1989 / Director. Unknown.
Review by Justine Ryan.
Anyone who grew up in the 80s and 90s will fondly remember a quick-witted, monobrow puppet named Agro (voiced and puppeteered by Jamie Dunn) and his co-host Ann-Maree Biggar from Channel Seven’s Cartoon Connection.
With Christmas only a few weeks away, I thought it was very fitting to dust off some old VHS's of Christmas cartoons recorded a couple days before Christmas in 1989, and revisit Cartoon Connections Christmas Special: A Very Agro Christmas!
While Ann-Maree is soundly asleep, Agro decides to sneak into the spare room to try and get a better look at his outrageously expensive Christmas present he is sure Ann-Maree has bought him, quipping to himself that, “Who am I kidding? I better check the back of the drawers for undies on special!” Soon spotting her hiding place – on top of the wardrobe, Agro attempts to bounce up from the couch to get a closer look, only to slip, crashing to the floor. As he gets up, he sees a vision of a woman in the doorway of the room. He follows her onto the lounge-room where she introduces herself as Stella. She is an elf from the North Pole, coming for Agro’s help as Santa has become very sick and is wasting away. Agro agrees and after a short journey back to the North Pole, Agro soon meets Santa’s helpers and Santa’s mean and very scrooge like, forgotten half-brother, Barnaby, who lives in a caravan next door. Like all good villains, Barnaby reveals that he hates Christmas and wants to see Christmas and Santa Clause forgotten just like him! (He clearly has issues with being unknown). Agro sneaks into Barnaby’s caravan to investigate and meets Santa’s daughter, Ann Clause (played by Ann-Maree Biggar), who has been kidnapped by Barnaby and is now his slave, to cook and clean. Agro soon discovers Barnaby’s secret. He has a special black box which sucks all of Santa’s powers and gives them to Barnaby (his knowledge and the secrets of Christmas), making Santa very thin and forgetful. Agro saves the day, turning off the black box, and Barnaby changes his ways after he receives his first ever letter from a child.
After many years since I last viewed A Very Agro Christmas, it was an absolute delight to watch it again, and lots of fun, taking me back to my childhood days of watching Cartoon Connection (the fun, smart arse banter between Agro and Ann-Maree) and my fondness of the loveable larrikin, Agro Vation.
2014 / Director. Kosta Ouzas & Nick Kozakis.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
I went into PLAGUE completely unaware. I knew its title from a film festival programme and I had heard mention of it amongst festival-goers. To be honest with you I felt like I was dropping the ball considering that I didn't even know that it was an Australian film. Sometimes films just slip past ya. And so the film began and I was immediately struck by its imagery. It looked to be a highly stylised film and the premise had my attention from the get go. Humanity has been eradicated by an unknown plague with only a handful of survivors left. Fleeing to remote areas the last healthy humans seek refuge wherever they can in a desperate attempt to avoid the zombie-like humans who fell victim to the infection. The premise isn't anything new but the rural Australian landscape promises a fresh new angle on an already exhausted formula. The film follows a handful of people taking shelter in an old sheep shed. The focus of the story lies on three people who not only struggle to survive the plague but also come face to face with the effects of isolation and desperation. It all sounds well and good and the first 20 minutes of the film are totally immersive. The characters and their predicament are portrayed beautifully and the use of landscape to emphasise their distress is brilliantly done. The problem is that as soon as the mood of the film shifts with the introduction of a new character the film slows down and becomes a long, meandering and drawn out drama that attempts to be psychological and misses its mark. It doesn't know whether to be a genre film or an art film and the collision of the two concepts fizzles without so much as a spark and comes across as pretentious. It does look amazing, though, and the few sudden spurts of horror are really well done... good all round performances, stunning cinematography and well conceived moments of horror... but an otherwise lacklustre script with an underwhelming pay off and little to celebrate. If you've got the patience, check it out and decide for yourself... once is enough for me.
2014 / Director. Travis Bain.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
If you type the word "throwback" into our in-site search engine you will see that it's one of my favourite references and therefore you can imagine my anticipation when I first heard about a new film called THROWBACK! On top of that the film is about the mythical creature The Yowie (Australia's answer to Sasquatch) and has been promoted with one of the best damn movie posters I've seen in years... yep, I was sold before I even saw it. The film tells the story of two fortune seekers who hike into the depths of a far north Queensland rainforest in search of a lost treasure. The legend has it that a notorious outlaw went in with a fortune but never came out again... and so our two antagonists walk, paddle and climb their way into the dense wilderness and unbeknownst to them the area has also been at the centre of multiple disappearances. Before long they find themselves pitted against each other before being separated, hunted and terrorized by the terrifying yowie. Throw a female park ranger and an undercover homicide detective (Vernon Wells) in to the mix and you've got a winner on your hands. THROWBACK impressed the hell out of me. Right from the get go it's clear that we're in the hands of a filmmaker who knows what he's doing. With an eye for bold, cinematic wide shots and beautiful panning it becomes obvious that the makers of this small low budget film had big things on their mind. Director Travis Bain has used the picturesque landscape to his every advantage to help ground his schlocky story with a foundation of credibility. He makes no secret of the fact that THROWBACK is a tongue-in-cheek affair and yet amongst the farcical nature of the story is a deeply seeded horror and an effective use of suspense. Where most films of this nature would keep their creature hidden in the shadows, Bain has brought him out into the light. It's a ballsy move on his part with the risk of the film's credibility at stake... but he pulls it off and manages to present a convincing monster and a suspenseful story with the assistance of solid performances and a fantastic score. The music was composed by Amotz Plessner and the legendary Richard Band (Re-Animator, From Beyond) and it will be a real deal breaker for a lot of viewers. Their score is truly wonderful. It adds bucket loads of suspense and elevates the film to a whole other level. As the film's title would suggest Travis Bain has crafted his film with a deep seeded love for genre films and he pays homage to a whole lot of them. From a nice reference to THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK to an overall cue taken from CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE... his film is one of nostalgia and it's a whole lot of fun. It has played all around to the world at various film festivals and I was lucky enough to catch it at the 2014 Monster Fest. I can say, without any reservation, that THROWBACK was my favourite film of the festival. What it has accomplished on a small budget is nothing less than extraordinary.
Keep tabs on THROWBACK on their official website and look out for it's DVD release.
2014 / Director. Dane Millerd.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
So many filmmakers have me eating my words lately. I've been vocal about my distaste for the found-footage genre and yet over the last couple of years there have been some wonderful little films that have impressed the shit out of me... THERE'S SOMETHING IN THE PILLIGA is one of them. We follow two guys (Dylan & Jay) as they drive through a remote area in the northern regions of New South Wales. Dylan is a cameraman filming his mate Jay, who is a colourful, ocker trucker and they meet two drunk girls who agree to a late night new years eve adventure in the bush. Their escapade finds them venturing into the Pilliga National Park where things take a sinister turn and a local legend comes out to play. Director Dane Millerd has crafted his film with blood, sweat, tears and a hell of a lot of precision. While it presents itself as "found footage" the film actually evolves throughout its course and you become so enamoured with the characters, particularly Jay, that you forget about the format. Each of the players deliver convincing and sincere performances and none more mesmeric than Brendan Byrne who plays Jay. This guy terrified me. At first I thought him to be more of a caricature of the Aussie "bloke" but as the film played out I kept having flashbacks to folks I've met in rural Australia over the years... and it's fair to say that this is no caricature. He might not be a villain in this story but his outback Aussie-redneck-bogan-tendencies make him one scary motherfucker who could've easily been the love child of Mick Taylor and Chopper Read. The film's style, pacing and payoffs are all strong and Millerd effectively strings the first half of the story along at a meandering pace, allowing us to get comfortable with these characters so that when they are thrown into their hellish night of horror we are right there beside them. He also provides a believable reason for these people to venture out into the bush and avoids all of the contrived and cliched tropes of the genre. THERE'S SOMETHING IN THE PILLIGA is a strong, formidable and welcome genre-film that toys with exploitation and unearths a folklore that has been screaming to be told. Wherever you watch this fantastic new film, do it right... ie a dark space with maximum volume and total engagement!!