2014 / Director. Joe Bauer.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
AUSTRALIENS is an outrageous independent DIY feature film, and that fact alone earns it a bonus point on the score board. Filmmaker Joe Bauer wrote it, directed it, edited it, scored it, shot it and was responsible for its special effects (amongst other things, I'm sure). It's difficult for me to comprehend this and I cannot help but serve the guy a heap of admiration before even delving into the movie itself.
It tells the story of five young people who find themselves at the centre of an alien invasion, which seems to be concentrated over Australia. The mother of two of them has been abducted and with flying saucers whizzing around the Brisbane skyline, demolishing the entire city, the five intrepid, albeit unlikely, heroes set about conquering the alien forces and rescuing her. What follows is an offbeat, action-packed adventure with cheesy characters, intentionally hokey FX and a self awareness of its own stupidity.
Joe Bauer set the tone brilliantly with an opening sequence that discloses the film's absurdity from the get-go while reassuring the audience that they're in safe hands in terms of the technical aspects. This prologue demonstrates an amazing level of production design and the visual FX are off the tap. And then moving forward he maintains a steady control over his presentation with a wonderful combination of practical effects, digital effects and make up... It's hard to fathom the just how DIY this film is.
As with most low budget indie films, AUSTRALIENS suffers from a few expected shortcomings. The first point of contention, for me, is the length. The film would benefit greatly from a tighter running time and I imagine this is one of the downfalls of Bauer doing everything himself. I imagine he was so invested and consumed with his work that cutting its length might have seemed impossible. However from an outsider's perspective there is plenty of content that could be trimmed or even excised for the sake of restraint. Nevertheless the film is so entertaining that it can be forgiven.
Secondly I would note that a lot of the gags miss their mark. It's not that they're bad gags, to the contrary... they just fall short of hitting the right beat. The film is so infested with humour that plenty of the jokes and punchlines could have been trimmed without affecting the impact of the comedy. Once again this is probably a consequence of having fingers in every pie, and for that it's easily forgiven.
The performances are solid right across the board, and I would give notable praise to the film's lead actress (and co-writer) Rita Artmann, Paul Adams as the NQR father and Joe Bauer himself as the infected friend (his performance is a clear standout). They commit to the material and present their characters with a clear comprehension of the genre and a full understanding of how far to push the absurdity. With the rest of the cast adding to the cohesion the result is a fabulous sci-fi comedy that pummels the viewer with an outrageous lunacy and eye-popping digital creations, and a definite cult status. It's a hell of a lot of fun and if you can imagine MARS ATTACKS fused with ATTACK THE BLOCK then you will begin to have an understanding of what lies in store.
2015 / Director. Eli Roth.
Review by Shaun Crawford.
Once upon a time Eli Roth was one of a new generation of film wunderkind that had the hopes of a stalling genre heaped on their shoulders. The glut of self-aware, ironic teen horror through the 90s was diminishing and the Gorenography sub-genre was the shot of adrenaline it needed to sustain it for a couple more years. His HOSTEL films helped push the mainstream horror genre to new boundaries and after cementing a friendship with Quentin Tarantino he became all but a household name.
HOSTEL 2 was a long time ago though and with his 4th film as director, THE GREEN INFERNO, mired in all kinds of distribution fiascos, he turned his attention to KNOCK KNOCK, a remake of the 1977 thriller DEATH GAME.
Keanu Reeves, still sporting his JOHN WICK stylings, is work-from-home architect Evan Webber. Devoted husband, loving father, you know the drill. When wifey and kids venture to the beach for a weekend away, Evan stays at home to finish a project. Then one stormy night two stranded, scantily-clad women, Genesis and Bel (Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas respectively), knock on his door looking for help and shelter from the storm. Turns out they're insane and he's stupid and before you can say 'that's my worst nightmare' Evan's peachy existence is turned upside down. - In a nutshell its HARD CANDY meets THE STRANGERS. Sort of.
While it sounds all kinds of horrific it's a considerably restrained outing from the prominent goremaster. The stakes come from the unravelling of the girls composure, the gradual unveiling of their true psychotic personas and not, as is usually the case with Roth's films, the escalating gruesome violence. No spraying arteries or savaged organs here. In fact, there's next to no blood-letting in KNOCK KNOCK full stop.
It's intensity & thrills over blood & gore then, which is as much a departure for Roth as KNOCK KNOCK is for Keanu (who'd have ever thunk we'd see Neo in a horror film?) and to his credit it's nice to see him stretch his wings. It's a little more grown-up and a little more of a refined output tinged with acidic humour. While it's not as immediately subversive as HOSTEL it has its moments that remind us it's Roth at the helm.
Izzo and Armas are having a blast as the batshit-crazy femme fatales. Roth has seemingly given them carte blanche freedom in their performances, allowing them to dial up their cuckoo antics to an eleven. Sometimes it suits and other times they are so over-the-top it's obnoxious and cringeworthy. Reeves, on the other hand is...well, it's Neo in a suburban thriller. Woah.
KNOCK KNOCK is essentially a low-budget home-invasion thriller where the attackers play the long-con over a couple of days and not one night, drawing out the victims anxiety and dread and, at times, has the viewer with fingernails firmly in the arm-rests. Not much of a side-step for Roth but enough that this film is certainly worth a spin.
2015 / Director. Ryan Coogler.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
The 2006 film ROCKY BALBOA seemed like a fitting end to a long and enduring legacy. It was a respectable film and gave the Italian Stallion one last triumph. Considering that the original film depicted a man past his prime, it was a tough sell convincing us that Stallone's beloved character had more gas in his tank... but at the age of 60, with the combination of supreme fitness and an assortment of muscle enhancements, he stepped up to the plate and punched out a sincere and heartfelt performance. And so was the end of the ROCKY series...
Picking up almost a decade later (my God) CREED enters the ring, building a strong new character-arch upon the foundations already laid. Yes it serves as a sequel, but more importantly it tells a new story, albeit a familiar one. Adonis Creed is the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, who died before he was born. Adonis spent his childhood being hand-balled between orphanages and juvenile detention centres until Apollo's wife tracked him down and took him in. Despite being raised with privilege and wealth he carried the burden of being the family secret, and with a raging inferno of anger burning away inside, we see him abandon everything so that he can step from out of his fathers shadow and prove his worth. With no professional fighting experience, he struggles to find a trainer who will take him seriously and so he turns to the one man who might feel obliged; Rocky Balboa.
Of course the story is contrived and all too familiar, and there's a huge sense of deja-vu, but the character development is strong and the journey that Adonis and Rocky undertake is deeply emotive. We have one character at the end of his road while the other is beginning and with the triumphs and failures of the past guiding the way the film offers a showcase of performance & endurance from it's players.
The lines blur between Stallone and Balboa. He is so in-tune with the character he created over forty years ago that stepping back into Rocky’s shoes is as simple as tying the laces. His performance is heartfelt and tortured and he still has that natural ability to deliver words of wisdom, ignorance and whim within a single breath. I become hypnotised by his on-screen presence to the point that I overlook whatever shortcomings the film also suffers, and there’s a real comfort for me in that.
Michael B Jordan of THE WIRE and FRUITVALE STATION fame bounds on to the screen with a ferocity that has been missing from the franchise for several instalments. He channels the same aggression that Carl Weather’s did in the first two films, but in a much more serious way. His character lacks the humour and frivolity of Apollo, which sets him apart and solidifies CREED as a serious point of evolution in the series.
There are a lot of faults within the script, though that is not to say it is a weak one. At times it feels as though the story is being advanced much too hastily and important character developments are skimmed over in favour of a tighter running time. Fortunately the story is fluent enough that these indiscretions are easily overlooked. The film also suffered from a few indulgences in attempting to create familiarity, and while I was manipulated by the nostalgic throwbacks, I can’t help but feel that the film would have had more impact if Adonis Creed’s story were told without the sentimental trickery. And there's also an unnecessary use of freeze-framed stat-cards that serve no purpose at all.
Nevertheless CREED is a strong addition to the franchise and an excellent introduction to an all-new series. I am expecting to see CREED 2 over the next few years, because lets face it, why develop a new character if they don’t intend to explore it? They can have my money now. An aisle seat will be fine.
2015 / Director. Dave Jackson.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Think about the most fucked up, outrageous and mind-altering imagery you can conceive... and now forget about it. Because believe me, whatever you conjured in your mind doesn't come close to the twisted insanity that CAT SICK BLUES smears across the screen.
This repulsive little film from Melbourne filmmaker Dave Jackson is a balls-to-the-wall assault on the senses that lacks decency and prides itself on depravity... and it's fucking awesome! It tells the story of a lunatic who dresses like a cat and murders women. He needs nine women, to be exact, and he sets about his perverted scheme with a gigantic strap-on cat-dick that will inevitably do a shit-load of damage to one very unlucky girl. That's no spoiler, by the way, because as disgusting as that sounds, it pales in comparison to the other atrocities that are committed to the screen in this sensational exercise in obscenity.
I spent the entire 101 minutes of the film in a perpetual state of awe and I was completely absorbed and exhilarated by what I was seeing. It is a showcase of audacity, creativity and a shit load of talent that brings the film together as a cohesive, yet surreal, test of audience endurance. Just when you think the envelope cannot be pushed anymore, they keep pushing. Then when you think they've reached their limit, they accelerate further. And all of it is done with glee. It is a testament to Jackson and his team that they've managed to present so much filth in such a frivolous and entertaining way.
The performance are great and all of the players deserve their due credit. Everyone involved gives their all and the two leads show particular mettle. Matthew C Vaughn and Shian Denovan are put through the ringer for the sake their art and their commitment to CAT SICK BLUES consolidates the final product.
The production design is sensational, the wardrobe creations are nightmarish, the lighting is surreal and the cinematography is exceptional. And perhaps most impressive of all is the jarring score by composer Matthew Revert. He has created a sound-scape that is hard to define. With a blended chaotic ambience of Aphex Twin and the pop-centric acuteness of Nine Inch Nails, he has matched the outrageous imagery of the film with a sound that complements it perfectly. Clearly the stars aligned and Jackson knew all of the right people to pull the film off so skilfully.
Think Lynch. Think Kubrick. Think Miike. Think de Heer..... now jumble them all together and throw in some Mr Oizo, Buttgereit and a dash of Tom Six, and you will start to appreciate the wonder that is CAT SICK BLUES; amongst the best Australian films I have seen this year.
2015 / Directors. Cameron & Colin Cairnes.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Disclaimer: Scare Campaign had its world premiere at Monsterfest on November 26, 2015. The following review is of the cut which screened on this night. It does not reflect any subsequent cuts that the filmmakers may undertake prior to the official theatrical release in 2016.
The Cairnes brothers announced themselves to the world with their cheeky little 2012 gore-fest 100 BLOODY ACRES. It was a tidy film with an insanely effective production design and a wacky script to boot. They proved themselves to be an exciting new voice of Australian cinema and the anticipation for their follow up was huge.
With a much darker story and complex script, they return with their brand new assault-on-the-senses; SCARE CAMPAIGN. Set in an abandoned lunatic asylum the film chronicles the production of a reality TV series called 'Scare Campaign'. Much like the actual TV series SCARE TACTICS from the early 2000s, which the Cairnes brothers must have taken cues from, the concept of the show features elaborate practical jokes being played on unsuspecting “stooges”. The gags are horrific in their nature and push the perceptions of reasonable entertainment and viewer expectations to their limits. Of course when the show takes things too far in an effort to maintain ratings, things take a gnarly turn for the worse and a brutal onslaught of terror begins.
To elaborate on the storyline would give away too much and deprive you from experiencing the film's often clever and intricate narrative. Cameron and Colin Cairnes clearly had a specific direction they wanted to take and there are moments of greatness laced throughout this unexpected nasty. They have distanced themselves from 100 BLOODY ACRES effectively and demonstrated their ability to flex widely within 'genre' filmmaking.
The assembled cast is impressive and boasts a billing of seasons players including Ian Meadows, Cassandra Magrath, Jason Geary, Olivia DeJonge, Josh Quong Tart, Meegan Warner, John Brumpton, and Sigrid Thornton.. They all add weight to the film and deliver solid turns. But I need to draw particular attention to Patrick Harvey and Steve Mouzakis; two performers I am enamoured with. I have been a fan of Harvey for years and when he stepped away from his prominent role on NEIGHBOURS I continued to watch his theatre work with great enthusiasm. It's wonderful to see him back on the screen and I hope that this is a sign of things to come. Mouzakis, on the other hand, is still relatively new to me. He has been a familiar face for several years but it was his performance in last year's incredible THE SUICIDE THEORY that captured my attention. We awarded that movie with the “Best Australian Film” at last year's FAKESHEMP.NET AWARDS and his screen presence is destined for global recognition (it's only a matter of time).
The film plays out like a classic slasher film and creeps its way into the torture-porn sphere thanks to some amazing make-up and special effects from Australia's wizard of gore, Justin Dix. He delivers blood by the bucket-load and throws some truly outrageous and creative kills at the audience with the glee of a child pinging on red cordial. The film's strengths lie within his creations and he ought to be applauded.
Where the film falters, as far as I'm concerned, is in its drama. By all means the horror plays out nicely and the final act features some truly terrifying moments, however the drama that ought to have bolstered the horror is less restrained. A film such as this demands a high level of suspended disbelief and for a faux reality TV concept like 'Scare Campaign' to be convincing the environment around it requires a strong heightened reality. Unfortunately the realistic settings of the old sanitarium, as stunning as they are, hinder the concept by being too large in scope for what should be a tightly contained story. It would seem that the excitement for their concept and the accessibility to such a profound facility may have clouded some creative judgements.... but I digress....
Nevertheless SCARE CAMPAIGN is a brand new Aussie horror film that slops on the gore and delivers creative, original and terrifying new boogeymen that will be sure to plague people's nightmares. Horror fans will lap it up.
2007 / Director Tim Wolochatiuk.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Anyone with a basic knowledge of modern history will know the story of Jonestown and the mass murder-suicide of 909 people at the People’s Temple, orchestrated by the reverend Jim Jones. It is a tragic story that has scorched nightmarish images into the public consciousness and influences pop culture (does “don’t drink the cool-aid” sound familiar?). Several films and media spotlights have covered the story over the years, and Ti West & Eli Roth recently presented a fictionalised account of the events with their film THE SACRAMENT.
Of all the films I have seen about the incident JONESTOWN: PARADISE LOST is the most chilling. In fact it’s one of the most numbing documentaries I have seen in a long time. The massacre occurred in 1978 and with thirty years of extensive coverage already on record, the film takes a new approach by presenting a combination of talking head narratives, actual video footage and elaborate recreations… a similar method to the film TOUCHING THE VOID. The result is a polarizing and extraordinary document that puts the viewer at the centre of it all alongside Jim Jones, his followers and the outsiders who came to investigate the compound.
Director Tim Wolochatiuk has pieced together an amazing production. The reconstruction of the cult’s compound is insanely good. Set amongst the jungles of Guyana, the location has been recreated with a fine eye and lends the documentary a very real and highly credible power. With personal testimony from three of the survivors, combined with polarizing performances form the actors, the result is an uncompromising and painfully personal account of a very dark moment in history.
The talking head subjects include Stephan Jones (son of Jim Jones), Vernon Gosney (survivor) and Tim Reiterman (journalist who narrowly escaped murder) and their testimonies are astonishing. It’s hard to listen to their recollections without the hairs on your neck pricking up. They all witnessed the unimaginable and their stories are very hard to stomach. Through their experiences we get a better understanding of the mental state and psychology of Jim Jones, as well as the controlling nature of the cult.
The recreations are superb too, and these portions of the story illustrate and compliment the first-hand accounts being told by the real life counterparts. Actor Rick Roberts plays Jim Jones and while his physical resemblance isn’t as accurate as it could be, his demeanour and screen presence is commanding. It’s a stellar performance that amplifies the first hand narratives and leaves a haunting impression on the viewer.
The use of real footage, first-hand testimony and accurate recreations makes JONESTOWN: PARADISE LOST and exceptional demonstration of documentary filmmaking that future filmmakers should take note of. It is a fascinating, compelling and fucking terrifying film.
1973 / Director. Victor Erice.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
You cannot have a discussion about Spanish cinema without THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE being touted as one of the most significant films the country has ever produced. It ranks highly on most respectable ‘best of’ lists and has become synonymous with influencing the work of Guillermo Tel Doro (most notable THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE and PAN’S LANYRINTH).
Made in 1973, while Spain was still under the power of the Franco regime, the film was a subversive and symbolic story that acted as a bold statement against the government at a time when speaking against the tyranny was met with harsh penalty. SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE was subliminal enough to evade retribution, and yet powerful enough to speak for the people. And while its political significance has lessened with time, its power of imagery is stronger than ever some forty plus years later.
Set in a small isolated community in the year 1940, the film follows the emotional journey of a seven-year-old girl named Ana. When the 1931 film FRANKENSTEIN is played at the local hall, her imagination is captured and suddenly she is confronted with all kinds of questions about life. What is real and what is not? Her older sister fills her head with falsehoods and unwillingly puts her on a path towards the coming of reason, with some very confronting adult consequences.
There is no question that THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE is a work of art. It is a complex and philosophical story that is told in the simplest of terms. As seen through the eyes of a child, the film employs a minimalist form of narrative, which relies on image and relegates dialogue to the background. Characters only speak when it is necessary to convey information that the camera cannot, and whatever words they do speak are kept to a minimum. The outcome is a hypnotic and viscerally poetic story that blends realism with fantasy and leaves many of the themes and symbolisms to the viewer’s interpretation.
The cinematography is second to none, with wide sprawling landscapes, long static weather-shots and a wonderful assortment of varying two-shots. The film is captured like a fairytale and is all the most incredible considering that the cinematographer was all but blind at the time.
THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE is not a film you can watch just once. It benefits from repetition and it demands your attention. It’s impossible to look away from the beauty presented on screen and with the benefit of a modern remastered release, it looks more vibrant that most films from the past decade. This is quintessential viewing for all cinephiles.
2010 / Directors. Barbara Brancaccio & Joshua Zeman.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
There is a dense stretch of woodland in the middle of Staten Island known as The Green Belt and it shelters an abandoned mental asylum along with an old tuberculosis quarantine station. It was once the subject of investigation after tabloid journalist Geraldo Rivera exposed the cruel and inhumane treatment of its patients, and since it’s decommission it has laid empty, harbouring stories of ghosts and satanic rituals.
Film-makers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio grew up nearby and recall the urban legend known as “Cropsey”. It was a popular local folklore that told of a boogeyman-like presence within the asylum, which snatches children. With their camera in hand they set about exploring the myth and examining its ties to actual crimes within the area. And thus begins the examination of five missing children and the man who was accused of their murder, Andre Rand, a former employee of the asylum.
CROPSEY is a creepy and compelling documentary about crime, punishment and speculation. In many ways it echoes the grim realism of the PARADISE LOST films as it exposes the hysteria that comes with tragic cases of child murders. Zeman and Brancaccio rely on archival footage and first hand accounts from friends, family and law enforcement to sift through the details of the case and reveal the disturbing nature surrounding the arrest of the man accused. It casts an eye on the heightened emotions of the community at the time and the knee-jerk reactions many had. Without any physical evidence and no credible witnesses, Andre Rand was practically lynched and in typical Christian American fashion, stories of witchcraft and back magic began to dominate the case.
The film doesn't set out to exonerate Andre Rand, and it never argues the he is innocent. There is certainly enough circumstantial evidence to raise suspicions, however, the film highlights the fact that the proper course of justice was not adhered to. It holds a mirror up to the viewer and criticises mob mentality in the face of tragedy.
The strongest component of the film is the storytelling. Never forgetting that the fascination began with an urban legend, the film-makers exploit the eerie setting of the asylum with maximum effect. They venture into the darkness of the blackened passageways of the building and enter into mysterious rooms without knowledge of what lies ahead. Of course this is all a manipulative, and cheap, tactic to provoke the viewer but it works nonetheless. Giving the narrative a scary edge makes the story of the five missing children all the more unnerving and provides the film with multiple appeal factors.
CROPSEY is an engaging experiment in documentary film-making, combined with classic genre tropes, that places it somewhere between PARADISE LOST and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.
2001 / Director. Avi Nesher.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
RITUAL is the official third instalment of the TALES FROM THE CRYPT film franchise and it endured a long and complicated distribution process. When the second film BORDELLO OF BLOOD became a critical and financial failure, the production company sold RITUAL to Miramax who, in turn, removed all TFTC references and released it as a stand alone film... a smart move.
Several years later, due to pressure from fans, they re-released it with all of excised material reinstated, and subsequently bastardised the TALES FROM THE CRYPT legacy by doing so. The result is a film that doesn't suit the franchise and lacks the fundamental characteristics that makes TFTC such an endearing property. RITUAL lacks the humour and frivolity of the previous instalments, as well as the surrealistic technical components like soundstage production designs and brash cinematography.
The first time I saw the film was during its stand-alone release, and without the franchise association it played really well (it still plays well if you are able to ignore the tacky add-ons). It is a straight horror-thriller set against the backdrop of a Jamaican landscape, where black magic echoes throughout the mountains. Jennifer Grey stars as a disgraced doctor who travels to Jamaica to work as a hospice carer for two brothers, one of whom is ill with a mysterious ailment that manifests itself as hallucinations. He believes himself to be a zombie and he lives in a possessed-like state.
The story is a loose remake of the 1943 film I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE and was shot entirely on location. The jungle setting enhances the horror, which is presented in a frantic and unsettling way. The hallucination sequences are consistently nightmarish and effectively chaotic. One particular body-melt delusion is incredibly gory while other visions include spiders, deathly vines and machete-wielding psychopaths... all of which are well handled.
There are very few fans of RITUAL out there and the film is generally a point of ridicule. As a third instalment in the franchise it certainly begs for mockery. The Crytkeeper intro is a cheap tack-on that uses the puppet which was previously used for the TV series DVD menus (it has minimal movement and looks lame). The voiceover, however, is good and I believe it was recorded several years before the eventual DVD release, prior to the distribution fiasco (get in touch with me if you know the specifics).
And yet as a stand-alone direct-to-video release I can't help but like this movie. It works. Jennifer Grey is good (and constantly wears a see through singlet with rock-hard nipples) and the support cast are adequate. They include Craig Sheffer, Tim Currey and Aussie actor Daniel Lapaine. The direction from Avi Nesher (DOPPLEGANGER) is competent and the pacing is tight and never lags.
I am dead-curious to learn the true back-story to this one. With CRYPT creators (and Hollywood heavyweights) Richard Donner, Joel Silver, Walter Hill, David Giler and Robert Zemeckis all attached as producers, there must be a juicy story behind this production. Stay tuned because I intend to explore it further.....
2015 / Sam Mendes.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
SPECTRE is classic Bond. It falls back upon the fundamental hallmarks that make 007 so iconic, and it never relents for a second. Daniel Craig and director Sam Mendes return with this follow up to their previous (incredible) chapter SKYFALL, and they continue to push the franchise to its limits.
Since Daniel Craig stepped into the role the series has fallen upon nostalgia and has attempted to update old elements with a new gritty modern aesthetic. It began with CASINO ROYALE, which of course was Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel. We were introduced to Bond from scratch, and then throughout next few chapters various other origin stories emerged, including the re-introductions of characters such as Moneypenny, Felix Leiter and Q. When SKYFALL hit cinema screens the series was reinvigorated and the film stood as, arguably, the best Bond film to date. It possessed the charisma, sexuality and brawn that Ian Fleming’s universe established and it paid homage to the previous interpretations. It was the quintessential 007 film.
Needless to say SKYFALL was a hard act to follow. I'm not sure there could have been a more fitting continuation than SPECTRE. Maintaining the heightened atmosphere of the previous film, this new adventure hits the ground running and exploits the nostalgia to its limits. We are thrust into the world of 007 that is completely reminiscent of days gone by and we are reacquainted with the franchise’s archetypal nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who has been absent from the canon since 1981’s FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (although he did appear in the non-canon film NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN in 1983).
The familiarity of SPECTRE is comforting. From the film’s fantastic opening sequence to its snow-covered slope chases and every incredibly conceived action sequence along the way, it is a balls-to-the-wall action thriller. Bond is decommissioned (again) after he disobeys orders and he finds himself alone in the field, chasing a lead that was given to him throughout the course of SKYFALL. In the meantime M15 is being de-constructed and replaced by a high-tech super-surveillance agency and makes fieldwork redundant. With previous 007 story-lines merging to shape the back-story of SPECTRE the result is 150 minutes of pure exhilaration.
Christoph Waltz brings Blofeld to life like a pro and his presence in the film, while limited in terms of screen time, is felt within every frame. The quirky yet menacing demeanour that has come to define Waltz’s appeal in cinema is perfectly suited to this character and he can rest proudly amongst the best of Bond’s adversaries. Daniel Craig is great, of course, as are the rest of the staple supporting characters. A particularly excellent performance comes from former WWE wrestler Dave Bautista. His size and ferocity make him one of the most memorable henchmen characters the series has seen since Richard Keil’s Jaws villain back in the 80s. One of the more perplexing components of the film, however, is the introduction of Monica Bellucci’s character. In the promotional lead-up she was being touted as the eldest Bond beauty to grace the screen, and yet her appearance is reduced to a seemingly insignificant cameo. An actress of her calibre and beauty surely deserves more than a fleeting rough-and-tumble, and we can only hope that there’s more in store for her later down the road. I suspect we haven’t seen the last of her.
SKYFALL set a benchmark that is almost impossible to beat. And yet SPECTRE gives it a run for it’s money and promises a respectable continuation while delivering non-stop action and the promise of an ongoing narrative.
2013 / Jonathan Newman.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
THE ADVENTURER: THE CURSE OF THE MIDAS BOX is a fantasy adventure film that boasts an impressive cast and promises a world of magic and monsters set against a Victorian-era steampunk universe. Instead is delivers a lazy, generic and lacklustre tease of what could have been.
The film stars Michael Sheen, Sam Neill, Ioan Gruffudd and Lena Headey (amongst others) and tells a fable of secret worlds and the monsters, which occupy them. When a teenage boy’s family vanishes, he embarks on a journey to save them. It is a dangerous adventure that has him chased by evil treasure hunters and battling against ferocious creatures.
Clearly capitalizing on the success of franchises like HARRY POTTER and PERCY JACKSON, the film is the first in a planned series. And yet despite cramming it with A-class talent and recognisable faces, the story and execution is much too flimsy. The film arrived under the radar and bypassed theatrical release, and without a prevalent home-entertainment release it would seem highly unlikely that the sequels will ever see the light of day.
The movie plays out like a midday movie from the BBC and lacks the spit and polish of its theatrical opponents. The cast are good and make the most of the material, but no amount of acting is going to salvage what is clearly a half-arsed script and a lousy production design.
With any luck the failure of THE ADVENTURER will mark an end to an era of over stylised fantasy films. Since HARRY POTTER and LORD OF THE RINGS began smashing box office records, we have been inundated with carbon copy franchises, few of which hit the mark. I don’t particularly have a problem with the genre but I do take exception to the saturation. Some of you may want to check out this latest stinker for curiosity’s sake… but don’t say I didn’t warn ya.
2015 / Director. Jean Pierre Jeunet.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
THE YOUNG AND PRODIGIOUS T.S. SPIVET is the latest film from renowned French auteur Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who is best known for his surreal fantasies AMELIE, CITY OF LOST CHILDREN and DELICATESSEN (amongst others). It also marks a return to English-language for him and showcases his unique and fantastical brilliance, and proves that there's plenty of gas left in his tank. Made in 2013, the film didn't reach American and Australian audiences until this year.
The story introduces us to a ten year old genius by the name of TS Spivet, who has invented the world's first perpetual motion machine. When he wins a prestigious award from the Smithsonian Institute he packs up his bags, runs away from home and hitches a train all the way from Montana to Washington DC. With a personal heartbreak jabbing at him at all times, he plucks up a steely determination and defies the odds to prove to himself that he has a purpose in life.
The film has Jeunet's unmistakable stamp all over it, from the stunning opening scenes to the incredible cinematography, and the distinctive oddities that occupy every frame. On a superficial level the film is breathtaking. You could watch it on mute, adsorbing it's colours and textures and still come away thoroughly rewarded. However, the narrative offers so much more beneath the surface. It tells a heartbreaking story, shrouded with vibrance and wonderment. It grabs you by the jugular and hauls you through a gamut of emotions. One moment you're full to the brim with awe and delight, and the next moment you're gripped with sadness.
During my earlier film school days in the mid 90s I was totally besotted with Jeunet's work. I vividly remember sneaking into a grotty little arthouse cinema in Vancouver to watching THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN, and from that moment I was infatuated with his work. He hasn't exactly been a prolific filmmaker, having made only seven films over the past twenty four years, but he has been an accomplished and consistent one. He has continued to mesmerise me and each new film rekindles the same love of cinema that I got all those years ago. THE YOUNG AND PRODIGIOUS T.S. SPIVET is no exception.... it is wonderful.
The film is lead by a young actor by the name of Kyle Catlett who has since gone on to appear in the remake of POLTERGEIST. He is an exceptional young actor who carries the entire film with ease. He masters the fantasy as proficiently as he handles the drama, and Jeunet couldn't have cast the role more perfectly. The supporting cast is excellent with Helena Bonham Carter delivering a lovely performance as the quirky mother. She is delightful and as beautiful as ever. Judy Davis lends some strong support as the Smithsonian PR officer and turns the eccentricity up a few more notches than usual (her roles of late have been stunning). Other cast include Jeaunet regular Dominique Pinon, Callum Keith Rennie and Julian Richings. All have been very well cast.
This film is a true delight and for those who can accept a few F-words and moderately distressing overriding themes, I would recommend it as an exceptional family film (for ages of 10 and up perhaps). Amazing colours. Beautiful cinematography and a bunch of knock-out performances make it a special kind of movie. Well worth your while. I only wish I had seen it at IMAX in 3D, the way if was supposed to be seen. What an experience that would have been. Here's hoping it gets another run because I will be there with bells on!
2015 / Director. Rhys Thomas.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
The question is whether STATEN ISLAND SUMMER is full of missed opportunities or is, perhaps, a sleeper comedy that will appreciate over time? I do know that it didn’t immediately resonate with me; however I liked what I was watching. It was a confliction of emotions that I have experienced before with some of my favourite comedies… and so with that in mind I am leaning towards a favourable response.
STATEN ISLAND SUMMER is the latest Saturday Night Live production and one of the first to showcase their current line-up of cast members. Produced by Lorne Michaels and written by Colin Jost (the show’s current weekend update co-anchor), it relies heavily on influence and homage. The story follows a bunch of teenage lifeguards at a local Staten Island swimming pool and it is a simple comedy about teens, sex, drugs and parties. Imagine SUPERBAD, AMERICAN PIE and CADDYSHACK morphing into one and you will have a good idea of what to expect.
What elevates it above the typical teen-romp is its style and soundtrack. The camera work is quite awesome and approaches the narrative with interesting and creative angles and movements. From impressive crane sweeps to subtle atmospheric tracking shots, there is no doubt that a lot of thought has been put into presenting the film. And the soundtrack is fantastic with music from new and old. From the kick-ass opening track from LCD Soundsystem to a bunch other indie-pop acts and some classic pop-rock from the likes of Foreigner. Regardless of what one might think of the film’s writing, there’s no denying the effectiveness of its style.
The performances are good and everyone involved brings a bucket load of fun to the proceedings. The standout performances come from Bobby Moynihan, who channels John Balushi & Chris Farley, and Mike O’Brien as the creepy pool manager. The rest of the cast gels well and there are some significant players who help lift the story up a notch. They include Will Forte, Gina Gershon, Fred Armisen and Zack Pearlman.
What the movie lacks is an immediate punch. There are very few “zingers” and the jokes often seem to miss their mark. I was amused throughout the film but mustered only a few actual belly laughs. It was a strange feeling because I knew that what I was watching was good, and I suspected that with repeat viewings I might begin to really appreciate the subtleties of the humour a lot more. I can recall feeling the same way about most SNL movies. There have been titles that I didn’t initially think much of, such as DIRTY WORK, SUPERSTAR, THE LADIES MAN, NIGHT AT THE ROXBURY and even IT’S PAT. But over time and repeat viewings I came to love them and now consider them to be hilarious. I suspect that STATEN ISLAND SUMMER will have the same effect on me and I am looking forward to watching it again.
There is certainly an old-school quality to this understated little film and the homages to comedies of the 80s and 90s are nicely done. The fact that it arrived under the radar with very little announcement or fanfare can only serve in its favour. Lets see how it holds up in ten years from now.
2014 / Director. Karen Moncrieff.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
PETALS ON THE WIND is the follow up to FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC and it is infinitely worse (and yet so much more enjoyable). I actually watched it in a constant state of disbelief and a fair amount of shame. The fact that it was nighttime only added to the confusion considering the striking resemblance it bears to daytime soap.
It is the second instalment in the Lifetime network’s Dollanganger saga, which of course began with FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC. I watched it with an unnatural curiosity. The novels aren’t exactly the type of trash that I would read and yet I have a weird fascination with the story and was keen to see where it went. Of course I could have just read the synopsis on Wikipedia but wheres the fun in that? I am indulging the “car crash” factor… or at least that’s what I’m running with.
The story picks up 10 years following the events of the first film and we are reunited with the Dollanganger children. The eldest brother is now a med student. The middle girl is an up and coming ballerina and the youngest girl is in her final years of secondary school. It’s convoluted story of intertwined relationships that’s mostly strung together by themes of sex, incest, revenge and family secrets. When the traumatic memories of the attic persistently affect their lives they scheme a plot of revenge against their mother, the likes of which belongs in the sordid episodes of the trashiest soaps.
From the opening scene with its clunky sound design and shonky production values the film begins with the promise of mediocrity and delivers on that promise in spades. To give it some credit, in a step up from the first film the acting here is slightly better. Heather Graham, who was appalling in the previous instalment, steps up her game and delivers a half decent turn as the psychotic mother, although her screen time is limited. Ellen Burstyn returns as the evil grandmother, however her appearance is little more than a cameo (despite being the focal point of the promotional campaign). The rest of the cast are so-so and do their best with a script that can only be described as incredible…
Incredibly bad, that is!
Having not read the book I watched the film constantly wondering how faithful it was and whether it was making shit up as it went. I later read the synopsis of the original novel online and discovered that the film was almost entirely comprised of liberties. Very little of the book found its way onto the screen and the film’s narrative hop-scotched from one scenario to another, without any character or plot development and almost no resolution. It is essentially a patchwork of polarising scenes from the book, stitched together without any cohesion. What a steaming pile of shit.
And yet part of me enjoyed it. What the hell is wrong with me? The perpetual facepalms that were tenderising my forehead became a masochistic ritual and the worse the film became, the more pleasure I got. Now I know why so many house-wives (and house-husbands, for PC sake) become so obsessed and addicted to the bullshit television that rapes their daytime viewing.
There’s two more instalments in this series…. Stay tuned!
2014 / Director. Kayla Alpert.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
VC Andrew’s 1979 novel FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC was a sordid and provocative story that teetered between gothic horror and trashy melodrama. It dealt with themes that are difficult to adapt to the screen and having been banned in various places around the world, its legacy has been firmly cemented as a sort of pulpy cult masterpiece.
The book was adapted in 1987 and that film, despite being a watered down treatment, it has since earned itself a strong cult following. With many of the stronger themes of the book only implied within the film, its strength and longevity is thanks to a brilliant production design and a genuinely uncomfortable atmosphere.
And now the story sees a whole new adaptation, made for television, starring Ellen Burstyn and Heather Graham. With the recent wave of serial-style franchise properties such as HUNGER GAMES, MAZE RUNNER and FIFTY SHADES OF GREY the Lifetime network looked to VC Andrew’s Dollanganer series, which saw FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC followed by three official sequels, all of which Lifetime have now adapted.
It is the story of four children who are locked up in their grandparent’s attic for several years while their mother indulges in a lifestyle of wealth and spoils. The children fall pray to their evil grandmother’s physical and mental abuse and their lives become a confusion of emotional torment and incestuous sexual exploration.
This latest adaptation is truer to the novel than the 87 version was, however it lacks the atmospheric oomph that the previous film had. Ellen Burstyn is quite effective as the monstrous grandmother, however the support she receives from the rest of the cast is atrocious. It is a telemovie that boasts a handful of very bad performances, none less than Heather Graham who is stupendously awful. The script is poorly written and the characters almost look as though they’re reading off of an autocue.
There are some interesting elements and the production design occasionally showcases some creative and effective set pieces. Sadly for the most part it all looks artificial and sterile. Kudos to them for sticking to the edgy themes of abuse and incest and remaining a lot more faithful to the book, but shame on them for keeping it PG and ignoring the books strongest components, such as rape and teenage intercourse. Such things were the crux of the novel and ought not be ignored.
Having watched this film with such disappointment I am dreading the subsequent sequels. I will be watching them, though, because I have not read the sequels to the original novel and I am curious to know where the storyline goes from here. I guess I will be lowering my expectations and approaching them with the trashiest of outlooks.