mummified shaman. The primal act of sex and the mysticism of the strange religious-historical find are the engines that drive this strange, often hilarious, frequently brutal genre film. It’s an art film about sex and sweat, one that seems to have emerged from the guts as opposed to intellectual game-playing, or in the bleakly absurd streets of mid-1990s post-Communist Poland. It’s fast, frenetic and seems to have been made either by a young man bursting with fresh energy or an old man who films every moment as if he might never get another chance to work.

As it happens, both are kind of true. Zulawski was, in fact, middle aged and soon to cut his directorial career short in favor of writing books. He had not made a film in his native Poland since his work was banned in 1976, and he vowed never to work again under the Communist regime. Szamanka was an independently funded production outside of the state. Most noted in America for his “video nasty” horror project Possession, starring Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani as a married couple descending into a hellish spiral of rage and carnal despair (and that’s before the monster shows up), Zulawski’s work is often about the painful relations between men and women.