Written by Richard Swainson
Dr. Richard Swainson runs Auteur House, the last DVD rental store in Hamilton. He was the first person to complete a doctorate in film studies at the University of Waikato. An amateur film critic for various publications and radio stations over a two decade period, he reviewed films on RNZ National for three and a half years. He currently writes monthly opinion columns for the Waikato Times as well as a weekly contribution to the paper’s Saturday ‘history page’.
Masculinity, 'toxic' or otherwise, is examined in Drink Up, You're Next and Worthy of Thee. The first looks at an archetypal 21st through the eyes of the birthday boy's younger brother. If the message isn't subtle, there's much to admire in the craft, particularly the acting, with Josiah Joyce note perfect as the lad who craves inclusion and John Turner the crude, rugby headed patriarch who couldn't be setting a worse example if he tried.
The production values of Worthy of Thee are so outstanding that it's easy to forgive the odd historical inaccuracy. Beautiful rural vistas and eyewatering crane shots alternate with claustrophobic interiors in a Second World War period tale. Michael Hurst gives his all as a blinkered World War I veteran who demands sacrifice from a son in Crete. The melodrama might not ring entirely true but the emotional climax has undeniable power.
The Hitchhiker is a tense horror set largely inside a motor vehicle. Late at night, a bickering married couple argue as to whether to pick up a stranger, a nervous man with a hidden agenda. All is not what it seems.
Scarier still is Be Quiet, a minimalist monster movie. Young siblings are disturbed by sounds that suggest they are not alone. If the scenario has a passing resemblance to A Quiet Place, the execution is first rate.
On a grander scale is From Shadow. Taking full advantage of a longer running time to build character as much as atmosphere, it benefits from fantastic lead performances by Samuel Haynes as a man burdened by his father's criminal reputation and Laura Thavat as a police officer sympathetic to his plight. Part serial killer film, part police procedural, part science fiction, writer/director Ryan Jackson does not waste a moment, with a precisely structured screenplay and fine ensemble cast.
Blink is another genre mash-up, a comic film noir that borrows from the spaghetti western whilst remaining steadfastly original. In a seedy speakeasy, underworld types bet on the outcome of staring competitions. Wonderfully lit, amusing written, with dialogue at once cheesy and hardboiled, it too is blessed with a colourful array of performers, not least Joanna Bishop as the barmaid looking for redemption.
The two documentaries in the programme could not be more dissimilar. Austin 7 is a straightforward short about a man's passion for his distinctive vintage vehicle. Its understated sentimentality is charm itself.
In Glass Shards, Kyle Barrett documents the life, times and artistic progression of Oliver Stewart, a Hamilton musician and painter. Fluid camera work, carefully considered lighting and effects techniques and knowing location selection complement Stewart's honest monologue.
Finally, two stunning shorts address the pandemic pachyderm in the room. Dennis from Work uses a hardboiled voiceover to narrate the inner fantasy life of a stuffed toy frustrated by too many lockdown Zoom meetings whilst Ode to a Helical Nucleocapsid captures the 2021 Covid reality through breathtaking black and white animation and an unexpected sympathy for the devil.