Adapting popular New Zealand writer Barry Crump's book Wild Pork and Watercress, director Taika Waititi has crafted a superbly entertaining film with appealing humor plus pointed social commentary. Set and shot in gorgeous New Zealand bush country, The Hunt for the Wilderpeople follows 12-year-old Ricky Baker whom the social welfare system has repeatedly failed. 

As he joins his newest foster family in a long succession of them, the overweight, rebellious Ricky gets a warm welcome from Aunty Bella and the cold shoulder from Uncle Hec. That makes it particularly ripe for sparks to fly when Hec and Ricky become a pair fleeing with two dogs into the uncharted, remote wilds with welfare authorities and the police in hot pursuit. They'll encounter some obnoxious ruffians who join the hunt; the unhinged, supportive Psycho Sam; a sweet teenage Maori horsewoman; and more, through ten chapters announced on screen, plus an epilogue. 

Waititi, who in a brief scene plays the preacher, draws on an eclectic group of films, genres and music, merging them all seamlessly in his tour de force. In an interview at Sundance, Waititi says he intended this as an homage to '80s adventure films, with hilarious SWAT team parodies and nods to Thelma and Louise, Bonnie and Clyde, many Robert Redford films, plus some appealing fantasy. At the center of all this mayhem is Ricky, a unique individual who effortlessly spouts social welfare psychobabble as he recites his own haikus and talks with affection about hip-hop (especially Tupac) and Lord of the Rings. Waititi, who proved his talent for originality in his zombie mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, says he doesn't push the comedy, a combination of physical and verbal elements that come in quick succession. With his deft touch, the humor emerges in surprising, clever juxtapositions. 

Waititi also has a knack for showcasing his actors. As Hec, Sam Neill delivers a perfectly understated resentment inflected with kindness, a foil and complement to the energetic Ricky played by an endearing Julian Dennison. Rime Te Wiata brings her animated presence and perfect timing to her scenes as Bella, while Rachel House adds a deliriously unfettered, monomaniacal performance as social welfare agency representative Paula.

Setting the New Zealand opening weekend, box office record, The Hunt for the Wilderpeople has won numerous film festival audience awards. No wonder. It's funny, sweet, sad, and exhilarating all at once. At Landmark's Tivoli Theatre.

 

Full confession: I never watched Absolutely Fabulous, the television show, beyond a few minutes because loutish women with drinking issues never really appealed. But one does not have to have a long history with Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone to enjoy the film version of this friendship, a folie à deux.

Eddy and Patsy like each other tremendously. They have each other's backs. They enjoy breeding fun and frolic, even at the expense of politesse. Eddy treats her daughter Saffron mercilessly and exploits her granddaughter. Her personal assistant Bubbles is a walking advert; her mother is lunatic, a Golden Girl.

The plot of "AbFab: the Mov" revolves around Eddy's attempts to capture model Kate Moss for her puny public relations firm. Instead, Moss ends up in the drink and Edina ends up on wanted posters. Both the women need money since their cards are broke, so escaping from the cops means heading to France, where Patsy hopes to marry good-time Charlie.

One of the funs of this film, just like in the current Ghostbusters, is recognizing faces of the famous. There's Barry Humphries as Dame Edna and as Charlie. Jon Hamm appears. There's Rebel Wilson as the flight attendant who does not care. Jane Horrocks, Dawn French, and Celia Imre, noted British actors, appear right alongside Chris Colfer, noted American author and actor. Plus, lots of models.

Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley and have Edina and Patsy down pat. They just have to play them more broadly for the big screen. Yes, it's possible. Mandie Fletcher's mossy direction includes flashbacks and raucous fantasies. Saunders' screenplay includes funny, idiotic, vulgar, smart lines, such as suggesting that the French for "Champagne" is "champignon" or "mushroom." Sadly, the lines are often too accented to understand, but AbFab never is. 

 

 

Directors David Farrier and Dylan Reeve's documentary Tickled qualifies as one of those true stories that defies invention. New Zealand veteran reporter Farrier often covered the offbeat stories, those "stranger than invention" kinds of tales. One day in his regular web surfing, one entry catches his eye as promising: competitive endurance tickling. Yes, that's right—competitive endurance tickling. 

Eager to pursue this potentially tantalizing subject, Farrier began, as usual, making online inquiries which led to a website listed as Jane O'Brien media. After Farrier's further research, the story becomes really bizarre. Two American lawyers fly to New Zealand to confront Farrier and warn him to back off and drop his investigation. Farrier knew by now that he had a terrific topic worthy of this documentary film. Soon a complex investigation involves egotistical control, multilayered deception, lots of money with accompanying greed, revelations of retaliation involving crashing prestigious university web sites, serious threats against the lives of several people involved, surreptitious stalking, and, eventually the F.B.I. 

I won't reveal more here because the unexpected revelations are too unpredictable and wonderful to spoil. At the Columbia, Missouri, True/False Film Festival where I first saw Tickled, Farrier spoke and answered questions after a packed screening. Legal developments subsequent to his and Reeve's finishing the film prevented him from discussing some aspects of the issues explored and the people exposed. Farrier did make clear, however, that individuals' lives were destroyed by powerful people manipulating the events documented.

To be sure, Tickled is often hilarious; but especially because it involves the internet, it is also a cautionary warning for what it reveals about what, at first blush, seems an innocent sport that some after easy money stumble into. The hidden truths go far beyond what anyone involved or the journalists inquiring expected. The debut film for writers/directors Farrier and Reeve, Tickled shows an impressive professional polish as it documents spellbinding events. It is easily one of the more entertaining films of the year. At Landmark's Tivoli Theatre

 

Take a quartet hell-bent on ridding Manhattan of ghosts and you're bound to find a motley crew who believes, first, that ghosts exist and second, that the foursome can destroy same with just a bit of ingenuity and stick-to-itiveness, perspicacity, and dedication. Make this quartet women and hilarity ensues.

This group of Ghostbusters comprises a scientist, an engineer, a dreamer, and a ticket taker on the MTA. Erin, the scientist, is trying for tenure at Princeton by kissing professorial posteriors. One mention of the book she wrote with the dreamer years ago and she can kiss her career goodbye. The dreamer is cajoled into welcoming her back into the fold that includes one crazy engineer, Holtzmann. And into their little troika comes the dainty giant, Patty, who believes in ghosts because she saw one in the underground.

Armed with yellow-goggled Holtzmann's weapons, the four proceed to hunt for and down ghosts. They slither into the subway, they invade a concert (Ozzy Osborne!), they tour a haunted house— the basics of ghost-catching. 

But Ghostbusters, as directed by Paul Feig and written by him and Katie Dippold, is not about plot, but about seeing how the actors interact with each other and the special effects. Feig keeps the reins on Melissa McCarthy, which is good, and even on Leslie Joness—either woman capable of stealing the show. Kristen Wiig plays a constipated scientist without overacting. Kate McKinnon is simply marvelous as Holtzmann! Please cast her in every movie forever!

They are supported by handsome Chris Hemsath as the receptionist (his interview like the ones Murphy Brown had to conduct), Matt Walsh, Andy Garcia, and the sassy Cecily Strong. But look for the dandy cameos, and, oh, stay for the credits.

 

Convent bells ring as nuns chant, credits announcing Poland, December 1945. A young Benedictine nun slides out a side window, hurries to a nearby village and bribes children playing in the snow to take her to a French doctor, not a Polish or Russian one. That Red Cross doctor Mathilde rehabilitates wounded French soldiers for repatriation to France.

Thus begins director Anne Fontaine's The Innocents, based on actual events. Mathilde is needed to deliver babies at the convent where, prior to the retreat of the German soldiers and then when the Russians arrived, nuns were repeatedly raped. Each of them presents a different reaction to her situation, allowing an exploration of faith and resiliency. The antipathy to religion of Poland's Communist régime dictates secrecy for Mathilde and considerable danger if discovered for her and the convent. 

Told entirely from Mathilde's point of view, she becomes our surrogate for the gradually revealed events that will also involve Soviet soldiers controlling the area and fellow Jewish doctor Samuel, whose family died in concentration camps. The screenplay adapted by Fontaine and Pascal Bonitzer maintains the dramatic tension punctuated with time for reflection as the nuns pray and sing, hanging on to and asserting their faith. Contributing to this aesthetically accomplished work is the solid cinematography and framing by Caroline Champetier. Shooting at an abandoned Polish convent, Champetier uses inner framing to communicate entrapment. Employing chiaroscuro lighting, she borrows from 14th century paintings to inform her meticulous art direction. 

The Innocents was inspired by the 1945 notes of the real Dr. Madeleine Pauliac, the truth more tragic than that depicted, with 25 nuns raped, some as many as 40 times and 20 nuns killed. Director Fontaine writes that we must remember that women in war zones remain subjects of such brutality. The Innocents calmly and intelligently dramatizes this reprehensible victimization too often elided from history. It is, above all, a study of faith and a powerful film. In French and Polish with English subtitles. At Landmark's Plaza Frontenac Theatre

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