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Entries in Sydney (4)

Wednesday
Sep122018

FIVE OF THE BEST AT SUFF 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday
Jan052018

BLEEDING STEEL

Stars: Jackie Chan, Show Lo, Ouyang Nana, Callan Mulvey, Tess Haubrich and Xiahou Yunshan.
Writers: Leo Zhang, Cui Siwei and Xiaohou Yunshan
Director: Leo Zhang.

Rating: 2/5

There is a special place in movie heaven for acts of such logic- and physics-defying cinematic lunacy as Leo Zhang’s Bleeding Steel, a momentously staged absurdity that almost endears itself through sheer relentless bombast. Largely shot in Sydney (or, more precisely, a graffiti-stained future version of the harbour city populated by basketball-playing American street teens, for some reason), this preposterous romp plays like a greatest hits version of star Jackie Chan’s most recognizable on-screen characterisations, but with dumbed-down dialogue, a garish colour palette and an audio track cranked to 11.  

Ripping huge chunks of inspiration from the likes of Luc Besson’s sci-fi spectacle Lucy, Chan’s own kiddie romp The Spy Next Door and…oh, let’s go with Roland Emmerich’s Universal Soldier, Zhang’s hyper-charged, hardly-coherent head-spinner is a star-vehicle concoction for both old and new generations of Asia’s favourite film stars. The ageing action legend plays special operative Lin, who has dedicated the latter part of his career to covertly protecting his daughter, Nancy (Taiwanese cellist starlet Ouyang Nana), while never being able to reveal his true self to her. Also in a mix to ensure broad regional and demographic acceptance is The Mermaid star Show Lo, the Taiwanese idol ok as the handsome but bumbling offsider Leeson, and Erica Xia-Hou as Lin’s strong-willed career cop 2IC.  

When a book is published revealing Nancy to be the missing link in a clandestine synthetic human initiative led Dr James (Kym Gyngell), the teen-queen Wolverine becomes the target of Andre (Callan Mulvey), a rotting Frankenstein-type behemoth who needs Nancy’s blood to regenerate. Despite barely being held together by his pale grey skin, Andre has amassed an army of black-helmeted alien types led by a leather-clad warrior-woman (Tess Haubrich, channelling Cate Blanchett’s Thor villainess; pictured, below), whose job it is to slay anyone stalling her quest to bring Nancy to Andre. That’ll do plotwise, suffice to say it spins in increasingly convoluted and largely indecipherable directions, with little regard for even the most basic action-movie realism.

Now well into his 60s and unable to dazzle with the same physical prowess he displayed as a younger action hero, Chan is nevertheless called upon to up the adrenalin for cast and audience (often with CGI enhancement); he occasionally appears somewhat bewildered by all that is unfolding around him. He has played this father/fighter/fumbler archetype before, most notably in his last three films (The Foreigner; Railroad Tigers; Kung Fu Yoga), all of which were far better suited to his age and talent. Chan’s signature large-scale stunt, the fight atop and spectacular descent from a big-city landmark (see his antics on Rotterdam’s Willemswerf Tower in 1998’s Who Am I? or the Hong Kong Convention Centre in 2004’s New Police Story) is dragged out again, this time perching him on the Sydney Opera House sails for some silly but spectacular fight scenes.

The most remarkable thing about Bleeding Steel (that awful title aside) is the tonal shifts employed almost frame-to-frame by director Zhang (who worked with the Chan clan on 2012’s Chrysanthemum of The Beast). Featuring broad slapstick humour, Bond-like gadgetry, Mission Impossible-type set-pieces, teen romance beats, some loopy science fiction tropes, schmaltz-rich sentimentality and, finally, knife-to-the-neck/chest-bursting ultra-violence, it is impossible to gauge what type of audience, other than the die-hard Chan completists, will feel wholly satisfied by this schizophrenic genre hodgepodge.

That Zhang and his cast play it with such straight-faced conviction at such a high pitch for all of the 110 minute running time does inspire in the viewer a ‘Stockholm Syndrome’-kind of respect for all involved, but that’s probably not what the producers (of which there are about four million) were aiming for.

Sunday
Sep182016

57 LAWSON

Featuring: Sara Armanfar, Carolyn Athan, Lou Athan, Mary Athan, Melissa Athan, Hussein Atik, Anthea Hewitt, Marta Klimenko, Gary Lonesborough and Olga Markovic.
Director: Ben Ferris.

Reviewed at the World Premiere at The Sydney Underground Film Festival, Saturday September 16; screened in Cinema 4 at The Factory Theatre, Marrickville.

Rating: 4/5

An unwavering focus records seemingly random but deeply honest, inherently captivating moments in time in Ben Ferris’ 57 Lawson, a study in humanity set against the backdrop of an ageing unit precinct in Sydney’s inner city. From the very first frame, which captures the low-rise towers as their day fades into night, the director’s docu-drama masterfully draws upon the objective observational cinema of Chantal Akerman, Chris Marker and Frederick Wiseman in examining the inevitability of change while archiving the latest redefinition of the role of ‘people’ in the city landscape.   

The multi-level apartment complex of the title was borne of an era when inner city population growth was high on the State government agenda. In 1941, the New South Wales Housing Commission was formed to encourage settlement in the area and provide homes for a burgeoning population; in 1965, the three apartment blocks named Kendall, Gilmore and Lawson, aka ‘Poets Corner’, that are featured in the film were opened. By 2016, the occupants are at the mercy of a new local government agenda, one that is handing these prime pockets of city real estate over to billionaire developers with no consideration for heritage or, more importantly, the residents.

Revealed in long, unbroken takes, the lives of the apartment dwellers are both unremarkable and beautiful in their apparent anonymity. Among them are a matriarch and her family, downplaying a traumatic hospital stint; a woman, dipping in and out of her native tongue while reading a cake recipe; and, an Iranian student, living a modern life while remaining respectful of her ancestry. Some of the extended takes are frustratingly abstract; a cruise ship passing the Opera House is a particularly bewildering insert. Yet the engagement between Ferris’ lens, the footpaths and corridors of the complex and those that call it home remains endlessly captivating.

The mosaic of everyday life begins to unravel when Department of Family and Community Services officials arrive at 57 Lawson to begin the relocation process of the longterm tenants. These scenes are staged, but they are realised with no less of an impact than the observational factual footage; particularly heartbreaking is the ageing Turkish man and the moment of realisation that the two women in his home are preparing to move him after 40 years of living at Poet’s Corner.  

Despite flagging a point-of-view with a pre-title quote from Mahatma Gandhi (“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members”), Ferris’ methodolgy does not dictate a socio-political message. Instead, his camera is an observer of the existential complexity behind the case numbers and bureaucracy. The influence of Akerman’s ‘slow-cinema’ is obvious, notably her masterwork All One Night (1982); like the late director’s finest films, 57 Lawson is an exercise in minimalism to the point of near abstract detachment. Yet while the very presence of Ferris’ camera seems oblivious to his subjects, it achieves a gripping intensity of personal focus and tangible sense of time and place.

 

Wednesday
Mar182015

MANNY LEWIS

Stars: Carl Barron, Leanna Walsman, Damien Garvey, Roy Billing, Simon Westaway and Richard Green.
Writers: Carl Barron and Anthony Mir.
Director: Anthony Mir. 

Rating: 2.5/5

Not the giddy rom-com romp its marketing would have you believe, Anthony Mir’s Manny Lewis is a rather more darkly-hued look inside the fractured heart and self-obsessed mind of that unique breed, the stand-up comedian. Baring his psychological all in the service of the script he co-wrote with his director is Carl Barron, stepping into the leading man role with a pleasing, if occasionally too understated dramatic ease.

Barron upped his profile from pub comic to stadium filler via appearances in the mid 1990’s on the blokish television hit, The Footy Show, and has carved a profitable, much-loved niche for himself in the Aussie showbiz landscape. His off-centre observations often involved his formative years as a misunderstood young man and later-in-life failings as a romancer; in that regard, Manny Lewis is Carl Barron, albeit a version of the man gripped by a stark loneliness and hollow-eyed depression that will take many of his followers by surprise.

So mopey is his persona, it is hard to gauge why Manny is popular at all (other than the passers-by yelling, “Hey, love you Manny!”). He has amassed considerable fame out of exploiting childhood memories, most notably ripping apart the parenting skills of his father (Roy Billing, too warm a screen presence for this role), yet is suffering through an existential crisis that is putting all he worked for at risk. The comedian is on the verge of signing a massive US deal and has a live primetime concert set to air, but baulks at any interaction with his fans and phones sex-worker hotlines when gripped by insomnia.

It is via one such anonymous hook-up that he connects with ‘Carolyn’ (Leanna Walsman), a voice with whom he can share his (many) woes. When ‘Carolyn’s real-life alter ego, Maria, stumbles across a) her phone-john’s true identity, and b) the man himself at the local café, a bumpy romance blossoms. These scenes should play with a lightness of touch that skims over the less plausible beats of the narrative, yet much of the first act plods. It is to Walsman’s credit that the tropes play with any conviction at all; her dramatic acting chops are the film’s key asset and explain away the absence of a ‘comedienne’ as the female lead (achieving a similar balance to that Paul Thomas Anderson created by casting Emily Watson opposite Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love, though all comparisons end there).

Barron and Mir (directing his first feature since 2003’s You Can’t Stop the Murders) never seem entirely invested in the romantic machinations of their story. They are far more concerned with the psychological framework of those that seek a career plying the stand-up craft. Yet the revelation that most comics are desperately yearning for the approval of their parents and are so self-absorbed as to not see the goodness of the world before them is not exactly groundbreaking. Fans will recognise that Barron is also retiring some old material; a bit he’s been doing for most of the last decade, the “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you” routine, is central to a third-act meltdown that all but ensures it won’t be dragged out for any Leagues Club encores in the future.

The ‘sad clown’ genre is filled with far more skilfully realised examples (Judd Apatow’s Funny People; Billy Crystal’s Mr Saturday Night; David Seltzer’s Punchline; Chris Rock’s Top Five), none of which take the sombre, maudlin route employed here. Unlike the bigscreen transition of such popular local comics as Paul Hogan (Crocodile Dundee), Jimeon (The Craic) and Mick Molloy (Crackerjack), Carl Barron’s brand of moody introspection and manufactured romance is unlikely to connect with old fans or win over many new ones.