The film depicts the real-life Granite Mountain Hotshots, a highly trained rural fire department who specialise in front line fire mitigation. They travel the country attacking brush fires head on, and when a particularly unpredictable fire threatens the township of Yarnell, they are faced with one of the most formidable fire storms of their lives.
Josh Brolin headlines the film as Eric Marsh, the headstrong captain of the department, and he leads the film with a strong, steely demeanour. His gruff exterior gives him a commanding screen-presence as he offers a fatherly figure to the young men in his command. He gives a serious and, at times, emotive performance, which shines a light on the courageous men who work alongside him. Jennifer Connolly plays his ever-suffering wife Amanda, whose patience with his profession is wearing thin. She counteracts Brolin's reserved manner with a softer, compassionate performance, which gives their partnership a realistic dynamic. They're great together and given that they were both teen stars of the 1980s, its fascinating to consider their decades worth of performances culminating in this powerful collaboration.
Miles Teller co-stars as Brendan, a young rookie, whose character-arc has him evolve from being pathetic criminal junkie to an outright national hero, and his performance is arguably the strongest. From frat-house stoner-comedies to Academy Award worthy dramas, Teller has gone from being a promising up-and-comer to one of Hollywood's most exciting and reliable players. As with many of his recent films, he owns every second of his screen time, and brings a charisma to the story that is both endearing and respectable.
Other members of ONLY THE BRAVE's ensemble include Jeff Bridges, Taylor Kitsch and Andie MacDowell. Bridges plays the greater district fire marshal whose guidance and support helps to promote the crew from a low-level fuel reduction team to a fully fledged squad of hotshots (yes, that's a title). He is great (when is he not?) and he even manages to get a live singing performance into the film without raising an eyebrow.
Kosinski is a director with a keen eye for visual effects and ONLY THE BRAVE is no exception. Coming off the back of two highly stylised science fiction movies, the film is the most subtle of the three, and relies on its story and performances. With that said, the recreation of some truly terrifying fires is amazing. Using an even amount of practical and digital effects he has captured the ferocity of the infernos skilfully. And when pitting his characters against insurmountable odds, he crafts the narrative much like a war film. The chain of command and the camaraderie amongst the men, as well as the hellish battles fought, mirrors countless military films and makes for an action-packed drama that remains respectful to the real-life counterparts.
ONLY THE BRAVE is a raw, captivating and emotionally charged drama that serves as a tribute to all who dedicate their lives to the emergency services. It is brilliantly directed, wonderfully performances and masterfully executed.
Woodly, armed with all manner of hex's, spells and amulets, teams up with the local cops to bring the demon in.
Make no mistake, this is all but an episode of TVs SUPERNATURAL without the Winchester brothers, or their impeccable comic timing, and half the budget of a single episode of the show.
It's easy to see everyone involved has poured their hearts in to it, but the film suffers on a few fronts. While Lundgren, now 60-years-old, can still carry a film (with 80+ credits he's had plenty of practice) the material he has to work with from screen writers Dan Berk and Robert Olson is tepid, to say the least. It's too esoteric for its own good, self-conscious and borderline hackneyed.
Never quite sure if it's out to be a gore-filled fright-fest or a thigh-slapping comedy, DONT KILL IT straddles both genres without ever committing to either. The comedy is poorly-timed and the blood-letting is excessive, lacking impact (it even has a BRAINDEAD-esque massacre sequence in which half the town is butchered and it's neither thrilling, spectacular nor hilarious...it, weirdly, just is).
None of this speaks to the lack of characters populating Chickory Creek, a town seeming populated by caricatures and cardboard cutouts, a phenomenon as strange as the demon soul-jumper that terrorists it.
DTV doesn't have to be a sub-par realm (if you haven't seen Ted Demme's film NOOSE or the Cuba Gooding Jr vehicle WRONG TURN AT TAHOE for proof) but DON'T KILL IT is probably best reserved for the bottom shelf. It's fine if you're in it for the gore but there isn't much else on offer here.
It’s incredible to consider that despite his television series, it was only 12 months ago that his previous feature film – Cafe Society – was released theatrically, reaffirming him to be one of Hollywood’s most prolific filmmakers. His process of creating each film begins with him pulling a hand-written title out of a box. He has been jotting down titles for decades and he builds upon whatever name comes from the lucky dip. In this case it was Wonder Wheel, a reference to the famous Ferris wheel attraction at the Coney Island amusement park.
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His latest film THE VIPERS HEX is arguably his most accomplished expression to date, and if stepping outside of his comfort zone to craft a drama isn't daunting enough, he shot the entire film in Japan... in Japanese no less! Needless to say there is a tremendous amount of tenacity within his new film, and by drawing influence from a multitude of sources, he has delivered an emotionally-charged story that pays homage to iconic Japanese cinema, while having the distinction of an “Addison Heath” movie.
His story follows Kiyo, a prostitute whose life has been haunted from birth. Falling pregnant to a client she fell in love with, she is expelled from her family and left to the mercy of a ruthless pimp. Abused and threatened, she is expected to have an abortion and forced to work the street. Desperate for salvation and yearning to be loved, she follows the father of her baby; a man with no desire to support her. In the grips of despair she takes solace in a spiritual guide; a snake-like spectre in the form of a woman, who leads her to a path of revenge and redemption. And thus lies an inspired film that overflows with sincerity and affection.
Following Heath's previous films Under A Kaleidoscope and Mondo Yakuza, his love for Japanese cinema is clear, and being a regular visitor to the country it was only a matter of time before THIS film happened. With his reliable lead actor, Kenji Shimada, and actress Saya Minimi on board for his latest venture, Heath took to Tokyo to cast the rest of the film and in doing so he afforded himself an instant authenticity. Newcomers include Yoji Yamada and Kei Miura, who deliver juxtaposing performances to equal effect, giving the story a nuanced subtext of light and dark, helping define the emotive character arc for the heroine, Kiyo.
Shot on location, often amongst the chaos of Tokyo's bustling nightlife, Heath's co-director and cinematographer, Jasmine Jakupi, manages to execute their most controlled and articulated cinematography to date. Their eye for detail and confident composition elevate their filmmaking to a new level and secure Heath's place as an auteur. His editing – snappy and well timed – is carefully calculated so to heighten the drama of Kiyo's plight, and with the exception of a few lengthy moments of indulgence, Heath captures the earnestness and emotion skilfully.
And to the most impactful component of all... the incredible score by The Screaming Meanies (aka Jesse Breckon-Thomas). It is a sensory overload. A synth-infused layer of emotion unto itself, which infects Heath's story and weaves its way amongst the narrative much like the viper of the film's title. Breckon-Thomas has been on board the Addison Heath train from the first station, and it has proven to be a valuable collaboration for both.
With ANOTHER Japanese feature film, The Shinjuku Five, in pre-production it would seem that there's no stopping the team at Black Forrest Films, and with a handful of scripts lined up and ready to go, it is guaranteed to be one hell of a ride!
With his impressive 2016 film, Stressed To Kill (starring Armand Assante), Savage took a Falling Down-inspired vigilante story and exploited the shit out of it, creating his most stylistically astute piece of work to date. For PURGATORY ROAD he straddled the momentum of his previous film and rode it confidently across the finish line to create his most, undeniably, accomplished piece yet.
Shot entirely in Mississippi, the film follows two Catholic brothers as they travel from town to town in a makeshift mobile-confessional, absolving people from their sins. Vincent (Gary Cairns) is the priest amongst the two, while Michael (Luke Albright) is his loyal assistant. Traumatised from childhood when they witnessed their father's suicide after he was robbed of money, the brothers work their way across the country killing all who confess to the sin on theft. This brief and, albeit, simplistic synopsis is enough to grab the attention of most self-respecting genre fans, and to reveal any more of the story would be to spoil the fun. Suffice to say it is full of surprises and an abundance of wicked treats.
The first thing to strike me was the quality of the production design. Bright colours mixed with shadows and light, accompanied by a lurking fog, give the film an immediate potency as Savage reassures the audience they they're in capable hands. Unusual camera angles, combined with sturdy and controlled cinematography give the narrative a delicious surrealism, which helps to bring the fanciful story-concept down to a level that makes it entirely credible and engaging.
Despite already having a reputation for crafting obscure and provocative material, Savage has outdone himself with this particular yarn, as he pushes exploitation as close to the mainstream as possible, without stepping in to it. The result is a highly stylised spree-kill film, full of symbolism and social commentary, that serves as a broom-handle poking the hornet's nest of religion (more specifically, Catholicism).
The cast is impressive with Cairns and Albright leading the collective with assurance. Cairns' delivery of an extreme-fundamentalist psychotic priest is chilling, and he syncs his performance with the tone of the story perfectly. Albright offers a sympathetic character who isn't as committed to the cause as his overbearing brother. His soft-natured demeanour and progressive realisation of the unfolding events cleverly counteract what Cairns offers, giving the story a tangible conflict for the audience to embrace. Both actors spar brilliantly and understand the exploitative nature of Savage's work. Trish Robinson plays Mary Francis, a roaming serial killer who nuzzles her way into the brothers' mobile-Church. Her overzealous performance shifts the tone of the film up a few notches, giving it the instability and uncertainty required to keep the audience on edge, as well as providing the proverbial wedge that threatens to divide the brothers.
PURGATORY ROAD is a fantastic, provocative and sacrilegious thrill ride that flips a middle finger at organised religion and relishes every deviant morsel. It as equally scary and tragic as it is hilarious and frivolous, and it signals an exciting new trajectory for Mark Savage. Watch it with a gleeful abandonment before reciting three Hail Mary's.
Having spent years slogging away at low-paid television gigs as a writer, actor and occasional director, Craig Anderson reached a point in his life where he was pushing 40 and had little to show for it. His life's ambition was to direct a feature-length movie and so with a mid-life crisis looming over him he threw his entire life-savings into a script he was writing and began an odyssey that would push him to the brink of despair.
Lucky for us he had the foresight to document the entire thing, and ended up with hours upon hours of footage for director Gary Doust to draw upon. With a no holds barred approach Anderson bares his soul to Doust, who is on hand to capture his most vulnerable moments and ultimately documents one of the most earnest, and frankly terrifying, behind the scenes films I have seen outside of Hearts of Darkness. It is a genuine and illuminating depiction of independent filmmaking, which ought to serve as a what to (and not to) do to all aspiring filmmakers.
The production of his film RED CHRISTMAS was doomed from the outset, whereby Anderson found himself consumed by an insurmountable debt with tens of thousands of dollars spent and the production locked-and-loaded beyond the point of return. With every unforeseeable obstacle tripping his every step, Anderson's desperation had him all but crawling on his hands and knees, begging his family and friends to lend him more money. He had American actress Dee Wallace Stone locked in, an entire cast and crew awaiting his direction, and a never-ending series of miscalculations threatening to crush his dream and ruin his life.
The cast and crew, including Wallace-Stone, offer insight into their experiences and give perspective to the shambolic nature of the production, and in the documentary's most poignant moments actor Gerard Odwyer, who has down syndrome, gives a heart-wrenching insight into living with his condition. He bares his soul to such a raw and painful extent that witnessing his personal struggles feels almost voyeuristic, and yet watching his creative process is mesmerising. Equally as heartbreaking is watching Anderson's own health deteriorate before our very eyes. The weight of the stresses baring down on him manifests themselves as he binge-eats to mask the pain, and emotionally crumbles while the camera haunts his every move.
HORROR MOVIE: A LOW BUDGET NIGHTMARE is a representation of the realities of independent filmmaking. It is a warts 'n all chronicle that deserves a place in the library of every film school in the country. It will make budding directors reconsider whether the movie-making business is one they're prepared to pursue, and it is just as likely to weed out those who don't possess the passion and tenacity to risk everything. Having seen RED CHRISTMAS will serve viewers well, however watching it isn't necessary. The documentary holds up well on its own and proves to be a wonderful, captivating and thrilling roller-coaster ride that all self-respecting cinephiles should see.
With a loving wink to Russell Malcahy's 1984 cult classic RAZORBACK, Sun has taken his inspiration and crafted an all new giant pig flick, which is neither a remake, re-imaging or reboot. It is, rather, an audacious new creature-feature, showcasing a smorgasbord of legendary Australian talent, offering a no-holds-barred exploitation of the genre.
Live stock have gone missing in a small country town and two drunken farmers come face-to-face with a gigantic wild boar. Having stumbled upon the mangled remains of a camping party, the two men – with plenty of booze and not enough ammo – must fend off the beast singlehandedly before it kills again. Meanwhile the Monroe family arrive in town to visit a relative and while spending an idyllic afternoon swimming in the river, they too become prey for the marauding creature's insatiable appetite.
It is a simple and somewhat contrived synopsis, and yet with Sun's reliable direction it adheres to the genre's conventions, manipulating the tropes to its advantage. Setting it apart from other creature-features is a smart script, which presents a kaleidoscope of nuances to create a uniquely Aussie flavour. With a cast of notable Australian actors including Simone Buchanan, John Jarratt, Roger Ward, Melissa Tkautz, Hugh Sheridan and Nathan Jones, as well as American horror legend Bill Moseley, Sun has aligned himself with the right people to pull off this quirky and truly ocker story.
Jarratt and Ward play the two drunken farmers whose onscreen chemistry is wonderful, and with their characters leading the first half of the story, they provide a hilarious (and surprisingly endearing) comical crux that prevents the film from taking itself too seriously. Their banter is wildly amusing and both performers share a natural rapport with one another. The second half of the story is lead by Buchanan and Moseley, who play parents to teenagers Christie-Lee Britten and Griffin Walsh, and their chemistry is also evident. Moseley offers a more subdued performance to what fans might expect and his gentle 'bird-watching' demeanour couldn't be any further removed from the Otis Firefly and 'Chop-Top' Sawyer that he's so famous for. Buchanan, on the other hand, is BOAR's emotional anchor and she delivers a level of depth and raw emotion that is rare within a movie of this nature. Her performance is so strong that it's almost too good for a typical genre-film, thankfully her place within the narrative is – indeed – the heart of the story.
The rest of the ensemble includes Hugh Sheridan as the daughter's boyfriend, Nathan Jones as the hulkish uncle and Melissa Tkautz as Jarratt's daughter; owner of the local pub. They all give unexpectedly strong performances, with Tkautz being the obvious stand-out. Stepping away from the glamour of her Real Housewives of Sydney persona, she roughs things up – dressed in jeans and flannies – and embraces her inner-bogan with open arms. She's wonderful on screen. Other familiar faces include Ernie Dingo, Steve Bisley and Chris Hayward. It is a gaggle of Aussie misfits who give the film an added credibility. Hayward's character serves as a cheeky nod to RAZORBACK, which he starred in, and will put a smile on anyone geeky enough to recognise the reference.
It would, however, be disingenuous to ignore some of the film's shortcomings, which include a handful of poorly crafted CGI effects and editing which is quite jarring at times. Sun uses an equal measure of practical and digital effects to create his monster, both of which to positive and negative effect. It is a sight to behold when the characters are face-to-face with the creature, and to see them interact with a live-action creation is certainly gratifying... and yet when the boar attacks and the camera is capturing a wide shot, the ineffectiveness of the practical effect shows. The same can be said for the digital boar, which appears all too animated in some sequences, yet entirely realistic in others. With that said, it is to his credit that Sun had the tenacity to create such a big and ferocious monster, and were those aforementioned elements better concealed, he would have delivered an powerhouse of a horror movie.
Nevertheless BOAR is a fun, atmospheric and highly entertaining creature-feature which proudly boasts endearing Aussie mannerisms while offering a brand of horror, which will appeal to audiences all over the world. It also serves as Chris Sun's most accomplished film to date.
Starring three of Australia’s most promising up-and-coming actors, this Aussie-American co-production is an unapologetic and surprisingly twisted nasty that sees its tween cast doing and saying things that kids just shouldn’t be… err, doing or saying.
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TARNATION is Armstrong's fourth feature-length film following his wonderful Murderdrome, From Parts Unknown and Sheborg Massacre, and in my mind it qualifies as his best. Taking all of its cues from Evil Dead, the film pays a reassured homage to Raimi's iconic movie and exploits the familiar set-up with an abundance of unexpected twists and turns, all of which make it identifiably Armstrongic (I made that word up and I am not afraid to use it).
The story follows Oscar, a British rocker chick who is simultaneously kicked out of her band and dumped by her boyfriend. Her roommate convinces her to tag along for a weekend in the woods, at a shabby cabin with a saucy hot tub, and no sooner do they arrive and they are preyed upon by a demon unicorn and a satanic cult hellbent on raising the devil. A night of blood-soaked mayhem ensues as demonic corpses chomp at flesh, winged cherubs swoop from above, and diabolical rappers taunt our heroine. Needless to say TARNATION is a deliberately mad-capped exploit of cliché, tropes and platitudes, and makes no apologies.
What makes Armstrong's work so distinguishable is his reassured visceral mastery. Working on a micro-budget, he relies on his own creative know-how – along with the skills of his crew – and understands how to paint the screen with maximum effect. With a reliable amount of smoke and an abundance of colour, his production design pivots on smart composition and ingenuity. It's clear that Armstrong's vision is engrained into the script, and the result is a beautifully handled horror movie which showcases an indispensable team-effort, including everyone from the director himself to his cast, crew and all others involved.
The cabin location, as well as it's terrific interiors, are brilliantly conceived and give the story its focal point. Their rustic and decrepit textures enhance the production value and allow the lighting design to bounce shadows and colours in all kinds of cool and kooky ways. The kaleidoscope of fluorescent colours, having no practical purpose other than adding to the surrealism - create a fantasy that serves the horror perfectly. This is the definition of bang-for-buck guerilla filmaking!
The performances are wonderful with many of the players returning from previous outings. Daisy Masterman headlines the movie as Oscar, and with a fantastic Wonder Woman-inspired costume design, she kick-ass with style and commands the screen with authority. The supporting cast are all good and embrace the nature of the material. Danae Swinburn is an obvious stand-out as the sex-crazed roommate who gets turned into one of the undead. She relishes the horror and amps her performance up to eleven, and inevitably adds a whole lot more fun to the mix.
Forty years ago TARNATION would have played to cinema audiences and carved a niche during that legendary period of Ozploitation, but now that the market is swamped with streaming services, cable networks and a cesspool of illegal platforms, it will be lucky to find a small DVD release before falling into obscurity. With this in mind it's all the more important to rally behind filmmakers like Daniel Armstrong and support what they do. Theirs is a creative force driven by passion, for love of the craft, and certainly not for any sort of financial gain. GET SOME!
TARNATION HAS ITS WORLD PREMIERE AT MONSTER FEST (MELB) ON NOV 24.
When a grizzled woman and her daughter appear at his door one morning an uneasy dynamic is formed and the suspicious trio find their shaky bond tested even further when ravagers discover the farm, as well as its inhabitants and the crops.
There's more than a shade of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend and The Omega Man in this one. In fact the title character isn't too far removed from I Am Legend's Robert Neville. He's an industrious man who has learned how to forage and farm, to hunt and survive, where the simplest tasks we take for granted become matters of the greatest importance. He lives a life filled with fear and paranoia but instead of the ruins of a metropolis The Survivalist exists in nature.
There's no two ways about it, THE SURVIVALIST is pretty gnarly stuff. It's a grim, heavy experience. Everything is stripped back; the score which is largely left to diegetic sources, the lack of characters, the drained colour palette, the ability for emotional connections, humanity and empathy, all gone the way of civilisation. Even the dialogue is as sparse as the people who populate the film. Indeed, THE SURVIVALIST is almost a silent film, with long periods of time sustained with nobody talking to each other, even when there's murderous intent.
Which leads to Fingleton displaying a control over the material, which is uncommon for a debuting director. He has a confidence and understanding of his film that means the viewer is only ever where he wants them to be at any given stage. His use of story point-of-view is quite remarkable. The physicality of his direction means that, no matter how complex the characters psychology or motivations are, the viewer is never left in any doubt what is going on.
It's never a particularly easy watch but THE SURVIVALIST is always riveting. A classically themed science fiction that is too savage for the mainstream, but will no doubt gain a cult following.