The Films of Taika Waititi
Eagle vs Shark (April 8/08)
As stylistically and thematically quirky as one might've anticipated, Eagle vs Shark casts Loren Horsley as Lily - a painfully withdrawn young woman who embarks upon a tentative relationship with an almost egregiously offbeat figure named Jarrod (Jermaine Clement). There's little doubt that Eagle vs Shark, despite the inclusion of several undeniably hilarious comedic bits, generally comes off as a low-key and almost downbeat drama, as filmmaker Taika Cohen places the emphasis on Lily's often cringeworthy efforts at ingratiating herself with Clement's Jarrod. Horsley's incredibly earnest performance ensures that the viewer can't help but sympathize with Lily's plight, yet there admittedly does reach a point at which her pursuit of Jarrod becomes something of a head-scratcher. A self-obsessed jerk, Jarrod hardly seems in the same league as Lily and there's just no shaking the feeling that she could do a whole lot better - although, to be fair, the inevitable (and anticipated) fake break-up does spur the character into making positive changes within her own life (ie she slowly-but-surely starts to come out of her shell). And as effective as Cohen's expectedly off-kilter directorial choices are - the filmmaker even includes a few animated interludes! - Eagle vs Shark's strongest attribute is undoubtedly Horsley's indelible turn as the exceedingly endearing central character (which ultimately ensures that it's not terribly difficult to envision Lily successfully placed within the context of a straight-forward, comparatively conventional piece of work).
What We Do in the Shadows
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Thor: Ragnarok (December 18/17)
A minor improvement over the previous installment, 2013 ’s Thor: The Dark World, Thor: Ragnarok follows Chris Hemsworth’s title hero as he attempts to defeat a deadly villain (Cate Blanchett’s Hela) bent on universal domination – with the movie also detailing Thor’s exploits on a garbage planet overseen by Jeff Goldblum’s goofy but dangerous Grandmaster. It’s ultimately clear that Thor: Ragnarok is at its best in its fast-paced and almost incongruously entertaining opening stretch, as filmmaker Taika Waititi, working from a script written by Christopher L. Yost, Craig Kyle, and Eric Pearson, delivers a first act that’s far more charming and downright funny than one might’ve anticipated. (There is, for example, a hilarious bit near the beginning involving Thor’s continuous interruptions of a seemingly fierce baddie.) It’s only as the movie progresses into its midsection, set almost entirely on that aforementioned garbage planet, that Waititi’s grip on the viewer begins to steadily loosen, as there really isn’t much of interest transpiring within this portion of the proceedings and it does, as such, become exceedingly difficult to overlook the padded-out needlessness of most of these scenes. The less-than-engrossing vibe is compounded by a final third devoted primarily to the buildup (and prolonged) battle between Thor and Blanchett’s one-note antagonist, with the movie’s climax suffering from exactly the sort of endless, CGI-heavy feel that tends to plague all Marvel releases – which ultimately does ensure that Thor: Ragnorok ends on as underwhelming a note as one could envision. It’s too bad, certainly, given the potential afforded by the strong first half and stronger-than-expected supporting cast, with the massively overlong running time unquestionably playing a key role in confirming the film’s pronounced downfall (ie the movie would’ve been improved greatly by some serious streamlining).