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Friday
Jul202012

STORM SURFERS 3D

Features: Tom Carroll, Ross Clarke-Jones, Barton Lynch, Grace Carroll, Kelly Slater, Paul Morgan, Mark Mathews, Paul ‘Antman’ Paterson and Ben Matson.
Writers/Directors:  Justin McMillan and Chris Nelius.

Rating: 4/5


The psychology of its passionate subjects and the majesty and might of the great waves they live to ride are captured with clarity, in every sense of the word, in Storm Surfers 3D. Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones are growing old as gracefully as leathery waxheads can and directors Justin McMillan and Chris Nelius grasp with insight what it means to crave young man thrills with an ageing body and mind.

It is this very human side to their film that will see Storm Surfers 3D play to festival crowds and arthouse/doco audiences and not just packed surf club halls. As giddyingly involving as the sports action is (and, at times, it is positively vertigo inducing), it is the themes of mateship, ageing, fatherhood and legacy that resonate most profoundly.

Full-time big wave surfers, the more introspective Carroll and spirited wildman Clarke-Jones travel the world conquering open ocean breaks and tight, shallow reef barrels that sometimes top 30 feet and carry several tonnes worth of water pressure. Clarke-Jones seems immune to the effects of age, both physically and mentally, but Carroll is portrayed as a man facing the importance of his own mortality.

A father of three daughters, Carroll spends the first half of the film sitting out the big rides with a shoulder injury, then struggling with his confidence when the chance to get back out their presents itself. Periods of reflection and of two friends offering insight and concern for each other provide a soulful element to Storm Surfers that make it one of those sports films that transcends its action component.

It must be said, though, that the action is grandly presented. The use of crisp, top-tier 3D technology is occasionally too impressive; there were several moments when twinges of seasickness kick in. But first-person camera work that puts the viewer on the board with Carroll and Clarke-Jones is totally immersive; helicopter shots of vast banking walls of deep blue water are spectacular. The camera team’s stunning cinematography represents some of the finest applications of the technology in factual filmmaking ever seen. 

Painting a far more enchanting portrait of Australia’s surfing brotherhood than Macario De Souza’s grubby 2007 doco Bra Boys, Storm Surfers affords two surfing icons a fitting tribute by showing them as extraordinary everymen. Whatever effort it took to get the film’s images, both intimate and expansive, it plays as wonderfully naturalistic on screen. Like the great waves Carroll and Clarke-Jones tackle, the film reveals an occasionally turbulent depth to the towering image the two men project.

Saturday
Jul142012

THE THREE STOOGES

Stars: Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes, Will Sasso, Sofia Vergara, Craig Bierko, Larry David, Jane Lynch, Stephen Collins, Jennifer Hudson, Kirby Heyborne and Kate Upton.
Writers: Mike Cerrone, Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly.
Directors: Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly.

Rating: 3.5/5


There is more than enough nyuk for your buck in The Farrelly Brother’s The Three Stooges. Surely representing the furthest that Hollywood has reached back for a reboot opportunity, this energetic no-brainer is at its best when (re)capturing the slapstick violence of Larry, Moe and Curly’s golden era; it works less well when riffing on easily-lampooned pop culture references. The semi-serious biopic that this project began as (quite incredibly, to star Sean Penn, Benicia del Toro and a voluminous Jim Carrey as Curly) is still one of Hollywood’s great missed opportunities, but this re-energising of arguably film comedy’s most undervalued performers is a more than fitting tribute.                  

Multi-hyphenate siblings Peter and Bobby – kind of low-brow cinema’s answer to Joel and Ethan Coen - have never fully rediscovered the dim-witted comedic joie de vivre that enlivened their hit debut, Dumb and Dumber, a film that grows in estimation as every year passes (yes, There’s Something About Mary is a classic, but the comedy is smarter and the plotting more structured). After three regrettable duds in the form of The Perfect Catch, The Heartbreak Kid and Hall Pass, they certainly seem to have got their mojo back with The Three Stooges.

The film ambles through a straight-outta-the-‘50’s ‘save-the-orphanage’ plotline as a means by which to allow Larry (Sean Hayes), Curly (Will Sasso) and Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos) to wreak vengeance upon snotty, immoral types. They include conniving siren Lydia (Sofia Vergara), her imbecilic lover Mac (Craig Bierko, whose delivery of the word “Penguins?” gets one of the films biggest laughs) and greedy businessman, Mr Harter (Stephen Collins). Caught up in the midst of high society, the eye-poking, hair-pulling idiots are a blissfully self-ignorant force-of-nature, bringing undone back-stabbing schemes and adulterous liaisons without a single clue as to how or why.

Split into three title-carded parts (a further nod to the comedy team’s short-feature filmography), the movie aims high in both its complex staging of physical gags and its dependence upon the audience’s willingness to just go with the elevated nuttiness of it all. Not all of it entire works; the decision to make Moe a reality TV star, unleashing him upon the unsuspecting sub-human numbskulls who populate MTV’s The Jersey Shore is too hit/miss (and will date the film instantly).

A lot of it works wonderfully, however. Perfectly-pitched performances by the three new Stooges, each one given their own moments to shine, and a sweetly sentimental line in brotherly love ensures that a paper-thin plot is of no consequence at all when it comes to the laugh-to-running-time ratio. Everything in the orphanage is hilarious, which is as it should be; a nunned-up Larry David and such diverse talents as Jane Lynch, Jennifer Hudson, Brian Doyle-Murray and supermodel Kate Upton play off the Stooges’ shenanigans with obvious glee.

The Farrelly’s don’t rely on the trio for all the film’s big laughs; just typing ‘Pokher, Keester & Wintz’, the name of a proctology partnership, has reduced me to tears and the brother's final-frames appearance to warn kids off mimicking the Stooges antics is priceless. But they could have, so lovingly realized is this reworking.

Thursday
Jul052012

THE IMPOSTER

Features: Frédéric Bourdin, Carey Gibson, Beverly Dollarhide, Charlie Parker, Nancy Fisher, Bryan Gibson, Codey Gibson, Bruce Perry and Phillip French.
Writer / Director: Bart Layton.

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL Screenings - Sat 11 Aug, 9.00pm; Fri 17 Aug, 6.30pm.

Rating: 4.5/5


Bart Layton’s The Imposter begins with an incident that shatters a family and rocks a community. Thirteen year-old Texan teenager Nicholas Barclay, the epitome of the blonde-hair, blue-eyed All-American youth and all the promise that description held in the summer of 1994, disappears without a trace on his way home from a neighbourhood basketball game. Three-and-a-half years later, the family is all but resigned to the fact that they will never see Nicholas again.

Until into their lives comes a young man hailing from Spain, by the name of Frédéric Bourdin.

An artfully constructed docudrama that ranks among the very best of this hard-to-define genre, Layton’s film is a riveting account of the man who assumed a missing boys identity and managed to fool a family, a township and a federal government before it all began to unravel. The details of the deceit, however, are just the first steps on the incredible journey that the abused spirit and sad memory of Nicholas must endure.

The Imposter morphs effortlessly from scene-to-scene - a noir-ish mystery thriller, a crime-scene procedural, a drama chronicling a family’s anguish, a facts-only documentary – yet exists as a fluid single entity of profoundly impactful force. Every one of the talking heads are captured within a frame rich in detail and production prowess; behind-the-scenes contributions not usually heralded as part of the factual films, such as lighting, set design and music, are all employed with precision and subtle but unforgettable resonance.

Layton is helped immeasurably by both the geographical scale of Bourdin’s ruse (his life of crime has extended to many countries, including Australia) and by a group of subjects who each have deeply-rooted emotional ties to the case. The most compelling of them, of course, is Bourdin himself, who immediately strikes one as both a charming, erudite Frenchman and a clinical sociopath. Audience assumptions are shattered, though, when some third-act finger-pointing suggests young Nicholas’ family may have more to do with the boy’s disappearance than first thought.

The Imposter has been justifiably compared to The Thin Blue Line, master documentarian Errol Morris’ similarly-themed 1988 work that was so influential it would lead to a murder case being re-opened and an inncocent man being released from prison. The Imposter’s impact may not extend to that degree despite a final shot that offers hope that it someday might. Nevertheless, Layton’s superbly cinematic film certainly exposes one of the great acts of heartless fraudulence in modern history and the egos, emotions and procedures that combined to let it be so.

Wednesday
Jul042012

THOSE WHO KILL: SHADOWS OF THE PAST

Stars: Laura Bach, Jakob Cedergren, Simon Kvamm, Lars Mikkelsen, Lars Ranthe, Lærke Winther and Frederik Meldal Nørgaard.
Writers: Morten Dragsted and Siv Rajendram Eliassen.
Director: Birger Larsen

REVELATIONS FILM FESTIVAL Screenings – Sun July 8, 3.30pm; Sun July 14, 2.30pm.

Rating: 3.5/5


A polished, workmanlike police procedural that pulls off familiar tropes with clarity and tense momentum, Those Who Kill: Shadows of the Past is enlivened by its contemporary Copenhagen setting, above-par genre acting and frank gore.

The occasional narrative diversion from the well-trodden path most often taken by serial killer thrillers is enough to give this big-screen airing of one of Denmark’s most popular small-screen properties a focus that mostly compels to the inevitable showdown, which is executed with aplomb.

After a horribly riveting opening sequence aboard a bus, the film settles into a steady stream of clichés that are played very broadly; one gets the feeling that the entire first act is an overplayed set-up that the director Birger Larsen, a veteran of the TV series, is more than eager to subvert.

Thomas (Jakob Cedergren) is a divisional psychiatrist easing through his last couple of days with the force before a new job in the safer world of psychology academia. It is a pay upgrade that ensures his beautiful wife Mia (Lærke Winther) and son Johan (Benjamin Brüel von Klitzing) can buy that dream house (see what I mean about clichés….?). His partner is Katrine (the striking and strong Laura Bach), a hardbitten cop despite her young age who can’t believe her partner would leave ‘the life’.

After some perfunctory forensic work - the speedy, simple kind often associated with frivolous hour-long ‘CSI’-type shows - it emerges that the bus massacre was the work of Kristian Almen (a truly menacing Simon Kvamm), an ex-patient of Thomas’ not long out of incarceration. The film follows a well-worn path up to this point but soon discrepancies appear in the plotting that spin the film in unexpected directions. And not a moment too soon, frankly; an hour in and my attention was wavering, but the third act is a corker.

Filled with the kind of cop-shop banter and action brio most often associated with mid-range Hollywood programmers, Those Who Kill: Shadows of the Past finds a freshness that comes from its international cast and continental flavours, rather than anything aesthetically or structurally ground-breaking. Perhaps best recalling David Fincher’s Se7en or, more recently, Jonas Åkerlund’s Dennis Quaid starrer Horseman in its willingness to wallow in some supremely visceral physical horror undercut with themes of regret and painful redemption, Larsen’s film doesn’t reach high enough to carry any importance but nor does it fall short of its ambitions to be a solidly dark-natured mystery-thriller.

Wednesday
Jul042012

BUFF

Features: David Stratton, Margaret Pomeranz, Richard Sowada, Jack Sargeant, Peter Rowsthorne, Alan Stiles, Simon Miraudo, Mark Naglazas, Anita Krsnik, Madeline Bates, Jimmy Jack, Stephen Sunderland, Danielle Marsland and Rob Denham.
Writers/Directors: Gavin Bond and Ian Abercromby

REVELATIONS FILM FESTIVAL Screening – Sun July 15, 9.15pm.

Rating: 3/5


A sweet if inconsequential celebration of what educated film types love most about movies, watching Buff is like joining a table of film nerds at a pub and trying to keep up. Which most true ‘buffs’ will do effortlessly, of course; there’s nothing particularly revelatory about anything anyone says, except perhaps exhibition legend Alan Stiles admission that his guilty pleasure is the Troma Studio's 1987 schlock Z-grader, Surf Nazis Must Die. Didn’t see that one coming!

The collated talking heads are all respected voices from most arenas in the world of cinema. They include festival directors (including Revelations own Richard Sowada and Jack Sargeant), new-Gen online critics, actors, scholars and, of course, the ubiquitous ‘David and Margaret’.

Their contributions are in the form of rather straightforward answers to the sort of questions anyone might ask should they be seated next to them at a dinner party – What’s your favourite film? What’s your favourite scene? What’s your least favourite movie? What’s your favourite line? Responses don’t surprise for the most part, but watching the joy with which these commited cinephiles speak about their passion is endearing. (The one exception may be Sargeant, who will put Generation X’ers offside with his hateful dissing of the collected works of the great John Hughes. What the hell!?!)

Directors Gavin Bond and Ian Abercromby (who get Screen-Space onside from the opening scenes, in which they wax lyrical about a personal fave, The Pope of Greenwich Village) were part of the creative team behind the rough-around-the-edges public-access film show Flicktease for close to decade. Their spirited japery, combined with their own buff-ness, is part of the film’s charm (ageing fans will enjoy seeing some footage of the Teaser team in their prime). Less successful are the part-recitations/part-improvised skits that actors Sam Longley and Damon Lockwood perform to provide bridging moments between the natter. Perhaps they exist in lieu of the production’s inability to afford copyright fees on scene clips, though Buff is peppered with movie moments, so that can’t be entirely true.

Given not all contributors are instantly recognisable and some have a less than compelling onscreen presence, Buff feels a little stretched even at 62 minutes. With no particularly stringent point to be made, the ‘I love this!/I hate this!’ to-and-fro wears thin. That said, it is still a joy to get an insight into the generational influence that films have had, to hear that films as diverse as El Cid and Working Girl had the same profound impact on the hearts and minds of those of us sharing a lifelong love affair with the movies. As love stories go, it is one to which many of us can relate.

Monday
Jul022012

WONDER WOMEN! THE UNTOLD STORY OF AMERICAN SUPERHEROINES

Features: Lynda Carter, Lindsay Wagner, Gloria Steinem, Jane Espenson, Kathleen Hanna, Mike Madrid, Andy Mangels, Shelby Knox and Katie Pineda.
Writer/Director: Kristy Guevara-Flanagan

REVELATIONS FILM FESTIVAL Screening – Thur July 12, 7.15pm; Sun July 15, 7.30pm

Rating: 4/5

 

Though no one will feel short-changed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s enriching, inspiring doco Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines, there is a lingering regret that the whole thing is wrapped in a tight 62 minutes. Not because I felt that there was more to be said; more that I didn’t want it to end.

The film’s main aim is to highlight the crucial role that superheroine characters have played in pop culture, with specific reference to the supporting and forwarding of women’s issues. Taking as its focus the development and representation of artist William Moulton Marston’s iconic amazon princess, Diana of Themyscira, aka Wonder Woman, since her creation 70 years ago, the film also warmly recalls the impact of such favourites as The Bionic Woman, Charlies Angels, Sarah Connor, Ellen Ripley, Buffy Summers, Dana Scully and Thelma and Louise.

The film fascinates on this level, chronicling how panel-pages (and, subsequently, the big and small screens) have reflected the prevailing mood towards women. Created at the height of the 1940’s war effort, when women were keeping the home fires burning in non-traditional roles, Wonder Woman was a fierce, independent figure; by the 1950’s, with the men back home and the ladies pushed into domestic servitude, Wonder Woman became a weaker figure. It was not until the emergence of the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s did she regain her strength and take on symbolic pertinence.

Guevara-Flanagan’s collection of scholars, pop-artists and empowerment advocates (notably the always quotable Gloria Steinem) give fascinating insight, their accounts peppered with personal recollections and humour. Accompanying the talking heads are a geek’s dream collection of historical comic-book covers, scene clips and convention floor opinions.

But the most profound achievement of Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines is captured in the scenes of the young girls and working class mums who look to the superheroines to establish values and overcome hardships. If it was the production’s intention to finally kill-off any non-believers who still consider the fantasy genre a worthless artform peopled by slackers dodging a real life, it is a goal achieved. The deeply human role our mythical figures continue to fulfil in our society, on many levels, is honoured triumphantly.

Monday
Jul022012

THE CARETAKER

Stars: Lee Mason, Mark White, Colin MacPherson, Anna Burgess, Kerri-Anne Baker and Clint Dowdell.
Writer / Director: Tom Conyers

REVELATIONS FILM FESTIVAL Screening - Sat July 14, 11.10pm.

Rating: 2/5


Clearly inspired by the small-town setting and big genre vision of The Spierig Brothers’ 2003 surprise horror hit Undead, Tom Conyers’ bloodsucker-uprising flick The Caretaker looses sight of the inherent sense of fun that made that dusty Ozploitation shocker such a hoot. Instead, we get a pretty dour bunch of unlikable stereotypes trapped in an overwrought melodrama with lofty ambitions it never attains.

There is little wrong with the film from a production perspective, despite what is clearly a low-budget labour of love for the Melbourne-based filmmaker (he also EP’s and edits his debut feature). Images captured by cinematographer Matt Wood are crisp and often inventively framed; flavoursome set design, especially a sequence shot in a creepy cellar that doubles as a vamp lair, exhibits quality artistry. Gorehounds, despite having seen it all before, may still find merit in some of the more graphic stagings of vampire action.

Conceptually, the premise has merit. The group of misfits in a remote rural enclave taking a stand against an evil uprising is an old one (Romero’s Night of the Living Dead being the most obvious in this case), but of more interest is the device that posits a vampire-warrior type (a commanding Mark White) as their protector in a dark alliance that threatens to collapse as the pressure to survive mounts. Subplots, though, are meagre; the final reel twist, unconvincing and confusing.

The film’s greatest liability is the pretentious ambitions of the script, especially in a first act that sets in motion an underlying anger towards women that permeates the film. We meet anti-hero Ron (Lee Mason) as he delivers an impassioned, bitter diatribe (to a pub full of blokey best mates) against the unfairness of the modern divorce laws; the words exude an all-too-convincing mean-spiritedness (the speech recalls Tom Cruise’s pro-male empowerment rant in Magnolia).

Additionally, the sole female protagonist in the film, Annie (Anna Kate Burgess), is a snide princess who early on chides her loving partner, Guy (Clint Dowdell) despite his best efforts at romance. Her character’s devolution from a selfish shrew into a simpering victim does neither Burgess nor the film’s credibility any favours. Noteworthy also is that the film’s nastiest vampire baddies are almost exclusively women.

Conyers exhibits some deft touches with his lensing and pacing only to be undermined by his bloated and bitter script. One senses his time will come under a stronger producer’s guiding influence, working with a more seasoned and disciplined writer’s screenplay.

Friday
Jun292012

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN

Stars: Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Nick Frost, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone, Sam Claflin and Eddie Marsan.
Writers: Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini.
Director: Rupert Sanders

Rating: 3.5/5

An expansive retelling of the Brothers Grimm classic, Snow White and The Huntsman takes its most impactful beats from such post-modern literary adaptations as 1998s The Man in the Iron Mask and Peter Jackson’s …Rings trilogy, as well as vivid fantasy imaginings such as Willow and Ladyhawke. That it doesn’t really nail a flavour all its own is ok; it mimics the best bits of other movies so well, there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had even if none of it substantially resonates.

There are incongruities that should sink first-time director Rupert Sanders’ big, ballsy mash-up of feminine generational conflict and throne-room treachery. Kristen Stewart is both too old to convince as a virginal vision of purity and too small to be an armour-clad leader of misfit revolutionaries, but she makes it work; there’s a lean mid-section to the film that belies its meagre fairy tale origins, but the padding-out of these scenes is expertly done; and, as the evil witch-queen Raveena, who yearns to consume the essence of her fairer foe, Charlize Theron chews the scenery like a termite plague – and is all the more awesome for it.

An opening sequence that steeps the film in ruthless royal intrigue and murderous betrayal sets the tone for a narrative that may prove a little too dark for the wee ones who were enchanted by Disney’s “hi-ho-ing” animated take. A stepmother usurping the kingdom of a monarch she murders and imprisoning his princess, rightful heiress to the land, then existing in youthful perpetuity by sucking the rich soulfulness of her subjects certainly makes for a compelling set-up. But parents, beware; under 10’s will spend more of the 125 minute running time averting their eyes than you may have expected.

As a blossoming Snow White, It-girl Stewart affords us glimpses of the compelling screen actress she is destined to become. Her strong presence and china-doll bone-structure recalling a young Nicole Kidman, she exudes a teary innocence in the film’s early stages before transforming into a warrior princess. One can’t dismiss her mousiness – she is definitely not physically right for the role – but it is impossible not to be compassionate for her plight, so engaging is her star power. As The Huntsman, Chris Hemsworth confidently continues his ascension to stardom, his brawniness recalling a young, in-his-prime Nick Nolte.

Tech credits, especially the work of the visual effects team, are superlative. The morphing of full-size actors such as Ray Winstone, Bob Hoskins, Eddie Marsan, Nick Frost and Toby Jones into a feisty band of dwarves is seamless; an extended sequence set in a fantastical netherworld, whilst thin on plotting, is a sight to behold. Grandly-staged battle sequences that lead to the film’s denouement are suitably exciting.

Tuesday
Jun262012

DESPITE THE GODS

Writer/Director: Penny Jovniak

Rating: 4/5


A tightly wound American film director thrust into the Eastern cultural maelstrom that is modern India sounds like a wacky comedy borne out of a Studio City pitch-meeting. But Penny Jovniak’s Despite The Gods is most definitely not a comedy; in fact, it’s a daunting character study of an artist racked by her own insecurities, instabilities and inabilities.

That the artist is the enigmatic Jennifer Lynch only adds fuel to the fiery personal and professional circumstances chronicled in Jovniak’s compelling work. On location in India in 2008 to film Nagin the Female Snake Goddess, the already controversial story of the overtly sexual mythical temptress, the abrasive, passionate Lynch clashes with…well, everybody in trying to get her modern horror/musical/pro-feminine vision to the screen.

As a study of a collaborative and expensive work of art spiralling out of control, Despite the Gods is as good an account of miscalculated filmmaking ambitions as Hearts of Darkness, Man of La Mancha and Full Tilt Boogie. Lynch, still best remembered in Hollywood for the debacle that would become Boxing Helena, pertinently draws comparisons between this, her third film (after the largely-unseen Surveillance), and the troubled production that was her father David’s mental undoing, Dune. Scenes in which she expresses deep-seated fears that her mind is headed down the same path as her fathers, whose breakdown she witnessed as a young girl, are very moving.

Yet the film attains its most profoundly insightful moments when it relates to Lynch single-parent status and the role her then 12 year-old daughter Sydney must play on location in India. ‘Syd’ is often called upon to act as her mother’s emotional crutch, whilst also struggling with the often cruelly sexist local attitudes. Jovniak (who developed the project while employed as Syd’s nanny) captures a complex, at times sadly lopsided dynamic between mother and daughter, the access to intimate moments and trust established with her subjects obvious.

Despite the Gods may be construed as a pro-feminist essay; Indian actress Mallika Sherawat emerges as the film’s strongest personality, defying traditional expectation both in the physically revealing role she plays and via the manner with which she deals with disrespectful crew members (notably producer Govind Menon). One of the many hurdles Lynch, Syd and, presumably, Jovniak strive to overcome is the general attitude towards a female being in charge.

But this wonderful film is about a great deal more. Lynch is a uniquely talented individual whose art both flourishes under and exponentially adds to her neuroses. Like Boxing Helena, the journey of her film (now retitled Hisss) to the big-screen is a far more entertaining story than the film itself. Here, the art serves as a starting point in the artist’s real journey and Jovniak captures that rocky road with a compassionate yet unflinching gaze.

Monday
Jun252012

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED

Stars: Audrey Plaza, Jake M Johnson, Mark Duplass, Karan Soni, Jenica Bergere, Mary Lynn
Rajskub, Kristen Bell and Jeff Garlin.
Writer: Derek Connolly.
Director: Colin Trevorrow.

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL Screenings - Fri 3 Aug, 9.00pm; Tue 14 Aug, 9.00pm.

Rating: 4.5/5


For all its cool, young key-demo sassiness and nimble use of the ‘snarky aside’ to get laughs, Colin Trevorrow’s Safety Not Guaranteed is a ultimately a big sooky dose of optimistic sentiment. The superbly-balanced tone of this sweet and sour outsider-romance is the real star of the San Francisco native’s feature debut, though breakout turns by on-the-cusp players Audrey Plaza and Jake M Johnson add to the film’s warm and wondrous sense of discovery.

The buzz began when Derek Connolly’s script picked up the prestigious Waldo Salt screenwriting prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It is a written work rich in character detail but one which allows the protagonists to develop at a measured rate; there are no grandly histrionic scenes or manufactured false notes, merely four witty, kind-of-sad somebodies whose lives intersect at a pivotal juncture in their personal growth.

It is the story of Kenneth (a sublime Mark Duplass), a small town supermarket clerk who places a classified ad seeking a partner to accompany him on a time-travel experiment. A Seattle tabloid sees it as a quirky human interest piece and dispatches cynical Jeff (Johnson) and two interns, Darius (Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni), to beef up the copy by providing some insight into the oddball’s back-story. Darius goes undercover, but soon becomes enamoured with Kenneth, whose nutty theories have also drawn the interest of some dark-suited G-men, the ironically-named Smith and Jones (Tony Doupe and Xola Malik, respectively).

Sci-fi buffs will derive immense enjoyment from the outward manifestations of Kenneth’s inner voice, writ large in easy-to-comprehend detail. Trevorrow has been open about his love of Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future, the epitome of comedy/drama/fantasy for a generation of filmgoers. Safety Not Guaranteed’s edgier moments of cynicism wouldn’t have played so charmingly back in 1985, but comparisons between the two films in terms of audience empathy and emotional involvement are spot-on. (When the film closed the recent Sydney Film Festival, the packed audience at the city’s grand State Theatre positively erupted with joy at the film’s final scenes).

The metaphors at work in Connolly’s script are no less endearing for being a little too obvious. Johnson’s Jeff travels to the backwoods township with small, narrow ambitions based on his past, whilst Duplass’ Kenneth seeks happiness by embracing the grand opportunities inherent to his vision. Fulfilment comes with self-belief and an assured sense of direction, back or forward. Trevorrow and his cast make this simple message particularly special; by yearning to travel across vast dimensions, they have captured the modern film narrative’s most elusive yet important one – depth.