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Entries in Film Festival (17)

Wednesday
Dec122018

UNDER THE COVER OF CLOUD

Stars: Ted Wilson, Colleen Wilson, Louis Modeste-Leroy, Jessie Wilson and David Boon.
Writer/Director: Ted Wilson.

Screening at the 2019 Screenwave International Film Festival, January 10-25.

Rating: ★★★½

A bighearted ode to the often-satirised middle-class white suburban upbringing, multi-hyphenate Ted Wilson has crafted a warm, winning low-key gem of a movie in Under the Cover of Cloud. A largely-improvised drama about a writer’s struggle to find inspiration, starring the director’s family and shot verite-style in the suburbs of Tasmania, this meandering yet meaningful take on the ties that bind will reward those seeking a different sort of cinema experience.   

Physically recalling the Matt Day/John Polson type of understated leading man, Wilson plays a journo suddenly without a steady paycheck, facing what he senses is a turning point in his professional development. When that proves all too much for him to deal with (by mid-opening credits), he heads south deciding to write a book about his home state’s best Test cricket batsmen (perhaps a sly joke for cricket lovers, as there haven’t been too many top order players from The Apple Isle).

In a manner that recalls the free-form storytelling styles of Henry Jaglom and John Cassavettes, Wilson re-engages with his mum, siblings and their spouses, niece and nephew toddlers, in scene after scene that seem to be largely about family matters, good memories and happy times. Frankly, a couple of crying 4 year-olds aside, every one seems to be pretty happy in Under the Cover of Cloud (although the title, which certainly corresponds with Tassie’s chilly grey pallor, might also symbolise Wilson’s depressed mood).

Neither Wilson nor his narrative seem to be particularly interested in the book project; he asks every one he knows if they can connect him with Tassie cricketing icon David Boon, which sums up the plot. At one point, the dishevelled author-to-be (who seems to have only bought the clothes he travelled in) sits down to start work, until distracted by chickens. Wilson’s film is not about writer's block or the struggle to create, but about shared moments with loved ones that coalesce as a portrait of a man's formative years. He picks lemons with his mother, plays board games with his sister, digs in the sand with his nephews; these are the daily events that refocus a soul chewed up and spat back from the mainland.

Detractors will say the film resembles an essay on entitlement; Wilson constantly seeks reassurance and aid from his family, who also offer free board (despite his complaints about a cold room) and plenty of meals, while gracing everyone around him with observations on their lives. That he emerges as an empathic and relatable leading character (and man) is arguably one of the film’s more remarkable achievements.

The end justifies the means in Under the Cover of Cloud. There is too much sincerity, charm and insight in Wilson’s family dynamic for cynicism to derail his film. A final frame dedication, which crystallizes the writer/director’s motivation, is a heart-tugger; it provides an added dimension of bittersweet melancholy that reveals what an extraordinary collection of ordinary people The Wilson clan truly are.

Friday
Nov232018

NIGHTMARE CINEMA

Stars: Mickey Rourke, Sarah Elizabeth Withers, Faly Rakotohavana, Maurice Benard, Elizabeth Reaser, Zarah Mahler, Mark Grossman, Eric Nelsen, Richard Chamberlain, Adam Godley and Annabeth Gish.
Writers: Mick Garris, Alejandro Brugues, Richard Christian Matheson, Sandra Becerril, David Slade and Lawrence C. Connolly.
Directors: Mick Garris, Alejandro Brugués, Joe Dante, Ryûhei Kitamura and David Slade.

Screening at Monster Fest VII on Friday November 23 at Cinema Nova, Carlton.

Rating: ★★★★

The five-part anthology Nightmare Cinema continues co-producer Mick Garris’ dark obsession with short-form film narrative, the kind that he ushered to cult status as the driving force behind the TV series Masters of Horror. Rife with a degree of references, homages and nods that only a super-fan will fully appreciate, Garris has corralled a rogue’s gallery of international horror director heavyweights, resulting in a stylistically diverse creep show but one that sustains the shared goal of chills, thrills and giggles.

The deceptively simple premise features five would-be protagonists who stumble/are drawn into an empty picture palace, where visions of their own demise unfold before them based upon horror sub-genres. Argentinian filmmaker Alejandro Brugués (Juan of The Dead, 2011; ABCs of Death 2, 2014) starts the party with ‘The Thing in The Woods’, hurling young actress Sarah Elizabeth Withers into her own Friday the 13th–inspired battle for survival. Costumed to recall franchise favourite Kirsten Baker and facing off against a high-concept villain called ‘The Welder’ (Eric Nelsen), Withers (pictured, below) proves a good sport when the going gets gruesome, her director changing tact at the midway point from slasher tropes to something else entirely.

Brugues’ segment is a loving nod to 80s VHS nasties and could just as satisfyingly been conjured from the mind of longtime Garris cohort, Joe Dante. The beloved director of The Howling (1981), Gremlins (1984) and Innerspace (1987) instead opts for a horror hospital riff called ‘Mirari’, in which a scarred woman (Zarah Mahler) reluctantly appeases the wishes of her handsome fiancé (Mark Grossman) and undergoes reconstructive work by the hands of Richard Chamberlain’s too-charming plastic surgeon. Dante indulges in some of the film’s most icky practical effects work while displaying his skill with the short-story format; Mirari recalls the classic Twilight Zone episode ‘Eye of he Beholder’, reigniting the debate as to whether Dante or Dr George Miller delivered the very best bits of Twilight Zone The Movie (1983).

It is following Dante’s segment that we are introduced to name player Mickey Rourke as The Projectionist, a Mephistophelian figure who oversees the unspooling of each film from his darkened booth and wanders the aisles of the cinema dispensing enigmatic menace. Rourke doesn’t have a lot to work with, unfortunately; he is no Cryptkeeper, guiding the audience on their fearful journey, or voice of subtext wisdom like Rod Serling. He largely lurks, albeit with Rourke’s still potent onscreen presence.

Nightmare Cinema settles into its truly horrifying groove with segments three and four, the most fearlessly ambitious of the compendium. In ‘Mashit’, Japanese director Ryûhei Kitamura (Versus, 2000; Azumi, 2003; The Midnight Meat Train, 2008) unleashes the titular demon (pictured, top) on a morally corrupt Catholic school. The insidious Father Benedict (Maurice Bernard) and the nun-led-astray Sister Patricia (Mariela Garriga) are no match for a dorm of possessed children led by a horned, malformed deity from Hell or a director who can deftly deliver a jump-cut scare.

Hollywood’s most under-valued horror director, David Slade (Hard Candy, 2005; 30 Days of Night, 2007) provides the psychologically troubling vision, ‘This Way to Egress’. Shot in richly textured black-&-white, it stars Elizabeth Reaser (pictured, above; currently seen in the hit Netflix show, The Haunting of Hill House) as a mother of two brattish boys slowly losing her mind in the waiting room of her ‘specialist’, Dr Salvador (Adam Goodley). As time passes, the pristine office surrounds become overwhelmed by a dark filth; the faces of those that she passes in the halls grow increasingly deformed. Slades’ film is a masterful take on mental health, depression, social disconnection; while it foregoes the visceral horror of the film to this point, it is a warped walk in a convincingly disturbing, Cronenberg-esque realm.

Finally, Garris himself steps into the director’s chair for ‘Death’, in which musical prodigy Riley (Faly Rakotohavana) starts to see dead people as he recovers in (another) creepy hospital ICU after a carjacking that claimed his parents. Hunted by the murderer (Orson Chaplin) and haunted by his mother (Annabeth Gish), Riley’s plight in the hands of Rakotohavana proves not only thoroughly creepy but also surprisingly moving; Garris nods to The Sixth Sense perhaps once too often, but does so with heart and conviction.

The all-encompassing title implies a genre of its own, so it is fitting that so much of Nightmare Cinema draws from then reinterprets the horror visions of filmmakers that have gone before, delivered by Garris and his peers with a true understanding of a horror fan’s fixation.

Wednesday
Nov142018

LETO (SUMMER)

Stars: Teo Yoo, Irina Starshenbaum, Roma Zver, Filipp Avdeev, Alexandr Gorchilin, Alexander Kuznetsov, Nikita Efremov, Julia Aug, Elena Koreneva, Lia Akhedzhakova, Anton Adasinskyi and Vasiliy Mikhailov.
Writers: Kirill Serebrennikov, Michael Idov and Lily Idova.
Director: Kirill Serebrennikov

Reviewed at the 2018 Russian Resurrection Film Festival, Sydney; named the festival’s Best New Russian Film, 2018.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Evoking memories of a pre-Perestroika Russia where the youthful masses were unified and energised in their defiance of authority by the driving beats of a post-punk early-80s Leningrad music scene, Kirill Serebrennikov’s Leto is a free-wheeling, free-spirited, bittersweet remembrance of the people and passion that defined the decade for many young Soviets.

A pure celebration of driven talent and the transformative power of music, the latest from the provocative director of The Student (2016) proves a stirring ode to the subversive. Whether deconstructing the staid conventions of the ‘musical biopic’ or symbolically reacting against the Kremlin’s suppression of socially-conscious art, Serebrennikov and co-writers Michael Idov and Lily Idova have crafted a thrilling, relevant and deeply moving work despite, or perhaps because of, a narrow narrative focus.

The film follows three key figures in the thriving if heavily policed Leningrad music scene – the lead singer of hard-edged rock band Zoopark, Mike Naumenko (real-life rocker Roma Zver); his wife and muse, Natalya (the wonderful Irina Starshenbaum); and, charismatic singer-songwriter Viktor Tsoï (the striking German-born, Korean-based Teo Yoo). All became iconic figures in Russian pop culture - Tsoï would front the group Kino and pen the battle cry of the Perestroika movement,  ‘Khochu peremen (I Want Change)’; Serebrennikov’s film, named after Zoopark’s biggest hit, is loosely based upon Natalya’s best-selling memoir.

Their interactions don’t amount to searing drama. Mike recognizes Viktor’s talent and wants to share in his growth as a musician; Natalya, like anyone in Viktor’s realm, finds herself attracted to him; Mike sees out his wife’s attraction to Viktor, openly encouraging her to not deny natural feelings. The men write songs; Natalya balances a rock-wife lifestyle with a mother’s responsibilities; the trio, with some eccentric band mates in tow and the authorities watching their every move, strive to create, be seen, build a life together.

However, framed within DOP Vladislav Opelyants’ gorgeous monochromatic widescreen lens and exuding their enigmatic ‘rock star’ charisma in all its compelling glory, the audience investment in the intertwining lives and burgeoning creativity of the trio is profound. Most affecting is Starshenbaum as Natalya; the actress (bearing a remarkable resemblance to American star Mary Elizabeth Winstead) conveys both a strength and sensitivity that makes her central role as an inspiration for those around her entirely believable. Natalya’s own longing and determined path, when it emerges from beneath the self-absorbed creative destinies of the men in her life, proves deeply moving.

Dramatic impetus aside, the film is at its most engaging when it embraces its musical influences (notably Bowie, Blondie, T-Rex, though many are referenced). Defining songs of the period are reworked as musical numbers, at the indulgence of the characters and often sung by random strangers who drift in, then out of frame. Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’ becomes a fierce, fantastic number set on a train carriage; Iggy Pop’s ‘The Passenger’ is belted out by bus commuters as Viktor and Natalya take in the city. A great sequence, set to Mott the Hoople’s All the Young Dudes, sees Michael envision classic album covers of the day brought to life by his friends and family in splashes of Super-8 colour footage.

There is a sprawling sense of time and place to Leto, which blows out the running to over two hours, yet there is not a frame of the film one would want to see excised. The anti-establishment themes and love-conquers-all story beats inherent to the rock/pop biopic genre have been previously explored in Oliver Stone’s The Doors (1991), Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous (2000) and Anton Corbijn’s Control (2007), but rarely with such heartfelt melancholy, pained romanticism and evocative rendering of time and place.

The sly subversion that gives the film its bite has come at a price; Kirill Serebrennikov has been under house arrest since August 2017 for his perceived anti-Putin stance (the director could not attend the film’s Cannes premiere in May). While the authorities endeavor to stifle his political voice, his art and skill as a great movie storyteller speaks very loudly on his behalf.

         

Wednesday
Sep122018

FIVE OF THE BEST AT SUFF 2018

For the casual festival goer, those that like to dartboard a couple of sessions on the off chance they’ll discover something new and fresh, the Sydney Underground Film Festival can be the moviegoing equivalent of a spike-pit booby-trap. You stumble unwarned into Ian Haig’s The Foaming Node (consider yourself warned) or Lucio A. Rojas’ Trauma (read our review here), nights will never be the same. So SCREEN-SPACE performs some crucial community service by casting an eye over five films landing at The Factory Theatre in the days ahead….

THE BILL MURRAY STORIES – LESSONS LEARNED FROM A MYTHICAL MAN (Dir: TOMMY AVALLONE / USA / 2018 / 70mins / Session details)
PLOT: You’ve probably heard the stories. The famously private Ghostbusters star is spotted doing dishes at a house party, serving drinks at a local bar, crashing karaoke clubs, commandeering taxis and photo-bombing wedding photos. After hearing them himself, director Tommy Avallone (pictured, above, with his star) wants a Bill Murray story of his own.
I’M WATCHING THIS BECAUSE…: Bill Murray is a God. Not the God, but… What starts as a fun, flouncy fan documentary soon becomes something…well, not quite profound, but certainly soul-enriching in the way that only looking at Bill Murray’s face can inspire. Avallone sets out to prove the validity of reported sightings of the great comic-actor at frat house parties, weddings, restaurants, garage-band jam sessions, and so on. Utilising clips from the star's films (including several from the little-seen The Razor's Edge), eyewitness accounts and fleeting glimpses of the man himself, Avallone learns some simple life lessons (evident all along to those looking hard from the very start of Murray’s career) which amount to four words: “It just doesn’t matter.” Which, actually, is quite profound.
RATING: ★
★
★
★

THE MISANDRISTS (Dir: BRUCE LA BRUCE / Canada / 2017 / 91mins / Session details)
PLOT: In an alternate reality, somewhere in Ger(wo)many, the Female Liberation Army prepares to overthrow the patriarchy with a new sort of lesbian porn that functions as propaganda for the female revolution. However, when one of the rebels takes in an injured man, hiding him in the basement of the feminist headquarters, their Army’s mission and very nature of womanhood is called into question.
I’M WATCHING THIS BECAUSE….: Anything by Canadian cage-rattler Bruce La Bruce is nothing like any other filmmaker does. The Misandrists walks dangerously close to ‘respectability’ at times – his aesthetic has cleaner lines, crisper framing, story structure that veers uncharacteristically towards (dare I say it) conventional. However, the agitator who rocked our world with the gay-horror-porn ‘classic’ LA Zombie (2010) is at his most slyly subversive and potently relevant with his latest. Stuffed with a barrage of ‘trigger-warning’ moments (gay porn, transgender surgery, Nazi imagery, sexualized religious iconography), The Misandrists is The Beguiled, directed by Bertolucci with a gun held to his head by Kathleen Hanna.
RATING: ★
★
★

SATAN’S SLAVES (Dir. JOKO ANWAR / Indonesia / 2017 / 107mins / Session details)
PLOT: Four children are left alone when their mother passes away from a mysterious illness. But soon, the orphans sense that their late mum may not have left at all; she has returned to take them back to the underworld.
I’M WATCHING THIS BECAUSE…: I like to be frightened. Joko Anwar’s remake of the 1982 Indo-horror blockbuster Pengabdi Setan (itself a local-flavour reworking of Don Cascarelli’s Phantasm), Satan’s Slaves is a supremely polished, legitimately creepy poltergeist/possession yarn that plays superbly in a packed theatre (we saw its successful screening at IFF Rotterdam earlier this year). Foregoing gore effects  in favour of foreboding dread, Anwar’s return to the horror genre (The Forbidden Door, 2009; Ritual, 2012) is a regional smash hit, opening to huge numbers in its homeland and bowing at #1 in markets such as Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore; it earned 13 nominations at the Indonesian Film Awards.
RATING: ★
★
★

CHRISTMAS BLOOD (JULEBLOD / Dir: REINERT KILL / Norway / 2017 / 104mins / Session details)
PLOT: Serial killer Nissen has a penchant for dressing as Santa, and has been haunting Norway each Christmas Eve for 13 years. He now has his eyes set on the northern countryside, just as a group of unwitting co-eds have chosen the spot for their seasonal getaway. Meanwhile, detectives Rasch and Hansen are more determined than ever to catch their bogeyman before he strikes again.
I’M WATCHING THIS BECAUSE…: I have committed my life to seeing EVERY slasher film ever made. That most favourite axe-murderer archetype – the unstoppable killing machine that strikes best on key calendar dates – gets a Nordic spin in the latest from Reinert Kiil (yep, that’s his name). Few frame a gory death with as much gruesome glee at Kiil, who already has two legitimate grindhouse cult faves to his name (F**k Norge, 2004; Whore, 2009). He slow-burns the first act of Christmas Blood, which may frustrate those on board just for the viscera, but when the blade-wielding St Nick finally gets going…well, all your Christmas killing wishes come true.
RATING: ★
★
★

BEHIND THE CURVE (Dir: DANIEL J. CLARK / USA / 2018 / 96mins / Session details)
PLOT: Flat Earthers is a term synonymous with conspiracy theorists and tin foil hat-wearing loons. In reality, this is a small but rapidly growing group that believes there is a centuries' long conspiracy to suppress the truth that the Earth is flat. Director Daniel J. Clark ventures into the midst of this community to investigate its astonishing rise, as well as the psychological foundations that keep its adherents going.
I’M WATCHING THIS BECAUSE…: Idiots should not be denied a voice just for being idiots. Clark’s study of the type of personality that commits to medieval thinking and its charismatic preaching is understated and respectful (perhaps overtly so). Much like his key subject, flat-earth poster-boy Mark Seargeant, Clark never really gets to the core of the subject (no pun intended), preferring instead to indulge in its own dance of delusion; Behind the Curve affords the movement just enough time to appear both likably real and utterly misguided. As a great philosopher once said, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”
RATING: ★
★
★

The SYDNEY UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL runs September 13 to 16. Session and ticket details can be found at the official website.

Thursday
Jul262018

ANGIE

Featuring: Angie Meiklejohn, Bonnie Meiklejohn, Renee Meiklejohn, Carlos Meiklejohn, Angela Sharp, Jules Barber, Richard Langdon and Brian Bouzard.
Director: Costa Botes

Rating: 4.5/5

Costa Botes has delivered arguably the finest film of his 30-year directorial career with Angie, an intimate epic of vast emotional and psychological insight. Led into the dark subject matter then back to the hopeful light by his frank and fearless muse, abuse survivor Angie Meiklejohn, the veteran filmmaker has crafted a deeply empathetic narrative that spans a generation of one family’s dysfunction, mental health suffering and sexual and emotional torment.

Immediately earning a place alongside such similarly-themed works as Andrew Jarecki’s Capturing the Friedmans (2003) and Rosie Jones’ The Family (2016), Botes’ incisive study of a family unit imploding focuses on the journey of Meiklejohn from her disrupted childhood and wayward teen years through a truly shocking rite of passage into adulthood. With siblings Bonnie, Renee and Carl weighing in with their own stark memories of family discord and early-life hardship, Botes captures how a group of related lost souls could fall for the false hope promised by cultist Bert Potter and his Centrepoint alternative lifestyle movement.

Botes examines such deeply human conditions as grief, addiction, intimacy and ultimately, hope through the tortured psyche and soulful presence of Angie Meiklejohn. Her Centrepoint ordeal, reliance upon alcohol to self-medicate and subsequent descent into life as a sex worker led to suicidal inclinations. Meiklejohn fronts Botes’ lens with a matter-of-factness that is startling, relating moments from a life that would have hardened many beyond redemption, had they survived at all. Yet Angie, whose last decade has centred on an earthy spirituality and reconciliation with her family, exudes a rare warmth and willingness to share. As her friend Richard Langdon observes, “It’s impossible to not love her.”

Despite the extensive New Zealand media coverage afforded the trial during the early 90s, which saw Potter and senior Centrepoint cohorts convicted of indecently assaulting minors, audiences will be disturbed by the details that Angie and her sisters provide regarding life inside the compound. Botes understands that to comprehend the person that Angie has become (and to shine further damning light upon those who preyed on her), details regarding sexual abuse trauma, drug manufacture and administering and psychological manipulation are relevant, yet no less shocking with the passage of time.

Costa Botes melds the many elements of Angie’s story with the technical expertise of a learned craftsman (its been 23 years since his breakthrough work, the iconic mockumentary Forgotten Silver). He commands the content, form and themes with consummate prowess; there is not a frame within the daunting 119-minute running time that is without potency or profundity. Botes respects and honours his subject, but also the genre within which he is working; like the lady herself, Angie is a deep, dark, daring wonder.

Angie will have its WORLD PREMIERE on July 29th at The ASB Waterfront Theatre, Auckland, as part of the 2018 New Zealand International Film Festival. Further details available via the event’s official website.

Read the SCREEN-SPACE 'World Cinema - New Zealand' feature here.

Thursday
Apr192018

TRAUMA

Stars: Catalina Martin, Macarena Carrere, Ximena del Solar, Dominga Bofill, Daniel Antivilo, Eduardo Paxeco, Felipe Ríos and Claudio Riveros.
Writer/Director: Lucio A. Rojas.

AUSTRALIAN PREMIERE: Screening Friday, September 14 at the SYDNEY UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL.

Warning: Some content may offend or distress.

Rating: 4.5/5

The most horrifically violent period in Chile’s political history casts a very dark shadow over the current war between the sexes in the perfectly prescient and appropriately titled Trauma. Taking as its entry point a stomach-churning sequence destined for frame-by-frame breakdown by censorship bodies around the world, writer-director Lucio A. Rojas’ blistering vision embraces the unthinkable reality of Pinochet’s torture-chamber hell and how his homeland still suffers under the legacy of the brutally soul-crushing dictatorship.

Assured of cinematic infamy, the prologue is set in the mid 1970s, at the height of the neo-fascist’s military reign. A seasoned torturer (Alejandro Trejo) is in the midst of committing unspeakable atrocities upon a woman, his ultimate dehumanizing act being the introduction of her teenage son, Juan. There are ties that bind the three participants, a bond thematically linked to Rojas’ exploration of family discord and systemic violence in traditionally male-centric domesticity.

The narrative moves to Santiago, 2011 and introduces Rojas’ protagonists (by way of some equally graphic Sapphic love, reinforcing the material’s  ‘sex and violence’ genre credentials), four twenty-somethings destined for a rural getaway. Andrea (Catalina Martin, a fierce central figure in her own right) is tightly wound, slightly more mature than her travel mates, and rather too good at the ‘passive/aggressive big-sister’ persona, leading to some familial tension with her sister Camila (Macarena Carrere) and Camila’s girlfriend, the free-spirited Julia (Ximena del Solar); the sister’s cousin Magdalena (Dominga Bofill) is younger still, sweet but adventurous.

There is a familiarity to this Act 1 set-up that horror fans will recognize. The girls reveal aspects of themselves on the long drive, further defining their character traits; the region is so remote, Andrea forgets where her uncle’s retreat actually is; the group stop for directions at ‘Gloria’s Tavern’ (suspiciously lacking a ‘Gloria’), the creepy locals acting as both sexist bullies and a warning sign that the girl’s don’t decipher. Intercut with these scenes are moments in the life of the now adult Juan (Daniel Antivilo, reuniting with the director after their 2015 collaboration, Sendero), a local ‘identity’ who lives with his adult son Mario (Felipe Ríos) in a ‘house of horrors’ directly linked to the pre-credit sequence.

The girl’s first night in the cabin is a boozy one, marred by issues they had hoped to work through on the trip. Julia unwinds with a striptease, which Rojas and his ace DOP Sebastián Ballek shoot in a leery, overtly-sexualized manner that initially seems to betray the care he has taken in creating these complex female characters. When it is revealed, however, that Juan and Mario have been watching the dance, Rojas turns the ‘male gaze’ in which he has indulged back on the viewer; in a deceptively clever piece of deconstruction, the director has coerced his audience into being at one with the psychopathic villain.

The centerpiece of Trauma is the home invasion sequence that follows, a passage of visceral film imagery and design that will be too immersive for even some seasoned horror buffs. Although it is all but impossible to decipher as the unfettered sexual, physical and psychological abuse unfolds, the passage serves to spin Rojas’ film into the realm of gender-based conflict; the family of women, however flawed they may be in their own ways, are now unified and at war with traditional familial patriarchy, in which toxic masculinity, sexualized violence and generational abuse has festered.    

The group tracks the men to their maze-like home, and Trauma becomes a series of gruesome encounters and tense near-misses in the darkness. The narrative continues to deliver as a bloody horror film, but the subtext that enriched the first hour makes way for well-staged, heavily stylized ‘final girl’ genre tropes in Act 3. Nevertheless, Rojas contemplates his themes and shoots his action in a manner that demands that his work be closely watched in years to come; he is one of the new wave of exciting Latin American horror filmmakers, amongst them Javier Attridge (Wekufe The Origin of Evil, 2017), Jorge Olguin (Gritos del Bosque, 2017) and Samuel Galli (Mal Nosso, 2017).

It is hard to envision a denouement to Trauma that inspires hope, so steeped as it is in ‘sins of the father’ and ‘scars of history’ symbolism. But that is precisely what Rojas affords his cinematic world and, by association, his country. The final images suggest that the time for rebirth is now and that faith be placed in a maternal nurturing of a new national spirit. For a film so consumed by painful memories, the most potent act of killing that Trauma imagines is the one that leaves the ghosts of the past behind for good.

WARNING: TRAILER CONTAINS IMAGES THAT MAY DISTRESS AND OFFEND.

  

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.

       

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’.