1946 / Director. Wilfred jackson. Harve Foster.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
SONG OF THE SOUTH is the film that Disney doesn't want us to see. Due to its depiction of American slavery in the mid 1800s the film has been an ongoing pain in the ass for Disney since its pre production in the early 1940s. Even then it was met with fierce criticism and the backlash plagued it right up until 1991 when the Disney corp decided to shelve it for good. Based on the classic character Uncle Remus, an African-American slave who entertained his fellow workers with stories of folklore, the film takes place on a Georgian plantation where a little white boy latches on to Uncle Remus and tentatively listens to the stories told. Animated characters such as Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear fill the screen with gorgeous artistry as they sing, dance and interact with live-action characters. The animation is wonderful and the music is as classic as Disney gets. Almost the entire film is filled with infectious songs (Academy award winning), none more influential than Zip-a-dee-Do-Dah and it's impossible to not be swept up by it all... and there lies the controversy. It would be wrong to label SONG OF THE SOUTH as "racist" but there is no question that it is insensitive, although not intentionally. In fact I believe that for its time the true intent was sincere. The slavery as depicted in the film shows the African-Americans as merry, jovial and content with their social position. They tend to their white masters willingly and seem truly happy with their place in the pecking order. I sense that Disney were attempting to present the black & white relations as harmonious and peaceful and their objective was unity. Keeping in mind that this was during the 1940s it can be perceived as progressive.... of course with hindsight it was clearly naive and misguided. Disney now openly declare SONG OF THE SOUTH to be offensive and have been hesitant to re-release it. Some within the company want it released generally while others believe it should be released for preservation sake... some would prefer it released to educational institutes and then there are those who believe that it's best kept in the vault. It's such a shame too because the film is delightful. Its artistry and musical significance deserves to be preserved and mature audiences deserve to have access to it. There are bootleg copies available easily enough, as well as official VHS & laserdisc copies from the 80s, but a proper future release is unlikely. If you have the means then I highly recommend it. I think we've come far enough to look beyond the controversy.
1989 / Director. Robert Zemeckis.
Review by Justine Ryan.
Being Christmas Eve, it seems quite fitting to watch this favourite seasonal dead-time story of mine - episode 2, Season 1 of TALES FROM THE CRYPT!
After a short intro from our host - The Crypt Keeper (voiced by John Kassir), this fun and creepy tale begins on a very snowy Christmas Eve. Our lead, Elizabeth (Mary Ellen Trainor - LETHAL WEAPON and GOONIES) has just put a poker through her husbands head (played by Marshall Bell - A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY'S REVENGE), murdering him. While Elizabeth is trying to dispose of the body by dragging him outside to throw his body down a well, she misses the local news report to stay indoors because a patient (Larry Drake - DARKMAN) at the Pleasantville Institute for the Criminally Insane has escaped earlier that evening, killing 4 women and is now wearing a Santa Claus suit and on the loose.
Soon enough, the axe-wielding psycho Santa makes an appearance and a tense, cat and mouse chase begins all through the house, offering no escape claus for this little lady!
And ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE, I must say, is my favourite episode from this well loved series featuring a most gruesome script by Fred Dekker (NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, MONSTER SQUAD, ROBOCOP 3) and stunning Cinematography by Dean Cundey (HALLOWEEN).
2004 / Director. Chaz Palmintari.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
NOEL is a film that embodies the Christmas spirit without tapping into religious context or long-held traditions. Instead its story is filled with human characters whose lives connect through a series of events on Christmas eve. It's a story about loneliness, forgiveness and hope. Susan Sarandon leads an ensemble cast which includes Paul Walker, Alan Arkin, Penelope Cruz and Robin Williams. Each character has their own personal troubles, which effect the people around them. Most of them are confronted by personal demons while others have lost all faith. It is a sombre and depressing film in many regards and yet its message of love and goodwill towards others resonates strong. The film was directed by Chaz Palmintari and it is a surprising turn for him. It is not the type of film one would expect him to direct but it is clearly an impassioned effort nonetheless. I found it to be refreshing to watch a Christmas film that steers clear of being overly sentimental and doesn't hold back from being solemn. Of course it has its moments of fluffiness but they've never gratuitous. Sarandon is wonderful in the lead but Williams and Arkin are also heartbreaking in their earnestness. NOEL never really resonated upon its release. It went direct to home entertainment in most territories and few people know it exists. If you're looking for a heartfelt and sincere Christmas film with a strong emotional core then look no further. Its far from being a perfect film but it is definitely an unexpected one.
2014 / Director. David Green.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
EARTH TO ECHO is one of the coolest kids film I have seen since THE LAST MIMZY (2007). It is part ET, part THE GOONIES, part SUPER-8 and part CHRONICLE... and when mashed together it is a fantastic, intelligent and unexpected adventure. Presented entirely as a found-footage film it breaks away from the typical formula by tactfully utilising a multi-cam structure. The story smoothly transitions from a go-pro camera to a spy-cam (pair of specs) and then a trusty old cam-corder. Three best friends are forced to move away when their neighbourhood is scheduled to be demolished to make way for a bypass. On their final day together their mobile phones suddenly spaz out and simultaneously display schematic patterns. The electronic gibberish looks to be a map and the boys sneak out during the night to follow its directions. What they discover is an alien cover up and they hold the key to sending a stranded alien creature home. With government heavyweights in pursuit and a seemingly endless map of instructions to follow they ride from one location to another in search of parts that will help unravel the mystery. They are also joined by a girl who proves to be smarter than the three boys put together. This is a thrilling and totally absorbing adventure that almost feels out of place amongst today's generic and substandard family films. Had it come along during the mid 80s then I can almost guarantee that it would have become an enduring and beloved classic. Sadly it was made at a time when children's attention spans are short and the traditional sense of adventure has been lost. Few kids these days venture past their front doors and so the wondrous enthusiasm for exploring the outside world must seem like a foreign and pointless concept to most. And for that reason perhaps the adults will take more from EARTH TO ECHO than the kids. Hopefully it dabbles enough with modern technology to tell its story that it might just captivate some younger viewers. The film was produced by Disney but cast aside and sold to an independent distributor in a stupendous and narrow-minded studio turnaround. Disney gave up a wonderful property by doing so. Despite all of the film's obvious influences it remains a completely original and ambitious release. I was glued to every single frame and got totally swept up by it. The multi-cam is handled really well and it never becomes tedious. The four lead child actors are all exceptional and have a clear grasp on the film's concepts. They each deliver believable and sincere performances which ground the film with a realistic, yet spirited understanding. This is director David Green's first feature length film and he has excelled himself. Sadly the film seems to have already slipped into obscurity with few people I know even aware that it exists. Fortunately for David Green it has been an exceptional example of his skills and he was recently assigned to direct the upcoming TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES sequel. It's about time we had another truly smart and adventurous kids flick. This is a real throwback to the great family films of the 80s and deserves people's attention. Check it out as soon as you can.
1986 / Director. Richard Lowry & Tor Lowry.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
The term "cult film" was made for movies like HAWK JONES. It is wrong on so many levels that it feels so right. Taking cues from BUGSY MALONE the movie features an all-kid cast of actors playing adult characters in an VERY adult story. Hawk Jones is a black cop taking on a city full of thugs, thieves and drug dealers. Things take a sour turn for Jones when he is assigned a new female partner. With a sexist attitude he sets about ridding his city of crime and taking down as many gangsters as possible. This is an outrageous film and one that was almost lost forever. At some point in time the original master was misplaced, never to be found and it was only thanks to a beta copy of the film in the director's storage (found years later) that it enjoys a respectable DVD release. A lot of love has gone into restoring the quality of the video and audio and new updated FX have been added to replace some of the original PG-friendly FX. Where the original 86 release had comical "ka-booms" and cartoon balloons popping with each gun shot fired, the newly restored director's cut has muzzle flashes, blood squibs and explosions. The new version is how it was intended to be... ie an adult action film starring kids. There is something very disturbing about it too. Like the OUR GANG serials of the 1920s the kids in this film are put into scenarios way beyond their years and some of the themes make for a very surreal and unsettling experience. Kids killing kids, boys being misogynistic towards girls, pre-teen smoking, drug use and all sorts of sexual innuendos. It was controversial then and it is controversial now.... and all of it's wrongness make it one of the cultiest films of all time... well, amongst its small but enthusiastic fan base at least. Brother directors Richard and Tor Lowry were teenagers themselves at the time and their inspiration came from watching an old Bill Cosby sketch, featuring kids as adults. What makes HAWK JONES so endearing is that its intentions were innocent. The Lowry Brothers simply thought it would be amusing to tell a typical SHAFT-style story with a cast full of 8 year olds. The kids all play their parts awesomely too. They don't ever come close to being "good" performances, but the dialogue is hilariously mature. Hearing kids discuss hiring hitmen, wasting cops and women being useless is ludicrously fun. Shoddy, amateurish and politically incorrect... HAWK JONES is an absolute cult classic. Buy your copy here NOW.
1940 / Director. Ernst Lubitsch.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER is one of the great romance films. It was directed by the legendary Ernst Lubitsch and was tailer specifically as a vehicle for James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. It tells the story of two bickering store clerks working in the same department store who are unaware that they are anonymous pen pals with each other. While falling deeper in love as each letter passes, they become stronger foes in person. If the story sounds familiar that is because the film was loosely remade as YOU'VE GOT MAIL with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. This original is a lovely story. Based on a play the film marks a very modest turn for director Ernest Lubitsch, who was renowned for highly extravagant pictures. Set almost entirely in one location with a bare-bones set design, Lubitsch relied on strong writing and seasoned performers to sell the story. All of the players are wonderful and the chemistry between them all is fantastic. If you can imagine the television series ARE YOU BEING SERVED with a beautiful romance at its core then you get the idea. Sullavan and Steward share a great chemistry, which they exploited in 4 films together. THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER was their third partnership and the connection they had previously established is well set. The dialogue is funny (often hilarious) and the overall narrative is crammed with charm and an abundance of charisma and yet resists so many obvious tropes. Despite knowing how it is all going to work out the story takes all matters of turns, which delve into a whole variety of personal dilemmas. Anxieties, depressions and inner turmoils are all key ingredients that go into making the film stand out above the average romances and a rather brave subplot of suicide also grounds the story with an unexpected sensibility. What I love most about the film is that every character is important. Our two protagonists are surrounded by colleagues who all have their own stories and all factor in to everything that unfolds. It's such a well written film. The oddest thing is that the story takes place in Budapest, Hungary. The exterior set designs look like an American city and most of the actors are also American... and yet various signage within the store is written in Hungarian. It is a very odd quality to the film and it even confused movie-goers at the time of its release. It is believed that Ernst Lubitsch wanted the film to have a fantastical otherworldly and romantic quality about it. He drew upon his own memories of Budapest as a child and decided to set the story there without any explanation. It is a very peculiar thing and yet it still works. THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER is an absolute classic that stands up well 75 years later.
2011 / Director. Kenneth Cran.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
The average movie goer would probably baulk at MILLENNIUM BUG but most serious horror buffs will rejoice it. The film begins with a production company logo reading "No CGI Films" and to most aficionados this is a great start. The story takes place on new years eve 1999 in the backwoods of the Sierra Dioablo Mountains. A family escape for the weekend as a precaution to the pending millennium bug, which gripped the world with fear at the time. Seeking refuge in an old ghost town hidden in the woods, they fall prey to a family of murderous inbreds at the same time that an ancient beast awakens from the Earth to wreck havoc amongst all that dwell on the surface. Just as the production company name promises, there is NO CGI in this wonderful little shocker. In stead it falls back on a bunch of classic devices to tell its story. It is absolutely cram packed with miniatures, green screen, puppetry and prosthetics and the result is a throwback film that mashes together films like TREMORS, WRONG TURN and JURASSIC PARK. It is gruesome. It is stylish and above all else it is fun. The buggish creature FX recall the splendours of GODZILLA with the giant creature smashing and devouring miniature buildings and chasing humans against a very deliberate and effective green screen. People with an appreciation for classic horror conventions & tropes will relish every moment of MILLENNIUM BUG, but those who aren't well educated in old school horror will probably brush it off as stupid and tacky. The gore is also excellent with heads being busted open, lips being bitten off and blood splaying in all directions. This is a vintage splatter fest that also borrows heavily from films like EVIL DEAD and THE FLY. So all you filmies ought to check this one out... I'm sure you will lap it up. I sure did.
2012 / Director. Steven C Miller.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
I've got this hang-up where I can't watch Christmas themed movies at any other time of the year and the last couple of years I missed out on seeing SILENT NIGHT. It was on my radar but I never managed to get to it... but this year... BINGO! Despite its title this is NOT a remake, reboot or reimagine of the classic SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT. Instead it is a fresh new slasher movie that shares the premise of a murderous Santa Claus. The script is terrible, the acting is lousy and the dialogue is atrocious.... and yet this movie still FUCKING RULES! Holy shit... I loved it. In a small town on Christmas eve a homicidal Santa goes on a bloody rampage, killing dozens of people. He uses all sorts of weapons from flame throwers to sickles to wood chippers and the staple holiday classic..... AN AXE. In true slasher form, the kills are the crux of the formula and they kick ass. I watched the film with my 13 year old son and we were cheering all the way to the end. People are scorched, sliced, diced and wood-chipped and the camera barely flinches. The gore is fantastic and the creepy lighting design gives the violence a jovial and festive lift. The cinematography is also good and the fact that it was shot so well makes up for the shoddiness of the script. So bad is the writing that I am astonished that they got the production past the first draft and so I guess it is to director Steven C Miller's credit that he was able to take something so sub-par and turn it into something so stylish and fun. The production notes do cite SILENT NIGHT to be "inspired by" the aforementioned 1984 classic, but there's little resemblance story-wise. Instead much of the premise was taken from the real life Covina Massacre, where 9 people were slayed by a deranged maniac dressed as Santa Claus. Wherever the influence came from I now rate SILENT NIGHT as a new festive-horror-favourite and I cannot wait to watch it again.
2014 / Director. Brian Trenchard-Smith.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
I adore Brian Trenchard-Smith. I hold him in the highest regard amongst some of my favourite directors. His films from the 70s and 80s are amongst some of the best Australia has ever produced and his contribution to Aussie cinema is irrefutable. As the cinematic landscape changed during the 90s he found himself relegated to sub-par TV movies and second-rate direct-to-video tosh. That is not to say that he wasn't doing some really interesting work because he definitely was. He always managed to produce movies that offered a higher entertainment value than most of the less glamorous video movies at the time. The last few years have been especially kind to Brian with a string of accomplished films that see him itching his way back to a credible and competitive platform. He made an ecological disaster movie called ARCTIC BLAST which, while still very much a b-movie, was high in concept and entertainment value. He then stepped it up a notch with the theatrically released ABSOLUTE DECEPTION starring Cuba Gooding Jnr. It was a whiplash production shot in QLD that saw a glimpse of the Trenchard-Smith we came to love all those years ago. And now comes his latest film, DRIVE HARD. Thomas Jane plays a retired race-car driver who works part time as a driving instructor. His day takes a violent turn when his newest student turns out to be a career criminal who robs a bank midway through a lesson. Suddenly Jane's character finds himself held at gunpoint and forced to become the getaway driver. The two speed off into the Queensland hinterland while being pursued by federal police. This is a return to form for Trenchard-Smith as he relies on classic formulas and usages that he so brilliantly exploited during the 70s and 80s. The script is tight and the story moves along at a nice pace, plus a lot of conventions are exploited yet never disproportionately. I kept having nostalgic flashbacks to films like The Junkman and other 70s chase movies and one of Brian's own classics, BMX BANDITS, was constantly on my mind. The chase sequences through Surfer's Paradise in this film were very reminiscent of the style of BMX and it was a beautiful thing to see again. Thomas Jane and John Cusack have a good chemistry and never take the material too seriously. This is very much a comedy as much as it is an action and both actors embrace the lighter side. I would guess that both treated the production as something of a vacation yet they gave it their all nonetheless. The film was originally written with Jean Claude Van Damme in the lead, however he pulled out and the script was re-written with the story relocated to Australia. I actually think that Van Damme walking away from it was to its advantage. This very American-style action adventure with two yanks as fish out of water plays to its strengths. The one grievance I do have with DRIVE HARD, which could be a deal breaker for many, is that the chase sequences are too slow. With the muscle cars featuring heavily in this story they are never truly utilised. What should be a high-octane affair does (ever-so-slightly) miss its RPM mark. I was able to overlook this factor for the most part but perhaps a few sped up road shots (Mad Max style) might have lifted it to something truly spectacular. Perhaps there's opportunity to be had in a director's cut... nevertheless DRIVE HARD is a welcome return to theatrical form for Brian Trenchard-Smith and I hope that he's got more to come.
My favourite television show as a child was the 1981 animated series Belle & Sebastian (Meiken Jolie). I spent so many years of my adulthood trying to find it on VHS or DVD. To this day it is only available in bootleg form or in a rare French language-only DVD box set. This is a story that means a lot to me. It represents much of my childhood and it rekindles my youthful sense of adventure. I also adore the original novel and consider it one of the smartest pieces of children's literature. The story tells of the adventures of Sebastian and a huge white dog that he befriends in the Pyrenees mountains. With local villagers out to kill the misunderstood dog (Belle) Sebastian runs away into the mountains in search of his long lost mother who left him behind several years earlier. Their adventures detail a daring pilgrimage, police evasion and meeting people along their travels. There is even another little pooch who tags along with them...
My excitement went into overdrive when I first read about the story being adapted into a French live-action film... but sadly my enthusiasm was crushed when I saw it. The only resemblance to the original book and the animated series is its title and the two lead characters. Their story has been bastardised beyond recognition and there is nothing about the narrative arc that rings true. I was willing to allow it some liberties. Their adventure is a long one and unless the film was spread out into a trilogy then, of course, a lot of the details would need to be changed and/or omitted entirely. Instead director Nicolas Vanier has thrown the book out of the window, introduced Nazis, given Sebastian a whole new range of characters to travel with and given his journey a entirely different purpose. This new film now has him skirting around Nazis and leading a Jewish family through the mountains to Switzerland. Where the book and tv series kept the darker themes lurking in the shadows (but always present) this film brings them all out into the light and presents them as poorly conceived caricatures.
Ok, so to put my hat of objectivity on I would say that BELLE & SEBASTIAN is a beautiful looking film and that it is superbly acted. The Pyrenees landscapes and mountainous backdrops provide it with a stunning atmosphere that, alone, will carry viewers away with wonderment. The characters of Sebastian and Belle are gorgeously fleshed out and their personalities are precisely as the book had them to be. The little boy is incredible and his canine sidekick is adorable. Viewers who are unfamiliar with the original text or it's previous adaptations (was also a French live action tv series in the 60s) will be unaware of its extreme deviations and will probably be swept up by it. I envy them.
Liberties with adaptations are perfectly fine... but to entirely restructure a story and its purpose beyond recognition is unacceptable. I am baffled as to why they've done it. The original story has much more heart and wonderment that to abandon its concepts is to deprive the audience from a whole lot of magic.
2014 / Director. Jonathan Liebesman.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
The good news is that the new TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES is nowhere near as bad as many of us were anticipating. It is also nowhere near as awful as the 2007 TMNT film. The bad news is that it's still not very good. The turtles return to our screens re-designed, spruced up and looking for fun. Their creature-designs are well conceived and their motion-capture animation blends in nicely with the real world and characters surrounding them. The first problem I had with the movie is that it's another reboot attempting to bring a new origin to the creatures. It's not a huge grievance but definitely a small peeve. Do we really need another recap on that? Most (not all) of the characters are well realized and even Megan Fox delivers what is arguably her best performance yet (in a TMNT movie, that's saying a lot about her abilities). Will Arnett is useless on screen and ruins a lot of the mojo and William Fichtner's talent is wasted with him playing second fiddle to the villainous Shredder. My second problem with the film was it's terrible action set-pieces. The movie features two particularly overblown, ridiculous and gratuitous action sequences, which well overstay their welcome and drag the entire film into the realms of stupidity. Some may argue that this is a movie based on a comic book and therefore there are no limits... but I don't subscribe to that. All credibility is lost when the reality of the world they're presenting is broken by concepts and designs, which overstep the overall modesty of the story. But hey... TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (2014) is still a fun watch, unsuspecting kids will love it and there are plenty of good moments to offer a level of nostalgia to the older viewers. But I watched this with my two kids and both were quite underwhelmed by it. Both of them turned to me and said that they much preferred the older 1991 film because it was darker, more realistic and not as stupid. The kids have spoken, folks!
2013 / Director. John Carney.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
ONCE is one of my favourite films of all time and, in fact, it recently nudged its way into my top 5. It's a film I can return to over and over and never tire of. Its magic is in its simplicity and the incredible music that permeates every moment. In my mind its an impossible film to top and I struggled to see how director John Carney could possible follow it up. He made a quirky little comedy next called ZONAD, which failed to resonate. But then he struck gold once more with BEGIN AGAIN, which sees Carey reuniting with ONCE's star and songwriter Glen Hansard who contributed the original songs to this new and wonderful musical drama that is cut from the very same cloth of ONCE. Stepping out of the low budget, indie film scene in Dublin, Carney has set his new story in New York City and he has enlisted the talents of an impressive ensemble including Kiera Knightly, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Catherine Keener, CeeLo Green, Mos-Def and James Corden. Ruffalo plays a washed-up record company executive who finds himself booted from his own company when he refuses to adapt to the new superficial focus that they're adopting. He walks into a bar and hears a young woman (Knightly) playing an acoustic song at the open-mic. Certain that she is his ticket back into the industry he offers to produce an album with her and together they embark on a unique and mutually therapeutic journey. With no studio to record in they set about recording songs outside in various locations across the city and using the ambience of New York to imprint itself on the music. While BEGIN AGAIN doesn't reach the absolute sincerity and earnestness of ONCE, it sure as hell comes close and is very much a companion piece. Hansard's songs are lovely and Keira Knightly sings them well. Ruffalo's performance also feels personal and he seems to have fully immersed himself in the character. James Cordin is also excellent as Knightly's best friend, a busker who helps to produce and record her album. He brings a humble and grounded quality to the film that helps tie it to the aesthetic of ONCE. Perhaps the biggest revelation in the film is Adam Levine (Maroon 5). I've seen him in various films and television before but he's never been as convincing and heartfelt as he is in this film. His final moment on screen is actually quite mesmerising and the slightest expression conveys a weight of emotion. BEGIN AGAIN plays like a perfect second act to ONCE and here's hoping that Carney & Hansard return for a final act.
2014 / Director. Craig Gillespie.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
The Walt Disney Corporation has a whole variety of departments and my favourite amongst them is Walt Disney Pictures. As well as releasing their big money earner films like PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and THE LONE RANGER they also invest in a lot of films which are more subversive and far less viable. Some examples have been EIGHT BELOW, A STRAIGHT STORY and THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN. And then they also have a tradition of producing true story sports dramas. Examples of these are REMEMBER THE TITANS, MIRACLE, GLORY ROAD, SECRETARIAT and INVINCIBLE. While these particular films are often generic and adhere to a formula they are also well made and legitimately good. The latest, and possibly the best, of their sports films is MILLION DOLLAR ARM starring John Hamm. It tells the story of a struggling sports agent who desperately seeks a client to keep his business afloat. While watching late night television during a moment of depression he switches channels between international cricket and Britain's Got Talent. With major league sports teams all recruiting players from foreign countries he comes up with a crazy idea to exploit one of the only untapped markets left in the world, India. He spends three months travelling the country, hosting a competition called The Million Dollar Arm in hopes of transforming cricket bowlers into professional baseball pitchers. Risking his career and personal finances he puts everything on the line and brings two young boys back to Los Angeles with a narrow deadline of 12 months to have them turned into major draft contenders. Like most of Disney's sports dramas MILLION DOLLAR ARM is based on a true story. It follows a less traditional formula to most of the previous films and takes more chances with it's narrative. I was impressed to see a lot of the Indian dialogue subtitled and great attention given to the Indian culture and way of life. John Hamm handles the story wonderfully and delivers a sincere and eclectic performance. His supporting cast is also excellent with Bill Paxton and Alan Arkin giving solid and committed turns. The film is slightly too long and overstays its welcome by about 15-20 minutes, however, the lagging components to the story are in the centre and don't have any affect on the final act being entirely satisfying. We are also treated to some actual real life footage and photographs of the characters, which solidify the story and make its conventions very palatable. It is a family film what will appeal to adults more-so than kids... but that should not stop parents from putting their kids to the challenge. Wonderful stuff.
2013 / Director. Zac Hilditch.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
An asteroid is on a direct course to collide with Earth. Mankind is faced with its final hours and there is no chance of survival. The voice of David Field is broadcast to the Perth area, where the story takes place and we find ourselves riding shot-gun with Nathan Phillips. He has left his girlfriend behind and is on route to an end of the world party where he plans to spend the rest of his time in a drug fuelled state of bliss. To get there he navigates his way through a gauntlet of violence, civil unrest and murder. Baring witness to a little girl being captured by pedophiles he snaps to action and rescues her... and suddenly everything changes. Faced with a responsibility of keeping the girl safe he finds himself confronted with a moral dilemma that will determine how he chooses to live his final hours. I knew the film's premise from the get go, however, I wasn't really prepared for how potent it would be. There are countless apocalypse films to take cues from and THESE FINAL HOURS does dip in to some of the typical conventions. Its story arch is reminiscent of SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD and there are even hints of DEEP IMPACT but the power of this new Australian drama lies in its characters and their circumstances. Nathan Phillips and his 11 year old co-star Angourie Rice deliver sincere and solid performances amidst a volatile landscape of mayhem and depravity. Phillips is no stranger to Australian audiences with a long string of credits to his name (Wolf Creek, One Perfect Day and Under the Radar amongst others) as well as a handful of American films (Snakes on a Plane, Chernobyl Diaries, Surfer Dude etc) but as far as I am concerned THIS is his breakthrough performance. He steps out of his teenage shell and strides right into a new level of maturity that he's rarely ever exposed before. Director Zac Hilditch has created a believable and terrifying world for his characters and the chaos and depravity is striking. The sense of an inevitable doom haunts the film as David Fields' voice broadcasts a literal countdown and update on the state of the world... "Europe. Gone. Canada. Gone. You have six hours people. Live it well. There is no shame in ending it early". The imagery throughout the film is disturbing and it is chilling... and its focus on the human condition rather than elaborate digital FX makes THESE FINAL HOURS an impressive, heartbreaking and realistic drama that packs a punch.
2014 / Director. John Michael McDonagh.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
The church isn't faring too well in cinema lately. Dark secrets of the past have come back to torment them and many films have cast a shadow of doubt across their whole institution. With movies like PHILOMENA, SILENCE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD and DOUBT leading the charge it would seem to be a laborious effort for CALVARY to come along to tackle the same themes. It is to writer/director John Michael McDonagh's credit that CALVARY is, indeed, a breath of fresh air. It approaches the issue of child-sexual abuse within the church from a new angle and introduces us to a parishioner who is irrefutably good. We are introduced to him at a moment in time when he is given a death threat with only seven days to live. Inside a confessional he is confronted by a man who's abuse at the hands of the church has lead him to exact a revenge that will truly rock the community and bring upon a question of faith amongst them all. The film chronicles the priest's seven days leading to his confrontation with his tormentor. During this time he is challenged with all forms of unholy conduct amongst his community and his faith in God is tested to its limit. Brendan Gleeson leads the film in yet another outstanding performance. He is supported by an ensemble of formidable players such as Kelly Reilly, Chris O'Dowd, Dylan Moran and M Emmet Walsh amongst others. The script is exceptional and unravels in a provocative and revealing manner. The first act of the film caught my attention immediately, however the second act began to test my patience. Many of the character interactions seems sporadic and inconsequential and for a moment I began to lose interest... and then came the final act, which tied all things together and brought the story to a head. Part comedy, part mystery and part tragedy the film is rich in its textures. The Irish landscape and celtic soundtrack firmly ground the story and its setting while the various characters of questionable values and reasonable suspicion make CALVARY one of the year's most intriguing films. There are some questions that are left unanswered and that pleased me to no end. If a film is truly going to prod you and get you thinking then it may as well leave you to ponder over it once its finished. Brendan Gleeson can't put a foot wrong and this is amongst his finest turns. Excellent.