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Entries in Reviews (3)

Friday
Jul032015

THE CRITIC'S CAPSULE: REVELATION 2015, VOLUME 2.

Revelations has always fearlessly programmed works that emerge from the outer fringes of international cinema. Some label it ‘underground’ or ‘niche’, but fact is many of the highlights at this (or any) Revelations exist in a realm of their own creation, set apart by unclassifiable visions by one-off filmmaking talents. In Volume 2 of our Critic's Capsule look at Revelation 2015, we consider five films that will loudly and proudly divide audiences and ensure the Perth festival remains high on the list of events for moviegoers seeking boldly challenging cinema… (also, check out Volume 1 of our Revelations review coverage here)

H. (Dirs: Rania Attieh, Daniel Garcia / USA, Argentina, 95 mins)
The Argentinian directing duo of Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia adapt the classic Helen of Troy story to the contemporary township of Troy, New York and construct a bewildering narrative that reworks B-movie ‘meteor shower madness’ tropes into a mind-boggling sci-fi study in fear, madness and detachment. The story encompasses the experiences of two Helens; one, an elderly married woman (Robin Bartlett, terrific) with an obsession for life-like dolls and desperation to find her husband (Julian Gamble) after he, along with many of the townsfolk, disappear in the wake of a meteor’s flyover; the other, an artist (Rebecca Dayan; pictured, above), expecting a child with her husband (Will Janowitz), but who is experiencing ‘glitches’ in her daily reality. One can view H. as a wildly inventive take on the alien abduction phenomenon, but there always seems to be a lot more going on beneath the surface of Attieh and Garcia’s moody, captivating (occasionally, abstract and frustrating) filmic mystery. The determined, often artsy ambiguity may drive some to distraction (reactions from Sundance and Berlin ran the gamut), yet there are moments of undeniably engrossing psychological drama.
You’ll be talking about…
: Young Helen’s nightmarish encounter with The Black Horse.
RATING: 4/5 

YAKONA (Dirs: Paul Collins, Anlo Sepulveda / USA, 85 mins)
Providing a wordless voice for the majestic San Marcos River to impart a memory forged over 10,000 years, Yakona is a rousing natural history installation/videographic essay that chronicles the great waterway’s interaction with those with whom it shares the Earth. Co-director Collins crisp, immersive cinematography cuts seamlessly between images of plant and animal life sharing the mineral-rich, crystal waters with mankind through the ages (first the rightful owners of the land, the Clovis and Coahuiltecan tribes, then the invasive and violent first wave of white settlers). It lacks the soaring bravado and epic scale of Godfrey Reggio’s Powaqqatsi (1988) and Koyaanisqatsi (1982) and Ron Fricke’s Baraka (1992), still the standard bearers for this type of awe-inspiring study of our planet’s many faces. Nevertheless, co-helmers Collins and Anlo Sepulveda capture the wonder and delicacy of a life-giving tributary in all its complex and captivating glory.
You’ll be talking about…
: The snapping turtle versus the duck (a tip – stay through the end credits; pictured, right).
RATING: 3.5/5


WHAT I LOVE ABOUT CONCRETE (Dirs: Alanna Stewart, Katherine Dohan / USA, 87 mins)
For all the love afforded our teen movie ‘classics’ (The John Hughes trilogy, Heathers, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, to name a few), all are still bound by an adherence to form and structure that feels very…well, ‘adult’. None have ever fully captured the invented languages, insanely free-form humour, outsider angst and wildly romantic abandon that spews forth wondrously unfettered from the highschooler’s psyche. One of the most impressive achievements of Memphis-based filmmakers Alanna Stewart and Katherine Dohan’s adorable fantasy What I Love About Concrete is that it feels entirely borne of a teenager’s diary doodles, writ larger than life with the fanciful but meaningful eccentricities that exist within an average 11th grader’s headspace. As heroine Molly Whuppie, the Alice archetype who finds herself down a middle-class rabbit hole of her own creation, Morgan Stewart is warm and wonderful. Shot on next-to-no budget over several years with friend and family non-pro actors in key roles, Stewart and Dohan have conjured a high-school classic; a ‘Gilliam-esque’ teen-dream landscape filled with giddy humour, sweet innocence and touching emotion.
You’ll be talking about…
: Claire Faulhaber as nutty bff Georgie, whose stream-of-consciousness hallway monologuing is hilarious. And the superb soundtrack (which should be bought here)
RATING: 4.5/5

ASPHALT WATCHES (Dirs: Shayne Ehman, Seth Scriver / Canada, 94 mins)
Picture, if you will, an animated odyssey that follows two best buds, Bucktooth Cloud and Skeleton Hat (pictured, right), as they traverse the Canadian heartland, encountering all manner of weird, violent, crude and unwholesome Canuck natives. This is the basis for Asphalt Watches, a truly hallucinogenic cinematic trip dreamed from deep within the creative subconscious of writer/directors Shayne Ehman and Seth Scriver (who also voice the protagonists). Stylistically resembling an early 90s ‘side-scrolling’ video game and interspersed with groaning, industrial audio cues and repetitive musical interludes, this garish, grotesque work of flash-animated surrealism might best be described as the lovechild of psychedelic cartoonist Robert Crumb and Pendleton Ward, creator of the TV series Adventure Time. Several reviews suggest watching under the influence of whatever drugs you can get your hands on, but there is a good chance that the occasionally nightmarish images and relentlessly downbeat heroes will lead users to a very bad trip.
You’ll be talking about…
: Well, take your pick. The hideous car crash sequence; Santa Claus and his addiction to fast food between Decembers; the talking hand. Maybe just the anti-heroes themselves. Good luck…
RATING: 3.5/5 

THE CREEPING GARDEN (Dirs: Tim Grabham, Jasper Sharp / UK, 81 mins)
Finding universal relevance and existence-defining properties in the nutrient rich slime moulds found in the dense forest undergrowth was the profound aim of documentarians Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp with their passion project, The Creeping Garden. And, as unlikely as it may seem, their mission has been accomplished with resounding and wonderfully entertaining aplomb. From the pulsating electrical current that courses through its living tissue to the offbeat and wonderful aficionados who exist to explore its ever-expanding durability as a life form, slime mould makes for one of the most fascinating and complex central figures in any film this year. The Creeping Garden at first appears to be a rather stuffy British naturalist pic but, if Grabham and Sharp’s utterly engaging and refreshingly intelligent doco teaches you anything, it is that the best of what’s on offer is often found beneath the thin veneer of preconception.
You’ll be talking about…: The android head, wired to the electrical bio-rhythms of the slime mould, giving a face and voice to the acellular, jelly-like protoplasm.
RATING: 4/5

All ticketing and venue information for 2015 Revelation Perth International Film Festival are available at the event's official website.

Saturday
Jun062015

THE CRITIC'S CAPSULE: SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL, VOLUME 1.

Each and every film scheduled into the 62nd Sydney Film Festival deserves the standard 500+ word appraisal we usually publish here at SCREEN-SPACE. But, in an effort to offer as many opinions as possible while the festival is in full swing, we have introduced 'The Critic’s Capsule’ – short, sharp insight into as many of the Sydney screening highlights as we can muster. Three days into the 2015 event, here is our opening volley…. 

DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: THE STORY OF THE NATIONAL LAMPOON (Dir: Douglas Tirola / USA, 93 mins / pictured, above)
No one influence has shaped the American comedic landscape in the last half century more than the satirical publication, National Lampoon. The lovechild of Harvard’s privileged intellectualism and the late 60’s counter-culture fearlessness, the magazine (and, subsequently, brand) became a multi-million dollar industry. Douglas Tirola’s account of the Lampoon heavyweights that cut a swathe through American society with their brand of barbed, hilarious satire is both a glorious celebration of the lunatic fringe (led by wild-child Doug Kenney) and a cautionary tale of the destructive impact of fame and fortune. Hilarious accounts of the surreal life led by those at the Lampoon ensure big laughs; not so expected, the tearful moments of memory and regret.
You’ll talking about…:
The Murray brothers, Belushi, Ramis, Radner, Guest, Aykroyd, Chase and many more, all in their twenty-something pre-stardom prime.
RATING: 4/5 

MY LOVE DON’T CROSS THAT RIVER (Dir: Jin Mo-Young / South Korea, 86 mins / pictured, right)
Unforgettably poignant moments captured during the final years of a 70-year marriage imbue Jin Mo-Young’s achingly sweet, funny and insightful documentary (a theatrical blockbuster in its homeland). The story of Cho Byeong-man (98) and Kang Gye-young (89) captures the exquisite simplicity of their vast life together (they wed when she was 14), most notably their affinity with the surrounding riverside landscape and interactions with their extended family. The authenticity of some early scenes is questionable, but the inevitability of one’s mortality is dealt with in a deeply respectful, entirely truthful manner.
You’ll be talking about…:
The final farewell.
RATING: 3.5/5 

BEING EVEL (Dir: Daniel Junge / USA, 100 mins / pictured, above)
A vivid, vibrant celebration of the famed motorcycle daredevil, Daniel Junge’s exhaustively researched profile credits the rough-hewn Montana native and the commercial phenomenon he spawned as the dawn of the modern extreme-sports industry. Despite teetering on the edge of gushy hagiography for much of the first half, the darker psychological shades of the man himself keep the film on track – unlike some of Evel’s (in)famous jumps, captured here in all their bone-crunching glory. Superbly cut by Davis Coombe under Junge’s assured guidance; no surprise that Johnny Knoxville and Jeff Tremaine, the ‘minds’ behind Jackass are on-board as producers.
You’ll be talking about…: Junge’s slow-motion analysis of the less-than-graceful landing that Knievel (barely) survived when he leapt the Caesar’s Palace fountain in Las Vegas.
RATING: 3.5/5

DEATHGASM (Dir: Jason Lei Howden / New Zealand, 85 mins / pictured, right)
For those convinced heavy metal music in all its forms is the tool of Satan…well, you’re right. Such is the premise of debutant Jason Lei Howden’s ridiculously splattery horror/comedy Deathgasm, named after the thrashing four-piece that conjures Hell’s minions from a garage in Greypoint. As deliriously OTT as the claret-soaked carnage is, the tropes of the no-holds-barred, dismemberment genre are beginning to fold in on themselves; one sex-toy inspired sequence aside, the influence of Jackson, Raimi and Gordon is all too evident. Where Howden earns his stripes is in his handling of the very funny cast of characters. A star is born in Milo Cawthorne as headbangin’ loner Brodie, who exhibits great comic timing and an every-dude charm, especially in his efforts to woo the wonderful Kimberley Crossman.
You’ll be talking about…
: Death by dildo probably, although the first decapitation gag (that’s right, the first) got one of the film’s biggest laughs.
RATING: 3.5/5 

THE POSTMAN’S WHITE NIGHTS (Dir: Andrei Konchalovsky / Russia, 101 mins / pictured, right)
Journeyman Russian filmmaker Konchalovsky (Tango & Cash, 1989; Runaway Train, 1985; Dyadya Vanya, 1971) bounces back from the mega-budgeted 2010 flop The Nutcracker 3D with a pastoral character study set amidst a remote northern Russian village on the banks of Kenozero Lake. Binding the vodka-sodden community is sober mailman Aleksey Tryaptisyn, playing himself alongside a fellow non-pro cast in a narrative that captures a yearning to fulfil one’s dreams as traditional rural living clashes with encroaching and corrupt officialdom. The director’s understated naturalism may be too muted for some, but others will draw a heartbreaking universal relevance from the plight of Konchalovsky’s real-life protagonists.
You’ll be talking about…:
The tale of the river witch Kikimora, related so vividly by Tryaptisin to his pre-teen travel buddy Timur (Timur Bondarenko) as to render the child hysterical with fear.
RATING: 3.5/5

Visit the Sydney Film Festival website for all ticket and venue information.

Thursday
Jun262014

JUST THE FACTS, MA'AM: SNAPSHOT REVIEWS OF THE REVELATION DOCOS

The documentary feature strand at the 2014 Revelation Perth International Film Festival makes for a daunting viewing schedule. Each of the 20 films represents a unique vision of life from every corner of the globe. With thanks to the festival organisers, SCREEN-SPACE has seen several of the works programmed and offer our thoughts, however brief, on the RevFest docos that explore the world we live in today…

HAPPINESS (Dir: Thomas Balmes; Finland/France/Bhutan; 80 mins; Trailer)
Having captivated global audiences with his 2010 hit, Babies, French filmmaker Thomas Balmes delves deeper into the harsh existence and insurmountable spirit of children in Happiness. His focus is the charismatic Peyangki (pictured, above), an eight year-old boy sent to a monastery by a tough mother at precisely the moment his homeland, the mountainous monarchy of Bhutan, gets television and the internet. Breathtaking photography counterbalances the intense intimacy of Balmes’ subject; the story is about the boy, but the boy’s story encompasses his village life and the changing face of an ancient culture. 
Rating: 4/5

TINY: A STORY ABOUT LIVING SMALL (Dirs: Christopher Smith, Merete Mueller; USA; 66 mins; Trailer)
The ‘tiny house movement’ is leading the charge to downsive mankind’s centuries-old footprint. Chris Smith and Merete Mueller (pictured, right) chronicle their own efforts to construct a mobile home of barely 120 square-feet, yet which affords them the comforts of ‘MacMansion’-style living. The everyday characters driving the momentum to smaller, smarter dwellings populate this sweet, down-home slice of the new Americana; the ‘message moments’ are tempered by the personal story of Smith and Mueller, whose construction frustrations and romantic maturation give the film a compelling warmth.
Rating: 3.5/5

HARLEM STREET SINGER (Dirs: Trevor Laurence, Simeon Hunter; USA; 76 mins; Trailer)
Directors Trevor Laurence and Simeon Hunter recount the remarkable story of The Reverend Gary Davis, a blind southern black man who rose from tobacco warehouse busker to become one of the influential American guitarists of the 1960s. His unmistakable, incomparable blues/folk pickin’ made him hero to the likes of Peter, Paul and Mary, The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, not too mention the young boys who heard him play and sat at his feet to learn his craft. Though the film never skimps over Davis’ boozing and womanizing, Harlem Street Singer emerges a grand celebration of a man who redefined an artform.
Rating: 4/5

LED ZEPPELIN PLAYED HERE (Dir: Jeff Krulik; USA; 80 mins; Trailer)
Underground legend Jeff Krulik (pictured, right), that great gonzo archivist of America eccentricity (Heavy Metal Parking Lot; Ernest Borgnine on the Bus; I Created Lancelot Link), tackles the mystery surrounding the alleged appearance of supergroup Led Zeppelin at the nondescript Wheaton Youth Hall, Maryland, in the chilly winter of 1969. Krulik’s fluid, playful and engaging work is a terrific piece of detective storytelling, as well as a great Modern Music History 101 lesson; a vivid collection of aging promoters, record company execs, small-town fans and grey-haired musos, Led Zeppelin Played Here captures the early days of the rock music industry with a giddy glee.
Rating: 4.5/5

THE MAN WHOSE MIND EXPLODED (Dir: Toby Amies; UK; 77 mins; Trailer, below)
Drako Oho Zarhazar modelled for Salvador Dali, appeared in the films of Derek Jarman and led a wildly hedonistic lifestyle that made him the toast of the progressive thinking community. But by 2012, Zarhazar lives the hoarder’s life in a cramped flat in Brighton, England, his slowly disintegrating mind stimulated by hardcore pornography, a scattershot memory and self-abuse. Director Toby Amies befriended the eccentric and captured their interactions in a series of increasingly harrowing, intimate moments. The heartbreaking story of an unique friendship; bring tissues.
Rating: 4/5

FREELOAD (Dir: Daniel T Skaggs; USA; 65 mins; Trailer)
Ten minutes into Daniel T Skaggs raggedy, ‘hobo-hemian’ odyssey, it is tough to find much love for the coarse, self-focussed social dropouts who bum rides on America’s unsuspecting freight rail network. But their brattish arrogance and ‘f**k you’ posturing is peeled back by a filmmaker determined to uncover the truth behind the tattoos and chains; these kids are smart, determined, independent and legitimately at odds with society expectations. A love letter to the rebellious spirit, Freeload is also a bittersweet account of alienation and finding a sense of family while living a boxcar lifestyle.
Rating: 3.5/5

FAITH CONNECTIONS (Dir: Pan Nalin; India/France; 115 mins; Trailer)
The Kumbh Mela is the largest socio-religious gathering on the planet, an event that sees 100 million Hindu pilgrims travel to the junction of three spiritual waterways in Allahabad, India. Pan Nalin (Samsara, 2001) presents an epic yet intimate account of lives that both define and are influenced by the sea of humanity around them. Though unwieldy and overlong, Faith Connections is nevertheless a remarkably insightful film, full of stunning images and imbued with a strong sense of family and personal growth.
Rating: 3.5/5

WEB JUNKIE (Dirs: Hilla Medalia, Shosh Shlam; Israel/USA; 75 mins; Trailer)
The foreboding tagline ‘How do you de-programme a teenager?’ is explored with stark intensity in Web Junkie, a glimpse inside the medical/military machine that is weening Chinese teenagers off their addiction to online gaming. Sharing directing duties with respected documentarian Hilla Medalia is Shosh Shlam, who explored institutionalized mental health care for Holocaust survivors in her award-winning Last Journey to Silence in 2003. Their free form, peak-around-corners style deprives the film of structure but ensures moments of often brutal honesty.
Rating: 3.5/5