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Entries in Independent (28)

Sunday
Sep112016

THIS PAPIER MACHE BOULDER IS ACTUALLY REALLY HEAVY

Stars: Christian Nicolson, Sez Niederer, Daniel Pujol, Lewis Roscoe, Joseph Wycoff, Tansy Hayden and Jarred Tito.
Writers: Andrew Beszant and Christian Nicolson.
Director: Christian Nicolson.

Rating: 3/5

Playing sweet and silly while keeping irony in check is one of the many endearing traits of multi-hyphenate Christian Nicolson’s fan-boy movie-gasm, This Giant Papier Mache Boulder is Actually Really Heavy. The Auckland-based writer-director’s passion project is roughhewn but undeniably crowdpleasing, deriving some big laughs from a barrage of references that draw upon the two great periods of popular science fiction entertainment –the B-movie cheapies of the 1950s and the post-Star Wars boom of the 1980s.

Working with co-scripter Andrew Beszant and exhibiting an unwavering commitment to improvised energy, the premise stems from Nicolson’s deep understanding and clear affection for such properties as Blakes 7, Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, Red Dwarf and Star Trek (whose fan base are already nodding knowingly at the title); large dollops of comedic inspiration come from the likes of Monty Python, the Simon Pegg series Spaced and, in one nutty nod, The Benny Hill Show. Low- to no-budget constraints clearly posed zero concern for the cast and crew, who commit to their director’s enthusiastically loopy vision regardless of wobbly sets, home-stitched costuming and paddocks-as-planets location shoots.

Nicholson stars as Tom, the almost-cool one in a mismatched trio alongside schlubby eye-roller Gavin (Lewis Roscoe) and sci-fi geek Jeffery (Daniel Pujol). Reluctantly roped into a day at the mini-con ‘Quest Fest’, they are drawn to a screening of the schlocky space-opera, Space Warriors in Space. With barely a paragraph of cumbersome exposition, the three are zapped into the film, where Jeffery morphs into the fictitious Captain Kasimir, the trio put offside the evil galactic battle lord Froth (Joseph Wycoff, very funny) and Tom fosters affections for the feisty heroine Emmanor (Sez Niederer). Developments involving giant lizards, leery bikini-clad Amazons, a muppet and tribesmen with a Groot-like economy for words add to the overall air of free-for-all lunacy.

The meta-friendly ‘trapped-in-a-movie’ device allows for lots of knowing satire, utilisation of well-worn tropes and examination of the fan-to-film dynamic. Unlike the melancholy romanticism of Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo or smart social commentary of Gary Ross’ Pleasantville, Nicolson uses the structure to play for broad laughs, as Peter Hyams did in the 1992 cult item Stay Tuned, which saw John Ritter and Pam Dawber cast into a cable TV nightmare. The other clear inspiration is Dean Parisot’s 1999 hit Galaxy Quest; less obviously, due to it barely having seen a release outside of the UK, is Alan Donohoe’s Star Wars fan-pic, I Have a Bad Feeling About This, which recounts the odyssey of two Lucas-obsessed lads determined to catch a screening of the original trilogy.

In hindsight, Nicolson may have handed his post-production hyphen over to a fresh pair of eyes; at 112 minutes, the whimsy is not always maintained and the film could do with a tight trim. But one can’t begrudge Nicolson and his cast and crew the urge to put all they shot on-screen for all to see; the sense that every set-up was forged with passion and persistence imbues this giggly, goofy and genuinely likable genre farce.

This Giant Papier Mache Boulder is Actually Really Heavy begins an exclusive New Zealand screening season on September 14 in Auckland. Full screening and ticketing information on the film’s official website.

 

Saturday
Aug272016

BURNS POINT

Stars: Andrew Lowe, Ron Kelly, Francesca Bianchi, Aleisha Rose, John McNeill, Joel Spreadborough and Brad McMurray.
Writer: Chris Blackburn
Director: Tim Blackburn

World Premiere at CinefestOz 2016; screened at Margaret River Cultural Centre, Saturday August 27.

Rating: 3.5/5

A slow-burn crime melodrama that recalls such significant Australian works as Ray Lawrence’s Lantana and Anna Reeves’ The Oyster Farmer, the coastal-set thriller Burns Point proves a compelling calling-card effort for debutant director Tim Blackburn and his scriptwriter dad, Chris.

Utilising the picturesque surrounds of the New South Wales’ township of Ballina, the young filmmaker confidently weaves an ambiguously murky morality narrative steeped in revenge, family ties and dark anti-heroism. The thematic heritage, protagonist’s vengeful motivations and vast, photogenic backdrop (captured in all its widescreen beauty by rising DOP talent, Kent Marcus) posits Blackburn’s film as a ‘revenge western’ update darkened with shades of film noir.

Despite his boyish presence as the frontman of an otherwise muscular work, Andrew Lowe is capable as Jeremy Wilman, returning to his childhood hometown as the grieving brother of a murdered girl (Lyndal Moody, fleetingly). The killer has walked free thanks to the influence of crooked cop father Ken Stafford (a seething Ron Kelly), but Jeremy cannot let his sister’s murderer escape justice; he draws upon local connections in the form of Joel Spreadborough's memorable tough guy to inflict some eye-for-an-eye retribution (the revenge is swift and brutal, in one of the otherwise understated film’s nastier moments.)

As word spreads of his involvement, Wilman finds solitude and shelter in a canefield clearing, the expanse filled with the shells of former homes that are now only weathered reminders of past lives (the historic Empire Vale providing the evocative backdrop). Here, he reconnects with a sense of family, befriending the gruff landowner Bryan (John McNeill) and his wildchild daughter-in-law, Myriam (Francesca Bianchi, the film’s biggest asset), both solid support characters afforded strong dramatics moments by Blackburn Snr, a TV production veteran (Big Brother; My Kitchen Rules; The Gruen Transfer). The final reel ‘showdown’ that the film’s western heritage demands is inevitable but delivers.

The elder Blackburn’s script doesn’t push genre boundaries, favouring strong characterisations and dark atmospherics over new directions. But the father-son creative team prove that blood ties and north coast waters are a good mix; Burns Point is low-key, moody and psychologically complex contemporary storytelling, the likes of which are attempted far too infrequently by Australian filmmakers, and deserves to be noticed.

Friday
Aug052016

KILLING GROUND

Stars: Aaron Pederson, Aaron Glenane, Harriet Dyer, Ian Meadows, Tiarnie Coupland, Maya Stange, Julian Garner, Liam Parkes, Riley Parkes and Stephen Hunter.
Writer/director: Damien Power.

Reviewed at the World Premiere screening, Thursday August 4, presented by the Melbourne International Film Festival at Hoyts Melbourne Central.

Rating: 4/5

Damien Power’s brutal bushland nerve-shredder Killing Ground can rightfully sit alongside such dark kindred spirits as Wolf Creek and The Long Weekend in the annals of Aussie genre infamy. Bolstered by revelatory star turns from Aaron Pedersen and Aaron Glenane as the latest ute-drivin’, pig-shootin’ incarnations of the Australian male’s primal, predatory id, Power’s skilfully crafted feature debut demands global exposure beyond genre fests and midnight showings.

The young director both embraces and deconstructs a myriad of familiar ‘bad ol’ boys’ tropes, the likes of which rankle detractors who argue that such stereotypical characters demean the country folk portrayed in ‘hillbilly horror’ works likes Deliverance, Straw Dogs, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or, as recently as 2015, Sam Curtain’s similarly-plotted Aussie shocker, Blood Hunt. Regardless of such intellectualising (which is not without merit), there is no denying that this vivid, slow-burn reworking of a well-worn conceit is engrossing and, in at least one extended sequence certain to be examined frame-by-frame by censorship authorities, not for the weak of constitution.

Most thrillingly, Power and his virtuoso editor Katie Flaxman apply a complex narrative device that allows for interweaving storylines to span two distinct chronologies only hours apart. The foreboding sense of inevitable horror that permeates the first two acts of the auteur’s self-penned script works at such a pulsating pitch, it can’t possibly be sustained through to the more conventional but no less riveting denouement; for the faint of heart, that may not be such a bad thing.

The set-up is Horror 101; a young couple - Sam (Harriet Dyer), a doe-eyed twenty-something smitten with her upwardly mobile doctor bf, Ian (Ian Meadows) - indulge in a romantic getaway off a tourist trail in the Australian bush. Staking their claim on a riverbank clearing, they are resigned to sharing the spot with a big orange tent but, as their first night becomes a new day and there are no signs of their fellow adventurers, concern mounts.

Power begins his crosscutting of timeframes nonchalantly, introducing the missing family unit of troubled teen Em (a terrific Tiarnie Coupland), mum Margaret (Maya Stange), cool dad Rob (Julian Garner) and toddler Ollie (Liam and Riley Parkes, sharing the call-sheet). As Sam and Ian become entwined in the mystery of the empty tent, the fate of the young family unfolds at the hands of charming sociopath German (Pederson, giving his all in a thrilling, against-type performance) and Chook (Glennane, arcing his ‘simple man’ archetype from dimwitted follower to coldblooded killer with an agonising intensity). The actors are superb in roles that recall David Argue's and Chris Haywood's moronic, murderous mates in Russell Mulcahy's Razorback, minus the tension-relieving buffonery. When the timelines converge, the narrative is powered by a relentless momentum that essentially doubles-down on the 'final girl' plight synonymous with the genre. 

Displaying a entirely appropriate confidence in his material, Power takes time building character detail and a convincing sense of time and place, which may frustrate gorehounds who like their bloodletting upfront. But the patience the director displays adheres to the traditions of the best of B-cinema (especially the slasher pic heyday of the early '80s) and ensures audience empathy is peaking just as the nasty business kicks in. The cinematic heritage of great grindhouse works is also embraced by ace cinematographer Simon Chapman (Cut Snake, 2014; The Loved Ones, 2009), who captures the wilderness with stark, superb widescreen lensing before getting down and dirty, both figuratively and literally, in the third reel darkness. 

Thursday
Apr282016

YOU AND ME

With: David ‘Barney’ Miller, Katherine Southwell, Mick Fanning, Drew Derriman, Ella Chowdhurry, Lara Sonntag, Tania Brown, Sharron Southwell, Jason Southwell, Ken Ware and Jan Carton.
Writers: Shaylee Gomes, Taylor Montemarano and Lorenzo DeCampos
Directors: Lorenzo DeCampos, Michael Lawrence and Taylor Montemarano.

Rating: 4/5

The bonding of two broken souls and the combined strength to survive that they inspire in each other makes for a heartfelt, deeply moving character study in You and Me. This stirring, superbly crafted feature deserves breakout success for its backers, Garage Productions, the Sydney-based action-sports distributor whose principal, co-director Michael Lawrence, oversaw the four year shooting commitment.

As the title suggests, You and Me is an ‘everyman’ narrative; the fate that befell David ‘Barney’ Miller, a larrikin Aussie surfing protégé struck down in his prime and Kate Southwell, the country girl who finds her own resurrection while sharing his struggles represents the type of interpersonal journey that will be familiar to many. To the great credit of Lawrence and his team of co-directors, You and Me finds the extraordinary in the everyday; the warm familiarity of the lives touched by the hardships faced by David and Kate ensures resonance and empathy.

Archive footage and first-person recollections paint a picture of the young Miller as a charming, blokish, decent teenager, well known and well liked in the New South Wales north coast surfing enclave of Sawtell. In 1999, a speeding car in which he was a passenger left the road and struck a tree, leaving him a C6 Quadriplegic with no chance of independent movement for the rest of his life. Home video of Miller’s rehabilitation and subsequent descent into self-medicated depression is gruelling to watch, rendered starkly real via the heartbreak conveyed straight-to-camera by the man himself.

At Miller’s lowest point, the film shifts focus to the inland township of Cowra where we meet the Southwell family and their vibrant little girl, Kate. A mixed heritage has made her the target of bullies and the teenager is soon sliding into her own alcohol haze and misguided life path. To save their daughter, her parents send her to family in Coffs Harbour, the largest regional centre nearest to Sawtell.

After a fateful meet-cute (Lawrence utilises his ‘stars’ to recreate sweet moments from their blossoming romance), the extraordinary details of their journey are pieced together with slick filmmaking clarity. The storytelling brio and passion for surfing culture that Lawrence oversaw as producer on the doco hits Bra Boys (2007) and First Love (2010) are keenly evident in You and Me, nowhere more so than in sequences featuring world champion Mick Fanning, whose mateship with Barney is conveyed in some of the film’s most endearing moments.

One cannot begrudge the production for laying on the inspirational music and sweeping coastline photography a little thick at times; at it's core, it is the true story of a deeply enriching, achingly sentimental journey. That it also serves to highlight the endeavours of such institutions as Project Walk, Wings for Life World Run and Aussie Ken Ware’s neurophysics functional performance initiative is to the film’s credit. The ‘advocacy documentary’ has become an overworked genre in recent years but when skilled filmmakers keep the focus on the human struggle, any inherent call-to-action is earned, even welcome.

The mending of Barney and Kate’s lives and the shared spirit they embody pulses through You and Me. As one of the family friends predicts early in the story, the feel-good crescendo to which the film truthfully soars will not leave a dry eye in the house.

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.

Sunday
Jan172016

SKIN DEEP

Stars: Zara Zoe, Monica Zanetti, Elizabeth Blackmore, Jeanie Drynan, Billie Rose Prichard, Monica Trapaga and Robert Alexander.
Writer: Monica Zanetti
Director: Jon Leahy

Rating: 4/5

A dozen drunken dusk-to-dawn hours on the streets of Sydney’s boho mecca, Newtown, prove ample time for two strangers to find friendship and grapple with existential angst in director Jon Leahy’s impressive debut feature, Skin Deep.

The intoxicating free spirit and soft-hearted toughness synonymous with the arty inner-city enclave pulses through writer and co-lead Monica Zanetti’s simply structured but insightful script. The premise of stereotypes being deconstructed and souls being bared over the course of a night time odyssey is not new; no less than Richard Linklater’s Before… trilogy is the genre standard bearer and has inspired many imitators. But Zanetti and Leahy find a freshness in their characters and a frank honesty in the drama that is entirely engaging.

The protagonists are prim Northern Beaches ‘straightie’ Leah (a very fine Zara Zoe), outwardly composed but bravely facing her own young mortality; and, Caitlin (Zanetti, a natural and compelling presence), an out-and-proud lesbian struggling with her own post-breakup inner turmoil. When they ‘meet-cute’ over a CD dump-bin just off King St (one of many nods to local flavour that inner-west audiences will warm to), circumstances lead to a few lip-loosening ales at the Bank Hotel and the new friend’s evening of personal discovery takes flight.

The film symbolically references the outer shell which binds humanity in more ways than just it’s ironic title. Caitlin sports bandages on her forearms, suggesting she ‘cuts’ as an outlet for her anxiety; despite her healthy appearance, Leah is riddled with fatal melanoma cells (the story was inspired by Zanetti’s own struggle to overcome skin cancer). Zoe’s defining on-screen moment is a heartbreaking emotional meltdown in a cemetery, the honesty of their time together finally breaking down her defences.

Caitlin’s sexuality remains a non-issue for much of the film, with fleeting references and precise observations imbued with the same integrity that drives the rest of the production. A very sweet passage of dialogue between Zanetti and Robert Alexander as her broad-minded father is indicative of the film’s positive attitude to Caitlin’s life direction. Fittingly, both mainstream and LGBTIQ festivals have received Leahy’s sensitive, low-key take on the lesbian lifestyle warmly.

At a crisp 72 minutes, there is very little room for padding in the narrative; key moments, including a hilarious detour to a tattoo parlour and an awkward encounter with Caitlin’s ex, Isabel (Elizabeth Blackmore), are kept lean and played with a refreshing bluntness. An encounter with some street toughs in a children’s park feels stagey, if only because so much of what has unfolded previously rings convincingly true.

All tech departments deliver big-budget expertise on the low-budget shoot, particularly DOP Rodrigo Vidal-Dawson’s skilful use of after-dark light sources and Adrian Powers’ artful editing, which provides often lengthy passages of dialogue with crucial pacing.

Skin Deep Theatrical Trailer from ScreenLaunch on Vimeo.

 

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.

Thursday
Nov192015

THE SECOND COMING VOLUME 1

Stars: Michael Tierney, Richard Wolstencroft, Gene Gregoritis, Kim Fowley, Kristen Condon, Boyd Rice, Shannon Goad, Larry Wessel, Tora Wessel, Giddle Partridge, Brianna Garcia and Pete Doherty.
Writer/director: Richard Wolstencroft.

Screening at Sydney’s A Night of Horror/Fantastic Planet Film Festival; visit the official website for details.

Rating: 3.5/5

The urge to apply a conventional critical eye to The Second Coming Volume 1 is damn near overwhelming; your critic (who has viewed it twice) regularly muttered to himself, “this needs tightening” and “should’ve cut that out” and “what the hell just happened?” But underground icon Richard Wolstencroft’s ‘vision’ compellingly demands that you accept it on its own terms, in its own voice and at its own pace. Whether you find it an incoherent, self-indulgent mess (as it occasionally seems) or an auteur’s bold, deeply personal interpretation of the classic art that inspires him (which it certainly is), there is no denying that Wolstencroft has crafted a vast, ambitious, truly independent piece of free-spirited cinema.

The Melbourne-based director’s muse is poet William Butler Yeats, whose post-World War 1 poem The Second Coming has been embraced as a mystical musing on mankind’s demise. Wolstencroft utilises the poem’s opening lines to chapter-title his own apocalyptic narrative and arrange his mosaic of key players. ‘Part I: Turning and turning in the widening gyre’ introduces Michael (Michael Tierney), who, having wandered his personal desert and  sought heavenly guidance, unwraps his Baphomet idol and re-engages with his favourite book, Aleister Crowley’s 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings, before heading for the red-light districts of Thailand; ‘Part II: The falcon cannot hear the falconer, things fall apart, the centre cannot hold’ is set largely in Los Angeles, where hot-tempered author Gene (Gene Gregoritis) is pitching a Charles Manson project, while becoming quietly consumed with the notion that the cult leader’s vision for global mass-murder is nigh; and, ‘Part III: The blood dimmed tide is loosed & everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned’, which relocates the production to London and invokes the unsettled spirit of Marc Bolan as it peaks inside the drug-fuelled existence of dark spiritualist, Jerome (Jerome Alexander; pictured, above). The director casts himself as Owen O’Hearn, a shadowy facilitator-of-sorts, bringing together all the disparate personalities in service of the end-of-days prophecy.

In addition to Yeats, Wolstencroft has cited American iconoclast Kenneth Anger as a key influence. The underground filmmaking legend’s predilection for frank depictions of sexuality in his landmark shorts is echoed in Wolstencroft’s casting of such adult industry figureheads as longtime collaborator Tierney (aka, retired X-rated woodsman ‘Joe Blow”) and William Margold, legendary 70’s performer and porn industry historian (he thematically binds the sex-and-violence inherent to the premise when he screens a clip from Teenage Cruisers, a 1977 x-rated pic featuring an alleged Manson disciple). Also echoing Anger’s oeuvre is Wolstencroft’s use of occult imagery, a recurring motif in many of Anger’s most revered works. The use of a vast bibliography of reference works in the end credits is a nod to Pier Paolo Pasolini, who did the same in Salo.

Despite boasting of sequences shot on four continents, The Second Coming Volume 1 is a guerrilla effort that was clearly realised on a shoestring budget with a ‘one take’ guiding principle. One can assume from the footage taken in restaurants, airports, hotel lobbies and, quite unexpectedly, the UCLA campus and Manson’s infamous compound Spahn Ranch, were accessed sans permission; Wolstencroft takes a co-writing credit with ‘The Cast’, mostly non-actors forging ahead with improvised dialogue (Gregoritis gamely unravels ‘forgitton’ back into ‘forgiven’ and ‘forgotten’ in one memorable fluff); on more than one occasion, shots are sourced through a dirty lens. But the rough edges, unstructured plotting and no-holds-barred staging Wolstencroft captures bristles with a beat poet/jazz musician energy that services his aesthetic genuinely.  

There’s no denying the film does occasionally run off the rails in spectacular fashion, most notably when a confluence of eccentrics meet up in a flouro-tinged LA living room. Along with the increasingly unhinged Gregoritis, Wolstencroft unleashes such anti-establishment giants as the late Kim Fowley (ex-manager of girl punk group The Runaways and infamous LA debaucher) and bombshell Giddle Partridge, reimagining 80’s alt-scene great (and Gregoritis’ real-life ex), Lydia Lunch; as the improv restraints crumble, Fowley starts ranting straight to camera as his scene partners try to be heard off-screen. Similarly abstract (but, it must be said, very beguiling) are the free-style lyrics of Brit pop bad-boy Pete Doherty, who oddly materialises late in the third act.

Wisdom dictates that a Volume 2 shouldn’t be necessary. Even at 85 minutes, a great deal of footage could have been excised, especially a lot of scenes of people walking. One understands Wolstencroft’s desire to honour Yeats with an epic modern dissection of the Irish wordsmith’s great poem, but a single film clocking in at two hours (and providing the barely-glimpsed Kristen Condon time to expand on her role) may have sufficed.

What Wolstencroft and his dedicated team have produced is a flawed but fascinating low-budget genre work with high-brow ambitions; a deconstructed reworking of vital existential themes that a great artist explored a century ago and whose words can clearly still inspire today.

READ the 2014 SCREEN-SPACE interview with Richard Wolstencroft here.
READ the 2013 SCREEN-SPACE interview with Michael Tierney here.
READ the 2015 SCREEN-SPACE interview with Kristen Condon here.

Friday
Nov062015

ARROWHEAD

Stars: Dan Mor, Aleisha Rose, Christopher Kirby and Mark Redpath; featuring the voice of Shaun Micallef.
Writer/director: Jesse O’Brien.

WINNER: Best Feature Film at 2015 SciFi Film Festival (Sydney, Australia).

Rating: 4.5/5

Driven by the DNA of a dozen sci-fi classics while pulsating with its own original life force, Arrowhead is both a love-letter to the adventurous space visions of yore and one giant leap into the genre’s future.

Australian writer-director Jesse O’Brien has crafted a thematically complex, occasionally confounding but never less than riveting character study, centred by the terrific Dan Mor’s compelling, bracingly physical lead performance. Should anyone be concerned that Arrowhead comes in the wake of 2015’s other castaway-on-a-desert-planet film, they can rest assured that O’Brien’s debut feature is immeasurably more cerebral, exciting and satisfying.

The narrative’s central conflict (adapted and expanded from O’Brien’s 2012 short) is a large-scale ideological feud between warring factions, although the obligatory interstitials detailing the future setting prove a bit of a MacGuffin; the director quickly focuses his lean, central story on a prisoner named Kye Cortland. The opening action sequence, depicting a bloody prison break, suggests that this particular dystopian future may not be unlike the brutal killing grounds of Brian Trenchard-Smith’s 1982 cult shocker Turkey Shoot (or, perhaps more precisely, the locally-shot international productions Salute of The Jugger and Escape from Absolom).

Maimed and unconscious, Kye awakens in the presence of enigmatic rebel leader Tobias Hatch (Mark Redpath), who promises safe passage for Kye’s imprisoned father if our hero flies one last op for the cause as pilot of the Arrowhead space craft. Cue one beautifully rendered dissolve from the launchpad to deep space and Kye is on-mission, until forced to crash-land on a remote, rocky landscape. O’Brien blasts through this first act with precise beats, making every frame count in his commitment to slick storytelling, mounting tension and human drama.

Marooned, Kye engages with the downed ship’s advanced operating system, known as REEF (the distinctive tones of popular local actor/comedian Shaun Micallef providing the vocal interface) and begins to recce the alien landscape. O’Brien is now in his element, disorienting his audience with ambiguous visual and aural cues that indicate the planet is not the lifeless rock it initially seemed. Kye instantly adapts to the atmosphere; time and space defy scientific notions; the presence of a potentially dangerous alpha life form becomes apparent.

Kye is joined by fellow displaced astronaut Tarren, played by the wonderful Aleisha Rose who shares a rich on-screen chemistry with her leading man (and sports a superbly retro figure-hugging flight-suit, straight off the covers of a 50’s comic book). Also materialising in one of the plot’s more ‘out-there’ moments is the mysteriously resurrected Norman Oleander (Christopher Kirby). But Kye shares the closest affinity with the symbiotic essence of his new home; as time becomes increasingly fractured, so to does Kye’s grip on his human state-of-mind and tissue integrity.

It is this gripping psychological component, combined with some lavish ‘Jekyll-&-Hyde’ moments of transformative change, that ensures Arrowhead transcends its genre trappings and emerges as something particularly enthralling. Mor’s physical manifestation of his twisted psyche represents truly great body acting; both the technical prowess and emotional insight he plumbs in conveying O’Brien’s superbly written script is great to watch.

All tech contributors, from the lensing and VFX contributions of Samuel Baulch to Stephanie D’Alessi’s art direction and Ryan Stevens’ production design, reflect innovation and vision of an international standard. Detractors might gripe that the influences are too prominent; Duncan Jones’ Moon is an obvious touchstone, as are, to varying degrees, the likes of Silent Running, Pitch Black, Starship Troopers, 2001 A Space Odyssey and Total Recall. But, just as those genre standard bearers found there own voice, Arrowhead grasps the tropes and reworks, re-energises and redefines them with a bold ambition and crackling originality.

 

Tuesday
Oct272015

JACKRABBIT

Stars: Josh Caras, Ian Christopher Noel, Joslyn Jensen and Reed Birney.
Writers: Destin Douglas and Carleton Ranney.
Director: Carleton Ranney.

Rating: 3.5/5

Had Carleton Ranney’s cyber-noir thriller Jackrabbit been shepherded through the studio mill, it may have emerged as a kind of dystopic-worldview version of Sneakers, Phil Alden Robinson’s 1992 crowdpleaser that the hacker community still bows before.

Instead, Ranney and co-writer Destin Douglas have honoured the non-conformist stance of their protagonists and delivered a dark, thoughtful take on small-scale insurgent destabilisation. The young Texan’s feature directing debut is more ‘headscratcher’ than ‘crowdpleaser’, but it will be the deliberately oblique narrative that the festival crowds should find most engaging. To his credit, he also keeps to a minimum those ‘typing’ and ‘staring at monitors’ moments that burden most tech-themed thrillers.

Ranney and his talented production design team envision the near future as City Sector VI, a metropolis overseen by the all-seeing VOPO Corporation. An event known only as ‘The Reset’ has made state-of-the-art computer tech redundant, the population reverting to 80’s era circuitry that offers a meagre upside while allowing VOPO to spy on the population via a CCTV network; drone networks and ‘men in black’ operatives enforce border checkpoints and night-time curfews.

From an opening sequence that recalls the sad death of real-world hacker-hero Aaron Schwartz, an angry-young-man tech-outlaw, Max (a compelling Ian Christopher Noel) and VOPO-bound, short-sleeves-&-tie type Simon (Josh Caras) are drawn together as mutual friends of the deceased. With Joslyn Jensen’s Grace providing some much needed feminine guile (and presence) in the second act, the mismatched pair uncover an encrypted hard drive left behind by their late friend that may have far reaching consequences for the very structure of the Orwellian society.

As the plot thickens, so to does Ranney’s tendency towards understated ambiguity and minimalism. There are moments in the unravelling of the mystery that seem arbitrary, yet the momentum never fully subsides. For some, 101 stealthy minutes may prove grating but there is no denying the filmmakers have adhered to a well-defined indie-film aesthetic that ultimately rewards. One of the key thematic strands is the value of information as currency; Ranney, too, utilises and honours the details in minutiae.

One of the great pleasures of Ranney’s world is the disorienting retro-vibe the setting exudes. In addition to the box monitors and dinner-plate circuit boards, the fashions tend towards skinny ties and sleeveless vests, harkening back to the decade in which computers and the nefarious networks they foot-soldier for was born (check out the pic’s fun website for further 80s influence). Also superbly of the period is the pulsating synth-score from MGMT’s Will Berman, borrowing freely from the musical stylings of genre giant John Carpenter.

Jackrabbit screens as part of the SciFi Film Festival in Sydney on October 31. Session and ticketing information can be found at the events website.