It's that time of the year again when film lovers suddenly become inundated with choice - the International Film Festival is upon us, and it's looking like a doozy.
1. A hoot of a horror
A small launch event for the festival's programme was held on Tuesday night this week in Auckland, and attendees were given the option of viewing one of three films: Canadian actor-turned-director Sarah Polley's personal documentary Stories We Tell; Laotian/Australian crowd-pleaser The Rocket and Adam Wingard's buzzy horror You're Next.
Inclined as I am towards this sort of thing, I chose to view You're Next, and it was a huge amount of fun. As last year's film festival screening of The Cabin In The Woods demonstrated, seeing a well-made horror film with a bunch of enthusiastic fans can be an almost transcendent experience, and You're Next is just the kind of button-pusher that would work in this environment.
Writer Simon Barrett and director Wingard broke out with 2010's cult horror hit A Horrible Way To Die, and went on to contribute to horror anthologies V/H/S and The ABCs of Death.
You're Next is their feature-length follow-up to A Horrible Way To Die, and it shows a couple of filmmakers with a confident grasp of their abilities. Former Home and Away star Sharni Vinson (Bait) stars in the film, in which a family holiday get together turns murderous. There's some lighter moments to provide relief from the intensity, but they never undermine the film's nasty edge.
Barrett and Wingard are also involved in V/H/S 2, the horror anthology sequel screening in Ant Timpson's Incredibly Strange section of the film festival along with You're Next.
2. A Kiwi classic back on the big screen
Widely regarded as one of the best New Zealand films ever made, Geoff Murphy's 1983 historical drama Utu is heading back to cinemas for this year's festival, and having only seen it on videotape, I can't wait to behold it on the big screen.
Along with original director of photography Graeme Cowley, Murphy has re-edited the film to create a new director's cut which is being screened under the title Utu Redux.
Seeing this in The Civic is gonna be amazing.
3. Ben Wheatley once again messes with our heads
Director Ben Wheatley disturbed Kiwi film audiences at the 2011 festival with his dazzling thriller Kill List . Then last year, we were gifted black comedy Sightseers, which proved a lighter, but no less disturbing, experience.
For his third film festival in a row, Wheatley is offering up another film that defies any sort of conventional description. Titled A Field In England, the (apparently) black and white film follows some deserters from the English Civil War (1642 - 1651) who encounter an alchemist (Wheatley good-luck charm Michael Smiley) and end up ingesting a whole bunch of psychedelics.
It's difficult at this point for me to imagine quite what form the finished film will take, which only makes me more intrigued. In a cinematic landscape drowning in predictability, Wheatley films can be relied upon to offer that rarest of pleasures - a delectable sense having no idea what could happen next.
4. A comedic exploration of the limits of human dignity
I haven't heard a huge amount about the new black comedy Cheap Thrills, but what I do know makes me very excited.
Indie cinema stalwart Pat Healy (The Innkeepers; the voice on the phone in Compliance) stars as a financially strapped man who finds himself doing humiliating things for money along with a fellow "have-not" played by former child star Ethan Embry (Can't Hardly Wait; TV's Once Upon a Time). Kind of like that classic 'prank monkey' episode of The Simpsons.
Driving this behaviour is a couple of "haves", played by David Koechner and Healy's Innkeepers co-star Sara Paxton. The set-up is delicious, but I glad this isn't a studio film. The indie pedigree means the filmmakers can go further with the dark humour, and I am looking forward to seeing where they draw the line, and if they step over it.
5. Hitchcock classics as they were meant to be seen
I've always loved the historical offerings at the film festival, and few directors' films continue to play as well as those from the master himself, Alfred Hitchcock.
I often recommend 1959's North By Northwest as an entry point into Hitchcock's ouvre - it's one of the most commercial films he ever made, and can easily be regarded as the Die Hard or Bourne Identity of its day - propulsive popcorn entertainment of the highest order.
It's the ultimate "wrong man" story as Cary Grant plays an (particularly dapper) everyman who finds himself on the run from various factions after he is mistaken for a fictional secret agent. The crop-dusting scene is iconic movie lore and the Mt. Rushmore finale remains a masterclass in vertiginous action. I must've scene this film a dozen times, but I'll definitely watch it again playing out in the glorious Civic.
Baz Luhrmann said it was the 3D re-issue of 1954's Dial M For Murder that inspired him to make The Great Gatsby in 3D, so we'll get a chance to see what he means when the film plays this year with the extra dimension.
The Grace Kelly/Ray Milland thriller is often accused of being a touch stagey (it was based on a play), and it inspired a turgid remake in the form of 1998's A Perfect Murder; but I love the original's slowly tightening tension so skillfully doled out by Hitchcock. Seeing this classic is 3D is gonna be awesome.
These are but a mere sampling of the dozens of exciting offerings at this year's film festival - I'll be previewing further notable films in the build-up to the event in this space. The programme is now available everywhere - check it out!
* Amped for this year's film festival? What are you most looking forward to seeing? Comment Below!