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New Zelander Taika Waititi’s star is rising quickly. After making the acclaimed indie vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows, he directed Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which broke box-office records in his home country, and was asked to write the upcoming Disney film Moana. (He also received an Oscar nomination for a 2004 live-action short film and appeared in Green Lantern as an actor.) Next year, his Marvel superhero movie Thor: Ragnarok will open. Meanwhile, viewers can check out his earlier film, the excellent coming-of-age comedy-drama Boy (2010), which also has its share of superhero references.
In New Zealand of the 1980s, 11-year-old “Boy” (James Rolleston) loves Michael Jackson, has a crush on an older girl, and visits his mother’s grave with his younger brother Rocky (Aho Eketone-Whitu), who believes he has superpowers. “Boy” must take care of his family whenever his grandmother is away, so when his immature, errant father Alamein (Waititi) returns, “Boy” is thrilled. He relishes any kind of attention he gets from the old man, no matter how misguided; he even agrees to dig dozens of holes so that Alamein can find a buried treasure. (Alamein compares himself to the Hulk, in that his mood can change in a heartbeat.) The movie is a bit cute here and there, but it’s unique enough and funny enough—and with a genuine sense of pain to go with the nostalgia—that it transcends most other trite, conventional movies of this type.
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12 Angry Men
A veteran of the old live-TV days, Sidney Lumet was a major filmmaker in Hollywood for a full 50 years, working with all the big stars and focusing mainly on crime films, but still earning four Oscar nominations for Best Director, one for Best Screenplay (as well as earning an honorary Oscar for his career achievements). It all started with this, one of the most impressive feature directing debuts in history, 12 Angry Men (1957). It began as a television play, written by Reginald Rose; Rose then adapted it into this screenplay. It focuses almost exclusively on 12 men, in one room, for 96 minutes.
A jury goes into deliberation after a murder trial. Eleven of the men are certain that the accused is guilty, but Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) isn’t so sure. The rest of the movie is a heated discussion/debate as the jurors try to come to the necessary unanimous decision. Shot in black-and-white, the room is cramped and hot, tempers flare, and personal agendas come out. Any director will tell you how incredibly, deceptively difficult it is to shoot in one room, planning coverage and editing choices, and Lumet does this brilliantly; he keeps the story tight, suspenseful, and on track. It’s effortlessly entertaining, and wonderfully humane. It received three Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture, and is now considered among the best films ever made.
New to Hoopla
A 2016 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, the Jordanian Theeb isn’t the usual dreary movie about war and misery that typically populates that somber category. Instead, it’s like an old-fashioned adventure film about surviving, and keeping your wits, in the desert. It’s 1916, and brothers Hussein (Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen) and Theeb (Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat) are on their own. A British officer asks for a guide through the desert to a secret well; the journey is said to be perilous and peppered with murderous bandits. Intrigued by a locked box the Englishman carries, Theeb secretly joins his brother, even though he has been ordered to stay behind.
Things go terribly south, and Theeb finds himself attempting to survive in the middle of nowhere; even with no acting training, young Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat gives a truly remarkable performance, bringing an unexpected amount of life and experience to his role. Likewise, director and cowriter Naji Abu Nowar makes a very promising debut, telling his taut, full-blooded story like a pro, with all the right twists and turns. His use of the open space of the desert, as well as light and texture, place him among the directors to watch; he could turn in a crackerjack summer popcorn movie someday. The film is available on Hoopla, a service that’s totally free to holders of public library cards; check your local library for details.
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It’s a little out of season to recommend a Christmas movie, but if you don’t mind being unseasonable—or are willing to remember this one for seven more months—then do check out the surprisingly good holiday horror Krampus (2015). The idea of a killer Santa Claus has been used before, from standard serial killers to more supernatural creatures, but rarely has the idea been used so well. Director and cowriter Michael Dougherty also made the Halloween cult classic Trick ‘r Treat (2007), and, with this, it appears he may have done the same for Christmas movies.
Krampus starts with a great scene, holiday shopping department-store mayhem in slow-motion, before getting to the story. Young Max (Emjay Anthony) still believes in Santa, but after a stressful season, and some teasing from his mean cousins, he tearfully rips up his letter and throws it out the window, an act that summons the evil Christmas demon. It’s up to his parents (Adam Scott and Toni Collette) and annoying relatives (David Koechner and Allison Tolman), as well as his knowing grandmother (Krista Stadler), to try to save the day. Dougherty includes practical monster effects that seem far more realistic than computer-generated ones, using snow and darkness and a sinister chime-and-bell score to heighten the terror. Surprisingly, the movie also has its share of laughs without betraying the scares, and has more than its share of heart—and genuine holiday cheer—in spite of its unforgettable ending.