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Entries in Film Festival (12)

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.

Screening on Saturday April 21 as the Closing Night Film at the XV Cine de Terror Film Festival in Valdivia, Chile.

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’.

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.

AUSTRALIAN PREMIERE: Monster Fest, Saturday November 25 at 11.00pm at Melbourne's Lido Cinema.

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)

Wednesday
Jun082016

GOLDSTONE

Stars: Aaron Pedersen, Alex Russell, David Wenham, Jacki Weaver, Michelle Lim Davidson, Pei-Pei Cheng, Michael Dorman, Max Cullen, Kate Beahan, Tommy Lewis and David Gulpilil.
Writer/director: Ivan Sen.

Opening Night Film of the 63rd Sydney Film Festival.

Rating: 4/5

Australian auteur Ivan Sen accomplishes that all-too-rare sequel every bit the equal of its predecessor with Goldstone, a compelling continuation of the journey of damaged detective Jay Swan. Having established a richly atmospheric sense of outback geography and populated it with vivid genre character types in 2013’s Mystery Road, the director recaptures his fluid handling of dusty tough-guy dynamics while succinctly revisiting weighty thematic strands.

As with Mystery Road, classic ‘western’ beats with a strong hint of ‘noir’ intrigue pulse through Goldstone, so named for the one-cop/tin-shed township and its barren surrounds in which Sen sets his action. Seeming to exist only in service of the mining conglomerate that is gutting the sacred land of the region, the pre-fab settlement appears to consist of a police station, a brothel and the mayor’s home office (why such a meagre outpost has a mayor at all is never fully explained).

Young and alone in his new posting is cop Josh Waters (Alex Russell, solid), who has learnt to keep the peace by not ruffling too many feathers, notably those of mining boss Johnny (a slimy David Wenham) and mayor Maureen (Jacki Weaver, bringing her best ‘Barbara Stanwyck’ in a cheerfully untrustworthy role). The status quo begins to unravel after Josh cages a barely-conscious drunk driver, soon revealed to be Sen’s complex anti-hero, Jay Swan.

Reprising the role of the grief-stricken, dangerously depressed indigenous officer is the terrific Aaron Pedersen. Carrying the emotional burden of a father denied his daughter in every shuffle and grimace, Pedersen’s remarkable performance is also one of immensely understated heroic might. As convincing as the hard-as-nails machismo is conveyed, the actor’s best scenes are quieter ones opposite national treasure David Gulpilil, as the elder who re-energises Swan’s sense of self during a journey into the spiritual heartland.

The central narrative involves Swan’s exposing the trafficking of young women, shipped in to stock ‘The Ranch’ and service mine employees under the watchful eye of Mrs Lao (respected Chinese star, Pei-Pei Cheng) and the quest to find a missing girl who took flight into the unforgiving desert. Sen’s script explores exploitation on several levels – the land, its rightful owners and the legacy of abuse and misuse that has been endemic since the earliest days of outback settlement (the film opens with a sepia montage of immigrant labour images from Australia’s shameful past). Goldstone revels in its genre roots, but like Sen’s best work (Beneath Clouds, 2002; Toomelah, 2011) it offers social and cultural insight into the issues and history of minority abuse in Australia. The presence of Pedersen, Gulpilil and fellow indigenous acting great Tommy Lewis (The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, 1978) speaks to the respect afforded the filmmaker and his storytelling by the Aboriginal community.

Coupled with some downbeat moments, Sen’s pacing occasionally feels laboured (an observation that your critic levelled at the mid-section of Mystery Road, too); the beautiful Kate Beahan turns up for an odd cameo as a roadside hooker called ‘Pinky’, doing business from a caravan straight out of ‘Priscilla…’ But these are minor distractions in an otherwise fine dramatic thriller, primed for festival and specialist theatrical distribution both at home and abroad.

Technically, the production is first-rate; superb use of drone cameras allows the multi-hyphenate filmmaker, acting as his own DOP, to capture stunning desert landscapes from towering angles, in a film whose palette and framing reflects the director’s affinity for the red rock and ochre setting.

Wednesday
Feb032016

THE CRITIC'S CAPSULE: BRISBANE UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 2016

The very nature of the ‘underground film’ ensures that opinion will be both passionate and divided as to the artistic worth of films wearing that badge. The line-up for this year’s Brisbane Underground Film Festival is as eclectic as any in the 3-day event’s history. SCREEN-SPACE was very kindly afforded access to a cross-section of this year’s feature entries and found the 2016 mix just as invigorating, engaging and, well, ‘divisive’ as we could have hoped for…

600 MILES (Dir: Gabriel Ripstein / U.S., Mexico; 85 mins)
Gabriel Ripstein’s slow-burn desert-noir thriller presents a compelling narrative; a hardened ATF agent (Tim Roth, superb) finds himself on a knife-edge odyssey as the prisoner of a low-status arms runner (Kristyan Ferrer). Set against the border tensions that pit corrupt officials, Mexican cartel ethics and Gringo arrogance against each other, the debutant director’s low-key aesthetic and ultra-realism proves gripping and insightful. Despite the potential for the film to degenerate into B-movie posturing and familiar ‘Mexican bad-guy’ tropes, 600 Miles remains steadfastly a character piece, dissecting both the shared journey of the dual protagonists and the culturally imbalanced discourse between nations north and south of the border. The film misses Harrison Thomas as Carson, a short-fuse white trash big talker whose procuring of illegal arms opens the film with a unique, pulsating intensity. Alongside the Oscar-nominated documentary Cartel Land, Ripstein’s vision suggests US filmmakers are considering a new perspective on the Mexican-US drug war.
Rating: 3.5/5

GIUSEPPE MAKES A MOVIE (Dir: Adam Rifkin / U.S.; 82 mins)
The destinies of Adam Rifkin and Giuseppe Andrews seemed inexorably aligned. Sensitive and appealing on-screen, Andrews was on course to stardom, after parts in Never Been Kissed, Independence Day and Pleasantville; Rifkin rattled cages with the cult shocker The Dark Backward, then went mainstream with The Chase and scripts for Mousehunt, Small Soldiers and Underdog. Hopes were high when Rifkin and Andrews teamed on 1999’s Detroit Rock City, but it bombed. Thirteen years later, the pair are reunited for this idiosyncratic, deeply personal work. Rifkin's verite camera tracks a dishevelled but vibrant Andrews, who now lives amongst the down-on-their-luck denizens of a trailer park in Ventura, as he directs his new opus, 'Garbonzo Gas'. The work is the latest of many coarse, crazed character studies starring the drunks, drug addicts and manic-depressives he calls his neighbours. Rifkin clearly understands the boundless drive and feverish creativity that fuels Andrews. Giuseppe Makes a Movie celebrates the redemptive essence and raw power of barebones filmmaking and the meaning it can bring to damaged lives.
Rating: 4/5

UNCLE KENT 2 (Dir: Todd Rohal / U.S.; 73 mins)
Only diehard Joe Swanberg completists will recall his 2011 film Uncle Kent; the notion of a sequel seems particularly odd (Ed: we’ve not seen it). But Uncle Kent 2 is not the usual Hollywood cash-grab follow-up. Swanberg’s collaborator Kent Osborne (pictured, right) plays a version of himself, a fringe industry presence desperately trying to a) gather the approval of his Uncle Kent co-stars (including Swanberg) for the new project, and b) struggling with writer’s block as the world literally comes to an end around him. Of all the BUFF 2016 films, director Todd Rohal’s proves the most energetically subversive; Osborne’s not really an actor and the film never entirely commits to any conventional notion of a narrative, but both prove beguiling and compelling. Recalling The Coen Brother’s Barton Fink in its soul-crushing study of ‘The Block’, Uncle Kent 2 is fearless, farfetched and very funny.
Rating: 4/5   

NASTY BABY (Dir: Sebastian Silva / U.S. , Chile; 101 mins)
A trio of natural performances imbued with real-world chemistry highlight Sebastian Silva’s New York-set drama. The writer/director takes centre stage as Freddy, a highly-strung artist in a committed relationship with boyfriend Mo (Tunde Adebimpe) and a loving friendship with the free-spirited Polly (Kristen Wiig). She wants a baby by Mo’s seed, and the majority of the film’s first half focuses in on the comedy/drama inherent to that plotline. But the presence of neighbourhood nuisance ‘The Bishop’ (a terrific Reg E. Cathey) is impacting their lives; from revving his leaf blower at dawn and judging sranger’s parking skill to increasingly disturbing and intrusive acts, The Bishop is proving to be Freddy’s neighbour-from-hell. So light and natural is Silva’s take on Big Apple life, the encroaching menace that The Bishop represents and the rage he inspires in Freddy proves particularly disconcerting and, ultimately, shocking. After the off-kilter weirdness of Magic Magic and Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus, the Chilean director returns to the dark-shaded humanity of his breakout hit, The Maid. Nasty Baby is his most satisfying work to date.
Rating: 3.5/5  

A FEAST OF MAN (Dir: Caroline Golum / U.S.; 82 mins)
Never as clever or funny as it thinks it is, director Caroline Golum’s tone-deaf riff on social manners and class mores pits a bunch on annoying one-dimensional constructs against each other in a ‘will-they-won’t-they’ spin on the ‘would you rather…’ game. Reuniting after the death of a mutual friend at his extravagant estate (one of many irksome nods to America’s entitlement culture), the shrill, false personalities work through some not very interesting issues while musing over whether or not they do what the dead friend’s will asks of them – eat the corpse to get a slice of the millionaire’s bank balance. Sometimes Golum plays it uninspiringly broad, like an old bedroom-hopping/door-slamming farce; sometimes she strives for whitebread chamber-piece wit, a ‘la Whit Stillman. Very little of it works, the ultimate failing a final act twist in which the denouement betrays those patient enough to have stuck with the premise. Produced by Fifth Column Features, an initiative that boasts of an anti-establishment agenda…while indulging in the same tired ‘Lloyd Kaufman cameo’ schtick as fifteen(!) other 2016 B-pics.
Rating: 2/5 

Unpreviewed:   APPLESAUCE (Dir: Onur Tukel / U.S.; 91 min, 2015)

Read the SCREEN-SPACE Preview: 2016 Brisbane Underground Film Festival here.

Thursday
Dec102015

THE LAUNCHPAD DIRECTORS: REVIEWS & INTERVIEWS FROM A NIGHT OF HORROR/FANTASTIC PLANET 2015

For the second consecutive year, Screen-Space was a proud contributor to the annual A Night of Horror/Fantastic Planet Film Festival, which closed out the 2015 edition last Sunday night. In addition to presiding over the Jury, we conducted the Launchpad Interviews – Q&As with film-makers world premiering their latest at ANOH/FP. 

Each director proved open and engaging, their films – a found-footage monster movie; a bleak take on child exploitation and violence; and, a genealogical-themed apocalyptic thriller – strong and unique visions. But were they any good…?

PIG PEN
Directed by JASON KOCH (Pictured, above right).
RATING: 4/5
From the first frame, this brutal odyssey into the nihilistic netherworld of disenfranchised suburbia is the stuff of nightmares. Koch has walked a similarly dark path in his two previous efforts (Lamplight; 7th Day), but many will be unprepared for the bloody dismemberments, psychological torment and teenage exploitation that feature so prominently in this truly shocking vision. Countering the ferocious presence of Vito Trigo as the sadistic psychopath/stepfather Wayne is Lucas Koch as Zack, aka ‘Pig Pen’. The actor (the director’s son) evokes a degree of empathy as the wayward, victimised tween-ager that is truly heartbreaking; few Best Actor trophies in the festival’s nine year history have been so richly deserved. As the mother helpless in the face of her own demons and witness to her son’s disintegrating childhood, Nicolette le Faye serves Koch Snr and Jnr superbly.
The Launchpad Interview: “I would have never been able to approach another parent of a child actor and say, ‘Trust me, it’ll be safe.’ Where I knew this would actually be the case, others may not have been easily convinced.” Read the full interview here.

GITASKOG
Directed by DRAZEN BARIC (Pictured, above centre).
RATING: 3/5
Debutant Drazen Baric’s calling-card effort is a solid entry in the found-footage/cabin-in-the-woods genre. It falls well short of its inspirations (Evil Dead; Cabin Fever; The Blair Witch Project), but does manage to recall (somewhat unexpectedly) John Boorman’s wilderness-set study in macho posturing, Deliverance. A group of brash, occasionally ‘dickish’ man-child archetypes disrespect the native people and their land while checking out a log home by a lake in the Canadian wilderness; said lake may also be home to a mythical beast, due its ritualistic feeding. See where this is going? The shrill yelling and goofy raunchiness of the group gets tiresome and the leaps in logic needed to establish the camera coverage is naff, but the money-shot in any found-footage monster pic – the reveal of the beast – is handled effectively by Baric. His film never quite soars above the clichés, but moments of convincing terror do emerge.
The Launchpad Interview: “It was an incredible risk to make this type of film in this type of genre because of today’s impatient sensibilities and lack of tolerance. We made this film on the basis that it would be something that ‘we’ would want to watch.” Read the full interview here.

NORMAL
Directed by MICHAEL TURNEY (Pictured, above left; with lead actress Nicola Fiore).
RATING: 3.5/5
…or ‘The Most Ironic Film Title of the Year’. Michael Turney has an eye for the brazenly shocking – his film opens wordlessly as his blindfolded, headphone-wearing protagonist, Pingo (Nicola Fiore), submits to a stranger’s animalistic thrusting. But, despite some confronting sex and violence, to 'shock' is not Turney’s modus operandi; the auteur’s first feature is both stinging social satire and oddly intimate account of a foretold fate. In searching for an emotional and spiritual self-knowledge, Pingo discovers a dark destiny that will impact all of mankind. Normal feels small-scale in its execution (and occasionally a bit too oblique for its own good), yet resonates as a horror/drama with lofty artistic and thematic ambitions. Clearly energised by the dark corners and edgy eccentricities of the NYC shoot, Turney amps up the end-of-days imagery in the final act and the lasting impact is both emotional and visceral.
The Launchpad Interview: “My main theme is always balance and I hope people realize that men and women need each other to maintain it regardless of how frustrated we may be with one another.” Read the full interview here.

Wednesday
Nov252015

A NIGHT OF HORROR VOLUME 1

Stars: Bianca Bradey, Craig Alexander, Jessica Nicole Collins, Jessica Hinkson, Karissa Lane, Jane Barry, Rosie Keogh, Pauline Grace, David Macrae, Steve Hayden, Emily Wheaton, Lelda Kapsis and Tegan Higginbotham.
Writers: Daniel Berhofer, Bossi Baker, Jon Hill, Clare d’Este, Goran Spoljaric, Carmen Falk and Matthew Goodrich.
Directors: Enzo Tedeschi, Bossi Baker, Justin Harding, Rebecca Thomson, Evan Randall Green, Goran Spoljaric, Carmen Falk, Matthew Goodrich, Nicholas Colla and Daniel Paperis.

A Night of Horror Volume 1 will screen as the Opening Night feature at the 2015 A Night of Horror/Fantastic Planet Film Festival; ticket and session information can be found at the official event website.

RATING: 4/5

The opening ‘Elm St’-ish chords foreshadow the nightmare landscape beckoning in A Night of Horror Volume 1, an Australian anthology pic brimming with an artful corpulent excess and supremely slick genre smarts. A unique initiative between co-producers Enzo Tedeschi (The Tunnel, 2011) and Dean Bertram, founder of the Sydney genre celebration from which the project takes its name, A Night of Horror Volume 1 deserves attention from international splatter fests that pride themselves on breaking new, fresh visions.

Tedeschi self-helms the compelling bridge-narrative that connects the short films. A disoriented Sam (Wyrmwood’s Bianca Bradey, sporting the modern kick-ass genre heroine ‘must have’ - a white singlet) awakens in a darkened, mannequin-populated warehouse (‘shadowy recesses’, literally and psychologically, is a recurring motif); as she wanders room to room, Sam finds key elements that materialise in the stories to follow.

Dwelling on what lurks in the dark is a key thematic device. The psychosis that inflicts a young woman in Evan Randall Green’s satisfying ‘Dark Origins’ haunts her from the shadows; Bossi Baker’s Hum, a nightmarish riff on the mysterious ‘suburban hum’ that is said to emit from modern cities, exists in a muted, darkened space both physically and psychologically; co-directors Nicholas Colla and Daniel Paperiss explore the ghostly legends of Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges in the ok ‘Flash’. The notion that ‘public transport is hell’ is explored in Goran Spoljaric’s ‘The Priest’, whose titular evil presence (memorably played by a chilling David Macrae) deserves to emerge as the Krueger-like star of the pic.

The film’s most enjoyably scary scenario is Justin Harding’s ‘Point of View’, which features a morgue attendant terrifyingly evading a freshly risen corpse who can only move when unseen (imagine playing the children’s game ‘What’s The Time, Mr Wolf?’ but with a zombie). The influence of Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator looms large over the segment, one of several knowing references lifted from film and classic literature – an isolated rural family in the grips of grief face-off against a ‘Jack Torrance’-type father/axe-wielder in Matthew Goodrich’s atmospheric Scission; the influence of Grimm fairy tales infuses Carmen Falk’s darkly funny gross-out bit, Ravenous; and, Rebecca Thomson’s utterly revolting, slyly hilarious Botox body-horror skit I Am Undone (which credits ‘pube wranglers’ and ‘boobateers’ as key contributors) recalls elements of Brian Yuzna’s Society and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.

It’s a tough ask, pulling off an anthology film. Not everyone is going to like everything, all but ensuring a mixed critical reaction; the blending of various visual styles and storytelling techniques will invariably seem jarring to most horror buffs. Even the best to emerge from the current compendium craze (the V/H/S and ABCs of Death series; Fool Japan The ABCs of Tetsudon) waiver in quality.

But Tedeschi, Bertram and their band of skilled, young filmmakers (all stepping up to ‘feature film’ contributor status for the first time) are clearly united in their aims and equally matched in talent. While the look and feel of each segment differs, the relentless drive and unyielding desire to make every bloody post a winner is self-evident; it is that dark spirit that binds and defines both A Night of Horror Volume 1 and the vast horror community, who should lap it up.

SCREEN-SPACE editor Simon Foster is the Head of Jury at the 2015 A Night of Horror/Fantastic Planet Film Festival.