Tom Augustine reviews the weekend in film.
There are very few films that sit within the martial arts sub-genre and are made by and for Pacific communities. The closest I could find is 2002's Tongan Ninja, whose connection to Pacific film-makers was dubious at best. The Legend of Baron To'a (dir. Kiel McNaughton, RP13), then, is a film of rare pedigree - a throwback martial arts film drawn through the unique cultural experience of Pasifika New Zealanders. The film follows Fritz (Australian-Tongan actor Uli Latukefu), the son of one-time wrestling legend Baron To'a (John Tui), who returns to his childhood home in Mount Roskill after many years away. Immediately, he finds himself embroiled in the conflicts and history of the community he left behind - and at odds with the local gang.
There's a real sense of joy to Baron To'a, a sense of excitement at the very existence of this type of story. It's infectious and thrilling to watch - McNaughton is a dab hand at action sequences and there's some thrillingly staged combat, unified by a committed cast. The film's secret weapon is Tui - as the deceased, beloved Baron To'a in flashbacks - who makes the most of his small role, imbuing the character with a warmth and strength that is immediately compelling. Tui is so good that spinoff alarm-bells began ringing in my head whenever he was on-screen. Is Baron To'a a little rough around the edges in parts? Occasionally but as with all great, low-budget martial arts ventures, Baron To'a is unafraid to wear its more ragged elements on its sleeve and never lets them dampen the feeling of enthusiasm radiating off the screen. I love that a film like Baron To'a exists and that young Pasifika viewers can watch a film like this and feel inspired.
Rating: Four stars.
The Lighthouse (dir. Robert Eggers, R16) is the kind of film that befits the cliche "it's not for everyone", or "'you'll either love it or you'll hate it". The film, director Robert Eggers' follow-up to the stunning, atmospheric The Witch, is built to be polarising. A claustrophobic seaside fable-cum-nightmare about a pair of lighthouse keepers slowly going insane on an isolated crag in the middle of nowhere, the film is an aggressive, suffocating examination of the slow decay of madness, captured in astonishingly evocative black and white imagery.
Essentially a two-man show, the film lives or dies on the strength of its stars and fortunately Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe more than rise to the occasion. Pattinson turns in his most morally dubious anti-hero performance yet, while Dafoe throws caution to the wind in an insanely ambitious turn as the older keeper, a pirate-voiced goblin seemingly far removed from any semblance of human society. It's a film that is hauntingly beautiful in its intricate ugliness - all damp surfaces, salt, dirt, brine and blood, an examination of masculinity presented in its starkest, most metaphorical terms. What it all ends up meaning may prove elusive - but for the braver viewers out there, The Lighthouse is a descent worth taking.
Rating: Four stars.