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Two to view: Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Captain Fantastic

Idyll in the bush

Hunt for the Wilderpeople: Sam Neill tries to be gruff but cannot hide his admiration for Julian Dennison’s hat.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople: Sam Neill tries to be gruff but cannot hide his admiration for Julian Dennison’s hat.

This week sees two films that feature adventures on the fringe of civilization, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Captain Fantastic.

Video:

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Wilderpeople — which zigs and zags from silly to somber (retaining perfect emotional frankness throughout) as it relates the story of New Zealand foster kid Ricky and his unlikely adventures in the bush with his grumpy, somewhat unwilling foster father — is a gosh-darn folk-tale delight from start to finish.

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Video:

Captain Fantastic

Fantastic, on the other hand, offers a compelling setup and then loses its way. Something about writer-director Matt Ross not being able to see the forest for all the philosophical trees, and characters getting lost as a result. (An ambitious programmer might screen it opposite the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar!: both films are deeply concerned with economic theory and religious influence, both are scabrous and sincere, and both strive to find a happy ending of sorts. But only one actually works as a story, however slight.)


Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Movie

Hunt for the Wilderpeople ***

thumbnail

You can take the wannabe gangsta out of the city, but taking the gangsta out of his sweet rebel soul is another thing entirely. Ricky (Julian Dennison) is a mound of urban teenage misery whose last stop before juvie is a tumbledown farm at the edge of the New Zealand wilderness. Bella (Rima Te Wiata) is his saintly new foster mom, an unstoppable wellspring of love who is unfazed by his out-of-shape attempts to run away. And Hector (a bushy-bearded, teddy bear-lovable Sam Neill) is his laconic, leery “uncle,” a man who has called bullshit on most of the world, excepting, of course, his wife. It isn’t long before the two men find themselves, through circumstances both lamentable and ludicrous, in the bush and on the run. Director Taika Waititi, (who also adapted the screenplay), proves expert in his management of tone, such that the farcical elements, however numerous, don’t detract from the very real friendship the renegades develop as they elude the world’s most dedicated social services officer. Also such that the grimmer, more ultimate realities of life — death and bureaucracy, to name two — are given their due without being allowed to overshadow all.

Find showtimes

You can take the wannabe gangsta out of the city, but taking the gangsta out of his sweet rebel soul is another thing entirely. Ricky (Julian Dennison) is a mound of urban teenage misery whose last stop before juvie is a tumbledown farm at the edge of the New Zealand wilderness. Bella (Rima Te Wiata) is his saintly new foster mom, an unstoppable wellspring of love who is unfazed by his out-of-shape attempts to run away. And Hector (a bushily bearded Sam Neill) is his laconic, leery “uncle,” a man who has called bullshit on most of the world, excepting, of course, his wife.

It isn’t long before the two men find themselves, through circumstances both lamentable and ludicrous, in the bush and on the run. Director Taika Waititi (who also adapted the screenplay) proves expert in his management of tone, such that the farcical elements don’t detract from the very real friendship the renegades develop as they elude the world’s most dedicated social services officer.


Captain Fantastic

Say this for writer-director Matt Ross: he is not shy about making his intentions clear from the outset. In the opening sequence, a young man ambushes and kills a deer in the primordial Oregon forest using only a knife. As his mud-caked family emerges from the surrounding undergrowth, his father (Viggo Mortensen) anoints him with the animal’s blood and calls him a man. Then everybody pitches in to carry, dress, carve, cook, and eat the beast before settling in for an evening of serious reading and music making in a world unsullied by the cheap distractions of electronic technology.

Movie

Captain Fantastic *

thumbnail

Say this for writer-director Matt Ross: he is not shy about making his intentions clear from the outset. In the opening sequence, a young man ambushes and kills a deer in the primordial Oregon forest using only a knife. As his mud-caked family emerges from the surrounding undergrowth, his father (Viggo Mortensen) anoints him with the animal’s blood and calls him a man. Then everybody pitches in to carry, dress, carve, cook, and eat the beast before settling in for an evening of deep reading and music-making in a world unsullied by the cheap distractions of electronic technology and the corrupting influence of corporate culture. But amid the familial intimacy and intellectual excellence, one little scamp absconds with the gutting tool so that he can work on his private shrine to Pol Pot — rodent skulls subbing for the human versions that decorated the Killing Fields. Well, hello there, economic theory of man! This here is a family that celebrates Noam Chomsky day instead of Christmas, that avoids making fun of anyone except Christians, and that sure as heck isn’t going to let a little thing like common decency stand in the way of (dead) Mom’s desire to be cremated and flushed down the toilet. Throughout, you wait for something to pierce the smugness, for the unfettered intellectual to learn a little something about the civilization he so blithely rejects, the lumpen mass of humanity he so gleefully excels. But after a while, you begin to suspect that the smugness is the point. (Eventually, the Captain does descend from his mountaintop, and it's telling to note what he gives up along the way.)

Find showtimes

But amid the familial intimacy and communal excellence, one little scamp absconds with the gutting tool so that he can work on his private shrine to Pol Pot — rodent skulls subbing for the human versions that decorated the Killing Fields. Well, hello there, economic theory of man! This here is a family that celebrates Noam Chomsky day instead of Christmas, that avoids making fun of anyone except Christians, and that sure as heck isn’t going to let a little thing like human feeling stand in the way of Mom’s desire to be cremated and flushed down the toilet.

Throughout, you wait for something to pierce the smugness, for the lofty intellectual to learn a little something about the civilization he so blithely rejects, the lumpen mass of humanity he so gleefully excels. But after a while, you begin to suspect that the smugness is the point.

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople: Sam Neill tries to be gruff but cannot hide his admiration for Julian Dennison’s hat.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople: Sam Neill tries to be gruff but cannot hide his admiration for Julian Dennison’s hat.

This week sees two films that feature adventures on the fringe of civilization, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Captain Fantastic.

Video:

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Wilderpeople — which zigs and zags from silly to somber (retaining perfect emotional frankness throughout) as it relates the story of New Zealand foster kid Ricky and his unlikely adventures in the bush with his grumpy, somewhat unwilling foster father — is a gosh-darn folk-tale delight from start to finish.

Sponsored
Sponsored
Video:

Captain Fantastic

Fantastic, on the other hand, offers a compelling setup and then loses its way. Something about writer-director Matt Ross not being able to see the forest for all the philosophical trees, and characters getting lost as a result. (An ambitious programmer might screen it opposite the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar!: both films are deeply concerned with economic theory and religious influence, both are scabrous and sincere, and both strive to find a happy ending of sorts. But only one actually works as a story, however slight.)


Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Movie

Hunt for the Wilderpeople ***

thumbnail

You can take the wannabe gangsta out of the city, but taking the gangsta out of his sweet rebel soul is another thing entirely. Ricky (Julian Dennison) is a mound of urban teenage misery whose last stop before juvie is a tumbledown farm at the edge of the New Zealand wilderness. Bella (Rima Te Wiata) is his saintly new foster mom, an unstoppable wellspring of love who is unfazed by his out-of-shape attempts to run away. And Hector (a bushy-bearded, teddy bear-lovable Sam Neill) is his laconic, leery “uncle,” a man who has called bullshit on most of the world, excepting, of course, his wife. It isn’t long before the two men find themselves, through circumstances both lamentable and ludicrous, in the bush and on the run. Director Taika Waititi, (who also adapted the screenplay), proves expert in his management of tone, such that the farcical elements, however numerous, don’t detract from the very real friendship the renegades develop as they elude the world’s most dedicated social services officer. Also such that the grimmer, more ultimate realities of life — death and bureaucracy, to name two — are given their due without being allowed to overshadow all.

Find showtimes

You can take the wannabe gangsta out of the city, but taking the gangsta out of his sweet rebel soul is another thing entirely. Ricky (Julian Dennison) is a mound of urban teenage misery whose last stop before juvie is a tumbledown farm at the edge of the New Zealand wilderness. Bella (Rima Te Wiata) is his saintly new foster mom, an unstoppable wellspring of love who is unfazed by his out-of-shape attempts to run away. And Hector (a bushily bearded Sam Neill) is his laconic, leery “uncle,” a man who has called bullshit on most of the world, excepting, of course, his wife.

It isn’t long before the two men find themselves, through circumstances both lamentable and ludicrous, in the bush and on the run. Director Taika Waititi (who also adapted the screenplay) proves expert in his management of tone, such that the farcical elements don’t detract from the very real friendship the renegades develop as they elude the world’s most dedicated social services officer.


Captain Fantastic

Say this for writer-director Matt Ross: he is not shy about making his intentions clear from the outset. In the opening sequence, a young man ambushes and kills a deer in the primordial Oregon forest using only a knife. As his mud-caked family emerges from the surrounding undergrowth, his father (Viggo Mortensen) anoints him with the animal’s blood and calls him a man. Then everybody pitches in to carry, dress, carve, cook, and eat the beast before settling in for an evening of serious reading and music making in a world unsullied by the cheap distractions of electronic technology.

Movie

Captain Fantastic *

thumbnail

Say this for writer-director Matt Ross: he is not shy about making his intentions clear from the outset. In the opening sequence, a young man ambushes and kills a deer in the primordial Oregon forest using only a knife. As his mud-caked family emerges from the surrounding undergrowth, his father (Viggo Mortensen) anoints him with the animal’s blood and calls him a man. Then everybody pitches in to carry, dress, carve, cook, and eat the beast before settling in for an evening of deep reading and music-making in a world unsullied by the cheap distractions of electronic technology and the corrupting influence of corporate culture. But amid the familial intimacy and intellectual excellence, one little scamp absconds with the gutting tool so that he can work on his private shrine to Pol Pot — rodent skulls subbing for the human versions that decorated the Killing Fields. Well, hello there, economic theory of man! This here is a family that celebrates Noam Chomsky day instead of Christmas, that avoids making fun of anyone except Christians, and that sure as heck isn’t going to let a little thing like common decency stand in the way of (dead) Mom’s desire to be cremated and flushed down the toilet. Throughout, you wait for something to pierce the smugness, for the unfettered intellectual to learn a little something about the civilization he so blithely rejects, the lumpen mass of humanity he so gleefully excels. But after a while, you begin to suspect that the smugness is the point. (Eventually, the Captain does descend from his mountaintop, and it's telling to note what he gives up along the way.)

Find showtimes

But amid the familial intimacy and communal excellence, one little scamp absconds with the gutting tool so that he can work on his private shrine to Pol Pot — rodent skulls subbing for the human versions that decorated the Killing Fields. Well, hello there, economic theory of man! This here is a family that celebrates Noam Chomsky day instead of Christmas, that avoids making fun of anyone except Christians, and that sure as heck isn’t going to let a little thing like human feeling stand in the way of Mom’s desire to be cremated and flushed down the toilet.

Throughout, you wait for something to pierce the smugness, for the lofty intellectual to learn a little something about the civilization he so blithely rejects, the lumpen mass of humanity he so gleefully excels. But after a while, you begin to suspect that the smugness is the point.

Sponsored
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