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Sunday
Apr082018

ERRATUM 2037

Stars: Elie Benoît, Timothe Beugnet, Alex Lanz-Ketcham, Mariano Vicente and Emilien Benoît.
Writers/directors: Elie Benoît, Johann Benoît and Emilien Benoît.

Screening April 8 at L’Aquarium Cine-Cafe as part of the ‘SF Made in France’ strand of Les Intergalactiques Festival de Science-Fiction; Lyon, France.

Rating: 3.5/5

If ever doubt mounts as to how influential 1980s American cinema has been, one need only watch Erratum 2037, a wonderfully inventive French time-travel/conspiracy theory headscratcher utterly riddled with reverential film references. This staples-and-sticky-tape labour-of-love has been conjured by the Benoit brothers - Eli, Johann and Emilien – who were themselves only future concepts when their clear inspiration, Back to The Future established its own timelessness under Messrs Spielberg and Zemeckis.

The DNA of that classic comedy courses through every frame of Erratum 2037, but so too does that of Wargames, The X-Files, Looper, Sleeper and The Terminator. That the three frères français should craft such a consummate homage while also finding their own storytelling pulse suggests the trio may be destined for a broader canvas and bigger budgets.

A briskly unfolding prologue sets a dark tone, when a police operation to investigate lights in the night sky melds with a mother’s concern about her missing boy. Post-opening credits, we travel back in time, briefly, to meet our heroes Leo (Elie Benoit, the youngest of the co-directors) and Antoine (Timothe Beugnet) as they riff on the how cool the vehicular mayhem is in the latest Grand Theft Auto gameplay. The irony is lost on them when they are run off the road by a speeding van; the only upside of the near-miss a device, the BC-180, that falls from the truck.

The boys fire up the machine, to no immediate affect; Leo observes, “It’s a car stereo,” which it clearly is, but ‘in for a penny…’ at this point. Later that night, however, Leo’s room pulsates to a Spielberg-ian light show (recalling Gary Cuffey’s bedroom encounter in Close Encounters of The Third Kind). This opening sequence is so rich in Back to The Future references as to almost be distracting. Phil Garbutt’s original music echoes Alan Silvestri’s 1985 masterwork; Antoine notes the BC-180 needs ‘2.21 gigawatts’, an exact gigawatt more than that required by Doc Brown’s flux-capacitor.

Leo awakens in an alternate future-world, a hunted man for the role he unwittingly plays in the rebellion against enigmatic villain Emeric Boldenberg (Emilien Benoît). Our hero becomes a passive observer in the second act, unlike Michael J Fox, whose stardom was assured thanks to the charm he brought to the middle section of BTTF. Leo falls in with surviving agents of the resistance Pedro (Mariano Vicente) and Binglinger (Alex Lanz-Ketcham) when not in the clutches of Boldenberg’s buffoonish foot soldiers. The plot convolutes in that now typical ‘time-travel paradox’ manner that is too layered (and, occasionally, confusing) to detail here, suffice to say the filmmakers generally stay one step ahead of their own plotting, even when it threatens to careen out of control.

The Benoit brothers were teenagers when they filmed Erratum 2037, and it is sometimes distractingly obvious. Teenage boys don’t know how girls talk, so there are no woman characters of note (save for a last reel surprise); their otherwise innocuous adventure occasionally indulges in some icky violence, which must have been fun to stage but does not enhance the narrative.

Where their film soars is as a passionate fanboy’s nod to the influences of their formative years. A terrific floating-car sequence looks like a school project but is so skillfully assembled, plays like similar moments in The Fifth Element, Star Wars: Episode II-Attack of The Clones and, of course, Back to The Future II; Boldenberg’s headquarters clearly resembles Tyrell’s office tower in Blade Runner; there’s even a Star Wars ‘wipe cut’, for goodness sake!

On a backyard budget and with friends and family filling out the cast and crew, the brother’s intuitive skill marks them as natural born filmmakers. Perhaps more importantly, they embrace the historical context of the films that inspired them and enhance the genre with their own love of the artform.

Friday
Mar302018

THE RUN

Featuring: Pat Farmer, Katie Walsh, Kevin Nguyen, Dr Joseph Grace, Tania Farmer and Josh Cordoba.
Co-producer: Deepti Sachdeva.
Consultant producer: Penny Robbins.
Writer/director: Anupam Sharma.

WORLD PREMIERE: Screening April 1 at Cineworld, Newcastle upon Tyne, U.K., as part of the 2018 Newcastle International Film Festival.

Rating: 4/5

If it had been director Anupam Sharma’s intention to merely document the physical challenge of running 80 kilometres a day in stifling heat over 2 months, the resulting film would have been it’s own remarkable story of endurance and determination. The Run, his account of Australian long-distance athlete Pat Farmer’s 4647 kilometre journey from Kanyakumari in India’s south to the northern town of Srinagar, proves to be more than a triumphant tale of mind-over-muscle sporting achievement; Sharma has crafted a fascinating and moving study in group dynamics, shared goals and, most importantly, the unifying goodness of the human spirit.

Farmer has shown repeatedly to be a salt-of-the-Earth individual; a quintessentially ‘old school’ Aussie bloke whose enormous heart allows him to empathise with the disadvantaged of the world, then undertake ultra-marathons in aid of their causes. He became front page news for his record-breaking Centenary of Federation run in 1999, when he spent 191 days traversing 15,000 kilometres of his homeland; other undertakings include running Pole-to-Pole to benefit the The Red Cross and long-distance challenges for causes in the Middle East and Vietnam.

The Run production team was present from the earliest days of his latest project, capturing the initial mobilisation of bureaucrats in both India and Australia. Farmer and his team needed to ensure that the undertaking, to be called The Spirit of India, was fully supported as an act of international charity; the 56 year-old would run for The Nanhi Kali Foundation, a group who seeks to further the education of disadvantaged young women across India.

Having earned his industry stripes as head of the Sydney-based production company Temple and fresh off his directing debut UNindian (2015), Sharma proves himself a naturally gifted long-form documentarian (his 2013 doco-short Indian Aussies Terms and Conditions Apply earned international acclaim). Embedding himself within the event team, his skilful camerawork captures the majestic countryside and frantic city streets of India, while his deft storytelling reveals the determined individuals and intertwining personalities that drive the initiative forward.

Despite an outwardly understated demeanour and singular focus, Farmer himself proves a deceptively complex presence; nothing will deter him from his aim of highlighting the cause and imparting his message, yet he tolerates no slip-up or half-heartedness from his crew. Sharma is certainly on board with his leading man’s charitable objectives, but The Run is not an exercise in hero building; the physical and mental torment of the endeavour and how that manifests in Farmer and on those around him is central to the film’s integrity.

Strong-willed team manager Katie Walsh and medic Joseph Grace, both warm on-screen presences, butt heads with their boss when logistics or health issues threaten to derail Farmer’s schedule. Most dramatically effective is rookie photo-journo Kevin Nguyen, whose fresh-out-of-Uni naivety is tested to the limit by the sub-Continent experience and who feels the full force of Farmer’s most impassioned, occasionally uncivilised tirades (though Nguyen gives as good as he gets in one ‘enough-is-enough’ confrontational moment).

The tense moments are all part of the intricacies that made Farmer’s Spirit of India undertaking such an extraordinary social event; a coming-together of like-minded goodwill ambassadors to realise a remarkable act of resolute human determination achieves its goal. In so truthfully capturing moment after moment of the uplifting bond between the beautiful people and places of India and the soaring spirit of Pat Farmer, The Run forgoes the observational disconnect of most factual films and becomes one with the profound journey itself.

Friday
Mar232018

I CAN ONLY IMAGINE

Stars: J. Michael Finley, Madeline Carroll, Trace Adkins, Priscilla Shirer, Cloris Leachman, Nicole DuPort and Dennis Quaid.
Writers: Jon Erwin, Brent McCorkle
Directors: Jon and Andrew Erwin

Rating: 3/5

I Can Only Imagine is the celebration of the creation of a song that celebrates The Creator. The backstory to how the debut single of faith-pop outfit Mercy Me became the biggest selling Christian chart topper in music history spins the same homespun country-music values and heartland religious earnestness as the anthemic ballad; in that regard, it preaches to the masses of wildly enthusiastic disciples, who cite the song’s soaring lyrics as spiritually enriching and life affirming.

Of its kind, I Can Only Imagine is a step-above recent faith-based films, partly due to slicker production values but also through the addition of some serious acting credibility in the form of Dennis Quaid. Opposite J Michael Finley, making his film debut as singer/songwriter Bart Millard, Quaid does some heavy lifting to give their scenes together the required depth. As Millard’s troubled father, the ageing heartthrob actor gets to run the gamut from abusive monster to bastion of Divine-led recovery, giving a performance that allows for glowering and yelling and door-slamming, before some A-talent tear-duct thesping. As has been the case for much of Quaid’s career, the charismatic star is immeasurably better than much of the material.

Leading man Finley is a prince in the world of musical theatre, having wowed in the Broadway productions of Les Miserables and Sweeney Todd but, tonal command aside, the actor feels frustratingly miscast as good ol’ boy Millard. Picture the high-low vocal register of a young Mandy Patinkin emanating from a flannel-clad dustbowl-bred Patton Oswalt, and you get some idea of the jarring aural and visual mismatch that the casting presents. The decision to also have the actor portray the character as far back as his high school years backfires badly (one support player yells at Millard to shave the beard, truthfully observing, “You look 35!”)

Directed assuredly by brothers Jon and Andrew Erwin, Millard’s resolutely vanilla-tinged journey from little-boy-with-dreams to anonymous-band-frontman to recording-industry-superstar is bathed in the warm glow of His guiding influence and touch of His loving hand (quite often literally, when moments of reflection or inspiration are shot in beams of descending light). The audience needs no reminding (but is afforded it nonetheless) that God constantly oversees Millard’s journey, whether in the form long-suffering Christian soul mate Shannon, played by grown-up child-star Madeline Carroll (Santa Clause 3; Swing Vote; Mr Popper’s Penguins), the world’s sweetest and most tolerant band manager Brickell (a fine Trace Adkins) or the Mercy Me band members, who seem pretty chill while waiting out Millard’s occasional petulance and tightly-focussed ambition.

It is all pure hagiography, as one must expect from a musical biopic overseen by the very musicians it depicts; co-scripted by Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle, the narrative rarely lets the actual chronology of events get in the way of bolstering its own mythology. That said, I Can Only Imagine certainly captures the exaltation shared by the song’s legion of followers, and knowing one’s audience is always a blessing. The casting of remarkable lookalike Nicole Du Port as faith-based C&W angel Amy Grant reaffirms the productions’ understanding of and appreciation for Mercy Me’s fanbase.

Though it will never be championed as an insightful work of either religious art or patriarchal psychology, I Can Only Imagine does manage to be a good film about a great song. As expected from frame 1, Finley/Millard navigates a fully humanising redemptive round-trip by the end of Act 3, perfectly timed for the rousing cinematic treatment that the song thoroughly deserves (which was, I must confess, the first time I had heard it).

Thursday
Mar152018

THAT'S NOT MY DOG

Stars: Shane Jacobson, Paul Hogan, Jimeoin, Steve Vizard, Michala Banas, Fiona O’Loughlin, Tim Ferguson, Lehmo, Ed Kavalee, Paul Fenech, Marty Fields, Rob Carlton, Christie Whelan Browne, Stephen Hall, Dave Eastgate, Genevieve Morris, Bev Killick, Emily Taheny, Khaled Khalafalla, Hung Le, Ron Jacobson, Bec Asha, Ross Daniels, Lulu McClatchy, Spud Murphy, John Foreman, Stewart Faichney and Nathaniel Lloyd.
Director: Dean Murphy

Rating 3/5

Director Dean Murphy manages to wring a surprising amount of cinematic flair out of That’s Not My Dog, a film that consists almost entirely of comedians telling each other jokes at a night time BBQ in regional Victoria. Cutting with precision, giving the punchlines room to breath and interspersing the bursts of laughter with well-shot live music, Murphy and star/producer Shane Jacobson largely capture the ambience of such an intrinsically Australian event.

Jacobson concocted the night as a tribute to his ageing dad Ron, who has mentored his son in the art of joke-telling his entire life. The film eases up on the comedy just long enough for a sentimental Jacobson to tell his dad that the night is to allow the elderly crack-up a break from providing the giggles; all these chucklemeisters are attending in his honour.

And that’s what happens; from a naff opening that suggests all the comedians carpooled to the Jacobson’s rural plot, That’s Not My Dog settles into 88 minutes of material that veers from blokishly blue (the one about the frog that gives oral sex; the one about four nuns at the pearly gates) to performance piece (Michala Banas’ very funny ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’s One Night Stand’ routine) to traditional pub yarntelling (Paul Hogan’s evergreen ‘Harbourview Hotel Millionaire’ gag).

That’s Not My Dog (the title taken from a payoff to an old gag made famous in The Pink Panther Strikes Again, but oddly not featured here) wavers in hilarity, as you’d expect; some jokes are familiar, some just not funny, some winningly so. Some natural talents shine (Rob Carlton; Stephen Hall; Fiona O’Loughlin; Jacobson’s Snr and Jnr, of course), while others are mirthful passengers (Paul Fenech; Ed Kavalee; Steve Vizard). Musical contributions by such greats as The Black Sorrows, Russell Morris and Adam Brand give the laugh muscles much needed rest at crucial intervals.

Stand-up comics are notorious for not always laughing at other comic’s jokes (by their very nature, they always want to have the last laugh), but Jacobson’s mates genuinely seem to be having a good time with each other. Murphy convincingly captures the celebratory high spirits of the night and the sweet intentions of his leading man.

Tuesday
Mar062018

DEATH WISH

Stars: Bruce Willis, Dean Norris, Vincent D’Onfrio, Elisabeth Shue, Kimberly Elise, Camila Morrone, Beau Knapp and Len Cariou.
Writer: Joe Carnahan; based on the novel by Brian Garfield.
Director: Eli Roth

Rating: 3/5

There is no escaping the urge to dismiss, even deride, Eli Roth’s remake of Michael Winner’s 1974 sequel-friendly Death Wish as an ugly by-product of the new President’s America. Filled with scenes one desperately hopes are ironic but probably aren’t (giggly, buxom salesgirls espouse the pure joy of AR weaponry; Mexican valets rape college-bound white girls; African-American hoods deal drugs via neighbourhood kids), this update threatens to play as archaically redundant as its source material. In the new United States of Fear and Intolerance, however, Roth's alpha male-privilege fantasy may tap the emboldened 'alt-right' audience.

Bald and angry white-guy Bruce Willis effectively channels the rigid, one-note screen presence of Charles Bronson as vigilante Paul Kersey, the well-to-do middle class professional who comes to accept that lone-wolf justice is better than anything the cops or courts can offer. When Dean Norris’ bald and angry white-guy detective offers only excuses regarding the investigation into the murder of his wife (Elisabeth Shue) and brutal assault of his daughter (Camila Morrone), Willis arms up and hits Chicago’s seedy, nighttime locales to reek his own brand of heart-over-head vengeance.

Willis’ casting is crucial, not because he does anything remarkable with the character – Kersey is a meat-&-potato American ‘suburban dad’, offering Willis little scope – but because Roth’s coldly calculated if simple-minded thriller exists in a 80s action-movie world totally tone-deaf in today's climate. Our anti-hero is so of another time, he can’t text (despite overseeing a modern hospital’s emergency room) and the narrative relies on some ridiculous developments only the most undemanding Blockbuster customer would have ever fallen for (e.g., Kersey procures his first gun when it falls from a shooting victim in the ER, in plain view of several clearly blind hospital staff and long after ambulance medics have stripped down the victim). Little is made of Dr Versey’s relationship with his Hippocratic Oath, one of many missed opportunities in the formulaically constructed script by macho screenwriter Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces, 2007; The A-Team, 2010; The Grey, 2012).

There are modern concessions that the 2018 production affords itself – Kersey becomes a viral online sensation, dubbed ‘The Grim Reaper’ when his first slaying is uploaded. But Roth falls back on another relic of times gone by, the talk-back radio shock jock, to act like a Greek chorus arguing (not very convincingly) the moral complexities of should-he-or-shouldn’t-he vigilantism. DOP Rogier Stoffers  (School of Rock, 2003; Mongol, 2007; The Disappointments Room, 2016) also recalls the bygone beauty of Winner’s film stock ambience, capturing the deep, dark shadows of a city at night in his lensing.

To your left-leaning critic, the politics of Death Wish are reprehensible. Roth has never displayed too much sensitivity or intellect, so it is unlikely he took on a revenge narrative as a means by which to encourage discussion; in his film, a bad guy with a big gun will be stopped by a decent guy with a bigger gun, one of many NRA bumper-sticker sentiments that seem to have inspired the plot. To die-hard advocates of Trump’s singular vision to return his nation to ultra-conservative white-man rule, however, it will play as if John McClane, one of cinema’s greatest American heroes, was always on their side.

Nevertheless, Eli Roth’s Death Wish is arguably his best work since…whenever; a slick, sick and admittedly watchable throwback to a brand of un-PC action/thriller when the unjustifiable yet, to some, understandable actions of a gun-toting, grief-stricken everyman, his heroic roots in classic Western films, still seemed pure movie fantasy. With ugly male privilege and toxicity in the spotlight, Willis and his director faced an uphill battle to make their lead character anything less than reprehensible; if that’s their only achievement, it’s a significant if questionable one.

Friday
Feb232018

CARRIBERRIE

With: Bangarra Dance Theatre, Dubay Dancers, The Lonely Boys, Anangu, Joey Ngamjmirra, Mayi Wunba, Naygayiw Gigi Dance Troupe and Hans Ahwang. Narrated by David Gulpilil.
Writer: Tara June Winch.
Director: Dominic Allen.

Reviewed at the World Premiere, held at The Australian Museum in Sydney on Thursday February 23.

Rating: 5/5

Indigenous tradition dating back millennia melds with the future of fully immersive filmmaking technology in the breathtaking virtual reality mini-feature, Carriberrie. A faithful extension of the art and craft of the spiritual dance narratives it captures, this glorious film premieres at The Australian Museum as an integral part of WEAVE, a month-long festival celebrating First Nation and Pacific cultures.

Deriving its title from the word ‘corroboree’ as spoken by the Eora nation, the traditional owners of the land upon which the city of Sydney now stands, the 15-minute 3D/360° rendering of First Nation dance and music represents a deeply humanistic focussing of the VR lens. Director Dominic Allen has employed the Jaunt ONE camera (a custom-built VR rig offering unprecedented image quality) to capture not only the majestic Australian landscape from Uluru to The Torres Strait Islands to The Harbour City, but also the unique complexities and beautiful artistry of native storytelling in song.

A white Australian of Irish ancestry, Allen spent two years working with indigenous elders such as senior Kimberley Walmajarri woman Annette Kogolo and Marilyn Miller, Director of the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival and former Bangarra choreographer, to ensure authenticity and respect was afforded all the performers in the film. Several of the sequences, including the funeral performance “Kun-borrk Karrbarda” from the Northern Territory and a Kuku-Yalanji ceremony called “Mayi Wunba” that depicts the cultivation of Queensland rainforest honey, have rarely been glimpsed by the wider Australian population.

Contemporary First Nation culture is also represented, with contributions from the acclaimed work “Bennelong”, courtesy of the internationally renowned Bangarra dance company, and the anthemic rock song “The Hunter” from Lonely Boys, a six-piece band hailing from the Arnhem Land community of Ngukurr. A picturesque highlight is the all-women Dubay Dancers, of the Arakwal people from the stunning Byron Bay region of New South Wales, who dance a re-enactment of the seaside collection of yuggari (pippi) and jalum (fish).

Allen unites indigenous musical culture and the nations from which they hail with drone footage that frames the vast yet singular bond they share with the land, from deep within the red of the Outback to the green of the hinterland to the blue of coast. In and of itself much of this resembles high quality travelogue footage, to date one of standard uses of VR technology. In cohesion with the symbolic stories, however, the footage stirs with profundity.

The director’s other triumphant artistic flourish is his use of the 360° device, allowing the viewer to be at the centre of the dance rituals within the very environment from which they traditionally emerged. The sense of discovery one experiences with every turn of the head, with musicians in full flight and choirs in boisterous song often over one’s shoulder, will be revelatory to those new to the virtual reality viewing realm.

With Carriberrie, Dominic Allen, writer Tara June Winch and the production team have defined a new direction for the VR format – an affecting journey rich in ancient cultural significance, every bit as soaring as the viewing experience itself. It is a remarkable work.

CARRIBERRIE screens at The Australian Museum, Sydney, from March 2-27. Other states and venues to follow. Ticket and session times can be found at the venue's official website.

Sunday
Feb182018

THE BBQ

Stars: Shane Jacobson, Magda Szubanski, Manu Feildel, Julia Zemiro, Frederic Simpson, Lara Robinson, John Stanton and Nicholas Hammond.
Writers: Stephen Amis, Serge De Nardo, Tim Ferguson, David Richardson and Angelo Salamanca.
Director: Stephen Amis

Rating: 3/5

Determined to bulk-up the DNA of their home grown comedy with as much Ocker iconography as possible, star Shane Jacobson and a team of five (!) writers tie the legacy of Captain James Cook to modern day suburbia by way of the titular outdoor oven in The BBQ.  Director Stephen Amis’ broad farce lands a few gentle barbs at modern Australian society but this likably silly romp, a sort of celebration of ‘Dad Joke’ humour, feels most at ease when it’s just having a bit of a laugh.

At times recalling both the good-guy sweetness and naïve befuddlement of the great John Candy, Jacobson plays suburban every-man Darren ‘Dazza’ Cook, a husband-and-dad who puts great stock in a lineage that he believes dates back to the first Englishman to land on these shores. From the deck of a backyard HMS Endeavour built to honour his ancestor, Dazza holds sway at a weekly neighbourhood BBQ, a tradition that goes horribly wrong when dodgy prawns lay waste to his guests, none more so than father-in-law bully Herb (John Stanton).

In real world terms, such an incident would be a minor moment in a suburb’s unremarkable history, yet in Amis’ brightly-hued version of reality it ups the stakes of the redemptive narrative when Dazza is humiliated on national television. With his reputation in tatters, the weight of his bloodline proving burdensome and tension in his marriage to the very tolerant Diane (a terrific Julia Zemiro; pictured below, with Jacobson, left, and co-stars Frederik Simpson and Lara Robinson), Dazza employs the mentorship of fiery Scottish maestro-of-the-meat ‘The Butcher’ (Magda Szubanski; pictured top, with Jacobson) to win an internationally flavoured BBQ showdown and regain his status, self-dignity and patriarchal perch.

Stephen Amis’ last film, the 2012 wartime fantasy The 25th Reich, gave no indication of the naturally buoyant comedic touch he exhibits in steering a plot that takes some unashamedly daft turns. The BBQ never reaches the heights of suburban comedy slickness set by standard-bearer The Castle, but nor does it have that film’s slightly too acerbic take on our working class. The family at the centre of The Castle, The Kerrigans, were often the target of the script’s humour; Amis and Jacobson don’t judge their character’s middle-class idiosyncracies (a degree of respect also employed by the actor in his biggest hit, 2006’s Kenny), giving the film a tender warmth and sentimentality that helps smooth over some eye-rolling plot developments.  

The BBQ will play a bit too fast and loose with old-school racial caricatures for some, including but not limited to the cartoonishly arrogant French chef Andre Mont Blanc (TV celebrity cook Manu Fieldel), eccentric Indian neighbour Mr Chatterjee (Bashir Ally), Mr Miyagi-like Oriental shaman Mr Yoshimura (Kuni Hashimoto) and pompous Brit butler/butcher’s aide, Carver (Nicholas Hammond, channelling John Gielgud’s Oscar-winning performance as Hobson from 1981’s Arthur). But each rise to their own moment of triumph in a manner that respects them as individuals and not (or not just) broad stereotypes.

Others may rankle at the steady stream of real-world product placement deals done by the producers (the prominence of outdoor cooking retailer Barbeques Galore and Jacobson's and Fieldel's small-screen employer The Seven Network must have surely come close to paying for principal photography on the modest production), but one can't begrudge the sector finding funding wherever it can in this current climate.

If there is not a single surprising frame of film in The BBQ, it does not make the journey to its feel-good finale any less enjoyable. Our great backyard chefs can turn a charred chop into a culinary feast; with The BBQ, Amis and Jacobson turn a similarly unpromising premise into something just as warmly familiar and satisfying.

Thursday
Feb082018

THE 15:17 TO PARIS

Cast: Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer, William Jennings, Bryce Gheisar, Paul-Mikel Williams, Thomas Lennon, P.J. Byrne and Tony Hale.
Writer: Dorothy Blyskal, based on the book by Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone and Jeffrey E. Stern.
Director: Clint Eastwood

Rating: 2/5

An instinctual act of remarkable heroism is afforded the least remarkable effort of director Clint Eastwood’s long career in The 15:17 to Paris. The overpowering of a heavily armed would-be killer on a European train by three square-of-jaw, broad-of-shoulder all-American types should have been bread-and-butter to the director of American Sniper and Sully, but Eastwood can’t overcome the inherent problem that everyday Joes like split-second heroes Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler don’t necessarily have cinematic back-stories.

The production employs some good ol’ Hollywood stunt casting, having the three adult bros play themselves (the event aboard the Amsterdam-to-Paris Nord Thalys train took place in 2015, so their maturing posed no problem). The main focus of the narrative is the slightly more reflective Stone, the one who led the charge against would-be mass murderer Ayoub El-Khazzani, before Skarlatos and Sadler leapt in and beat the gunman into unconscious submission. None of the three have a natural screen presence and struggle awkwardly with first-time scriptwriter Dorothy Blyskal’s clunky dialogue; one senses a few scenes were improvised, which means a lots of “Dude, this is awesome!” and “Man, this is crazy!” dialogue.

Eastwood introduces Stone and Skarlatos as buddies growing up in Midwest homes steeped in Christian values, sharing an obsession with war and gunplay. Such a boys-own fixation isn’t so unusual, even when it extends to wearing matching camouflage duds to school. What is unusual is the poster for Full Metal Jacket on Stone’s wall; any dark irony that a pre-teen kid should heroically idolize Stanley Kubrick’s military horror show is lost on Eastwood. In what amounts to a directorial mission statement, some woodland war games conclude with young Stone overstating, “There’s something about war that forms a brotherhood.” Like never before, Eastwood feels justified in wearing his capital-R right wing ‘God, Gun and Country’ director’s cap to tell this story (which probably explains the muted, mid-February release here in Australia).

Skarlatos (who looks like a puffed-up version of Eastwood’s son, Scott, minus the on-screen charisma) and Stone enter into middling military careers. Stone’s trajectory amounts to one get fit montage, some hand-to-hand combat training and inevitable run-ins with his superiors. Sadler disappears off to college until some downtime brings them all back together for the fateful backpacking adventure in Europe, portrayed as a travelogue-style continental romp that takes up all the second act of The 15:17 to Paris. Scenes of the lads checking out scenery in Rome, drinking beer in Venice and nightclubbing in Amsterdam amount to nothing more than that; in one extended sequence, we watch Stone, Sadler and a girl they befriend discuss, decide upon and buy gelato.

The only interesting moment of this mid-section occurs when a nerdy, bespectacled tour guide chastises the group when they try correct him on the site and circumstance of Hitler’s death; when the guide barks, “You Americans are not the only ones who are able to overcome evil,” Stone and Sadler smirk and shrug off the observation with what plays worryingly like snide American arrogance. 

In an otherwise mirthless film, there is some humour in the casting of the support players, with a line-up of familiar funny faces that resembles less a Clint Eastwood ensemble and more a network TV comedy roster. Tony Hale (Veep) and Thomas Lennon (Reno 911) play uppity educators, with Jenna Fischer (The Office) and Judy Greer as the boy’s moms (the perennial bff is asked to pull off perhaps the new years’ worst line of dialogue, “My Lord is bigger than your statistics”). The actresses do all they can with stock parts in a film that affords no actress any worthwhile moments; Eastwood ‘s camera leers at the bodies of Italian and Dutch backpackers and partygoers with the eye of a dirty old-man cut loose in a Euro-disco.

The staging of the takedown aboard the train is, as expected, riveting, thrilling and terrifying. The film’s one-note thematic structure suggests that the boy’s stop-start journeys into manhood, bolstered by Christian values, will find worthiness in a single act of selfless courage. In that regard, Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris gets its retelling of boring, meandering lives leading to one impactful, fleeting moment exactly right. For 95 minutes, it’s a plodding, directionless grind that sparks into meaning for about 180 extraordinary seconds.

 

Tuesday
Jan302018

THE CANNIBAL CLUB

Stars: Ana Luiza Rios, Tavinho Teixera, Ze Maria, Pedro Domingues, Rodrigo Capistrano and Galba Noguera.
Writer/Director: Guto Parente.

Reviewed at Pathé 4 Cinema, Sunday January 28 as part of the Rotterdämmerung section at the 2018 International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR)

Rating: 4/5

A South American genre film about cannibalism lands world cinema’s sharpest counter punch to wealthy global privilege in auteur Guto Parente’s seventh and arguably best feature, The Cannibal Club. Set against the golden sun and sparkling sand of the gated-community and private-beach life of upscale Brazil, the prolific 34 year-old filmmaker envisions a modern but no less decadent and disturbed version of Caligula’s court, with added people-eating.

Parente takes aim at the culture of the grotesquely well-off, one that affords them the luxury of having the poor to exploit. In the case of Otavio (Tavinho Teixera) and his young trophy wife Gilda (Ana Luiza Rios), this extends to the hiring, slaughtering and devouring of servants who come to their coastal mansion in the hope of steady work. In a frankly remarkable opening salvo of images both sexually frank and gruesomely detailed, the stereotypical ‘pool boy’ flirts with a willing Gilda, only to be disposed of mid-coitus by Otavio, fileted and served as the evening meal.

When Gilda witnesses the most influential flesh-eater of them all, cold-blooded capitalist/nationalist powerbroker Borges (Pedro Domingues) in a particularly compromising situation, she and Otavio soon find that their cocktail-sipping peers will willingly turn against their own kind to protect their lofty, self-entitled secret status. Parente’s rich are not the endowment-to-the-arts kind of charity patrons that western media often venerates; the wealthy of Brazil are lecherous, murderous pack animals who turn on the compromised, fearful that any weakness threatens their existence.

When not indulging in his own pleasures of the flesh, Otavio partakes of some ‘men’s only’ business as part of the titular soirée, who gather to witness acts that reinforce just how prevalent and heartless the exploitation of the poor underclass has truly become. Parente’s other prime target is the innately pathetic nature of rich society’s Alpha Male, who posture and rankle but mostly shrivel and cower when the patriarchy is threatened. In Ana Luiza Rios’ fearless performance as Gilda, the director identifies the feminine archetype that must navigate the duality of their existence; at once, feigning compliance to fragile male egos while always charting their own destiny, however bloodstained and immoral it may be.    

The Cannibal Club courses with a savagely scornful humour; if few moments prove laugh-out-loud hilarious (the general mood is too unrelentingly tense and often unpleasant for mirthful outbursts), Parente has nevertheless crafted a sly, stylish skewering of affluent disconnect. If the rich feeding wilfully off the working class is not exactly a unique notion, the theme has rarely been handled with such dark-hearted gleeful menace or strident intellect.

       

Thursday
Jan252018

HAVE YOU SEEN THE LISTERS?

Featuring: Anthony Lister, Anika Lister, Kye Lister, Lola Lister and Polly Lister.
Director: Eddie Martin.

Screened at Cinerama 3, on Monday January 29 as part of the 2018 International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR)

Rating: 4/5

In artist Anthony Lister, filmmaker Eddie Martin finds another profoundly talented but deeply troubled genius to bolster his rogue’s gallery of fascinating documentary subjects. Compiled from twelve terabytes of the artist’s own personal archives, Martin crafts an often buoyant, occasionally bleak but always vivid portrait of the magnificent creativity and heartbreaking personal detours that have shaped Lister’s young life.

A Brisbane lad who connected with his innate talent and unique artistry at an early age, Lister is etched as a young man both blessed by and burdened with a psychology borne out of his suburban roots. His upbringing in a divorced household meant a strong father figure was not present, the ramifications of which resonate through the thematic core of Martin’s film. He is quickly on that well-charted course of many young rebellious types – a fearless pursuit of identity, the grasping of a creative destiny yet to be clearly defined but craved above all else. And, of course, a life of shared living, lots of booze and occasional and increasingly prevalent drug use.

Lister’s life with apparent soul mate Anika seems to be one of spiritual and emotional connectivity, but his ‘self-obsessed, self-destructive artist’ persona becomes all-consuming. Martin’s punchy, pulsating version of the couple’s time together - from Brissy teen sweethearts, to NYC bohemians, to struggling parents in inner city Sydney – makes for bold and brilliant documentary construction (aided immeasurably by the consummate skill of cutter Johanna Scott).

In his highly-acclaimed past works, Martin has respectfully peeled away the street tough, rebellious genius image of such enigmatic talents as graffitist Justin Hughes (Jisoe, 2005); pugilist Lionel Rose (Lionel, 2008) and skateboarding brothers Tas and Ben Pappas (All This Mayhem, 2014). The insight he affords the troubled, driven inner workings of his working class heroes, and the dexterity with which he formulates their on-screen lives, is a rare commodity amongst the current factual filmmaking community.

In telling this tale, a narrative about a young man’s unforgiving and demanding talent and its impact upon the journey into fatherhood, Have You Seen The Listers? demands Martin, a remarkably skillful and empathetic storyteller, now be considered amongst the finest filmmakers working in Australia.

Read The SCREEN-SPACE Interview with Have You Seen The Listers? director Eddie Martin here.