2018 | DIRECTOR. BEN YOUNG | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
Michael Peña stars as Peter, a husband and father who suffers from vivid nightmares of humanity being eradicated by an alien enemy. He believes his dreams to be premonitions, however those around him – including his wife – think that the manifestations suggest mental issues that need addressing. It isn’t long before a brutal force descends from the skies and systematically slaughters their entire city. With the city collapsing around them, the family must brave the streets in order to find safety in the basement of Peter’s workplace.
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2017 | DIRECTOR. TEEMU NIKKI | REVIEW BY ALEX MAYNARD.
Given the macabre images suggested by the film’s title, it shouldn’t be surprising that its protagonist, Veijo (Matti Onnismaa), uses his free time questionably: euthanising pets for a lower price than the local vet. In a different film it would be easy to cast the character as a villain based solely on this activity, yet Nikki and Onnismaa instead adopt a more complex approach that’s arguably the main reason EUTHANIZER work as well as it does. For instance, adding details like an abusive childhood hardly excuses Veijo’s actions but explains how his bleak worldview developed; as unlikely as it sounds, this becomes a source of absurd humour thanks to Onnismaa’s deadpan line readings throughout some truly bizarre dialogue. While the revelatory impression he leaves here may admittedly be due to my lack of familiarity with Finnish film and television, I felt that Onnismaa was a perfect choice for a difficult role. The supporting cast is minimal but features similarly brilliant performances, from Jari Virman’s ability to make a white supremacist character unexpectedly hilarious, to Hannamaija Nikander’s evocation of the classic femme fatale. There are few other roles with more than a handful of lines, which at times makes the film and its unnamed setting feel unfortunately sparse, although this is surely a consequence of budget constraints.
Meanwhile, the plot is as strange as you’d expect but manages to connect its threads and characters elegantly. I loved that Nikki’s script avoided wasting time with exposition even during the opening sequence, instead dispersing information more subtly across multiple scenes. As I mentioned above, neo-noir fans will appreciate the palpable sense of intrigue this creates; given how little resemblance EUTHANIZER bears to a traditional mystery, the consistency and restraint here is even more impressive. I felt that the absurdity inherent within the film’s premise could’ve been expressed more overtly than the moments of black comedy from Onnismaa and Virman’s performances, but this is ultimately a small concern due to how clearly realised the tone is overall. Simultaneously, Nikki weaves
moral debates and philosophy throughout without verging into didacticism or becoming dull, particularly in the subplot involving Veijo’s terminally ill father. Perhaps most importantly, these themes feel clear and understandable even if the audience doesn’t pick up on every element of an idea (I’m sure I didn’t with only one viewing).
EUTHANIZER should be considered an achievement not only for Teemu Nikki and Matti Onnismaa, but Finnish indie cinema as a whole. A keen awareness of scope allows the film to overcome its constraints with ease, focusing on its tightknit group of characters to allow the themes and tone to shine. Although I can’t imagine that English-speaking audiences will wholeheartedly embrace this film, I hope that it receives the recognition it deserves in its homeland; indeed, I believe it should’ve been the country’s submission for the most recent Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
2018 | DIRECTOR. BRAD PAYTON | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
animals which have been exposed to a top secret toxic pathogen. The virus causes them to mutate and grow, and fuels their temperaments with pure rage and aggression. Of the various creatures depicted in the game series, the film focuses on an albino gorilla, a wolf and an alligator. Dwayne Johnson plays the former special forces officer (of course he does) turned primatologist, who is apparently the only living human capable of saving humanity by “finding the antidote”. He is joined by Naomie Harris who plays the genetic engineer who helped create the pathogen, and is hell bent on bringing down the evil corporation.
The less said the better really. What you need to know is that RAMPAGE is comprised of every stupid cliché in the book; my favourite being the evil brother and sister CEO's of the evil corporation who scheme their evil plans as if they were starring in a Saturday morning cartoon. Johnson and Harris run around jumping over things. They fly helicopters around things. And they sky dive too... talk about bang for your buck, right?
I spent the entire movie facepalming and scratching my head. I couldn't believe what tosh I was watching, and yet I kept second-guessing why the hell I was enjoying it so much? It had to be the B-movie factor. RAMPAGE is deeply rooted in that classic creature-feature sub-genre from the 1930s through to the 1950s. Like the original Godzilla taking on Ghidorah and Mothra, or King Kong sparring with his prehistoric mates, this is a monster movie from the ages. Of course if you want this brand of movie WITH credibility then the Warner Brothers new MonsterVerse (Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island) is where you need to head. If – on the other hand – you like your creature-features with a shit-tonne of schlock and absolute absurdity then look no further.
RAMPAGE marks the third collaboration between Johnson and his director Brad Payton following Mystery 2 Mysterious Island and San Andreas. They clearly have a rapport and in this instance it's as though neither of them actually give a shit. They are upstaged by three massive creatures and all focus is on the mayhem. The story is riddled with CGI, which is both phenomenal and abhorrent in equal measure. The attention to detail is at times incredible, and then we're faced with the sight of an entirely digitised Dwayne Johnson for seemingly no reason at all. It's pox.
But as I said... it's also fun. Although another brain-stumper is the movie's target demographic. The story lends itself perfectly to a family audience, and yet it is bombarded with gore. What would be a very appealing adventure movie for kids is delivered as an adult's only smorgasbord of violence. It's so damn confusing.
But again. Fun. I'm sure it will end up somewhere near the bottom of the list when it comes to ranking the year's releases, but I cannot say that I wasn't entertained. And for that, there's for to be some merit to it, surely... right? Oh dear!
2016 | DIRECTOR. GORD DOWNIE | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
Downie was the front man of the influential band The Tragically Hip, as well as being a political activist, environmentalist and philanthropist. He passed away from an aggressive brain tumour and before he took his final mortal bow, he solidified his legacy with three incredible fetes. The first was a farewell tour of Canada, which was documented in the film Long Time Running (on Netflix), whereby he faced his audience, connected with every last person in each stadium, and said goodbye. It is one of the most emotionally charged concert experiences you will ever encounter. The second fete was The Secret Path, a musical project encompassing a full-length album, graphic novel and film, which tell an unforgettable story. And the third was a final solo album released posthumously (each song being dedicated to important people in his life).
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2018 | DIRECTOR. RICHIE MOORE | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
If you can imagine cramming Psycho, Bad Boy Bubby and Tony into a blender then you will begin to understand the quality of film I am taking about. And if you are up to date with independent Australian horror films you may know of a deliciously twisted movie called Cat Sick Blues... and if so, then you will certainly have cause to be excited about this wonderful little film.
Oliver (Russell Geoffrey Banks) is a 20-something man-child who has lived his life under the demented control of his psychotic mother. Having been raised in an environment of depravity and abuse, the story finds him in an unknown city - somewhere in Asia - where there is no shortage of working-girls to take home. His mother watches via web-cam as he tortures and rapes young women for her, before murdering them and dismembering their bodies. This, of course, is all at the insistence of mother (who presumedly funds this imposed lifestyle), and when there are no girls to bring home, she makes him masturbate directly to camera as she drinks wine and tells him that he's a good boy.
Twisted stuff huh? You bet, and I was blown away to be honest. Much like the aforementioned titles, WHO'S WATCHING OLIVER? is not the bleak and unscrupulous film that such a synopsis might suggest. It is, rather, a sincere and often whimsical story about a corrupted mind and the struggles of breaking free from the bondage of his mother. It presents a confronting story and fills it with empathy. At no point do we champion Oliver's actions, but we do spend the film hoping that he can break free.
Sophia (Sara Malaku Lane), is a girl who befriends Oliver at an amusement park and identifies with his introverted nature. She too had a troubled childhood and as the two of them bond, they begin to fall in love. Having never experienced friendship, let alone love, Oliver is convinced that he must stop killing women and must say no to his mother's demands. Yet those apron-strings are tied tightly and rejecting her is not so easily done. And so Oliver is faced with an internal conflict that he doesn’t know how to resolve, and throughout the final act of the film the story twists and turns in all sorts of unexpected directions.
WHO'S WATCHING OLIVER? marks the directorial debut for Richie Moore, whose career as a cameraman has seen him working on significant productions such as The Hangover 2 & 3, Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol and Gold. His years of experience as a camera operator and cinematographer have given him an immediate know-how when it comes to shooting his own film, and the result is a beautiful and engaging piece of cinema with a production design that almost contrasts the grisly actions taking place on the screen.
Russell Geoffrey Banks' lead performance is beguiling as he graces the screen like a figure skater, gliding in and out of his character's personas. With his natural good looks buried beneath an insecure geekish veneer, his onscreen presence is immediately captivating. He gives a mesmerising performance which is, at times, terrifying, while at other times tender. He plays Oliver with the right amount of vulnerability, measured carefully with a significant amount of dissociation. His co-star Sara Malaku Lane is very sweet on screen and lends the film much of its warmth. She and Banks share a wonderful rapport, which solidifies the character's chemistry. Sadly the film's one debility is Margaret Roche's performance as Oliver's mother. It is not a strong performance, and perhaps this is partly due to her scenes being shot separately via webcam, without the proper interactions to ground her delivery. She spouts such wonderfully vulgar dialogue that with more conviction and improvisation she could have stolen the show.
Nevertheless, the power of WHO'S WATCHING OLIVER? is undeniable. It is a handsome and provocative film for anyone with the disposition to endure it. It has a tight running time of 87-minutes and Moore packs every single frame with something inspiring. Whether it be unrelenting violence, excessive profanity or whimsical amusement rides. He pairs his images with a brand of jazz music that we would expect in a Woody Allen film, which adds so much additional texture to his already spirited production design. I tip my hat to him because this is one hell of a confronting and unapologetic movie-going experience, and one hell of a ride!
2018 | DIRECTOR. ROYCE GORUCH | REVIEW BY ALEX MAYNARD.
Perhaps the boldest choice Gorsuch makes is to almost immediately subvert the trope of a character’s split personality being unknown to them or the viewer. Although Fight Club and Mr. Robot showed that this can be an effective twist, the quick reveal here smartly moves the plot along; indeed, given the importance of Mason (Chris Mason) and Finn’s (Scott Mechlowicz) relationship throughout the second and third acts, it’s easy to imagine how changing the viewer’s understanding of it could have felt frustrating or unfair. Basically, Finn is a partial ‘projection’ of Mason’s consciousness that separated from him during an experiment gone wrong. I’m no psychoanalyst, but Finn ostensibly represents an impulsive id, continuously encouraging Mason’s reckless and competitive side. As a result, the banter between the pair is the highlight of most early scenes, frequently conveying the distinct exasperation which stems from forced, prolonged interaction (viewers with siblings will surely empathise). The menacing opening sequence further recalls Mr. Robot by hinting at the existence of a large online community keen to disrupt societal norms, with Mason as their masked leader. Gorsuch follows this with an unexpected but inspired moment of levity: Finn is introduced teasing Mason about how absurd his outfit and speech were, establishing their dynamic while cleverly advancing the scene.
Nevertheless, viewers’ enjoyment of Mason and Finn’s constant arguments is diminished by the lack of clear boundaries or logic defining the latter’s existence. Gorsuch initially utilises multiple shots from the perspectives of secondary characters to demonstrate that Finn can only be seen by and interact with Mason, yet during a later scene Finn is required to ‘project himself’ into a room that neither of them has ever set foot in. Furthermore, Finn is able to project Mason into the room afterwards, which simply makes no sense. This scene opens MAD GENIUS’ problematic second act and exemplifies its issues, as the haziness surrounding the characters is added to the vagueness of a central aim that, as acknowledged above, is fairly silly. The pseudoscientific tone found here likely would’ve felt less glaring if Gorsuch had embraced a more comedic direction instead of maintaining tension. In fact, subsequent plot developments only serve to emphasise this further; while suspension of disbelief is an important consideration when watching any film, there were moments from this act onwards that pushed me to my limit.
I’ve seen countless fan theories suggesting that entire sequences from classic films occur solely within protagonists’ minds; for instance, Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall arguably makes more sense if you believe such an interpretation. Without providing any additional spoilers, I’d argue that MAD GENIUS seems to be another entry in this niche group. Royce Gorsuch definitely needs to ensure that his projects’ internal logic is more fully developed if he continues to explore the sci-fi genre; however, the entertainment he creates here despite an occasionally vague foundation is ultimately promising.
2004 | DIRECTOR. MARK DIPPE | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
Despite the failure of Spawn, he demonstrated a clear talent, and for his next film he would tackle the creature feature genre with a direct-to-DVD title called Frankenfish. This was a film that I first saw upon release and I remember being impressed. My memory recalls it being an effective and refreshing take on the genre, boasting a good production design and great special effects. It’s a movie that few people know about, and perhaps that’s due in part to the creature-feature boom of the late 90s being all but dead. It follows in the steps of Lake Placid and Anaconda, and had it been made a few years earlier it might have enjoyed a bigger budget and a better reception.
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1992 | DIRECTOR. JOHN LANDIS | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
Innocent Blood has no obvious direct relation to American Werewolf and as far we know it doesn’t even occupy the same cinematic universe, and yet watching it (especially 26 years later) there are several striking similarities between them. The use of title typeface immediately recalls the earlier film, and the method of storytelling – with its familiar blending of comedy with drama – suggests they were cut from the same cloth. When you factor in the similar use of soundtrack and the design of its violence, the French Vampire title isn’t as far fetched as first thought.
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2018 | DIRECTOR. ELI ROTH | REVIEW BY SHAUN CRAWFORD.
So now, in the time of reboots, reworkings, rehashes and remakes, it’s no surprise that DEATH WISH should get the treatment too. However, unlike other remakes of films from those bygone eras DEATH WISH has surprisingly stuck to its proverbial guns and delivered a film as violent and right-wing as its source.
In these increasingly liberal times we live in a conservative fantasy like DEATH WISH doesn’t, on the surface, seem to have an audience or, at the very least, have an audience that would be willing to admit to liking the finished product publicly. The films ethos of an-eye-for-an-eye certainly didn’t strike a chord with any discernable audience and, as such, disappeared from its domestic theatrical release within one week of it opening.
It fared worse in the US where left-leaning critics went so far as to label it as ‘alt-right’ and ‘racist’, branding the film (rightly or wrongly) before most audiences had a chance to view it. Controversy and intended audience aside, how does Eli Roth’s take on DEATH WISH stack up? The answer is: it’s fine.
Writer Joe Carnahan’s take on Brian Garfield’s source novel doesn’t deviate in any major ways from the premise (read: mild-mannered man’s family killed, mild-mannered man kills everyone responsible) so all we’re left with is another 100-minute film of watching an ordinary man find extraordinary ways of dispensing baddies. So it goes. We’ve all seen worse.
Willis, whose performances of late seem to have varied, to say the least, turns the charm on as surgeon (not architect, this time) Paul Kersey, whose wife and daughter (Elizabeth Shue and Camila Morrone respectfully) become the victims of a home invasion. Feeling let-down by the judicial system and the law, and their lack of resources, Kersey takes matters into his own hands and seeks out the perpetrators and delivers his own brand of justice, as it were.
It’s handsomely lensed by Dutch cinematographer Rogier Stoffers and Vincent D’Onofrio props up the suffering family angle with a tender turn as Kersey’s brother Frank, but ultimately, regardless of how brave Roth and his cohorts were in sticking to their guns and delivering an outstandingly un-PC remake in wildly PC times, DEATH WISH 2018 doesn’t bring anything new to the table.
*Death Sentence, directed by James Wan, was based on Brian Garfield's 1975 novel of the same name (itself a direct sequel to Death Wish).
2018 | DIRECTOR VAHID JALILVAND | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
That synopsis is not a spoiler, I might add, but is the crux of the story. Suffice to say that No Date, No Signature holds a rather complex narrative, but one told simplistically. It is the second film from Iranian director Vahid Jalivand, following his 2015 debut Wednesday, May 9, and it qualifies him as an important new voice, not only for Iranian cinema, but also for cinema in general.