Of the multiple films opening this weekend please note the off kilter yet vastly entertaining Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Yes it’s a take on the noun describing the animal wildebeest.

Sam Neill is that wildebeest. If Neill was in Colorado he would be a mountain man but he’s in New Zealand so Neill’s a wilderperson. Neill, playing Hec, lives with his wife in the NZ bush and together they adopt a, shall we say as an euphemism, problem child. The squat little bastard resists everything that offers comfort in his new surroundings. But little by little he comes around.

Director Taika Waititi has street cred based on his earlier films Eagle vs Shark (2007) and What We Do in the Shadows (2014), which itself is a vampire themed feature based on Waititi’s short film of the same name from 2005 and featuring himself and Flight of the Concords performer Jermaine Clement. Waititi is currently helming the superhero flick Thor: Ragnarok, scheduled for November 2017. Waititi must have some bust out moves to make such a leap from low budget ethnic filmmaking to mainstream pablum. Hunt for Wilderpeople works nicely as quirky cinema and yet it offers a profound character study all in one nice tidy package.

In a series of unfortunate events Neill’s wife dies all of a sudden and he and the young lad, now newly bonded by their love of guns and nature, take off in the direction of the deepest bush. Complications ensue the least of which is a nation wide manhunt for the duo who are now perceived as criminals on the run.

Cut to the chase – lots of oscillating events flow through the narrative like injuries from hiking in steep terrain, bounty hunters on their trail, and negotiating with the enemy. There’s always the possibility that a deserted cabin in the woods provides a safe harbor. There’s really no second-guessing this film.

Hunt For the Wilderpeople is currently ensconced at the Sundance Houston and the AlamoDrafthouse Vintage Park in exclusive engagements.lights-out-1200x630-c

You may not want to laugh but if someone tickles your funnybone you guffaw. You may not want to yell in fright but if literally hundreds of theater patrons are screaming like hyenas at the provocation of a scary set-up you are likely to jump on that train.

Lights Out has no meaning as a film, yet watching this movie with an audience was like being on a rollercoaster at full speed. Essentially the filmmakers use light and dark to create fear. There’s no paranormal evidence nor is there a normal explanation of the events unfolding on the screen. This makes Lights Out a particularly loose wank. Albeit the audience makes this an interactive experience that can raise expectations.

An entity haunts a house and the occupants must keep the lights on. When the lights go out the demon appears. When the lights come on the monster, an attractive actor in a body suit with weird fingers and cleverly lit, disappears.

By the time we get to the third act the whole lights on light out action proceeds non-stop to an unnerving level. There’s no logic to the events and there’s no time to think about the lack of same. All I could react to were the screams of the people behind me, and how it was making the whole genre experience palpable.

anglo_2000x1025_abfabmovie1Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie may be one of the most grotesque movies ever. Horrid politically incorrect banter mixes with drug abuse, criminal flight from justice and regret for youth lost. If Sacha Baron Cohen made this film it would be as welcomed as Borat 2.

As unlikely as 20th Century Fox gave the thumbs up for a recent two-decades-old return of Independence Day, baby satellite Fox Searchlight has graced the screen with the sequel to the equally forgotten-by-time Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie. And it’s about damn time because Johanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders have never been so relevant. They kill Kate Moss and hightail extradition for manslaughter to Cannes. Several celebrity and glamorous cameos, some of whom I actually recognized, ensues.

Equals has arrived several decades too late. In the future people are not allowed to fall in love. You cannot meet cute in a disembodied future society. Despite those warnings the film does boast a superior synth soundtrack.

The whole dystopian community where people live in austere compliance, especially shot in a limited color palette, was done to death long before now. Did the filmmakers not get the message that this concept was executed definitively by George Lucas in the early 1970s and titled THX 1138? A society of Spocks.equals

There’s another 1970s film that is required viewing: the sci-fier A Boy and His Dog. Ray Bradbury nailed this shit in the early 1950s with a book titled Fahrenheit 451.

Equals makes Zardoz look like the classic it was. Obviously a low budget eschews big effects although there was enough cheese in the deal to sign on actors like Kristen Stewart, Guy Pearce, Jackie Weaver and Nicholas Hoult. Only fans of Stewart (whom I imagine are legion) and Hoult (negligible) need apply. “Did these eyes always have freckles?” Wow, were they handing out barf bags at the door?

Star Trek Beyond goes where no Trek film has gone before, at least not the last two reboot Star Treks. Certainly the original series of films made a nod to pure character development over story. I’m taking about you Star Trek: The Voyage Home (1986) the best Star Trek film ever made and itself the end of a trilogy that began with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984).Star-Trek-Beyond-1

J.J. Abrams helmed the first two reboots of the current Star Trek edition and he brought a sense of action sequences bonded by superb use of motion and sound. The premiere sequence in all of the current Star Trek films was in Star Trek (2009) where Kirk and Sulu (and some guy in a red shirt who dies) perform a high altitude skydive that involves space suits and thrusting from outer space to the thermosphere and into the troposphere and landing on a platform the size of a large donut. This event is mirrored in Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) with a blast of Kirk and Sulu being propelled through space, spaceship-to-spaceship clad only in space amour. Both of those sequences are better than anything in the current Star Trek Beyond.

Perhaps that just says that Abrams has different directorial chops than Justin Lin, an indie director who changed his vision of marching to a different drum for Hollywood dreams. His last output includes a couple of Fast & Furious films and the upcoming Space Jam 2. To his credit Lin does up the ante for the warp drive point-of-view by showing the Enterprise moving through the universe in a long shot not imaginable in previous incarnations unless you saw Interstellar.

What Star Trek Beyond brings to the table is a return to the dynamics of the character interchange between Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Chekov, Uhuru and McCoy. After an abortive mission to rescue stranded Federation civilians the main cast is still alive (obviously anyone wearing a red shirt is toast) and they find themselves alive on hostile planet that just happens to have an atmosphere of oxygen. The story won’t finally end on this outcast planet yet the way we identify with the natural inhabitants makes it difficult to leave.

Spock and McCoy are stranded and alone, Uhuru becomes the alpha prisoner amongst the hostages of the hostiles, and Kirk and Chekov move between the two camps with the help of a renegade alien who lives in an invisible crashed starship. At this point you have no choice except to follow the rabbit down the hole and offer your senses to what the latest Star Trek has to offer. The banter between Spock and McCoy can be considered the best amongst the trilogy. Chekov has some action sequences with Kirk that redefine his persona. Simon Pegg who plays Scotty co-wrote the script (with Doug Jung) so it’s no wonder he gets some of the best quips.

Leonard Nimoy, who figures in heavily in the current trilogy, and Anton Yelchin (Chekov), both have passed from this mortal coil in the last year. It’s an especially hard blow seeing how much solid screen time Yelchin occupies in the latest Trek, and what a good interpreter of accents he was. Idris Elba under heavy makeup plays the main villain but he’s done much better in lesser roles.

— Michael Bergeron