By Eric J.

EVPL is proud to have Kanopy, a free, digital streaming service for libraries. Watch great movies with the click of a button, but without the monthly fee of most streaming services. The app, available to download on evpl.org, works on phones, desktops, Roku, and Amazon Firestick. As an EVPL cardholder, you will have access to 20 films per month. This feature looks at some of what Kanopy has to offer, highlighting a particular filmmaker, actor, studio, genre, or theme.

This time, the spotlight is on Taika Waititi. Since directing Thor: Ragnarok in 2017, Waititi became a household name almost overnight. In 2019 alone, he wrote and directed Jojo Rabbit, winning an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and directed and starred in the Season One finale of The Mandalorian, which earned him an Emmy nomination for his voice work as assassin turned nanny droid IG-11. 

However, Taika Waititi made films long before 2017 and these initial films, three available on Kanopy, remain some of the director’s best. The films’ tones run the gamut: at times being silly, absurd, outrageous, and hilarious, but always heartfelt and genuine.

Boy (2010)

Director: Taika Waititi

Runtime: 88 mins.

Rating: Not Rated [Some Language and Drug Use]

Boy shows the coming of age story of an eleven-year-old boy (James Rolleston), named Alamein but nicknamed “Boy,” growing up in a small Māori community in the early 1980s New Zealand. His mom passed away, he lives in a house filled with his aunt’s kids and his younger brother, Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu) who believes he has superpowers, and Boy survives this through his dual idolization of Michael Jackson on one hand and Boy and Rocky’s absentee convict father on the other. When Alamein Sr. (played by Waititi himself) returns into their lives, Boy welcomes him back with open arms and wants to be just like him, while Rocky rightfully views this turn of events with skepticism.

Taika Waititi’s second film, written before but shot after romantic comedy Eagle vs. Shark (2007), has a lot of funny, charming moments, such as Waititi dressed and dancing as Thriller-era Michael Jackson in Boy’s fantasies, but Boy is more of a drama than a comedy. Alamein Sr. does love Boy, but cannot show it without being toxic, using him for illegal activities and treating him more like a protégé than a son. In some ways, this forms the first of a loose trilogy of films about young, misguided boys, lacking one or both parental figures and filling that void by shaping their worlds around their idols, continued in Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) and Jojo Rabbit (2019). Boy remains one of the most personal, raw, and relevant films in Waititi’s filmography.

What We Do In the Shadows (2014)

Director: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi

Runtime: 85 mins.

Rating: R

What We Do in the Shadows is a mockumentary about the undead “life” of four vampires living in a small apartment in New Zealand. Vampires are like any family: Vladislav the Poker (Clement) rules the vampire clan as its patriarch while Viago (Waititi) runs the household as the group’s matriarch. Young Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), only 183-years-old, wants to rebel while the 8000-year-old, Nosferatu-looking Petyr (Ben Fransham) just wants to sleep and be left alone. Their horror movie trappings contrast with their mundane, day-to-day lives: dealing with familiars, training new recruits to vampirism, starting rivalries with other local vampires and werewolves, hanging out with a human named Stu (Stu Rutherford), and the other trivialities in the life of a vampire.

Waititi’s third film is the first he shares co-director credit, in this case with Jemaine Clement, one half of the group Flight of the Conchords, and star of Waititi’s first film, Eagle vs. Shark (2007). Although Boy had comedic elements, What We Do In the Shadows is an outright comedy. Using the style of shows like The Office, the fake documentary format allows them to both parody a lot of vampire movie tropes and take them seriously at the same time; when the vampires kill people in this movie, they still kill people. If the premise and title sound very familiar, that may be because Clement and Waititi turned the film into an acclaimed TV series for FX in 2018, sharing the same name and premise but with a new cast of vampires living in North America. Waititi, Brugh, and Clement even cameo on the show as part of a star-studded Vampire Council across all franchises.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Director: Taika Waititi

Runtime: 101 mins.

Rating: PG-13

Hunt for the Wilderpeople follows juvenile delinquent Ricky (Julian Dennison), shipped from foster home to foster home, most recently a nice older woman Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her grumpy, silent husband Hector (Sam Neill). After tragedy strikes the home, Ricky runs away into the dangerous bush: the native forests of New Zealand. Hector or “Hec” goes into the bush after him, but after breaking his leg and becoming stranded, enough time lapses for the police to look at the house and believe Hector kidnapped Ricky. A manhunt ensues, led by Ricky’s social service worker Paula (longtime Waititi collaborator, Rachel House), while Ricky and Hec, each fearing time in juvenile court or prison, go deeper into the forest to evade them.

Up to this point, Hunt for the Wilderpeople was Waititi’s biggest and most ambitious film, taking the charm and humor of Boy but upped to an epic scale and turned into an adventure story with real stakes. Dennison’s Ricky, the wannabe cool kid, is loveable, funny, and sad, always putting up a front because of his time in foster care. In a mirror to Boy’s love of Michael Jackson, Ricky’s idol is Tupac Shakur, down to naming his dog Tupac. Sam Neill, of Jurassic Park fame, gives an excellent performance as the illiterate, closed off old man who does not want to take care of Ricky but ultimately does. Rachel House, who up to this point had smaller roles in all of Waititi’s films, shines in a larger role as the closest thing the movie has to a “villain.” Although Boy was the movie that put Waititi on Kevin Feige’s radar for a third Thor film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople showed the world that Taika Waititi could effortlessly combine action, scale, humor, and heart.

Eric J.

Eric J.

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