Search
3D 5th Wave 70s Culture 80s Cinema A Night of Horror AAustralian film Action Activism Adaptation Adelaide Film Festival Adventure Advocacy African American Age of Adaline AI albanian Alien Abduction alien covenant aliens Alpha alt-right altzheimers amazon Amitabh Bachchan Animal Animation anime anthology Anti-vaxx Ari Gold Art Asia Pacific Screen Awards Asian Cinema Australian film AV Industry Avengers Bad Robot BDSM Beach Boys Berlinale BFG Bianca Biasi Big Hero 6 Biography Biopic Blade Runner Blake Lively B-Movies Bollywood Breast Cancer Brian Wilson Brisbane Bruce Willis Camille Keenan Canadian Cancer candyman Cannes cannibalism Cannon Films Cesars CGI Chapman To Character Actors Charlie Hunnam Charlize Theron Chemsex China Lion Chinese Chloe Grace Moretz Chris Hemsworth Chris Pratt Christchurch christian cinema christmas Christopher Nolan Classic Cinema Clint Eastwood Close Encounters Cloverfield Comedy Coming-of-Age Conor McGregor Conspiracy Controversy Crowd-sourced Cult Cure Dakota Johnson Dance Academy Dardennes Brothers darth vader Debut Deepika Padukone Depression Disaster Movies Disney Diversity Documentary doomsday Dr Moreau drama Dunkirk Dustin Clare Dystopic EL James eli roth Elizabeth Banks Entourage Environmental Epic Erotic Cinema Extra-terrestrial Extreme Sports faith-based Family Film Fantasy Father Daughter Feminism Fifty Shades of Grey Film Film Festival Foreign found footage French Cinema Friendship Fusion Technology Gareth Edwards Gay Cinema Ghostbusters Ghosts Golan Globus Gothic Graphic Novel green inferno Guardians of the Galaxy Guillermo del Toro Gun Control Hacker Hailee Steinfeld Han Solo Happiness Harrison Ford Harry Dean Stanton Hasbro Haunted house Hhorror Himalaya Hitchcock Hollywood
Sunday
Dec032017

THE COMET KIDS

Stars: Xavier West, Juliette Salom, Paris Hay, Liam Pope, Harrison Bradley, Hamish Triggs, Tiriel Mora, Marty Rhone and Reg Gorman.
Writer: Bethia Triggs and Glenn Triggs.
Director: Glenn Triggs.

Rating: 3.5/5

Drawing upon a film education forged from a decade when adventure, imagination and the teen demographic ruled the box office, Glenn Triggs has conjured a rousing family adventure in The Comet Kids. While the under-15s squeal with delight at the escapades of their bigscreen alter egos, parents can bask in some nostalgic warmth recalling the films of the 1980s that have lovingly inspired the prolific young director’s fourth feature.

A nursing home visit kick-starts the recollections of old man Lucas (Aussie acting great, Reg Gorman), who ponders a defining moment from his small town Americana upbringing. Young Lucas (a very fine Xavier West) is enamoured with his astronomer dad (Tiriel Mora), who has stumbled upon a previously unknown comet that hits earth not far from their sleepy burg. When ill health tragically claims his dad, Lucas finds himself in a fight with his father’s opportunistic offsider Cliff (70s pop heartthrob, Marty Rhone) to stake a claim for the space rock’s discovery and ownership.

This means ‘cross-country adventure’ for Lucas and his very ragtag group of misfits chums, amongst them schlubby action-man Guns (Liam Pope), nerdy would-be magician Tricks (Harrison Bradley), tech wizard Inertia (Paris Hay), sweet new girl in town Claudia (Juliette Salom) and junk-yard dog turned soft-touch, Archie (the family dog Hamish, one of several of the Triggs clan to help out on the production). Narrative momentum occasionally takes a back seat to shenanigans (a public pool set piece, featuring a butter-drinking lifeguard; at least three nail-biting escapes from the bad guys), but young audiences caught up in the moment won’t mind immediate thrills over plot pacing.

The big three influences are clearly Richard Donner’s The Goonies (1985), Joe Dante’s Explorers (1985) and Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me (1986), with an over-arching adherence to sentimentality that is pure Spielberg. Triggs references the great director’s works even in the most throwaway moments; when ‘Old Lucas’ is left waiting for his family at the nursing home front door, one recalls a similar moment befalling Bill Quinn in ‘Kick the Can’, Spielberg’s segment of 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie.

If audiences get a whiff that this type of thickly-rendered homage is not from the filmmaker’s heart, resentment can fester. But Triggs goes all out to honour his filmic inspirations, exhibiting his own strengths as a storyteller and filmmaker while still embracing the legacy left by great 80s family cinema. With a committed cast and tech-savvy crew (DOP’s Bernard Winter’s widescreen camerawork is lovely; the production design team convincingly recall the period setting), The Comet Kids proves an entirely winning, wonderfully engaging throwback to the grand-scale PG-rated romp.

Read the 2012 SCREEN-SPACE Interview with Glenn Triggs here.

Wednesday
Nov292017

THE SEEN AND UNSEEN

Stars: Ni Kadek Thaly Titi Kasih, Ida Bagus Putu Radithya Mahijasena, Ayu Laksmi, I Ketut Rina, Happy Salma and Gusti Ayu Raka.
Writer/Director: Kamila Andini

WINNER: Best Youth Feature Film, 2017 Asia Pacific Screen Awards.

Rating: 4.5/5

The slow dissolution through mortality of the physical bond that twins share only serves to strengthen the spiritual and emotional resonance of their union in Kamila Andini’s quietly devastating The Seen and Unseen. Drawing upon Balinese lore that embraces an existential duality called Sekala Niskala, the Indonesian writer-director crafts a profoundly moving narrative that recalls Niki Caro’s Whale Rider in its depiction of innocence, tradition and destiny colliding.

A natural progression of the themes of youthful sadness and the strength needed to cope that she explored in The Mirror Never Lies (2011), Andini’s second feature glides between a family’s real-world heartbreak and one sibling’s soaring fantasy world. Tantri (Ni Kadek Thaly Titi Kasih) and her brother Tantra (Ida Bagus Putu Radithya Mahijasena) live a life of perfect harmony in rural Bali, until Tantra wanders away from his sister and the living world one day; the boy has a brain tumour and slips into a coma, his days now spent prone and silent on a hospital bed.

Tantri’s life is now half the existence she has ever known, yet she refuses to deny herself or her brother the richness of their shared imagination. The young woman defies the trauma of a fading soul mate by engaging with her brother’s still-buoyant spirit; the pair indulges in traditional costume dancing, shadow theatre puppetry and rice planting, the daily activities that once brought them so much joy. Andini seamlessly melds the real and conjured worlds, often employing long takes and stationary camera set-ups that demand the young actors fill the frame with an entrancing connection between both themselves and the audience.

Western critics have been quick to place the ‘magic realism’ label on The Seen and Unseen, which perhaps diminishes how intricate a connection to the physical and supernatural world the people of Indonesia view their existence. Little difference is implied between, for example, the sadness of a parent’s hospital vigil and the joy of an imagined costume dance, during which the twins leap about the ward with abandon. This connection is no more stirringly exemplified than in the ‘moon dance’ sequence; Andini and her DOP Anggi Frisca frame an early evening full moon, a bamboo tower and a soulful dancer to create what may be the most beautiful series of wordless images in cinema this year.

Though never called upon to over-emote or deliver lengthy dialogue passages, Ni Kadek Thaly Titi Kasih is heartbreaking as Tantri, her slightest movement or glance enough to provide insight into and inspire the deepest of emotions. Her free-spirited scenes in the fantasy realm with Mahijasena, also remarkable, are a wonder to watch.

Instantly worthy of inclusion in the annals of classic children cinema, Kamila Andini has woven a major work of fantasy that courses with a rare humanism. The Seen and Unseen is steeped in eastern philosophy and tradition but universal in its conveying of defining moments, both shattering and joyful, in this life and the next. 

Tuesday
Nov212017

LANDFALL

Stars: Kristen Condon, Rob Stanfield, Daryl Heath, Andy Bramble, Bailey Stevenson, Shawn Brack, Tony Bonner, Anthony Ring and Vernon Wells.
Writer/Director: Travis Bain

WORLD PREMIERE: Monster Fest, Sunday November 26 at 12.30pm at Melbourne’s Lido Cinema.

Rating: 3.5/5

Pitching all the elements at just the right serious/comic tone to pull off a tongue-in-cheek thriller like Landfall is a tough ask; too much either way, neither works satisfactorily. So all credit to multi-hyphenate Travis Bain, who gives it a damn good shake in his slyly funny, convincingly twisty exercise in narrative acrobatics and Tarantino-esque pop culture riffing.

Set against the same F.N.Q./tropical cyclone backdrop as his debut Scratched (2005), the director introduces young couple Maisie (Kristen Condon) and Dylan (Rob Stanfield) in a beachfront home with time running out. Just as they decide to head for higher ground, an ambulance, its lights darkened, pulls into the driveway. Imposing themselves on the young couple are three unsavoury types, decked in paramedic garb – the badly injured Ringo (Bailey Stevenson), a gravelly-voiced George (Andy Bramble) and the weapons-wielding leader, Paul (the imposing Daryl Heath).

The group dynamic is skilfully constructed, with barely a breath taken before all the elements are in place – the details of the crime committed, the McGuffin in the corner of the room, the backstory that binds the diverse group together. Bain does not allow the premise’s occasionally creaky credibility to sneak into his story until well into the second act, when burly cop Wexler (Vernon Wells) becomes entangled in the increasingly convoluted intrigue. The extent to which Bain's script explores all possible avenues for his characters and their motivations becomes a tad exhausting, though ultimately answers all the questions he poses.

But the young director has more on his mind than uncoiling genre machinations. A film-buff’s pedigree begins to reveal itself, notably in a terrifically funny piece of dialogue between Paul and Wexler, in which the criminal riffs on his favourite movies. Heath’s thuggish brute offers up (in this critics opinion) a long overdue takedown of The Shawshank Redemption (1994), which Bain then recalls in the film’s final moments; the biggest laugh comes when Paul drops one particular fave, allowing Wells a priceless few frames of film to respond.

Spinning his violent home invasion thriller off into QT territory is a bold move; some viewers and critics may be less forgiving of the dogleg tonal turn. However, what Bain does achieve with an especially assured touch is a knowingness that lifts it out of its ‘competent B-thriller’ confines and ups its value as genre homage.

On those terms, Landfall unexpectedly plays like a mash-up of two undervalued Nicholas Cage pics – the goofy three-crims-on-the-run comedy Trapped in Paradise (1994), and the actors’ own twisty kidnapping thriller, Trespass (2011), opposite Nicole Kidman. The film is also under the spell of Cape Fear (1991), Reservoir Dogs (1992) and The Ref (1994), to name just a few.

The other benefit brought from accepting Bain’s pitch-black comedy stylings is that several performances sharpen from broad caricature into cutting satire; best amongst them are the terrific Heath, Condon’s counter-intuitive damsel-in-distress and young Stevenson, as the firebrand Ringo. Further confirmation of the pic’s cheekiness are the cameo turns from Shawn Brack and Australian acting legend Tony Bonner as mates, ‘Trev’ and ‘Kev’.

 

Saturday
Nov182017

TARNATION

Stars: Daisy Masterman, Emma-Louise Wilson, Danae Swinburne, Blake Waldron, Jasy Holt, Joshua Diaz, Sean McIntyre, Sarah Howett and Mitchell Brotz.
Writer/Director: Daniel Armstrong.

WORLD PREMIERE: Monster Fest, Friday November 24 at 9.30pm at Melbourne's Lido Cinema. 

Rating: 3.5/5

It is easy to imagine Sam Raimi giggling with gleeful pride should he ever stumble across Daniel Armstrong’s Tarnation. Stretching a meagre budget and pushing a game cast are two of Armstrong’s great strengths as a director; another is clearly a love for the works of Michigan’s favourite filmmaking son, whose Evil Dead epics are paid the type of knowing homage only a true fan could conjure.

The unselfconsciously preposterous plot centres on wannabe singer-songwriter Oscar, played by the endearing Daisy Masterman with the same spirited abandon that Bruce Campbell displayed 36 years ago. We meet Oscar as she gets marched from her singing gig by her band’s manager (Sean McIntyre), a creepy golf-enthusiast who recommends she get some R&R at his log cabin just outside of the township of Tarnation. With BFF Rain (Danae Swinburne) and two ill-fated beau-hunks along for the ride, they are barely through the door when the spirits that possesses the property start playing up.

With its veranda awning and Tardis-like interiors, the cabin is a masterfully recreated version of Raimi’s Evil Dead cottage, and Armstrong uses every corner of the set to offer shout-outs to his favourite genre works. Like-minded fans will have a blast spotting references to such cult pics as Friday the 13th, Night of The Creeps and Basket Case. The prolific young filmmaker is not above trumpeting his own contributions to DIY-horror, with posters for his past films From Parts Unknown (2015), Murder Drome (2013) and Sheborg Massacre (2016) pinned to the wall.

While it is clear that Armstrong has little regard (or budget) for elements such as logic or continuity, the on-screen energy that he skilfully crafts puts him in the same league as contemporaries Kiah Roache-Turner (Wyrmwood: Road of The Dead, 2014) and Christopher Sun (Charlie’s Farm, 2014; Boar, 2017) and Ozploitation greats like Brian Trenchard-Smith (Turkey Shoot, 1982; Dead End Drive-In, 1986). His nighttime sequences achieve more with one source light and a fog machine than most would with twice the resources, while his old-school practical effects (including a possessed and rotting kangaroo whose design recalls the goat-monster from…that’s right, Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell) are top tier.

As with any independent filmmaker worth their weight, Armstrong calls in favours to realise his project. Oscar’s band is played by soundtrack contributors The Mercy Kills, who have utilised Armstrong’s vision in the past for their film clips; Tarnation reunites the director with the star of Sheborg Massacre and From Parts Unknown, actress/stuntwoman Emma-Louise Wilson, who brings some well-timed and tasteless laughs as the wheelchair-bound ‘Wheels’.

Saturday
Nov182017

KING COHEN: THE WILD WORLD OF FILMMAKER LARRY COHEN

Featuring: Larry Cohen, Mick Garris, Joe Dante, John Landis, Fred Williamson, David J Schow, Eric Roberts, Michael Moriarty, Traci Lords, Barbara Carrera, Laurene Landon, Yaphet Kotto, Nathaniel Thompson, Paul Kurta, Rick Baker, J.J. Abrams and Martin Scorsese.
Writer/Director: Steve Mitchell.

SYDNEY PREMIERE: Screening Saturday, September 15 at the SYDNEY UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL.

Rating: 4/5

Hagiographic as hell and fiercely proud of it, Steve Mitchell’s wildly entertaining bio-doc King Cohen hurtles through the life of showman director Larry Cohen with a rat-a-tat urgency and ‘get the shot and move on’ attitude. If it was Mitchell’s intent to mirror the work ethic, rough-hewn edges and on-set energy of Cohen’s great, ‘guerilla-style’ B-epics of the 70s, such as Black Caesar, God Told Me To and Q The Winged Serpent, he nails it.

An introduction by J.J. Abrams recalls that defining LA-moment when he met Cohen at an LA bus-stop, an encounter that the ageing director recalled 30 years later when the young Hollywood prince lunched with the old-school industry icon. Cohen proves a mensch, a naturally kind and accommodating type all too rare in the industry, while also being a results-driven multi-hyphenate pro, able to read and respond to both the artists with whom he creates and the audience he seeks.

After some upbeat retro opening credits, Mitchell (still best known as the writer of the 1986 home-vid schlockbuster, Chopping Mall) calls upon peers, academics and, most refreshingly, The Man himself to reflect. With no inherently artistic family members (save for a banjo-playing grandfather), it was up to the young Cohen to forge a career in storytelling, a path that began with an obsessive passion for the picture palaces of New York City. There is room for turgid sentimentality in this type of rose-coloured recollecting, but Mitchell and Cohen bounce through the childhood years buoyantly, exhibiting little melancholic regret or unfulfilled yearnings.

From his role in the ‘golden days’ of television to the decision to direct after watching so many of his scripts ruined by hacks, Cohen is portrayed as an inventive filmmaker of unparalleled integrity. That quality remains intact even when his powers of recollection are questioned, albeit light heartedly, by the likes of actor Fred Williamson, the star of Cohen’s 70’s blockbusters Black Caesar and Hell Up in Harlem, and Michael Moriarty, his 80s muse in cult films Q The Winged Serpent and The Stuff. (Pictured, above; Cohen, right, directing Eric Roberts and Megan Gallagher in 1990's The Ambulance)

Most endearing is the closeness Cohen shares with the cinematic greats of his childhood, both professionally and personally. Director Samuel Fuller, comedian Red Buttons and, somewhat less warmly, an ageing Bette Davis have been central to Cohen’s remarkable career and feature in some of the most charming and insightful passages of Mitchell’s film. Enduring respect is a key thematic component of Mitchell’s account of Cohen’s life; first wife and producing partner Janelle Webb and current spouse Cynthia Costas-Cohen both wax lyrical about their man.

The modern-day Larry Cohen hawks his memorabilia at fan cons, his self-deprecating drollness helping him cope with the industry today. Mitchell doesn’t skimp on that footage, instead allowing the 80 year-old director’s indomitable spirit and quick wit to guide us through his twilight years (he still writes feverishly, in long hand). He is not accepting the industry’s lifetime accolades he so richly deserves, but nor is he seeking them. Larry loves the industry and yet, barring the adoration offered by hardcore fans and like-minded cinephiles such as Joe Dante, John Landis, Mick Garris and Martin Scorses, gets little love in return. Steve Mitchell’s King Cohen does a great deal to redress that imbalance.

Read the Screen-Space feature THE BEST OF LARRY COHEN here.
Read Screen-Space editor Simon Foster's interview with Larry Cohen here (courtesy of SBS Movies)

Monday
Nov062017

ARRHYTHMIA

Stars: Alexander Yatsenko, Irina Gorbacheva.
Writers: Boris Khlebnikov and Natalia Meshchaninova
Director: Boris Khlebnikov

WINNER: The SCREEN-SPACE Award for Best New Russian Film; Russian Resurrection Film Festival, Sydney, Australia. Announced at the Closing Night ceremony, November 5, 2017.

Rating: 4/5

The increasingly tenuous emotional bond a married couple share achieves a simple yet profound universality in Boris Khlebnikov’s Arrhythmia. With a pair of achingly endearing lead performers to guide the narrative through the rocky relationship terrain, the Russian writer/director has crafted a sweet, sad, deceptively affecting drama that captures two young, professional Muscovites living in a cramp apartment yet drifting a world apart.

Oleg (Alexander Yatsenko) is an EMT paramedic; Katya (Irina Gorbacheva), a young doctor pulling long shifts well into the night. Their marriage has grown functional, the couple still attending family gatherings and being available to share transport, but communication and connection are strained. Oleg numbs himself to their disconnect through booze; Katya, however, is more attuned to their troubles and seeks a divorce (via text, at her father’s birthday party after Oleg acts the boorish lush).

Yatsenko won Best Actor honours at the 2017 Karlovy Vary Film Festival for a performance that challenges leading man conventions, defying audience sympathy yet forging an understanding that goes some way to explaining why Katya would tolerate his understated yet often loathsome manner. Despite the central arc being Oleg’s, Gorbacheva delivers the film’s most emotionally resonant performance; the actress’ doleful expression and admirable yet potentially self-destructive empathy for her troubled husband is heartbreaking, yet never plays as weak. Her mid-traffic jam meltdown, a terrific piece of screen acting, is a lump-in-the-throat sequence; her free-spirited kitchen dance to a favourite pop song from her teen years, perfectly pitched.

With co-scripter Natalia Meshchaninova, Khlebnikov (Roads to Koktobel, 2003; A Long and Happy Life, 2013) deftly handles a subplot that addresses his nation’s crumbling healthcare industry. Oleg’s professional life is taking on new pressures as the ambulance sector is forced into cost cutting and reporting measures, drawing him into direct conflict with his superiors. In addition to highlighting the sad state of Russian health care, scenes of Oleg defying protocol to save lives help to broaden audience understanding of the character. Katya’s workplace stresses are not afforded the same focus, although the realities of her job are plainly evident in her sleep schedule and complete lack of social distractions.

Arrhythmia does not dwell in the deep, dark realm of social-realism that, rightly or wrongly, is often synonymous with Russian cinema. Khlebnikov brings a modern European sensibility to his storytelling that recalls the intimacy of The Dardennes Brothers and the works of Romanian New Wave auteurs such as Cristian Mungiu (notably, 2005’s The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu). It is a beautiful, infuriating, entirely human study of flawed, floundering lives intertwined to the point of being inseparable; for Oleg and Katya, that is both a wildly romantic and sadly final place for young lives to exist.

Sunday
Nov052017

THE MARSHES

Stars: Dafna Kronental, Sam Delich, Mathew Cooper, Zac Drayson, Amanda McGregor and Eddie Baroo
Writer/Director: Roger Scott.

Reviewed ahead of the Australian Premiere at the 2017 A Night of Horror Film Festival; December 1, 2017.

Rating: 4/5

The jolly swagman of Australian folklore is not so jovial in Roger Scott’s swampy psycho-thriller, The Marshes. A nasty piece of work in which the spirit of the bushman traveller escalates his penchant for opportunistic crime from sheep stealing to stalking and stabbing, Scott’s twisty deconstruction of slasher pic tropes is as good a calling-card pic as we’ve seen from a young Aussie genre filmmaker since Damien Power’s similarly sinister Killing Ground in 2016.

The Marshes adheres to a well-trodden ‘big smoke-vs-hillbilly’ opening act, as in when eco-warrior academic Dr Pria Anan (Dafna Kronental) has some fightin’ words at a last-stop gas station with brawny pig-hunter Zac Drayson. With her offsiders Will (Sam Delich) and Ben (Matthew Cooper), she forges ahead with her research field-trip deep into remote marshlands, only to have her days filled with further pig-hunter angst and her nights disrupted by a nightmarish presence haunting her campsite.

Scott’s storytelling skills kick into high gear in Act 2, when the threat turns out to be more than a cranky shooter and the landscape of the marsh reveals otherworldly secrets dating back to wild colonial days. With the aid of some skilful lensing from DOP Giovanni Lorusso, who switches from lush, sun-dappled widescreen location work to tight, terrifying close-ups, Scott amps up the menace and revs up the gore at expertly timed intervals.

Audiences will be challenged at times to go with the film’s divergent path into the slightly surreal. Some narrative ‘dog legs’ recall the occasionally head-scratching developments in the TV hit Lost, yet the cut-and-slice thrills of classic Friday the 13th/Texas Chainsaw Massacre-type entertainment remain ever present throughout the pic’s second-half.   

Traditionalists who view the larrikin swaggie of ‘Waltzing Matilda’-fame as some kind of Aussie hero are going to be rattled by Scott’s version of the iconic figure, brought to hulking, horrifying life by big-man actor Eddie Baroo and kitted out in period-authentic swag-and-drizabone attire by costumer Maria Papandrea. As Pria, the terrific Kronental (channelling Sigourney Weaver, circa ’79, in both looks and intensity at key moments) offers a striking and powerful version of the ‘final girl’/horror heroine.

The Marshes is technically top tier, with Jessica Mustacio’s cutting of the intense handheld camerawork a standout, Nigel Christensen’s sound design crucial to The Swagman’s ominous presence and Tristan Coelho’s atmospheric score adding immeasurably to the tension. Despite the cultural origins central to the story and some broad colloquial language, the authentic locations (which look to have made for an arduous shoot) are not typically synonymous with the Down Under setting and should help sales agents spruik The Marshes as a deserved global marketplace player.

 

Thursday
Nov022017

THREE SUMMERS

Stars: Robert Sheehan, Rebecca Breeds, Michael Caton, Magda Szubanski, Deborah Mailman, John Waters, Kelton Pell, Peter Rowsthorn, Kate Box, Nichola Balestri and Jacqueline McKenzie.
Writer/Director: Ben Elton

Rating: 1/5

Conceptually, the lives that criss-cross during a Western Australian regional music festival over three years should at least yield an amiable, toe-tapping crowd pleaser perfectly suited to this country’s larrikin storytelling skills. One imagines that was exactly the film that funding bodies Screenwest and Screen Australia must have trusted director Ben Elton would deliver when they backed whatever version of his script they okayed.

Because what the British-born/WA-based filmmaker delivers could not possibly be the movie that our best ‘creative minds’ gave their blessing and our dollars towards. If that isn’t the case, and Three Summers is what the production sector deems to be a comically engaging and commercially viable final product…well, the industry is in as bad a shape as the naysayers claim it to be.

Three Summers uses the coming together of a culturally diverse group of musos and assorted hangers-on for the fictional  ‘Westival’ music event as the device to paint a portrait of Australia Today. Over the titular months, this blazingly obvious, one-dimensional microcosm of the nation’s race and gender biases moves at a snail’s pace towards a fanciful and insultingly tone-deaf sequence of reconciliation, featuring a Morris dancer and a troupe of Indigenous boys, that represent some of the worst frames in Australian cinema history.

The central romantic players are an insufferable Irish theremin whiz (Robert Sheehan, bringing hipster pretension without a breath of irony) and a feisty folk-fiddler (Rebecca Breeds, whose sheer likability and grounded sweetness make her the film’s sole saving grace). Their meet-cute is lacklustre, then they blather on interminably that requires both actors to pitch higher and work harder than any actor should. Elton doesn’t write real-world dialogue, instead favouring cute quips and, when called upon, long issue-based diatribes that emerge randomly, awkwardly, and with little relevance to the dramatic context.

Because, above any other concern, Three Summers wants to present a fierce far-left political statement on the ills inflicting contemporary Australian society. However twee and cute-sy it colours itself (which it does, gratingly so), Elton’s film most wants to be a smashing takedown of the intolerant and ignorant. Every character rants against and/or deals in the extreme with situations such as racism, date sexual assault, alcoholism, Indigenous rights, etc, etc.

Via his ‘racist old white guy who sees the truth’ stereotype Michael Caton, the director offers up a solution; try to understand each other better, so that you may better understand yourself. If that sounds like a meme you hurriedly scroll past in your Facebook feed, the kind accompanied by a picture of a monkey hugging a lion cub, then you understand its effectiveness as a feature film’s central theme.

The film’s shallow phoniness is easy to pinpoint. It preaches tolerance, yet makes a gag out of a burly security guard’s weakness being her latent homosexuality. Elton sidetracks the plot entirely to indulge in a detention centre rant, delivered by the handsomely groomed lead singer of an Afghan folk-group, who describes their existence as “hell” (a hell in which they can rehearse a music festival set, apparently). And it tanks even as the most basic of rom-com conceits; the leads seem to genuinely dislike each other’s company, and the support players (usual Screen Australia-approved faces like Deborah Mailman, John Waters, Magda Szubanski and Michael Caton) fail to bring background laughs or gravitas.

Take away from the mess that is Three Summers this thought: is the current funding model that determines what big screen, commercial comedies get made in Australia working? What the script consultants and financing heads are currently signing off on – in the last few years, critical and commercial duds like Spin Out, A Few Less Men, UNindian and Now Add Honey – suggests not; good comedies get made – A Girl Asleep, That’s Not Me, Down Under – but can’t draw audiences. Three Summers is another red mark against the current regime calling the shots on what they think the Australian public will find funny.

Wednesday
Nov012017

CONOR MCGREGOR: NOTORIOUS

Features: Conor McGregor, Dee Devlin, Dana White, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jose Aldo and Nate Diaz.
Director: Gavin Fitzgerald.

Rating: 3.5/5

Whether you are of the ‘fairytale rise to his generation’s greatest athlete’ view or bend more towards the ‘self-proclaimed messiah of bro-culture arrogance’ stance, there is enough to please/infuriate both extremes in Conor McGregor’s lovingly authorised bio-doc, Notorious. Is it a hagiographic monument to the true potential of unyielding egotism, capturing hubris as ‘high cinematic art’? Or is it just clip-after-clip of an over-groomed dude living well between beating people up? Two camps…

A celebration of the man, the mission and the material spoils of 'only-in-America' size success, director Gavin Fitzgerald and editor Andrew Hearne (both countrymen of McGregor), weave a mythological narrative that determinedly honours the MMA brawler’s Irish roots yet portrays little of his life prior to climbing into that first octagon. Footage has been gleaned primarily from the last four years, covering the period from when he and his loyal girlfriend Dee Devlin were shacking up with the fighter’s mother to the monstrous circus and massive wealth of the Las Vegas fight scene.

The first words spoken are “Let’s school this mother****er”, a declaration of intent from McGregor to the audience. Notorious works to both strengthen his existing brand power and let those new to the Conor-verse know what they are in for. Structurally, the film is pure sports fairy tale; the rise, fall and resurrection of a champion, achieved through hard work, self-belief and a lot of people telling you how great you are.

It is a vision of a world that adores the alpha-male, which will play as tone-deaf to some given the current climate. The only woman afforded any significant minutes in the film is the charming Devlin, yet she is given little backstory; her support is clearly integral to his success, though she's rarely seen doing more than existing in McGregor's shadow. The filmmakers also appropriate African-American culture, while not really featuring any African-Americans; from the connotations associated with the film’s title to the overuse of rap/hip-hop language, Conor and his very white entourage assume mannerisms stereotypically ‘street’. 

And yet Notorious remains an admittedly compelling story. The man himself is a polarising and fascinating personality, presented here as being consumed by a rare determination to achieve success for the sake of success. During an interview, he provides a PR-friendly soundbite that suggests he courts untold wealth so that his kids and grandkids can live well, yet nothing in Fitzgerald’s film supports that claim. The film is all about a working-class man’s ascension into the top-tier tax bracket, of that fantasy moment when your new wealth allows you to shout your family a new car.

Notorious revels in capturing Conor McGregor as he seeks fame, achieves fame and flaunts fame. It is crass and cringe-y cinema at times – like an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians with more punches and blood - but it is also textbook bigscreen fantasy fulfilment for those who have hitched their fandom to McGregor’s star. And for the star himself.

 

Friday
Oct272017

THE GATEWAY

Stars: Jacqueline McKenzie, Myles Pollard, Hayley McIlhinney, Shannon Berry, Troy Coward, Ben Mortley, Ryan Panizza and Shirley Toohey.
Writers: John V Soto and Michael White.
Director: John V Soto.

Opening Night selection of the 2017 SciFi Film Festival; reviewed at Event Cinemas George Street, October 11, 2017.

Rating 3.5/5

A compelling turn from a committed leading lady and a twisty premise skilfully executed will ensure The Gateway finds avid fans amongst sci-fi types seeking thoughtful, discussion-starting cinema. Having previously spun fan-friendly yarns in the fields of 80s-style erotic thriller (Crush, 2009), horror (Needle, 2009) and police procedural (The Reckoning, 2014), Perth-based auteur John V. Soto takes on the science-fiction realm with his typically slick visual style and strong adherence to that all-important ‘internal logic’.

Working with the learned mind of co-writer Michael White (co-author of non-fiction tomes profiling the likes of Hawking, Darwin, Asimov and Einstein), Soto explores the notion of parallel planes of existence via the science of particle and quantum physics. Providing the crucial emotional centre to a narrative that occasionally requires wordy exposition is the wonderful Jacqueline McKenzie, whose layered portrayal of a grieving woman willing to compromise time and space to reunite with her dearly departed is great genre acting.

McKenzie plays Dr. Jane Chandler, a particle physicist running a small-scale lab with offsider Regg (Ben Mortley), the pair on the verge of cracking the secrets of molecular deconstruction and teleportation. The experiments have led to the discovery of multi-dimensional realities; not only do teleported objects reappear, but they are tracked through alternate worlds, similar but distinctly different to our own.  

When Jane’s world is sent into a downward spiral following the sudden death of her partner Matt (Myles Pollard), she acts with her broken heart and not her level head (in scenes that recall those moments of Jeff Goldblum’s ill-fated melancholy in Cronenberg’s The Fly); the doctor teleports herself into a darker, more ominous other-world and re-acquaints herself with the ‘other-Matt’. Blinded by her sorrow to the trickle-down consequences of her actions, Jane puts herself and her shared worlds at risk, leading to desperate (and, frankly, slightly too convoluted to detail here) attempts to right her wrongs.

McKenzie is an actress confident within the sci-fi/horror milieu, primarily because she largely ignores the genre trappings and drills down on the emotional and psychological underpinnings of her characters. She wasn’t given that much to do in Renny Harlin’s Deep Blue Sea (1999), yet remains fondly remembered for the role; as the lead in the series The 4400, she imbued the entire production with immense integrity. Such is her impact in The Gateway; the actress explores the film’s soulful consideration of grief, desperation and compromised principles with maturity, warmth and insight.

At time of writing, The Gateway has already impressed those in the know, with trophies at Austin’s Revelation Film Festival and nominations from several other genre juries. It bodes well for Soto’s ambitious vision, which punches above its budgeted weight thanks to strong contributions from Western Australia's acting community, pro lensing by DOP David Le May and the production design of Monique Wajon.

Smart, emotionally resonant science-fiction is a rare commodity; The Gateway will chart a course through international markets that reinforces the Australian industry does it as well as any sector.

Page 1 ... 3 4 5 6 7 ... 35 Next 10 Entries »