2013 / Director. Jake Goldberger.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Here we go again... another case of "seen it all before". You know the story; teacher comes to underprivileged school and inspires the unruly students. Sidney Portier, Morgan Freeman, Edward James Elmos, Michelle Pfeiffer and Hilary Swank are just some of the people who've done it all before... and now it's Cuba Gooding Jr's turn. I've never considered him much of an actor. He's given some decent performances and fluked his way to an Oscar but for the most part he's terribly overrated. Thankfully he fits the bill in LIFE OF A KING and delivers a heartfelt turn as an ex-convict who starts a chess club in an impoverished, crime infested urban neighbourhood. As expected, every beat along the way can be predicted. We know where this story is going and we know what hurdles are bound to arise. The good news is that it's a well made film and offers something alternative in its setting. Inspired by a true story (aren't they all?) the central environment of the story is removed from the classroom and set in a community club house. Using the chess board as a metaphor to life's challenges, this mentor figure is able to inspire the kids and have them think before they make any important moves. Of course it's fairly hokey stuff and being a PG rated movie it tows a very safe line. Nevertheless the message is earnest and the performances are all very good. I can also admit that I was honestly gripped by some of the chess tournament moments. Think about it... it takes a good movie to make chess gripping. I do wish that it had defied many of the regular conventions but I was also pleased that it presented a new context of redemption on the mentor's side of the story. Adding a smidgen of credibility, LIFE OF A KING finished with photographs of the real characters alongside information about their ongoing story. It is actually inspiring stuff. This might not be anything special but I do think it's better than average.
1992 / Director. David Twohy.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
David Twohy cut his teeth writing films like CRITTERS 2 and WARLOCK and in 1992 he made his directorial debut with TIMESCAPE (aka GRAND TOUR: DISASTER IN TIME). It was released direct-to-video in most territories but did enjoy a theatrical run in some areas. It tells the story of a group of tourists passing through a small town, who take lodgings with a local B&B. They are unusual people who seem strangely fascinated with ordinary things and keep a shroud of mystery around themselves. -- SPOILERS AHEAD -- with a constant attention to a specific time, the tourists turn out to be time travelers who are part of a Grand Tour program and visit different disasters in history. The owner of the B&B (Jeff Daniels) discovers their secret and when the arrival of the disaster kills his daughter and hundreds of his townspeople he steals one of the Grand Tour passports and jumps back in time to the hours leading to a meteorite obliterating the town. Teaming up with his yesterday-self the two Jeff Daniel's race against time to save their fellow citizens, ignoring the stern warnings from the visitors that a disruption in time would be catastrophic to their existence. In terms of time travel movies TIMESCAPE is a smart contribution to the genre and like others before it, cannot be over-thought. People who are used to fast-paced science fiction might struggle with this one because it does meander and take its time to unravel but once the time travel kicks in, it's a wonderful and understated adventure. Its story feels like a classic episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. From my various interactions with video store customers over the years, few people know about TIMESCAPE. That's a real shame and when I tell them that David Twohy also made the RIDDICK trilogy they usually go ahead and hire it. A few years after TIMESCAPE another movie came along and plagiarized it. Starring Casper Van Dien and Dennis Hopper the movie was called THRILLER SEEKERS. If you come across it, avoid it like the plague and find TIMESCAPE instead.
2014 / Director. James Gunn.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY represents all that I love about cinema and movies like this are the reason I keep going. Generally I am not a huge fan of comic book adaptations or superhero movies. I might like a few here and there and perhaps LOVE the occasional one but most of the time they grade on me and never appeal to my inner child the way I would like them to. For years I have been arguing that Ang Lee's HULK was the best film that Marvel had made... and now I'm almost certain that GUARDIANS has bumped it from the mantel. This is exceptional. Like many of you I have been watching the movie's progress through the various stages of production, thanks to James Gunn's generous and enthusiastic connection with fans via Facebook. From his early days at Troma to writing Scooby Doo to his first two feature films SLITHER and SUPER... it's been a joy to watch him work his way up the ranks and now the ultimate pay-off with one of the best movies of the year. People who aren't schooled in comic book terms can be forgiven for thinking that this is just another AVENGERS or FANTASTIC FOUR with a bunch of random characters thrown together into a crockpot of action. They would be wrong. The first point of distinction is that GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is a comedy... it's hilarious. Each one of the characters brings with them a unique personality and a level of humour unto themselves. From a cocky jock-like leader to a little creature with a complex to a tree with limited vocal range (and so on). These characters have been lifted from the comic books and brought to the screen so wonderfully, with an abundance of affection and a huge dose on sincerity. I needn't discuss the plot at all, because that is irrelevant to my reaction. The movie could have been about anything at all and my response would be the same. I was swept up in the chemistry and creative detail. The universe that these character inhabit is so gorgeously conceived and so much attention to detail has been given to it. Possibly the most genius aspect to the story is it's ongoing affection for the 1980s. Our hero leader is a child of the 80s, abducted from Earth at a young age, with only his walkman and a 70s & 80s mixtape as a keepsake. This provides the movie with infectious and awesome soundtrack and some truly memorable (hilarious) moments. It also allows him to make nostalgic cultural references (Millenium Falcon hehe) without seeming tongue-in-cheek. From start to finish, I left my adult self at the door and sat in wonderment like my 7 year old self. I felt like I was watching STAR WARS for the first time... what a wonderful movie experience. Mind you, my adult self did peep through the door at the right moment to catch a glimpse of Uncle Lloyd Kaufman as an unruly prison inmate. That made me very happy... it's nice to see that James Gun isn't forgetting where he came from in a hurry. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY will be fighting for a place in my top 10 list this year. Definitely.
2012 / Shane Ryan.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Director Shane Ryan addresses some of society's taboos and explores them intelligently, without exploiting the issues. When viewed through the wrong eyes (ie conservative and/or fearful) his films are a feeding ground for condemnation and misunderstanding, however, an intelligent and socially concerned mind will see them much differently. MY NAME IS A BY ANONYMOUS is inspired by the story of Alyssa Bustamante, a 15 year old American killer who stunned the world when she brutally murdered her 9 year old neighbour for the simple desire to know what it felt like... if her name is not familiar, then her notorious image probably is. During her trial, questions of mental health and a volatile home-life are raised and these issues are what Shane Ryan has chosen to focus on in his chilling and subversive film. It would have been all too easy for Ryan to glamorize this story and being a no-frills independent film, it would have been beneficial to exploit it for notoriety sake. Instead Ryan attempts to peel away the shock value in search of an explanation... whether or not he finds one is for the viewer to decide. Rather than focusing on one teenage girl and her obsession with murder, the story depicts the lives of several teenage girls who each have emotional struggles and disconnections. By shifting the attention to a group of teens, rather than a lone killer, Ryan has effectively presented us with a confronting reflection of modern society and he explores issues that most parents would prefer to turn a blind eye too. Anorexia, domestic & sexual abuse and obsession with fame are the predominant themes in the film and all of the girls performing are excellent. Ryan has cast the film brilliantly and extracts sincere and powerful performances from all of the girls. Particularly good is the young girl who plays the victim. One scene with her, in particular, at a diner is mesmerising to watch. The conversation is so fluent and natural and gives you an honest fly-on-the-wall perspective. You forget that you're watching a film and find yourself totally invested in these characters. The style of MY NAME IS A BY ANONYMOUS is also to Ryan's credit. He is in total control and uses a variety of methods to tell his story. From actor-controlled hand-held footage to wider and well placed panning shots to really effective montage & fantasy sequences. It was these surreal elements that gripped me the most and gave me a connection with the protagonists. I reflected on my own teen years and thought about the fantasies I played out in my own mind and Shane Ryan somehow tapped right into that. Hollywood are the true exploiters with their dumbed down, sexualized and exaggerated depictions of teenage life and for the most part that's accepted as the norm. Shane Ryan's film subverts those Hollywood archetypes and strives to theorize a truer teenage culture that most adults would prefer to turn a blind eye to. I do think the film is stretched ever so slightly beyond necessity and would benefit from a tighter running time, but I can easily overlook this to allow a filmmaker the freedom to explore and experiment. Shane Ryan is a dangerous filmmaker for all of the right reasons.
2013 / Director. James Franco.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
CHILD OF GOD is the film that no studio would touch. Based on the controversial novel by Cormac McCarthy it tell the story of Lester Ballard, a hermit who lives on the outskirts of a small Tennessee town. Mentally unstable with violent tendencies he spends his days roaming the land, talking to himself and pissing off land owners. His isolated lifestyle sees him descend into a spiral of madness as he turns to murder and necrophilia. James Franco has balls of steel to take on this story and to tell it in such a confronting and explicit way. He gives a proverbial "fuck you" to the big wigs of Hollywood and produced it independently. Doing so gave him the freedom to depict some some truly horrific, abhorrent and extraordinary things. There's no doubt this is a taboo film that will divide viewers down the middle. My own partner couldn't bare to watch some of the incomprehensible scenes of necrophilia and I suspect that many will react similarly. I personally had no problem with any of the film's themes and depictions but I was in a constant state of astonishment. My mind kept ticking over, thinking about how prolific James Franco is becoming. Aside from his acting, since 2005 he has directed 25 films including 10 features, 5 documentaries and a bunch of shorts. He has never compromised his artistic vision and that's obviously a benefit of his status in Hollywood. Scott Haze leads the film and takes up 99% of the screen time. There's barely a frame that he isn't in and his performance is outstanding. He has put everything on the line for this role and commits himself wholeheartedly. Whether it's taking an actual shit on screen or penetrating dead women... his performance is the epitome of brave. We've seen psycho serial killer films galore over the years and they can easily fall in to convention. CHILD OF GOD is a refreshing story, told beautifully and honestly. One terrifying scene recalled some of DERANGED'S most chilling moments and will no doubt resonate strongly with genre fans. This one blew me away. Exceptional stuff. Do see.
2013 / Director. Scott Cooper.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Take three incredible performances, a handful of fantastic supporting performances and superb direction and you end up with OUT OF THE FURNACE. Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio & Ridley Scott the film is a star-driven vehicle that bucks the Hollywood system and tells an intensely dramatic story of one family and the seedy underworld they get sucked into. Christian Bale plays the older brother to Casey Affleck. Affleck's character has served four terms in Iraq while Bale's character served time in prison for a drink driving accident that lead to a double fatality. Both of them are gripped by darkness and only one (Bale) puts the right foot forward to redeem himself. The younger brother, on the other hand, turns to illegal bare-knuckle fighting and puts himself on the wrong side of a brutal redneck crime boss (Woody Harrelson). To reveal much more is to give away important details and so let me talk about the film itself. Bale and Affleck are on top of their game and knock their performances out of the park... but the irrefutable show-stopper is Woody Harrelson. This guy is a powerhouse in almost everything he does, however, I don't think I've ever seen him better than this. He's terrifying. Also great is Willem Dafoe as a small time loan shark who also finds himself caught up in the whole ugly mess. Sam Shepard, Zoé Saldana and Forest Whitaker also give the film strength, although they are all under utilised. The direction is near impeccable and were it not for a fifteen minute lull in the second act, the film would be worth as many stars as a star rating would allow it. The tone of the film, the music, the cinematography are all top notch and they contribute to making OUT OF THE FURNACE powerful and exceptional viewing.
I was amused that Casey Affleck was brother to Christian Bale. That is to say that both of his brothers are BATMAN! hehe.
1993 / Director. Mikael Saloman.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Disney have a history of making some wonderful and unexpected feature films. They're quite often modest and resist the urge to perform for box office takings. Some amazing films over the years have included 3RD MAN ON THE MOUNTAIN, NEVER CRY WOLF, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, CHEETAH, WHITE FANG and A STRAIGHT STORY. In 1993 they produced A FAR OFF PLACE in conjunction with Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment. The film takes place in Africa where a teenage girl (Reese Witherspoon) lives with her father on a savanna. With the allegiance of other conversationists they wage war on poachers, which leads to all of them being massacred except for the girl and another American boy who is visiting on holiday. Fleeing into the vastness of the Kalahari desert with a local teenage tribesman the three of them attempt to cross 2000 miles of stark, arid & unforgiving sands. With dehydration, malnutrition and murderous poachers on their trail they defy the odds in this wonderful and uncompromising family adventure. I say "uncompromising" because of the fact that the darker themes are not skirted around and for a Disney film there is a lot of challenging material here for younger viewers. The film opens with a confronting slaughter of a herd of elephants, showing poachers barbarically cutting off their tusks with chainsaws. Nor does the film turn it's eye from the massacre of the conservationists. We might not be shown the killings but we are shown the aftermath, blood and all, from a teenage girl's perspective. Of course it's not gratuitous and these things aren't imposed on us for long but the visual impact is there. The story itself takes a lot of cues from Nicholas Roag's WALKABOUT and is told with some gorgeous cinematography... all shot on location. The teen leads are solid and my loathing of Reese Witherspoon is always easily suppressed when watching A FAR OFF PLACE. The supporting cast is strong too with strong performances from Maximilian Schell, Jack Thompson and Robert John Burke bringing extra credence to the film. There are a few easy bones to pick with the way these kids are always well dressed and seemingly healthy for such an arduous and long ordeal, but that's where the Disney touch comes into play and I can easily overlook all of that. In many ways the film is an educational piece for younger minds and would offer a sincere and enthralling eye-opener to Africa and some of the conservational struggles that threaten the continent. It's always a nice film to return to.
2014 / Director. Patrick Hughes.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
When you ask for a whiskey straight-up but the bartender gives you whiskey & coke, that's exactly what THE EXPENDABLES 3 is like (with a shit load of ice to water it down). It's enjoyable but not what you wanted. Lets call it THE EXPENDABLES: LITE. The first movie proposed a gimmick and asked for our approval. The second movie took that approval and gave us a balls-to-the-wall action movie full of grunt. And now the third instalment has dumbed things down and played it safe. In trying to appeal to a wider audience the studio have removed ALL of the grit and left us with a standard run of the mill action movie that is mediocre enough to be mistaken for a direct-to-video release. There's scarcely any blood, too many terrible CGI FX and some of the worst green-screen shots I've seen in ages. Stallone, Statham, Lundgren, and Coulter are wasted talent. Despite being the central characters, their whole dynamic is gone. Nothing gels with them anymore and it feels as though they are strangers who had never previously fought alongside each other. This is problematic to the overriding theme of camaraderie. Another mistake was to bring a whole new crew of younger members in a misguided attempt to pitch the movie at a younger audience. Fuck that. The whole EXPENDABLES gist is that it throws back to the 80s and revives forgotten stars. It's an action series for older generations, not tweens. Other new additions to the team include Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas and Kelsey Grammer. Snipes fits in nicely, although his introduction is atrocious (in a horrible opening sequence) and the self-referential gags are lame. Banderas doesn't fit in at all and his jester-like comic relief drags the movie down to subterranean levels. He's shocking. Grammer is good, although unnecessary and doesn't bring much to the table. In an attempt to keep packing in the stars, Arnold Schwarzenegger pops up again to deliver a hammy performance and Jet Li appears from out of nowhere for no more than 15 minutes of screen time. Oh and then there's Harrison Ford replacing Bruce Willis. Ford has never looked so bored in his life. He is not the action hero he once was and his on-screen time is comprised entirely of cheesy one-liners and extreme close-up action shots -- HOWEVER -- Despite all that is bad about THE EXPENDABLES 3 the one thing that keeps it fun is Mel Gibson. I love Mel and it's SO GOOD to see him in a big movie again. He relishes his villainous role and delivers a genuinely awesome performance. I love his screen presence and it's wonderful to have him back. This is a very bad movie that just so happens to be fun. It took me about 40 minutes to accept that they've missed the mark and when I let my annoyance subside I still managed to have a good time. I laughed at it's awfulness and shook my head all the way to the end (my neck hurt during the final action scene). Arnie even says "get to the chopper" (TWICE). Oh dear. Haha. And at 125 minutes, it is WAY TOO FUCKING LONG!
2007 / Director. Griff Furst.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Sometimes I need a good dose of Asylum movies. I'm sure you all know The Asylum... that low budget movie-house that pumps out gratuitous mockbusters and creature features. Movies like TRANSMORPHERS, THE DAY THE EARTH STOPPED, SHARKNADO and MEGA SHARK VS GIANT OCTOPUS. Most people ridicule them but then there's those few of us who LOVE what they do. We "get" what they do and we embrace what they do. We're not stupid. We know exactly how bad their movies are and that's precisely why we love them. Tonight I was seeking Asylum. lol. I went looking for one that I hadn't seen yet and I settled on UNIVERSAL SOLDIERS. Set on a remote island a group of marines find themselves battling dozens of genetically modified cyborg super-soldiers. They're the product of a government experiment gone wrong and when they escape from an underground facility there's no stopping them. Despite the title suggesting a serious UNIVERSAL SOLDIER knock-off, this b-movie bares little resemblance. The super-soldiers might look the same and their programming seems all too familiar but the comparisons stop there. The storyline takes on more of a PREDATOR approach with the marines being stalked. The super-soldiers move as lightning speeds and have the ability to shape-shift. Ok. I fess up. This movie blows... it is NOT to the standard of most Asylum movies and it cheats the audience. Where other Asylum mockbusters are packed with high-concept SFX and loads of action, this movie meanders. It's all talk talk talk with very little combat. The UNIVERSAL SOLDIERS barely get any screen time and the marine characters don't really do anything at all. Were there lots of dodgy CGI FX and actual stuff happening then there would be something to enjoy. God only knows where the $200,000 budget went because it sure as hell isn't on screen. One of Asylum's worst.
ALL of the movie's action is in this trailer. Watching this will do.
2001 / Director. Steve Beck.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
In the late 90s Hollywood producers Robert Zemeckis, Joel Silver & Gilbert Adler created DARK CASTLE, a production company dedicated to releasing stylised genre movies (mostly horror). This followed their previous collaboration on TALES FROM THE CRYPT and offered a similar brand of entertainment. Some of their titles included HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, GHOST SHIP, GOTHIKA and HOUSE OF WAX... they're all guilty pleasures for me and I'm not ashamed to admit that I get a kick out of them. To horror buffs these are light weight movies but they still deliver stylish gore, creepy creatures and excellent production value. Another one is THIRTEEN GHOSTS. The movie is a remake of a schlocky B-movie by the legendary William Castle and it tells the story of a family who inherit a mansion, which is inhabited by 12 malevolent ghosts. The house belonged to an uncle who captured unrested spirits and his maniacal intensions are revealed as the family unravels the mansion's secrets. It's heaps of fun and the ghost creations are wonderful. This was made 11 years before CABIN IN THE WOODS and there are quite a few striking similarities. I actually rate this higher. In keeping the film somewhat respectable the cast has been cleverly chosen. Tony Shalhoub, F Murray Abraham and Embeth Davidtz are strong actors and they offer the movie as much tenability as is possible. Matthew Lillard is also well cast and holds his own alongside them. More than anything THIRTEEN GHOSTS is eye candy for genre fans. Most wont find it scary (non horror fans will) but if they're able to give it a chance they will find that there's a lot of fun to be had. It could have easily been an entry into the TALES FROM THE CRYPT movie franchise and perhaps would have been better received. The DARK CASTLE movies have copped far too much flack over the years. I say to hell with that. Who cares what others think? Go on... give it another shot.
2011 / Director. Shane Ryan.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Shane Ryan is an American independent filmmaker and I have been itching to include his films on this website. I only write reviews while films are fresh in my mind and because it's been ages since I've watched any of his, I have been waiting to get my hands on a few so that I could get started. First off the rank is THE GIRL WHO WASN'T MISSING. This is the story of Echo, a 15 year old girl who is gang raped and thrown out of home when her father discovers a used pregnancy test. Out on the street without money or support she wanders aimlessly as the world around her continues to turn. Her life soon spirals into a cycle of prostitution, theft and drug use. If you aren't aware of Shane Ryan's work then you ought to take some time to check him out. He deals with some of society's hidden truths and explores the human condition in an honest and confronting way. His films are divisive and challenging and deserve attention. Of all the films of his I have seen, I find them to be provoking and uncomfortable. THE GIRL WHO WASN'T MISSING captures this teenage girl's life without sugar coating. The camera doesn't flinch from some of the more explicit material and viewers could be forgiven for turning away. Watching a young woman being raped by several men is not something one enjoys, but seeing a filmmaker tackle the material in an intelligent and respectful way sure is affecting. The performance from Kai Lanette (who also co-wrote) is outstanding. She compromises nothing and delivers a hugely brave and commendable turn. Ryan's camera work is excellent too. Entirely hand-held, he points and shoots and knows how to capture unsuspecting moments brilliantly. One moment he might be focused on the central character and without hesitation he will notice something majestic (like birds in flight) and turn his attention without distracting from the story and, in fact, adding a huge amount of sincerity and symbolism. He is a director that I cannot help but admire and can't think of many other filmmakers who speak with a social conscience quite like he does. If you have seen the Australian film 2:37or some of Larry Clark's earlier films then you will have an understanding of Ryan's sensibilities.
Click here to read my recent interview with Ryan.
2013 / Director. Josh Waller.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
50 women are held captive in an underground prison-hold. They are selected to participate in a physical tournament to the death. They have no weapons and must rely on their own fighting abilities to win. As an incentive their loved ones are kept under close surveillance and will be killed should a participant die. And of course the women fight for the entertainment of a wealthy audience who make up a centuries-old club of the elite. Some of the criticisms levied at RAZE are that it is exploitative and that it degrades women. That it is morally reprehensible and repulsive. FUCK THAT! Those kinds of disapprovals are, in fact, degrading to women and not the other way around. How many times have we seen the brutality of men in the same situation? How many beefed up, macho smack down movies have we seen where men beat the shit out of each other? Too many to count. I argue that RAZE offers something fresh and ballsy. Why is it so offensive that these chicks should get to pound each other to a pulp? ha. The concept of the movie isn't new but it sure as hell is fun. The violence is brutal and the women hold their own just fine. Zoé Bell leads the film and delivers more brute-force than most modern action-men. It might be classed as an "exploitation" film in the sense that its purpose is to be violent but it is absolutely NOT exploitative towards the women. There isn't a shred of nudity to be seen, nor are there any sexual implications. It is simply a good ol' fashion beat-em-up movie and having an all female cast makes it a hell of a lot more interesting then many other run-of-the-mill flicks. I had heaps of fun with it and at a short 80 minute running time, it's fast and audacious. A blood sport movie that has the hallmarks of a cult film.
2011 / Director. Jesse T Cook.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
MONSTER SQUAD meets WWE in this weird-ass, ambitious and comical exploit of genre. Presented in the style of a live network wrestling broadcast, MONSTER BRAWL features 8 renowned monsters in a tournament to the death. Taking place in a gothic necropolis with ringside commentators, the film showcases several rounds of monster-action as the creatures fight their way to the title. The monsters are Frankenstein, Lady Vampire, Mummy, Witch Bitch, Werewolf and Swamp Gut. With creature backstory packages preceding each of the rounds (narrated by Lance Henriksen) the fights are commentated by Dave Foley and Art Hingle. As you could imagine the movie is pretty much a one-joke affair... and yes, it does overstay its welcome just a little. The premise is perfect for a short film, however it has been padded out to an unnecessary 90 minutes... however, there's a lot of fun to be had. This came before CABIN IN THE WOODS and was the first movie (for some time) to mash classic monsters together. The blending of genres is peculiar, yet amusing, and has ample genre-gags to keep horror fans happy. What stood out most for me was the film's style and production. It's no secret that I am a sucker for sound-stage films, where false exteriors are filmed indoors and MONSTER BRAWL is entirely sound-stage. It looks wonderful... Director Jesse T Cook has used his measly $200,000 budget brilliantly. The movie is funny most of the time and where the humour does flounder, it's compensated with a great looking aesthetic and skilful cinematography. The creepy and cooky graveyard wrestle-ring setting recalls THE MUSTERS and Michael Jacksons THRILLER. Uber cheesy, tongue in cheek and perfectly gory MONSTER BRAWL is too modest to criticise seriously and ought to be enjoyed for what it is. Silly, juvenile and always fun. Aussies should look out for it from Monster Pictures on Sept 17.
2014 / Directors. Dave LaMattina & Chan N Walker.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
A couple of years ago Kevin Clash was featured in a lovely documentary called BEING ELMO. That film warmed my heart and made me feel good about the world. However, at the time I remember thinking that the legendary Caroll Spinney was far more deserving of a retrospective film. And now here it is. I AM BIG BIRD.
There isn't an adult around who wouldn't think of Big Bird fondly, nor is there child who wouldn't recognise his big infectious (and yellow) personality. He was certainly an influential character in my childhood and to this day I rate his feature film FOLLOW THAT BIRD as an all time favourite (definitely in my top 10 fav films of all time). His child-like personality and oversized heart have been an endearing and fundamental component to millions of children, spanning generations. I AM BIG BIRD shows us the man inside the bird (and the Grouch) and gives us a personal insight into his career, his life and his legacy. I watched the entire film with a huge lump in my throat and teetered on tears the entire time. I was so moved by this man and I kept thinking to myself "If only the whole world could see this film. It would be a better place, for sure". The film tells his story from childhood and his early years breaking into the business... through to his relationship with Jim Henson and his influence on all those who watch him. The film features interviews with family, friends and colleagues and it's wonderful seeing familiar faces on screen such as Frank Oz, Bob McGrath, Emilio Delgado and Sonia Manzano (amongst others). Their stories about Caroll are lovely and often hilarious and there isn't a negative word spoken against him. Spinney himself is also a wonderful storyteller and his own reflections are delightful. He recalls how he met his wife and the entire audience erupted into an emotional laughter. This is special stuff and he is a special man. Also fascinating is the technical revelations the film offers. We're taken behind the scenes of Sesame Street and the Jim Henson workshop and we're shown some of the puppeteer's secrets. The inner workings of Big Big are incredible and everyone watching was in awe of what a laborious and arduous task Spinney has undertaken for over 40 years. Only pure love and devotion could keep him working and that's precisely why he's still at it all of these years later at the age of 80. Directors Dave LaMattina and Chad N Walker have put together a superb film that will warm the coldest of hearts. Their narrative structure is perfectly pieced together and their access to archival footage is stunning. With the help of an enthusiastic line-up of Caroll Spinney's closest friends they have told his story with an abundance of sincerity what it will fill every viewer with a fat doze of warm n' fuzzies.
2014 / Director. Kasimir Burgess.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
FELL is a new Australian drama from first time feature director, Kasimir Burgess, starring Matt Nable, Daniel Henshall & Jacqueline McKenzie. It tells the story of a father dealing with the loss of his daughter who was killed by a negligent truck driver near a forestry plantation in the Victorian wilderness. With the driver in prison, the father leaves his suburban life behind and moves to a ramshackle hut in the bush near to where is little girl was killed. He begins working as a lumberjack and when the killer is released from prison the two find themselves working shoulder to shoulder. The killer is unaware of his workmate's identity and the film explores a deep seeded anguish and desire for revenge. Needless to say FELL is a heavy film and demands your attention. It's very much a spiritual film with much of the focus being on the father character and his inner thoughts. He is in a constant state of anguish and contemplation and Matt Nable has dug deep to deliver a powerful and affecting performance. Daniel Henshall is also excellent as the ex-con working to rebuild his life outside of prison. He is such a versatile actor and is generally great in almost everything, although this is his best turn since his debut in SNOWTOWN. Director Kasimir Burgess demonstrates a natural skill and restraint with his haunting tale of anguish and guilt. The Victorian wilderness is used beautifully and becomes a character unto itself. The gorgeous landscapes and hostile terrain provide a surreal setting for these characters to be dealing with their pain. The script by Natasha Pincus may as well have been written by an accomplished writer. You would never know it was a first time feature for her as she dares to focus on moments of reflection, favouring captivating inner-reflections & emptiness over unnecessary dialogue. This is a film that isn't about words, but rather the thoughts and actions of the characters. I am sure FALL will test some people's tolerance. It's a smart film and it is thought provoking... and it requires patience. Some may say that the story meanders, where others will say that it's eloquent and fluent. It resonated with me in a big way. It felt almost musical and transcendent and it's haunting themes cast my mind back to other films like IN THE WINTER DARK and THE HUNTER. It impressed the heck out of me and it deserves your attention.