SUFF 2019 - highlights!

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FRANCES FERGUSON

In what is probably my favourite performance for the year, Kaley Wheless plays the titular character in this dry-as-a-bone satire on small-town prejudice and disaffection. Frans is a very attractive, and entirely dissatisfied young woman with a young daughter, Parfait, in a loveless marriage to a useless husband, Nick (Keith Poulson). She takes a substitute position at a high school and finds herself distracted by a handsome student. Next thing you know, she’s involved in a sex scandal and finds herself going through the lengthy US judicial and penal process. 

Narrated by Nick Offerman, adding a mockumentary element, the narrative traces Frans journey through her home life, the school, court, prison, community service, group therapy sessions, and the immediate beyond. All the while Frans rolls with the punches, seemingly unperturbed by the gravity of her situation, now she’s become a registered sex offender. It seems her estranged relationship with her stepmom (Jennifer Prediger) has played its own part. Frances Ferguson oozes ennui.

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Indie director Bob Byington has fashioned a fascinating and very funny narrative, developed with Wheless, and penned by Scott King. The cast are uniformly excellent, but it’s Wheless and her subtle, almost deadpan reactions to everything that cements this film into something special. I didn’t want it to end, I loved peering into this quirky window, and I was so keen to keep following Frans’ curious journey. With a quirky soundtrack - including repeated use of a wee nu-disco gem titled “Vanilla Friase” by L’impératrice - it’s a definite fave for the year. 

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TONE-DEAF

Writer/director Richard Bates Jr returns with his fourth feature, and it’s another doozy. The dark comedic elements are firmly in place, as is the deliberately over-the-top use of sound design and some truly jarring imagery. This is one hell of a satire on generational dissatisfaction; the wry cynicism of youth vs. the sour spit of (s)age. This is another demented, compelling, and exceptional hybrid from the talented maverick filmmaker. 

Olive (Amanda Crew) bites the bullet and gets the hell out of the city for a weekend on her own, having been fired from work, and another bs relationship gone pear-shaped. She rents a country house from an ageing widower, Harvey (Robert Patrick), but it isn’t long before his psychopathic agenda erupts. Can her neo-hippie mother (Kim Delany) come to the rescue, or is she too wrapped up with one of her trailer park fuck-buddies? And, what about all those missing local girls? And will anyone tell Olive the truth about her piano skills??

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With his striking visual flair - a big nod to the cinematographer and production designer - rebel attitude to conventions, a gift for witty dialogue, and penchant for shock imagery Bates keeps things in check for awhile, allowing his two leading actors to really work their magic: Crew and Patrick are in top form here, but nice to see AnnaLyne McCord making a return (albeit small), also Ray Wise in great Ray Wise mode, and keep an eye out for Keisha Castle-Hughes in one short scene as a gas station drug dealer. If only Bates had finished the movie on Olive’s last line - delivered to camera - instead of the last scene, which felt tagged on and unnecessary … but it’s a small quibble on an otherwise terrific, black and brutal comedy. 

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KNIVES AND SKIN

Writer/director Jennifer Reeder has created a most curious amalgam of elements to tell her strange  story about the disappearance of a high school girl, Carolyn Harper (Raven Whitley) in a small American town, and the effects of her vanishing on the people who knew her, including several of her school mates, but especially her mother, Lisa (Marika Englehardt), all of whom are pushed into dealing with their own insecurities and desires, as the search for sweet Carolyn continues. 

Like a fusion of the incestuous fragility of Twin Peaks and the mystical vibe of Donnie Darko, Knives and Skin is n study of identity and curiosity, bathed in a delicious palette - great cinematography from Christopher Rejano - and is provided with a superb ambient score from Nick Zinner. The cast of unknowns are all ones to watch, especially the young women portraying the school students. 

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The moody, dreamy tone of Knives and Skin is lifted to another level with the inspired use of several early 80s pop tunes, which are sung acapella by the students in the guise of the school choir, as lead by a distraught Ms. Harper, in particular “Our Lips Are Sealed”, “Blue Monday”, and “Promises, Promises”. But the film isn’t strictly a teenage musical, nor is it a simply a noir-thriller, or a troubled romance, or a magic realism-infused fantasy … It’s all of those, and yet it’s another elusive, exotic creature entirely. 

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THE BEACH BUM

I’m not the biggest fan of Harmony Korine’s films. I disliked Gummo, and I loathed Trash Humpers. But I enjoyed Spring Breakers. His latest indulgence feels like it dated Spring Breakers. It has a similarly lush and charismatic feel. The cinema verité stylistic he’s employed on all his films is in firm position here. There’s no plot, and it’s all fabricated, but much of it feels like a documentary. Well, when I say it’s all fabricated, I don’t think that’s entirely true, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that much of the random, hedonistic activity on-screen was done in the Method approach. Haha! 

Moondog (Matthew McConaughy) is a full-time stoner, part-time poet, living on a cruiser in the Florida Keys, and sponging off cash injections from his uber-wealthy wife Minnie (Isla Fisher). He drifts around with a perpetual joint in his mouth, mouthing pseudo-poetic diatribes, downing cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, and when the opportunity presents itself, screwing randoms in burger joints, generally having a whale of a time. But the time comes - abruptly - to face the music. There’s money and recognition at stake. Not to mention the approval of his grown daughter, Heather (Stefania LaVie Owen), can Moondog rise to the challenge? 

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Featuring a huge cast of support players in small roles, featuring hilarious performances from Zac Ephron, Jonah Hill, and Martin Lawrence, also Snoop Dogg as Minnie’s lover Lingerie (yup, that’s right). This is the kind of movie you either love or hate. There’s really no sitting on the fence. I was totally disarmed and completely immersed. French cinematographer extraordinaire Benoît Debire has captured Moondog and company’s antics in stunning light and colour, while editor Douglas Crise would’ve had his work cut out for him, and he does a fabulous job. I was thoroughly entertained. I’ve earmarked it to watch again, armed with a blunt, four fingers of bourbon, and several beer chasers. I feel inspired!









A SUFF selection - 2019

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Them That Follow

Friday, September 13th, 8.30pm (Cinema 1)

Brittany Poulton and Daniel Savage have written and directed their first feature, set in the deep religious heart of Appalachia where white lightnin’ strikes the fear of God into anyone who strays from the path of righteousness. This is a drama fashioned with the rough edges of an atmospheric thriller, and a fine effort it is.

Mara (Alice Englebert) is the dutiful daughter of the local pastor, Lemeul (Walter Goggins), who holds fort in his church clutching the bible in one hand and handling deadly snakes in the other. The serpent is powerful in this community, and its bite will soon be felt, for Mara is harbouring a deep and dangerous secret. She’s involved with Augie (Thomas Mann), who has strayed from the church, yet she’s being betrothed to devout Garrett (Lewis Pullman). There’s gonna be tears well before bedtime. 

I do love a good fundamentalist tragedy set in the woods, and Them That Follow is a powerful tale of morality and the loss of faith, and although the climax doesn’t quite hit the high marks it hopes to, the journey is strong and consistent, the performances excellent - especially Australian Englebert, Goggins, and Olivia Colman as Hope, the woman desperate to save a nasty situation. 

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Underground Inc: The Rise & Fall of Alternative Rock

Friday, September 13th, 8.30pm (Cinema 4)

A documentary tracing the trajectory of 90s alternative rock after Nirvana’s meteoric rise to fame. But, as the opening blurb states, this doco is not telling Nirvana’s story. And it’s not telling Pearl Jam’s or Soundgarden’s or Jane’s Addiction’s story either. This is mostly about the bands that almost never got to release their second album. Talented bands that were signed to a label and dropped unceremoniously within a couple of years. This is the story of US corporate greed within the music industry. Nothing new, that greed has always been there, but the 90s alternative rock scene happened while the internet was still a baby. It was a very different scene. And while the bands struggled, as Matt Tecu from the band Dig says, “There’s only one Keith Richards and 100,000 boys died trying to be Keith Richards.” 

Australian filmmaker Shaun Katz has put together a swift and blistering account of what went down. An impressive line-up of musicians and industry folk spill the beans, talk turkey, dish the goss, and provide the lowdown, including members of Sugartooth, Cop Shoot Cop, Jawbox, Biohazard, Only Living Witness, Stegosaurus, Big Black, Primus, Clutch, Filter, and many more. Special nod to Walter A. Kibby II from Fishbone, and Helmet’s Peter Mengede as two of the documentary’s fountains of wisdom.

Adding great flavour to the documentary, which is essentially talking heads and clips and stills of the bands at play, is animation from JB Sapienza, who also co-edited. The wild graphics, including pertinent quotes, also adds a subversive, slightly satirical edge to the documentary. Even if alternative hard rock - the younger punk rock kids - isn’t your grab bag, this doco is a fascinating nostalgic date stamp on an incredibly furtive time in American rock history, and a wee life lesson for the budding rock stars of today; if you put your soul into it, you’ve already making it. 

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Dreamland

Friday, September 13th, 10.30pm (Cinema 1) & Saturday, September 14th, 6pm (Cinema 2)

According to director Bruce MacDonald (who made Hellions, one of my fave horror movies of recent yearsthe premise to his latest, a strange, blackly comic hybrid flick, is “On the night of the strangest wedding in cinema history, a grotesque gang boss hires a stone cold killer to bring him the finger of a fading, drug-addicted jazz legend.” Well, yes, this is true, but Deamland is much more than that. It’s a Lynchian romp that refuses to play by the rules, pulling you along with its colourful nightmare logic. Written by Tony Burgess and Patrick Whistler, it’s a story that almost defies description. You simply watch it unfold. 

The always excellent Stephen McHattie plays a dual role, that of Johnny, a cool-as-a-cucumber hitman, and the acclaimed trumpet player, the object of Johnny’s kill job. Henry Rollins attempts to chew the scenery as gangster Hercules, who enlists Johnny’s services, whilst Juliette Lewis (where has she been hiding??) hams it up as a Countess, and as it’s an American-Canadian co-production with Luxembourg and Belgium, there’s a slew of Euro actors in support roles. 

Dreamland’s a rich and gamey affair with striking imagery and a dark sense of humour, fitting snugly into MacDonald’s oeuvre of idiosyncratic genre outings. 

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Fuck You All: The Uwe Boll Story

Saturday, September 15th, 10pm (Cinema 2)

If you haven’t heard of German director Uwe (pronounced Oover) Boll, then you probably need to see this documentary. If you know who Uwe Boll is you definitely need to see this doco. It’s an absolute hoot. A fascinating portrait of a filmmaker who has “enjoyed” being labeled the worst director in the world for quite some time. Of course that label is highly contentious. There are far worse movies out there. But Boll has made a whole bunch of ‘em and he has a habit of speaking out against the haters. 

The title is apt. Boll is completely open, he has no filter, as everyone who has worked with him agrees. He speaks his mind, he’s not afraid to call a spade a spade, and, of course, he’s the pot calling the kettle black. There’s only so much incompetence and belligerency you can deliver before the whole world turns against you. But Boll has managed a directing career for twenty-five years, making some thirty-three movies. But his real skill is not directing, it’s producing. He has managed to squeeze funds from his homeland for feature after feature after feature. Quite the feat. But post 2010, the film industry landscape changed irrevocably with the demise of DVD sales. Boll had to re-consider his career. 

Documentary filmmaker Sean Patrick Shaul has made a thoroughly entertaining piece. All those that are interviewed have enjoyed working with Boll, despite his shortcomings. So he makes absolute rubbish, but for most of his career he’s released movies (mostly straight-to-DVD) that have turned a profit. It enabled him to open a flashy, fine dining Bavarian restaurant in Vancouver. But let’s not forget this is also the man who organised a boxing match challenge with all the critics game enough to step into the ring. The stunt did him no favours, even though his amateur boxing skills meant he pummelled all those stupid enough to oppose him. It’s all part of the trials and tribulations of this renegade trashmeister. 

For more details and tickets for the Sydney Underground Film Festival please here.






Rest In Peace, Roy Batty

Rutger Hauer

23 January 1944 - 19 July 2019.

“I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”

Revelation - Perth International Film Festival 2019 - Reviews in brief

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Locusts

Saturday July 6th, 6.30pm, Sunday July 14th, 6pm, & Tuesday July 16th, 8.40pm (Luna)

All noir tales paint a picture of greed and deceit, and pepper it with vengeance and violence. The protagonist always has skeletons in the closet, and the help might not always be good for them. In Heath Davis’ third feature he tackles well-worn territory, but does so with a tight script, penned by Angus Watts (on his first feature as screenwriter, with another two genre pics already in development), and the movie sports a terrific cast. 

City slicker Ryan Black (Ben Guerens) has returned to the Aussie outback, ex-mining town, Serenity Crossing (shot in Broken Hill, on some of the same roads used in Mad Max 2), to attend his father’s funeral, make amends with his loose canon brother Tyson (Nathaniel Dean), and sort out his dad’s affairs (played by Stan Black in flashbacks). There’ll be plenty of baggage. This includes the goons who’ve got an extortion score to implement, Cain (Steve Le Marquand), Davo (Damian Hill), and young Caleb (Ryan Morgan), but also Izzy (Jess McNamee), who wants a piece of Ryan too, since he walked on her, all those years ago. And there’s Jake (Andy McPhee), in the background, the farmer with a dark secret. 

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Locusts - the title referring to the insect that ravages the landscape with its insatiable hunger - sweats and grunts with good pace and plenty of character. The performances are strong, especially Guerens, McNamee, and McPhee, with Marquand adding yet another authentically menacing crook to his well-notched belt. Chris Bland captures the dust and grime and harsh sunshine with terrific cinematography, whilst Burkhard von Dullwitz (yup, that’s his real name) provides a solid score. Heath Davis balances a subtle sense of humour with the dark drama, and he’s a director to watch. 

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Savage Youth

Saturday July 6th, 4.15pm Monday July 8th, 3.45pm, Wednesday July 10th, 8.15pm, & Sunday July 14th, 3.45pm (Luna)

A teenage girl scrawls “True Story” on a piece of paper, and then scribbles it out. Cut to a young, ripped man in menacing clown-like makeup, itching to do a piece to camera, as a clapperboard reveals the name and director of the movie we’re about to watch. These two moments inject the film with a kind of meta-data, one seemingly contradicting the other. The story itself is about contrast and hypocrisy, about desire and hatred, about friendships under pressure, about racial tension and fractured identity. 

Jason (Will Brittain), Lucas (Sasha Feldman), and Hyde (J. Michael Trautmann) are wannabe rappers, honkies desperate for recognition, for fame, stuck in a deadbeat small US town. Elena (Grace Victoria Cox) and her girlfriend, Stephanie (Chloë Levine), who is already a teenage mother, are itching for something, anything. Afro-Americans Gabe (Tequan Richmond) and Mike (Mitchell Edwards) have obligations, but making fash cash selling weed is a good distraction. Soon enough the lives of these six disenfranchised souls will collide, with tragic results. 

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Writer/director Michael Curtis Johnson has fashioned a mostly solid drama, plucked from the true statistics of Somewhere, Anywhere, USA. He injects a palpable tension through the narrative, an air of genuine unease floats around these young and restless teens, as they make bad decision after bad decision, like a domino effect. You can sense violence is going to erupt, you know it’s not going to end well. The climax isn’t as shocking or savage as it demands to be, and the ending is abrupt and curiously unsatisfying, but the mise-en-scene, cinematography, and performances are all top notch, with the leads all actors to watch, as I’m sure they’ll be big stars soon enough, and sometimes that’s punch enough. 

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Monos

Sunday July 7th, 4pm, Tuesday July 9th, 6.20pm, & Sunday July 14th, 9pm (Luna)

Monos (which translates as “monkeys”) is a very loose adaptation of William Golding’s classic tale of order and anarchy, The Lord of the Flies, but set high up on a remote Latin American alpine tundra, in and around an abandoned arcane concrete outpost, and later down in the thick of the jungle. Instead of school lads, it’s a ragtag group of adolescent guerilla soldiers, boys and girls, with an adult hostage, and the responsibility of a milk cow. These rebels, with nicknames such as Rambo, Smurf, Bigfoot, Wolf, Dog, and Boom-Boom, receive sporadic adult command from The Organisation (who are heard over radio, but never seen), but their immediate reality is much more juvenile and impulsive, their mission inevitably under threat from within. 

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Director Alejandro Landes constructed the story and co-wrote the screenplay with Alexis Dos Santos. It’s a co-production between Colombia, Argentina, and Uruguay, with Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands. The beautiful cinematography is courtesy of Jasper Wolf, with powerful music by Mica Levi. The performances are uniformly excellent, with the cast a mix of experienced actors and non-professionals, but a special nod to Anglo-Saxon Julianne Nicholson as the long-suffering prisoner they call Doctora. 

Through the mountain mist probes the fog of war. Loyalty and stability are only as strong as the night is long. Language is a virus, a weapon, and trust as tenuous as the spoken word. Monos rambles and drifts, shouts and screams, scratches and punches, a powerful, surging, atmospheric study of power and hostility, and demands to be seen on a big screen. 

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All the Gods in the Sky

Thursday July 11th, 7.45pm, Sunday July 14th, 8.45pm, & Tuesday July 16th, 6.15pm (Luna)

Simon (Jean-Luc Couchard) is a weary man, who looks much older than his thirty years. But you would too, if you lived alone with your paranoid thoughts, in a massive, crumbling stone farmhouse, harbouring demons, and had resigned yourself to caring for your severely disabled younger sister (Melanie Gaydos), whilst convinced the guilt that has governed your life was for a higher cosmic purpose, a kind of darkness calling from the stars. 

French writer/director Quarxx (!) has expanded his 2016 thirty-minute short, A Perfect Blue Sky, into a feature length study of madness and abuse, of morality and mortality. The feature is no less confronting and cryptic than the short, as equally fascinating and disturbing. A powerful drama, in moments nightmarish (with a Lovecraftian edge), and at times tender, then perverse. It’s a truly original hybrid that feels pulled from the pages of a weird science fiction horror novel. 

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The high production values Quarxx employed on the short carry over onto the feature, with many identical scenes, and the two main actors reprise their roles. It’s a difficult movie in terms of empathy for the protagonist, yet one can’t help being drawn into his complex and increasingly frightening reality. All the Gods in the Sky is a hugely assured and captivating movie, despite a level of impenetrability. Stunning on the big screen, with rich widescreen cinematography from Antoine Carpentier. You won’t have seen a movie quite like this. 

For the full Revelation program and further festival information please click here.

66th Sydney Film Festival - Six picks!

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Animals

Sat 8 June, 8.30pm (Ritz), The 13 June, 8.30pm (HOC) & Sat 15 June, 9pm (EV4)

For her second feature Aussie director Sophie Hyde has adapted the novel by Emma Jane Unsworth about two Dublin women hitting the dirty 30s and all the emotional baggage and excess luggage that comes from shared accommodation with your BFF. It’s been ten years in a booze-soaked and recreational drug haze. Laura (Holliday Grainger) is a wannabe author. She’s been working on her first novel since the beginning of time. She has a journal full of scrawled observations on her chum, Tyler (Alia Shawkat), who lies in the gutter staring wistfully at the stars. There’s no immediate rush to give up their hedonistic lifestyle. Or is there? 

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Whilst bohemian ex-pat American Tyler takes a one-night stand where she can, which is probably far more occasionally than frequently, it is ginger-haired, cherub-faced Laura who gets the more regular attention, and seems to be the one who quietly hopes to be swept off her feet. Enter classically-trained ruggedly handsome Jim (Fra Free), who tickles her ivories something wicked. Before the girls can quote anything remotely witty Laura is hitched and shacking up on the other side of town. “The night is a zoo and the next day is its museum”.

“Just what are an animal’s primary needs?” slurs Laura after a botched poetry session. Food, sex, and safety. But not necessarily in that order. Animals is a beautiful slice of life. The resemblance to Withnail and I can’t be ignored, but from a female perspective. The central performance from Grainger is terrific, and one of my faves for the year, but all the acting is top notch, and the dialogue bristles with loose precision. A movie that captures those delicate moments between the moments, that reckless confidence and awkward naivety that follows some of us well into adulthood. 

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This Is Not Berlin

Mon 10 Jun, 3.45pm (EV4)

No, it’s Mexico City, 1986, and teenage Carlos (Xabiani Ponce de León) is in limbo. Most of his school mates spend their extracurricular activity involved in fights with rival school kids. But Carlos is more interested in electronics. He finds inspiration from his uncle (played by director Hari Sama), and with his best friend Gera (José Antonio Toledano) the two lads discover a hedonistic escape in an underground nightclub and the pan-sexual counter-culture that inhabits it. Carlos is attracted to Gera’s older sister Rita (Ximena Romo), but the attention of Nico (Mauro Sanchez Navarro) sways his behaviour. 

Essentially a coming-of-age drama This Is Not Berlin exhibits a fearless approach to the fickle nature of adolescence, to the troublesome issue of peer pressure, and the social politics of sexual libration and individuality. Apparently based on the director’s own experiences, as is often the case with resonant drama like this. The movie is gifted with a great soundtrack of pulsating new wave music. Rita is the singer and front person to a progressive rock band, trying to cut a swathe through the punk rock. Rita spouts socio-political diatribes, and Carlos, who fixed the keyboardist’s synth, and Gera tag along. 

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Sama elicits powerful performances from his young cast, especially León and Romo. The camera roves in and around the action like a restless panther. It’s a heady mix of elements, from the mostly implicit violence that seethes, to the sexual tension and release (there’s a genuinely charged encounter near movie’s end). This Is Not Berlin is as much about the apathy and disenfranchised of yesteryear as it is of the here and now. 

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The Wedding Guest

Fri 7 June, 6.30pm (Ritz)

From Michael Winterbottom, probably Britain’s most prolific director, comes a thriller, and a damn fine one too. It has a romantic undercurrent, but calling it a romance would be misleading. It’s primarily a story of love unsatisfied, desire at a close distance. Someone once said, there’s no such thing as love and romance, only trouble and desire. The Wedding Guest is exactly that. Dev Patel (the ethnic Ryan Reynolds) plays Jay, a man on a mission. It’s easy to work out that his job is not above board. Radhika Apte plays Samira, the woman he must safely collect and deliver. But, there are other players involved, and nothing ever goes to plan. 

A kind of Indian-Pakistan travelogue fused into the mechanics of a thriller, The Wedding Guest is essentially a two-hander, with Jim Sarbh as the third wheel. Soon enough it becomes difficult to work out who is leading who. The heart is a lonely hunter. Jay and Samira are forced to cohabit as they make their passage out of harm’s way, and as sure as the sun sets in the west, they will find each other’s pretence as a couple something more than a guise for safety. 

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Winterbottom never fails to get great naturalistic performances. Most of his best work is imbued with an immediacy and cinema verité attention to detail. It’s a drama, but it feels raw and real. The production values are never over-stated, but assist the movie in the most genuine, authentic way. The movie is a UK production, but feels like a co-pro. Winterbottom is excellent at entrenching his directorial style into the lay of the land. The Wedding Guest might not offer anything entirely new in the traditional style of the twisty pursuit thriller, but it’s done with such a strong, solid hand, and Patel and Apte are not only very easy on the eye, but they deliver compellingly. 

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Happy New Year, Colin Burstead

Fri 7 June, 8.50pm (HOC), Sat 8 June, 7.45pm (DNEW), & Sat 15 June, 9pm (DOQ2)

Ben Wheatley is one of my favourite contemporary British directors. His hit list (pardon the pun) is terrific (Kill List, Sightseers, and Free Fire, for example). He is adept at both intense drama and action and the blackest of comedy. With his latest he employs the humorous hand to great effect, taking a fantastic ensemble cast and letting them have a right old go at each other. You could refer to this as Festen In England (referencing one of my favourite familial disaster movies), as it takes place on the year’s most anticipated let’s get plastered day and night, almost entirely in one location, and features the extended relations in full attack and defence mode. 

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Neil Maskel is the titular Colin. He’s hired a huge country manor to host a NYE bash for his entire family and their immediate loved ones. This happens to include the estranged brother David (Sam Riley), who has been haphazardly invited by sister Gini (Hayley Squires). It becomes quickly apparent that everyone is reluctant to entertain David, let alone humour him. There is a lot of bad blood under the bridge, shall we say. So, without further adieu, let the festivities start, let the shit hit the fan! Pop the bubbly, pour the gin, slosh the Scotch, and scull the beer. 

Wheatley wrote the script, and also edited the movie, and the editing is very much a central player, as the narrative frequently cuts between the various conversations and confrontations, including the sheepish Lord of the Manor (Richard Glover) and the anxious caterer Lainey (Sinead Matthews). Special nod to Charles Dance who is a delightful surprise in the guise of Uncle Bertie, and to classy fraulein Hanna (Alexandra Maria Lara), David’s girlfriend, who observes the entire calamity with bemusement, then delivers a little Marlene. Wheatley indulges himself at movie’s end, during the credits, pushing the Brechtian envelope. It’s a nice touch. 

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Miles Davis: Birth Of The Cool

Sat 8 June, 6.35pm (EV3)

It’s about time someone made a definitive documentary about the legendary musician who irrevocably changed the face and feel of jazz more than once. Director Stanley Nelson has amassed a stunning collection of photographs that he uses to tell one part of the life and career of Miles Davis. He also utilises the voice of Carl Lumbly to read passages from Davis’ autobiography (which was published in 1989 - Davis passing away only a couple of years later). Together, with the music of the maestro, and occasionally a tune from someone else as context, they form the amazing story of this extraordinary game changer, a musical maverick who has provided the world with some of the most gorgeous jazz, both modern and classic. 

Relaxin’, workin’, cookin’, and steamin’, Miles laid down the blueprint. And he didn’t suffer fools gladly. He wasn’t an easy man to be with either, as many will verify, especially the women in his life. As is often the case, those that are truly gifted, are often chased by demons, and lash out at those they supposedly cherish. Davis had his fair share of demons. He was a smack addict in the 40s, and a coke addict through the 60s and 70s. Booze also hounded him. But he managed to still make countless albums of rare beauty, and nearly always inspired his fellow musicians and collaborators to greatness. 

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Birth Of The Cool (a reference to the compilation album he released in 1957, but just as pertinent a description of his own legacy) is essential viewing for anyone remotely interested in modern music. The impact Davis had on modern jazz in the 50s and 60s, especially improvisation, and the influence on funk and hip-hop, again through improv in the early 70s, cannot be overstated, especially on the albums “Bitches Brew” and “On The Corner”. With close friends, ex-lovers, and collaborators waxing lyrical (shame Betty Davis didn’t chime in), a deeply etched, warts and all portrait of the artist is formed and framed, and it’s one for the ages, one to be cherished.

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Martha: A Picture Story

Sat 8 June, 6.30pm (EV5) & Mon 10 June, 6pm (DNEW)

Martha “Marty” Cooper had her first camera at eight, and dreamed of being a photographer for National Geographic. But instead of composing elegant photographs of wild beasts on the savannahs she ended up capturing the streetwise animals in the urban jungle of New York, and in the process she discovered her passion and vocation. After a stint as the first female staff photographer for the New York Post in the late 70s, being told to cover Olympic athletes and look for cleavage, she found solace in doing the “weather shots” (filler using ordinary folk), often in the Bronx, where she discovered the illegal graffiti artists bombing and tagging trains. 

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It was her obsession with photographing this burgeoning subculture that would become her legacy. Although she wasn’t accepted into the photography community for her “snapshots”, and her work was criticised by the media for encouraging vandalism, she eventually had her photography - along with fellow street art eye Henry Chalfant - immortalised by a small German publisher in a book called Subway Art in 1984. Only 3000 copies printed, it would become a bible amongst street artists and the hiphop community, to this day. 

Director Selina Miles, who focuses her docos in the street art world, has made a thoroughly captivating and inspiring portrait, not just of Marty, the gung-ho traveler and adventurer with a sly sense of humour, but also the wilderness of Brooklyn and the Bronx in the late 70s and 80s, and the gentrification that followed. Baltimore also features, as Marty spent a lot of time photographing its locals. Now at 75, with numerous books under her belt, Marty, still the loner, challenges herself by running with the hoods, tackling the modern world of street art, transmogrified by social media, and she still struggles with acceptance. But, as this wonderful documentary illustrates, if you follow your passion, however big or small or improper, happiness will find a way to follow. 


For complete Sydney Film Festival program please click here.

Luz

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Germany | 2018 | Directed by Tilman Singer

Logline: A young woman enters a police station, while a doctor is chatted up by a woman at a bar. A demonic entity loiters, determined to finally be close to the woman it loves.

In arguably the most genuinely retro-vibed unclassifiable movie in years this German tale of supernatural possession and yearning operates perfectly like a bad dream, with oneiric logic, mood and tone. Drenched in atmosphere with a cool synth score from Simon Waskow, icy, muted 16mm cinematography from Paul Faltz, and a mesmerising performance from Chilean Luana Velia in the titular role, Luz is writer/director Tilman Singer’s paean to the existential horror of the late 70s - think Fulci meets Lynch - as theatrical as it is cinematic, as weird as it is entrancing. 

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Several characters, including tomboyish cab driver Luz (Luana Velis), a psychiatrist, Dr. Rossini (Jan Blurhardt), and Luz’s old roommate Nora (Julia Riedler), become embroiled in dark shenanigans at a desolate bar, and a run-down, lonely police station. There is black magic at play, there is much manipulation, but it’s not entirely clear who is doing what to whom, as flashbacks merge with the present, as fantasy binds with reality, as a demon god seizes humanity. All will be revealed … or, suggested, in good, short time (the movie is just 70 minutes long).

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Indeed, much of Luz feels like improvised, like some kind of organic Brechtian experiment in narrative. Singer’s controlled nightmare - apparently his film studies thesis - is a study in mood and tone, as rich in subtlety as it is restrained in special effects, yet still manages to provide a deeply satisfying and pervading sense of the creep factor. This is definitely an acquired taste, as it doesn’t offer much in terms of narrative coherency, instead layering ambiguity upon ambiguity. Like David Lynch’s Eraserhead, it is a dream of dark and troubling things, with smoky, lush imagery that burns onto the back of the retina. 

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Luz is the confident and striking work of an exciting new filmmaker with loads of potential, and I can’t wait to see what he does next, as well as irresistible Luana Velis.

Luz screens Friday 30th November, 6.30pm, Sunday 2nd December, 8.30pm, Wednesday 5th December, 8.45pm (Lido), Saturday 1st December, 6.30pm (Classic) & Saturday 1st December 8.30pm (Cameo), as part of Melbourne’s Paracinema Fest. For full program please visit here.

Boiled Angels: The Trial of Mike Diana

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US | 2018 | directed by Frank Henenlotter

 Logline: A documentary tracing the history of American underground comic artist Mike Diana and his arrest and conviction for obscenity. 

 Mike Diana remains the only artist in US history to have been found guilty and convicted of obscenity. This was back in 1994. In Florida. These days Diana is a celebrated artist who has exhibitions around the world and whose controversial work is featured in hardcover coffee table books. But back in the late 80s he was a talented, but angry teenager who illustrated his contempt at aspects of humanity with graphic abandon. 

Frank Henenlotter is a director well-versed in controversy and censorship, as he delivered such cult midnight fare as Basket Case, Brain Damage, Frankenhooker, and Bad Biology. He’s made docos before, one on sexploitation and one on the Godfather of Gore, Herschell Gordon Lewis, so it seems fitting that he tackle the untold story of Mike Diana and his “crimes”. As Neil Gaiman points out, what happened to Mike Diana is an appalling injustice, and it exposed the “noxious froth on the top of evil sewerage”. It was a volatile period, and Diana, being young and without the aid of money, was made an example of. 

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Beginning with EC Comics and the Code of Authority, moving through Underground Comix, and Heavy Metal magazine, Henenlotter’s compelling portrait of Diana’s world and the bigger picture, infused with much satire, and visual flair, paints a truly damning frame of small town attitude let loose. But Diana wasn’t small-minded. He may have been carrying issues, though he claims to have had a happy childhood (though his sister spills a few crazy stories!), but the most unfortunate factor was that the Gainesville serial killer was on the loose, and Diana’s sadistic, sexually violent cartoons looked very similar, leading many to condemn the young man as a psychopath. Talk about a long bow being drawn. 

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It’s fascinating history, with a macabre sense of humour (and added George C. Romero sage). At one point Diana is being interviewed and a black car drives past in the background, and Diana immediately notes that it’s detectives. Still on his case, twenty-five years down the track. Boiled Angels (the title refers to Diana’s damning ‘zine) is essential viewing for anyone interested in subversive pop culture. 

Boiled Angels screens Saturday 1st December, 3.45pm (Lido) & Tuesday 4th December, 6.30pm (Classic), as part of Melbourne’s Paracinema Fest. For full program please visit here.

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2018 - highlights

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TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID

Mexican director Issa López’s horror-fantasy hybrid (the original title, Siempre Vuelven, translates as “they always come back”) has already won a slew of awards, and had Guillermo Del Toro and Stephen King both waxing lyrical on Twitter, and it’s easy to see why. Her tale of several orphaned children banding together to fend off the brutal gangland tactics of the ever-present drug cartel and the ghosts of the murdered lingering close is the kind of narrative premise that appeals to the sensibilities of Toro and King, as they have both tackled their own tales of horror and adolescence. 

López has delivered a powerfully nuanced film, with superb performances from her young cast, especially Paola Lola as brave Estrella, trying to find out what happened to her mother, convinced of three wishes, searching desperately for closure. She befriends a ragtag group of boys, proves her mettle, and has them aid her on her dangerous quest, being pursued by vengeful gangsters. 

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The production values are excellent, especially the cinematography, which captures the grit and grime, the inescapable sense of desolation within the ghetto. Yet there’s a kind of ruinous beauty to it all. And López doesn’t pull any punches with the inherent violence either, it’s a truly cruel world. The melding of the fantasy element is interwoven beautifully, as the young imagination conjures the fantastical in order to comprehend the horror of the adult world. 

The statistics of how many people, especially children, go missing each year as a direct result of the drug wars is truly harsh. It’s a reality where street kids are forced to become adults at a very tender age, weapons thrust into their hands, often out of the necessity for survival. Right from the start Tigers Are Not Afraid is a tense and compelling journey, moving inexorably deeper toward the dark truth, and almost certain to pull hard on your heart strings. 

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YOU MIGHT BE THE KILLER

Usually I’m not one for smart-arse horror comedies that try and be oh-so-self-aware-clever and end up compromising everything they’ve set out to encapsulate. However, there are always exceptions to the rule, and this little slasher spoof hits the meta nail right on the head. Directed by Brett Simmons, who made a forgettable scarecrow horror movie called Husk, comes out with both guns blazing. A wickedly original premise that holds up to the very end. And then demands some more. 

The movie opens with Sam (Fran Kranz), a kids camp counsellor covered in blood and holed up in a shed. He’s called his best friend Chuck (Alyson Hannigan), a horror movie geek, for help, as he’s sure he’s being hunted by a maniac killer, who has already butchered most of the other counsellors. He doesn’t remember large sections due to blacking out. Chuck asks a few pertinent questions, and it quickly dawns on the them that Sam might very well be the killer. Sam describes in detail the events that have lead to this moment of realisation. 

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It might sound hokey, but this very entertaining movie ticks a lot of boxes. Firstly, the performances of the good-looking, mostly unknown cast, are terrific, with special note to Kranz in the utterly confused and desperate lead role. He has a kind of Steve Carroll dork factor, but is endearing, which is crucial, considering the predicament. Hannigan is Hannigan, and she delivers the perfect counterpart, over the phone, that is. Also of note is Brittany S. Hall as Sam’s ex-camp fling, Imani. 

The lush, retro-hued cinematography fits hand in glove, plus there are some choice kills, which is de rigour for a slasher flick. The movie is short, hilarious, and finishes with the perfect ending. Not surprisingly, it won awards for “Best Film To Watch With A Crowd” & “Film Most Want To See A Sequel To” at Toronto After Dark. Indeed, it’s the perfect popcorn and mates movie. And beers and blunts too, if you can. 

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THE INHABITANT

Another Latin-American entry, this one from Guillermo Amoedo, one of Eli Roth’s friends, who collaborated with him on Aftershock, The Green Inferno, and Knock Knock. This movie, however, is nothing like those three. The Inhabitant is a richly atmospheric shocker dealing with demonic possession, which unfolds in a classic mold, unlike Roth’s obnoxious, over-the-top style. Indeed The Inhabitant relies more on character and subtlety, and is all the more resonant and memorable for it. 

Maria (Maria Evoli), Camila (Vanesa Restrepo) and Ana (Carla Adell) are sisters, and have broken into a mansion, searching for a stash of money in a safe, from a tip-off to help Camila who is in a spot of trouble. But, their plans are scuttled by the discovery of the wealthy owners’ daughter Tamara (Nastash Cubria) strapped to a bed in the basement. The girl looks definitely worse for wear. The parents are desperate to be left alone. The sisters have their own demons, but those have been kept in the closest since they were teens. Until now. 

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This is a movie of more than just diabolical invasion of the body. It is about the loss of faith, the theft of humanity, the sacking of sacred family trust. It is about the darkness within the darkness of the soul. Peer too closely into the shadows and they just might bite your face off. The Inhabitant has a tenebrous shroud that blankets everything. It’s an impressively nightmarish vibe, enhanced by the roving camerawork, down the hallways of the labyrinthine mansion, and strong performances from all the actors. 

Eschewing the usual viscera (though it is still violent) and arching histronics of other possession movies The Inhabitant still manages to create a genuinely chilling atmosphere, all icky dread and cold sweaty moments. It’s not a long movie, but it demands you pay attention, for the denouement is most satisfyingly apocalyptic, and coal black eyes have been staring intently in that direction. 

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2018 screened October 11-19, Scotiabank Theatre. For complete program and all award winners please visit their site Toronto After Dark.

Sydney Underground Film Festival 2018 - shakers, movers, killers, players

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Barbara Rubin & the Exploding New York Underground

Friday, September 14th, 8.30pm

Referred to as the Joan of Ark of underground cinema, Barbara Rubin’s contribution to the hugely influential scene that emerged out of the Big Apple in the mid-60s cannot be understated. Though she’s not as recognizable as Andy Warhol, she was just as instrumental, and in many ways the pioneer that inspired Warhol to embark on his own underground ciné endeavours, certainly she introduced him to The Velvet Underground. She was just 18 (going on 30) when she made Christmas on Earth (which she originally titled Cocks and Cunts), which played with double projection (a smaller frame projected inside another larger frame) and depicted free love in a way that shocked and fascinated audiences - even those minds wide open Manhattanites!

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Rubin was as passionate and dedicated as she was demanding and stubborn, quickly making friends with fellow shaker and movers Allen Ginsberg and Jack Smith, and making a name for herself at whatever function or event she attended, or crashed. She kept a long-standing correspondence with her early lover and lifelong friend Jonas Mekas, and it is the ageing Mekas who shares some of the letters she wrote him. Many others of the period share colourful stories of Rubin and her commitment to the avant-garde film scene. 

Rubin died tragically at the age of 35, following the birth of her fifth child. This concise documentary, made by Chuck Smith, traces Rubin’s career from maverick teenager through to her radical shift in ideology when she married a French painter and mystical religious teacher and moved to France. But it is the period between the mid and late 60s when Rubin was the “moving force and coordinator,” as Lou Reed describes her influence on the artists of that time and place, that is most fascinating. An incredibly furtive and unbridled period, where culture and art and social mores collided, and it’s wonderful for Chuck Smith’s doco to lift Rubin from the kaleidoscopic, carnal chaos and put her on the pedestal she rightly deserves.  

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Wobble Palace

Saturday, September 15th, 5pm

I know what you’re likely to say, you’ve seen one mumblecore indie relationship comedy of sexual misadventures you’ve seen ‘em all. But no! There is always another one that manages to charm with its egocentricities, its visual flair, with terrific performances, and effervescent dialogue. Eugene Kotlyarenko’s curious take on a pathetic relationship that really needs to end is the ripe juicy fruit worth biting into. Co-written with his co-star Dasha Nekrasova, Eugene (as Eugene) is, well, quite frankly a cuck (to quote Paige Elkington’s photographer character), a dishevelled narcissist who dresses appallingly and sweeps his long hair into a flowing toupee. His partner Jane (Nekrasova) is also a vague narcissist, but less obnoxious in her millennial angst. 

These two mean well, but they’re in a serious rut. The movie takes place over a few nights leading up to the infamous US election that saw Donald Trump takeover the Oval Office. Essentially it’s a comedy of manners, or errors to be precise, but it’s shot through an endearing gauze of melancholy, much of which is enhanced by Sean William Price’s gorgeous cinematography (he shot the Safdie brothers' Good Time in a similar wash of vibrant colour and retro flare). 

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So we follow Eugene attempting to get laid via Tinder hookups, and his reckless treatment of bills and general lack of household hygiene. Then we follow Jane as she muses with her bestie (played by Elisha Drons), tries her luck with a skater boi, and indulges her needs with a douchebag named Ravi (Vishwam Velandy). But eventually - at a Halloween party where Eugene is dressed hilariously as Nosferatu - the two unlovers decide its time to talk turkey. Though its characters might likely irritate the pants off of some, Wobble Palace is poignant, engaging and frequently amusing, with genuinely memorable performances, especially Nekrosova, she’s one to watch for sure. Y'know, I think its one of my faves for the year. 

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King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen

Saturday, September 15th, 9pm

You may not recognise the director’s name, but you’ll no doubt have heard of some of his cult classic movies, especially It’s Alive, Q - The Winged Serpent, The Stuff, or Hell Up in Harlem. Larry Cohen is a living legend, a prolific screenwriter for both television and the movies, and as a director, Cohen is the other side of the DIY coin, with Roger Corman on the flip. Cohen is a true filmmaker, a renegade spirit, a man on a mission, and Steven Mitchell’s documentary is a loving tribute to the tenacity of Larry and his approach to filmmaking. 

Featuring a huge array of talent spilling forth the often amusing tales of working on a Larry Cohen picture, or having had some involvement with the man, including Joe Dante, John Landis, Martin Scorsese, Mick Garris, Eric Roberts, Fred Williamson, Michael Moriarty, and many more. But Larry himself isn’t shy at waxing lyrical about his own work, describing Q as “the best big monster movie after Kong”. 

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Just as entertaining as Corman’s World, the Roger Corman documentary from a few year’s back, King Cohen’s career in low-budget feature filmmaking, where he’d often shoot on the streets of Manhattan without a permit, taking advantage of a street parade in order to get high production value at minimal cost, or using restoration workers high up on the Chrysler building doubling as gunmen trying to shoot down the giant winged serpent. Where there was a way, Larry had the will. He was the guerrilla filmmaker that could teach Robert Rodriguez a few lessons! Although much of Cohen’s technique would give Health & Safety a headache, and certainly there is much that Cohen got away with that would be impossible with today’s strict filmmaking practices. Oh, and take note budding screenwriters for a link to ten of Larry's unproduced screenplays at the end of the credits. 

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Christmas Blood

Saturday, September 15th, 11pm

A Norwegian slasher flick, known as Juleblod in Scandinavia, directed by the suitably named Reinert Kill, who has been making movies since he was 9. A bunch of pretty young women rendezvous in the small snow laden township of Honningsvåg for a booze-laden yuletide reunion. Sanne (Helene Eidsvåg), Elizabeth (Karoline Stemre), Ritika (Haddy Jallow), and Annika (Kylie Stephenson) arrive at the snug pad of Julia (Marte Sætren) to celebrate Xmas. Soon after Katja (Yassmine Johansen) and her boyfriend Christian (Andreas Nonaas) join them. But, Julia’s recently deceased mother was one of the many victims on the long list of a demented serial killer (Jorgen Langhelle), who savagely murdered dozens of folk many years earlier, was shot by police and incarcerated. But, of course, he’s just escaped, and donned his favourite Santa suit, armed himself with a sharp trusty axe, and has also arrived in the sleepy village of the midnight sun, with one thing on his psycho mind. 

Forget plot, as there is precious little in that department, for Kill is much more interested in the shenanigans of his soon-to-be offed protagonists. Who will die first, and how violently will they die? Kill certainly knows how to swing a camera, and he lays on the atmosphere with aplomb. The performances are solid, if a little distracting - whilst almost everyone takes in Norwegian (Elizabeth is a mute), Annika delivers her lines in Aussie English. But who pray tell is the killer Santa? And will police detective Rasch (Stig Henrik Hoff) save all the girls before another silent night, deadly night is done and dusted? 

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Christmas Blood is one of those stalk and slash (or should I say stalk and split) flicks that demands to be seen with a keen cinema audience after several pilsners or maybe some mulled profondo rosso. It’s the kind of movie you hurl comments at the characters on screen; “Run faster you idiot!” and “Look out behind you!” But too late, the axe comes crashing down, and blood is splattered all over virgin snow. Or in this case, slutty snow. While there is no real rhyme or reason to this slay ride, it’s a fun frolic, easy on the eye, with some decent kills (although I wanted it to be gorier!), and it’s lean, mean style will be appreciated by the purist horror hounds.

 

The 12th Sydney Underground Film Festival screens 13th - 16th September at Factory Theatre, Marrickville. For more information, ticketing, and the complete SUFF program visit http://suff.com.au

Decks And The City

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Glen J. Scrymgour’s portrait of Adelaide’s DJ scene is both a love letter to the art and passion (and frustration) of the modern disc jockey, and an open letter of dismay and despair at the seemingly irreparable damage done by the lock out laws which have wrecked havoc in Adelaide (and in Sydney). Melbourne has come out unscathed, having been the guinea pigs, but, for a only a few months before they were scrapped. But enough about Melbourne.

Adelaide once proudly proclaimed itself the Dance Capital of Australia. It is the home of Cam Banchetti, the legend known as DJ HMC, and even more famously so as Late Nite Tuff Guy, Australia’s “Godfather of techno”, a champion of the proper DJ, who respects the music and understands the dance floor, “It’s all about dancing, yeah? Right.” He is one of numerous Adelaidian DJs and industry figures who wax lyrical about the state of the art, and offer their opinions on the ever-changing, evolving landscape of electronic dance music. 

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While much of the first half of the doco - with it’s oh-so-cute title - feels like its preaching to the converted, skimming the breadth of genres and sub-genres of electronic dance, each interviewee offering their take on their beloved style. It’s certainly an overview, and to the nightclub greenie or newbie, the doco offers a superficial look at what makes these musical styles tick and tock, but it feels very locked into the four-to-the-floor sensibility, with the exception of drum and bass and dubstep, and it’s a shame it doesn’t offer anything about the DJ roots of electronic dance music; funk, disco, soul, rare groove, new wave. Still, the predominately house music soundtrack, using a lot of local producers, is excellent. 

Fresh 92.7FM is regarded as Adelaide’s bastion of overground and underground dance music. Many of the DJs who feature in Decks also have shows on the station. While they acknowledge the importance of radio and community, many of the older DJs bemoan the current club scene as increasingly full of wannabes and rising DJs who have little respect for laying the foundations. The contemporary scene within the industry means that online stores, such as Beatport and Traxsource, feature a plethora of producers and a glut of music. Gone are the halcyon days of the physical record store where DJs would gather on shipment day to listen to a crate’s worth of new vinyl. Sure, there are a few boutique stores scattered here and there, but that era has passed. Instead DJs are now expected to be high calibre bedroom producers, and with technology being so advanced and relatively cheap, on one hand it makes it much easier for up-and-coming producers to deliver stuff, but the vast ocean of content actually makes it increasingly harder to be heard, or singled out. There is irony in that there groove. 

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The digital vs. analogue argument rears its head, as it has been doing for the past ten years, and rightly so, LNTG says it shouldn’t be about the technology or format, the heart of the matter is the quality of the music. Fresh FM station manager Troy Been chimes in on programming local acts that have raised the bar, enough so that their stuff can play effortlessly back-to-back with the big international names. But the crux of Decks and the City appears to be the issue of the lock-out laws, its inevitable damage to Adelaide’s underground club scene, and the insidious effect the exempt casinos have had. This section of the doco occupies the last thirty minutes, and one can’t escape the feeling this was the impetus of making the documentary in the first place. 

Decks and the City is essentially an archival piece, capturing mostly the veteran X-Gens, with a clutch of dedicated Millennials, but hopefully it will end up as a date stamp, so when the lock-out laws are reversed we can look back on the dark period and say, thank God that misguided attempt at dealing with alcohol-related violence is over with. At the least, Decks is a solid tribute piece to the city’s diverse DJ personalities, and to the aesthetics of the profession. It’s made by someone with a genuine love of the DJ and its realm, and is aimed squarely at those who love nightclubbing, who love the healing power of electronic dance music.  

Decks and the City screens as part of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, Monday July 8th, 7pm (Howler). The doco screens with two other “EDM” docs, French Waves and Italo Disco Legacy.

Revelation - Perth International Film Festival 2018 - reviews in brief

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Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion and Disco

Monday 9 July, 3.15pm (Luna), Sunday 15 July, 5pm (Luna)

A sensational portrait of one of the key stylists of the heady, glam period of the late 60s and into the 70s, when disco began to emerge in the underground clubs, when cocaine was seducing the elite, and extravagant line drawings began to dictate what the magazine photo spreads were going to replicate. Bisexual Puerto Rican playboy Antonio Lopez was at the heart, body and soul of the glitterati storm of hedonism and creation, and James Crump’s colourful romp captures the celebratory essence of Lopez and his entourage, his muses, his vices, and his relationships with gusto and finesse.

Lopez was, without a doubt, the most influential fashion illustrator of Paris and New York during the ‘70s. He partnered with another ferocious talent, Juan Ramos, an art director, and together they ruled the lofts, studios, and dance floors they graced. They courted controversy and cultivated extraordinary chemistry. It’s amazing how furtive, yet loosely reigned the period was, with so many stories to spill. It’s a thrilling 90 minutes. 

Key models who wax lyrical include Lopez faves, Jane Forth (the brunette sans eyebrows) and Donna Jordan (the blonde with the toothy gap), also Patti D’Arbanville, Pat Cleveland, and the amazing Jerry Hall. Vogue’s Grace Coddington features, as does Jessica Lange, Bill Cunningham, and a young Karl Lagerfield. Everyone has wonderful anecdotes and memories. The soundtrack bounces along with awesome disco tunes. IN fact, the entire doco fizzes like a freshly popped bottle of Champagne, easily one of the best exhibits of a bygone era of the fashion industry, and essential viewing for fashionistas and cult celebrity pop culturalists.

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Betty: They Say I’m Different

Friday 6 July, 3pm (Luna), Saturday 14 July, 1pm (Luna), Tuesday 17 July, 8.45pm (Luna)

This portrait has been a very long time coming, and while the end product - the result of intense searching (for the subject matter in the flesh) and extensive crowdsourcing (to help bring the documentary to the masses) - isn’t as wholly satisfying as one would hope, it rewards in a more intimate fashion, providing the hardcore funkateers with affirmation and the curious soul searchers with enlightenment. Betty Davis in her prime was a unique creature, but she’s been a recluse for the past thirty-five plus years. A UK/French team of filmmakers, lead by director Phil Cox, managed to find her, in Pittsburgh, and unearth kernels of truth from the mare’s mouth. But be warned, the Funk Queen does not reveal her full self; she prefers the version of herself from yesteryear to be the one burnt onto our retinas, and she prefers a scripted version of her story (seemingly spoken by a voice over artist). 

Betty Mabry wrote her first song at age 14, “Bake a Cake of Love”. At twenty-three, having already hung out with Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, she married Miles Davis, and altered his career. She recorded four albums between ’73 and ’76 (the last album wasn’t released until 2009) and during the tail end of the decade, whilst working on new material she dropped out of sight. She’d had enough. Her muse, her mojo – The Crow – had abandoned her. 

Betty Davis is a fascinating, enigmatic figure, as is her career. “Madonna before Madonna, Prince before Prince,” as Miles used to say. This short, but sweet documentary gives us a glimpse of her influence, through interviews with a couple of old friends, and with her band (who try in vain to woo her back). But, as there is very little actual footage or stills of Davis, much of the doco is constructed like a collage, and uses Davis’ spoken word to provide a quasi-narration. It’s evident she’s a damaged soul, a casualty, and still carries the emotional and psychological (physical?) scars inflicted by Miles and the industry, but thankfully Cox managed to coax just enough nuggets from her to help us understand why she went underground, and remind us of her extraordinary legacy. 

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Madeline’s Madeline

Wednesday 11 July, 8.30pm (SX), Thursday 12 July, 8.30pm (Luna), Saturday 14 July, 4.30pm (Luna), Monday 16 July, 4.15pm (Luna)

Filmmaker-cum-actress Josephine Decker has made a striking and compelling hybrid coming-of-age film that stirs theatrical and cinematical ingredients into a heady, surreal brew that spins and twirls like an elaborate pantomime dream. At the sensitive centre, the awkward heart of it, is young Madeline (played with extraordinary charisma and nuance in her debut by Helena Howard), a teenager dealing with an overwrought, highly strung, emotionally stunted mother (a terrific performance from Miranda July), and caught in the complicated, emancipative constraints of a theatre group, lead by the intense, elusive Evangeline (Molly Parker, another stellar performance). 

Can Madeline release the freedom she yearns for? Can Madeline jettison the baggage she’s been burdened with? Can Madeline separate the unreality of her existence from the reality of her life? Can Madeline’s Madeline find the right way home? 

Combining the intense dynamics of her central characters with a vibrant, expressionist mise-en-scene, and aided by beautiful cinematography (brilliant work from Ashley Connor), Decker has harnessed a truly unique piece of work. Credit must also go to the scripting team (a story consultant, a story editor, and a dramaturg) who helped Decker and her co-scriptwriter Donna di Novelli in sculpting this oneiric study of rehearsal (and I use that word loosely) and performance (I use that word broadly), of challenge and submission. It’s a bold and unpredictable journey of self-discovery fashioned with a vulnerable edge.

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Totem

Saturday 7 July, 9.35pm (Luna), Sunday 8 July, 8.45pm (Luna), Friday 13 July, 8.45pm (Luna)

If Coppola’s Godfather collided with Refn’s Pusher the result might look and behave a little like the Eastern Bloc killdozer shout known as TOTEM, a shattering portrait of the collapse of a Polish mob, focusing on the tension between two brothers, the elder enforcer Igor (Michal Sobolewski) and the younger thug wannabe known as Savage (Karol Bernacki). Igor runs the drug business with an iron fist, whilst his good-for-nothing barely adult sibling cleans up the mess, usually washing the blood and dirt off the runners’ cars. An incident involving the Serbian mob occurs which sets off a trail of betrayal and destruction. Caught in the crossfire are a pregnant girlfriend, a young parent, and the brothers’ mute and haunted mother.

TOTEM is grey as concrete and just as hard. There are few, if any, smiles managed within this dog eat dog world, just each man and woman attempting to stay alive for that extra day longer, maybe long enough to get the hell out of Dodge, but there’s always something that pulls you back in. Climb the ladder, but watch the bottom, there’s always someone who will try and kick it out from under you. 

Solid performances from the entire cast - it’s a brutal undertaking. While it seems a budgetary decision prevents depicting any of the more extreme violence on camera, the atmosphere and tone still seethes with menace and reverberates with brutality, and the ending will shock even the most hardened gangsterphile. TOTEM is this year’s Suburra, but less pretty, more nihilistic. 

 

For more information on the festival please click here

 

65th Sydney Film Festival - a wild mix of emotions

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The Blood Of Wolves

Sunday, 17 June, 8.45pm, Event Cinemas 9.

“Eating other animals is what humans do to survive.” It’s a line spat in the opening moments of this hardboiled gangster yarn, and it essentially sums up the entire sprawl of skullduggery and betrayal that oozes like foul sweat, stinks like blood, that gives this Japanese 80s-neo-noir the steel bollocks it demands. Set in Hiroshima, amidst the battles between yakuza clans and the law caught in the middle, it howls with retributive intent. 

Ôgami (Kôji Yakusho) is the no-nonsense detective who is out with a vengeance, determined to bring the gangsters to justice. He doesn’t beat about the bush, he beats the bush up, and then some. The rookie under his odious wing is Hoika (Tôri Matsuzaka), who likes to use the book properly, for applying routine procedure rather than using it as a weapon for extracting information. The two men become inexorably embroiled in the machinations of the underworld, as it becomes dangerously apparent that Ôgami has a few crucial dark skeletons in his closet.

At over two hours the movie has quite distinct halves, with much chaos and mayhem in the first, then seemingly settling down a little in the second, becoming subdued, even poignant, but the violence seethes, the wrath will bubble over soon enough, and there will be hell to pay. Based on a bestselling crime novel, Lone Wolf’s Blood, director Kazauya Shiraishi skillfully employs a dark sense of humour that writhes through the narrative, and pulls no punches with gritty, brutal combat. It’s like a cross between the dirty honour games of Beat Takeshi, with the carnage and charisma of Takashi Miike.

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Ghost Stories

Extra Festival screening: Tuesday, 19 June, 9.30pm, Dendy Newtown.

Anthologies are always a mixed bag, both literally and figuratively. Writers and directors Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman have adapted their wildly successful UK stage show (which came to Sydney a few years back) into a nightmare combo; three tales with a wrap-around that holds them all snug as bugs in a rug. While there have been a bunch of anthologies out of the US in recent years, there hasn’t been a decent entry from Britain in yonks. Ghost Stories might not be brilliant, but it packs enough spooky ideas and twisty-twists into its hour-and-a-half that it’s well worth the ghost train ride.

Professor Goodman (Jeremy Dysan) is out to debunk anything that purports to be paranormal activity. He’s known for jumping onstage at psychic conventions and embarrassing everyone, which he then highlights on his exposé TV show. But after a respected academic invites him to debunk three real humdinger cases Goodman is soon floundering in the deep dark end of the bad dream pool.

Although I saw the Sydney stage production, I had forgotten most of the plot(s), until the very end of the movie, when it all comes together in nightmarish clarity. I’m glad, because it meant the frayed reveal was altogether more entertaining in a creepshow way. There are a couple of proper “Boo!”s, Martin Freeman is in terrific form (probably my favourite performance of his outside of The Office), and the wrap-around narrative rewards the viewer in many ways.  

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One Day

Anna (Zsófia Szamosi) is a mother of three children, and husband to Szabolcs (Leó Füredi). Over one 24-hour period we see Anna do what millions of other middle-class women do, dealing the trials and tribulations of parenting. But what makes Anna’s situation especially trying is a reveal right at the start of the movie when family friend Gabi (Annamária Láng) arrives at the apartment to have a dialogue with Anna. The two women step out to a wine bar where Gabi tries to reassure Anna that she did not have an affair with husband, it was just a few silly texts. Anna is not impressed, but she listens to Gabi.

The movie’s narrative follows Anna as she weaves through the day’s tasks, arrangements, and classes, balancing her own part-time teaching with full-time motherhood, whilst the burden of her husband’s infidelity and lack of responsibility increasingly bears down on her into the wilderness of the nighttime. Anna is a pillar of strength, but even pillars crack under strain. It doesn’t help that the kitchen sink is broken. It adds insult to injury that she barely has enough time to even worry.

A brilliantly sustained central performance and great support from the child actors, One Day is the debut feature of Zsófia Szilágyi, and captures a docu-drama edge, with natural lighting, and unpretentious, but succinct editing. The thematic spine, the ironic blade of truth, that in order to survive the overwhelming pressures of adulthood one sometimes reverts, for better or for worse, to the shelter of childishness. An understated, affecting study of domesticity and humanity.

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Whitney

Director Kevin MacDonald is one of the great modern documentary filmmakers, from the brilliant, heart-stopping re-creations of Touching the Void through to the poignancy of his rasta biopic Marley, he pulls together the best elements to suit and enhance the subject matter. With his latest he has fashioned a documentary about the life and career of one of pop’s brightest flames, Whitney Houston, a teenage ghetto girl pushed hard by her industry-worn mother Cissy, held fast by her family ties, especially her two older brothers, held even closer by her confidante and secret lover Robyn, championed by the world (she holds a significant number of industry records), and ultimately brought down by the personal demons and drugs that overwhelmed her. It’s one of pop culture’s great tragedies.

Last year the SFF brought us an excellent doco that traced a very similar arc, Whitney: Can I Be Me, made by another top-notch investigative director, Nick Broomfield. It was so emotional, to quote the diva herself. Now, just one year later we are hit with another heartbreaking account of Whitney’s meteoric rise to fame (the extraordinary first album and its singles, the Superbowl performance, and, of course, The Bodygaurd) and her struggle beyond. Macdonald manages to prize a truly ugly truth that involves Dionne Warwick’s sister Dee Dee. It’s devastating. MacDonald had full access to family for this doco, and all are very candid about what went down backstage. Except for that dirty rat Bobby Brown, who refuses to discuss the hugely significant cocaine and crack use, claiming, inexplicably, that it was never an issue and shouldn’t be included in the doco. He was an arrogant douchebag then, he’s an asshole to the end.

Both Whitney documentaries make great companion pieces as very little footage overlaps (the rare grainy video footage of 14-year-old Whitney singing in front of the church choir being the only piece that comes to mind). Both docos tell the same tragic story, but with their own style and singular content. Whereas Broomfield’s uses a lot of never-before-seen footage from Whitney’s last successful tour, MacDonald’s has the endorsement of the surviving family, warts and all. Essential viewing, regardless of whether you listened to her music or not. 

 

For information and ticketing please visit the Sydney Film Festival website here.

 

 

A Night Of Horror & Fantastic Planet International Film Festival - 2017 picks

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The Marshes

Friday, December 1st, 7pm

What starts out looking like it might be a throwback to the eco-horror flicks of the 70s (Frogs, Prophecy, Long Weekend) becomes a twist on the famous Aussie folklore of the jolly swagman, as three intrepid university researchers – the more experienced Pria (Dafna Kronental), her friendly rival Ben (Matthew Cooper), and eager Will (Sam Delich) – spend a couple of nights deep in remote marshland in an endeavour to save a threatened ecosystem. Almost immediately there is the threat of arrogant local hunters, and the distant sound of duelling banjos fills the air, but there is something much more terrifying lurking in the long reeds, and soon enough our three hapless biologists are desperately trying to avoid becoming jumbuck tucker. 

Writer/director Roger Scott’s background is as a lighting technician, and this has guaranteed that his debut feature looks sensational, with excellent work from cinematographer Govanni Lorusso. Scott tackles the slasher horror tropes with gusto, injecting a Jeepers Creepers-esque menace, and toying with the audience’s perception of what is real and what is imagined. The performances are solid, with Kronental holding fort, and the "monster" of the movie kept effectively in the periphery. There are some genuinely horrifying moments, and the ending is suitably nightmarish. You won’t want to be a-Waltzing Mathilda any time soon after this visit to the wetlands.

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Replace

Friday, December 1st, 9pm

A German/Canadian co-production, and second feature for Norbert Keil, co-writing with Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil), this is a ravishing study of identity and longevity, a kind of internal apocalypse of the soul, looking and feeling like a cross between early David Cronenberg and Nicolas Winding Refn’s recent Neon Demon. It’s a sumptuously shot and staged science fiction thriller, with strong elements of body-horror.

Young and beautiful Kira (Rebecca Forsythe) goes home with a man to his small, but plush NYC apartment. But he soon vanishes, and it seems the pad has become hers. Along with a newly acquired flaky dry skin condition on her finger, which soon, and alarmingly, spreads to her body. She visits Dr. Crober (Barbara Crampton), a dubious dermatologist, for treatment, but finds little relief. Instead she discovers a more satisfying solution, which proves to be especially horrific for others. Her new friend, Sophia (Lucy Aron), just might have some of the more important answers that are itching like ivy under Kira’s soft, flawless complexion, or maybe the nightmare is just beginning?

Ravishing in its design and complex in ideas, if perhaps a little convoluted, Replace rides on the performance of charismatic Forsythe who does a more-than-competent job. Genre cult favourite Crampton, sporting icy cool contacts, only has a few scenes, but provides the movie with further gravitas. The twist ending reveals both a poignancy and desperation, whilst trainspotters might prick their ears on nods to John Carpenter.

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Our Evil

Saturday, December 2nd, 5pm

A Brazilian nightmare that burns like the coals from hell, Mal Nosso (as it's known in Portuguese) tells the tenebrous tale of Arthur (Ademir Estevez), a man plagued by guilt and hounded by his own spiritual power (through flashbacks), who is forced into extreme measures to save his kin, the soul of his teenage daughter, Michele (Luara Pepita), from the clutches of a terrible demon, by enlisting the aid of a sociopathic hired killer, Charles (Ricardo Casella), whom in the movie’s early scenes indulges in some truly horrific set-pieces.

It’s a pitch-black fable that smoulders on serious slow burn, but ultimately rewards those with patience, though it’s not a long film, just held in check by a very low-budget. Still, the performances are strong, and the atmosphere, whilst thin, fills with the tone of real horror darkness. Despite the barebones production values, there are some impressive practical effects, and the look and presence of the demonic entity is worth the price of admission; This isn’t everyone’s cup of poisoned Holy Water, a truly original hybrid of phantastical elements within the confines of a domestic drama, think Under the Shadow with a glint of Martyrs.

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Ayla

Sunday, December 3rd, 5pm

Elton (Nicholas Wilder) is a deeply troubled man. He is preoccupied with the loss of his four-year-old sister Ayla, who died mysteriously many years earlier. His partner, Alex (Sarah Schoofs) and his brother James (D’Angelo Midili) are concerned for his mental wellbeing. His mother, Susan (Dee Wallace), seemingly humours his obsession, but ultimately, she too is worried. Especially when Elton turns up with a mute, wild-eyed adult woman (Tristan Risk), whom Elton insists is his long-lost sister. The bond he shares with the woman/Ayla feels as real as the blisters that have formed on his wrist. But when you stare into the dark abyss, the abyss stares back into you.

My favourite movie of this year’s festival, Ayla is writer/director Elias (Ganster)’s second feature, and despite its inherent low budget, it’s a very accomplished psychological horror, a provocative study of grief and mental illness, with a stunning central performance from Wilder, and effectively understated work from Risk. The limitations of the budget mean this is not a special effects movie, but more a potent and atmospheric mood piece, lingering with melancholy. The ending is a deeply curious and elusive muse on the dangerous control of the unhinged mind, probing creepily with the tangled psychic roots of the supernatural. Truly eerie and fascinating is Ayla.

 

A Night Of Horror & Fantastic Planet International Film Festival screens at Dendy Cinemas Newtown, Thursday, November 29th – Sunday December 3rd. For full program and tickets click here

 

 

Revelation - Perth International Film Festival - 20th anniversary highlights!

Are We Not Cats

Friday July 7th, 8.10pm, Sunday July 9th, 5.10pm, and Monday July 17th, 8.40pm

Things are not going well for young Eli (Michael Patrick Nicholson); during a failed attempt to connect with his girlfriend he loses his job as a garbage collector, and his girlfriend gives him the flick. At home his parents inform him they are selling the apartment, so now he’s out on his arse. And it’s the middle of winter, in the middle of America, so it’s freezing. Eli manages to purloin his dad’s old truck, and he scrabbles a delivery job, but it only ends in frustration. However, as a result he meets Anya (Chelsea Lopez), a pretty eccentric who works at a logging facility. She’s involved with another guy, but it doesn’t mean they can’t hang out at her crazy warehouse abode. But there’s something else that has them tangled together…

This is writer/director Xander Robin’s feature debut, after a string of shorts, one of which was a version of this feature, which describes trichophagia, the strange desire to eat hair. You see, both Eli and Anya have something in common, they both have an obsessive-compulsive fascination with devouring human hair. Eli plucks the tiny hairs from his arms and his beard, but it appears Anya’s habit might be a little denser. 

Easily the most unusual hybrid independent movie I’ve seen in a while, Are We Not Cats slinks along its path as a kind of dark charming comedy of errors, as awkward Eli attempts to free himself from the confines of his depressing existence by embarking on slightly nefarious activity, such as getting trashed at weird underground parties, stealing large cumbersome musical instruments, and imbibing dangerous concoctions. There is romance to be found, but first there is the odour of body horror that is permeating this tentative bond between feline Anya and rogue tom Eli. 

The tone and mood of Robin’s curious blend is what lingers longest, but it is the excellent performances of the two leads that really binds the movie, like a big, dank, comfy fur ball. Are We Not Cats is both icky and yummy in equal measure, the cold and warmth providing it such character and flavour, and even though the end is really silly, you’re already hooked, like catnip.

Safari

Monday July 10th, 6.45pm, and Saturday July 15th, 12.15pm

German director Ulrich Seidl is no stranger to controversy, a self-styled maverick who exposes the dark underbelly of society - mostly the middle class and upper-middle class, the complacent suburbanites, or the morally corrupt elite - by painting portraits of them in the midst of their surrounds - their comfort zones - studying them from a careful distance, framing them with an acute sense of irony, a delicately dark sensibility. 

With his latest documentary - a detached study - Seidl focuses his sights on the beast that is the trophy hunter, and with expert aim he targets their blatant ignorance, but this is not immediately apparent. Safari is a difficult film, as on the surface it seems that Seidl is being too complacent, offering no subjective point of view. The ethical standpoint is presented only in the form of the hunted; the wildebeest, the zebra, the giraffe, as a a couple of German and Austrian families “stalk” and gun down the creatures on their natural habitat, the African savannah. 

These keen shooters have a “menu” to choose from, and each animal demands a particular price for its head and hide. They use euphemisms to disguise the savagery of their so-called sport; to wound an animal is to “sketch”, to kill is to “bag”, a potential trophy animal is a “piece”, the animal’s spilled blood is called “sweat”. The killers (I’m loathe to use the word “hunter”) praise each other upon each kill, declaring “Hunter’s hail”, with “Hunter’s thanks” as response. They describe their practice as a kind of deliverance, justifying their actions with tenuous claims. 

Siedl punctuates the hunting process (of which we never see the animals actually being shot, or even in line of sight, only the trophy hunters lining up their rifles, steadying them on special gun poles, complimenting each other) with tableaux shots of them seated in their camouflage huts, or in front of their mounted trophies, then juxtaposes these with similar portraits of the indigenous people, slaughtering the animals, skinning them, staring vacantly into the camera, gnawing on the bone and gristle of the carcass, giraffe jerky hanging from a wire. 

Safari is a compelling, yet disturbing observation, and one bound to provoke anger and upset.

Watch the Sunset

Tuesday July 11th, 9pm, Thursday July 13th, 8.45pm, and Sunday July 16th, 8.45pm

Tristan Barr plays Danny, an ice addict attempting to clean up his act and life. He’s trying to tidying up loose ends, make amends with his girlfriend, Sal (Chelsea Zeller), so they can leave town with their child Joey (Annabelle Williamson). But there are demons to deal with, the meth connections who aren’t so keen on Danny making a break. Shane (Aaron Walton) and Russell (Michael Gosden) have their own agenda, and there will be blood and tears spilled before the sun goes down. 

There’s nothing new in the story; the crooked and corrupt trying to make a straight line to safety and redemption, it’s an age-old tale, told a thousand times. But it is how Barr tells it, which gives Watch the Sunset its balls, its kudos. It’s a key collaboration between Barr, who co-wrote the screenplay with Gosden and Zeller, and whom co-directed with Gosden, and with co-producer Daniel Lipp, who also serves as the movie’s cinematographer, with the way the movie is shot that is most remarkable. 

Watch the Sunset unfolds in real time, in a single unbroken shot (take). It’s a roughly seventy-minute drama that takes place over a late afternoon in the bogan suburbs of Melbourne, as Danny drives around and makes his drop-offs and pick-ups. First up he delivers ice casualty Charis (Zia Zantis-Vinycomb) to a motel. He’ll come back to her later. Then he finds Sally and Joey to explain the situation and, hopefully, map out their future. But thugs are lurking. 

What the movie lacks in its performance department, and the acting and characterisation isn’t entirely convincing, it certainly makes up for it in tone, atmosphere, and conviction. For a movie that spends most of its time zoned in on Danny, it’s a tense and compelling piece of cinema, with some truly impressive camerawork from Lipp, and includes one very “Wow, how’d they do that?!” moment. The dramatic intent is palpable, and the fluidity of the camera lifts the game considerably, which is interesting, as the one-take technique could easily have come across as purely gimmicky. Watch the Sunset is a flawed gem. 

Orange Sunshine

Thursday July 13th, 2.45pm, and Monday July 17th, 6.45pm

Purple Haze might be the most famous of the acid trips from the 60s, immortalised in the song by Jimi Hendrix, but there was another batch of LSD from the same decade that has finally had its tale told, and the culturally important, bigger story that surrounds that tab that turned an international generation on. There were three types produced at the same time, Yellow Sunshine, Blue Sunshine, and Orange Sunshine, and it was the navel hue that shone most brightly in hippie’s eyes. In sun-kissed California the Brotherhood of Eternal Love was formed, a spiritual clan of surfers and their lovers and friends who were passionate in spreading their hippie manifesto as wide as they could through the magic of their self-made LSD, regardless of the legal danger that lay ahead. 

The Mystic Arts World was created in Laguna Beach, California, and this psychedelic emporium and the neighbourhood become a haven for hippies, and Orange Sunshine became the Coca-Cola of LSD. One of the last batches ever made was 100 million tabs. Now, if that’s not turning the world on, what is? Yes, they were outlaws, but they were the best cowboys ever. But one can’t ride the rodeo forever. It is inevitable you will come off your horse, and some will fall harder than others. For the Brotherhood, the long arm of the law eventually pulled them all to the dust. 

Filmmaker William A. Kirkley has fashioned a superb documentary, one of the best I’ve seen in ages. As both date-stamp and cultural history piece Orange Sunshine is a beacon of the strength of friendship and community and a sobering reminder that as curious and good-hearted as humans can be, we are not invincible, but we are resilient, and we are industries, to a fault. What Kirkley’s take offers, rather unusually, is the other side of the story, albeit not as in-depth; the perspective of the law. It is the cult of personality of the Brotherhood that burns most fiercely, but is is a cautionary tale, and it is a tale that brims with emotional fragility. 

Michael and Carol Randall, Travis Ashbrook, Ron, Rick, and Wendy Bevan, Michael Kennedy, the late Johnny Griggs. These are names you’ve probably never heard before, but they are as important to the social and cultural history of the hippie movement, and the creative influence of LSD on the arts, as Timothy Leary (who does feature in this doco) and Ken Kesey. These guys weren’t acid casualties per se, though they have paid their own price, individually, and collectively. Orange Sunshine, with all its wonderful Super-8-flavoured recreations, is as endlessly fascinating as it is, ultimately, moving, and that is the mark of a truly great documentary.

You Never Had It: An Evening With Bukowski

Friday July 14th, 8.30pm, and Saturday July 15th, 2.45pm

“You know, and I know, and they know …” Charles “Hank” Bukowski was one of America’s truly gifted writers, able to pull flowers from the garbage, and trash out the good in everyone, including, most pertinently, himself. He was the Great Self-Depreciator. Lubricated heavily with red wine and reeking of Pall Mall cigarettes, the man could conjure some of the most eloquent and rugged descriptions of the broken American Dream ever put to paper. Thankfully we also have a small clutch of films and videos of the man waxing lyrical and spitting vitriol, and a few autobiographical features (Tales of Ordinary Madness and Love is a Dog From Hell).

You Never Had It is made from tapes recently unearthed from the garage of an Italian journalist, Silvia Bizio, who interviewed him back in 1981, in his San Pedro home. Assembled by director Matteo Borghardt, it’s roughly an hour long, and the raw, hazy u-matic footage shows Hank, his long-time partner (or “nurse”, as he introduces her) Linda Lee, Bizio, and a couple other friends of Bukowski, seated around a coffee table in his living room, ploughing through bottles of red wine, and smoking up a storm. Bizio elicits some wonderful kernels of Bukowski sage amidst career anecdotes, many of them grumbles, but many of them humble joys. He states defiantly that not everything he says is so. 

“You should always be a little ahead of your time,” Hank explains, and though he hates talking about other writers, as that’s like drinking water when you’re in the bathtub, “I drink wine in the bathtub”, he reminds us, he continues to mention a couple of authors who he respects, including Albert Camos, whose novel The Stranger he admires. But he is quick to add that he doesn’t read books, instead pointing to Lee, “She reads the books, I write them.” Later he takes the small group on a tour of the small abode, gesturing to his writer’s desk, “This is where I fuck my soul …”

It’s a drifting, detached, yet strangely intimate portrait, steeped in the kind of just-out-of-reach melancholy that Hank’s poetry and prose bathes in with gentle abandon. Asked how he manages to capture such hard truths and insightful observations on human frailty Bukowski takes a sip from his small glass goblet, a drag on his fag, and replies with gruff softness, “If you get the shit kicked out of you long enough, long enough, long enough, you have the tendency to say what you mean. In other words, you have all the pretence beat out of you… My father was a great literary teacher, taught me the meaning of pain, pain without reason.” And therein lies Hank’s most beautiful rub.

 

For complete program and further screening information visit here

64th Sydney Film Festival – Documentary Highlights

Whitney: Can I Be Me

Wednesday June 7th, 6:30pm (Event 4) & Friday June 9th, 6:30pm (Dendy Newtown)

It’s another Amy. Well, almost. Amy Winehouse died at 27, Whitney Houston died at 48. But there are many other similarities, chiefly, a propensity for addiction, the abuse of drugs, her manipulation by the music industry, her family, and most, significantly, her husband. All of these elements helped to corrode her already fragile self-esteem. Whitney has gifted, but she was also very vulnerable. Seasoned and provocative UK documentarian Nick Broomfield (who made the excellent 2003 doco Kurt & Courtney), along with veteran music industry filmmaker Rudi Dolezal, has fashioned the incredibly moving story of Whitney’s early life, her extraordinary career, and her tragic death. 

Using previously unseen video footage taken of Whitney’s “My Love Is Your Love” world tour (which was her last successful tour) as the doco’s backbone, the story of the pop singer’s childhood unfolds around it; as a girl, singing with her mother’s gospel choir, hanging with her two older brothers, who introduced her to marijuana, and probably cocaine, at a young age. She was thrust into the deep end of showbiz when she was signed and molded as a “white” pop singer, despite wanting to sing proper r&b (“Can I be me?” she’d always plead). She was booed (for selling out) at the Soul Train Awards in 1989, the same event she met Bobby Brown, the so-called bad boy of r&b. He got Whitney into booze, she got him into coke, and eventually they started doing crack. 

Their daughter, Bobbi Kristina, was born, but they were already sliding down a very slippery slope unable to stop. Whitney’s soul mate friend, Robyn Crawford, was kicked out of the entourage, which broke Whitney’s heart. You don’t need to be familiar with Whitney Houston or a fan of her music to appreciate this fascinating portrait of talent gifted and squandered, of emotional fragility and corrosion. It’s unlikely there’ll ever be another Whitney Houston, and as heartbreaking as this tale is, it’s a necessary one to tell. 

78/52

Friday, June 9th, 6:15pm (Dendy Newtown) & Monday June 12th, 8:20pm (Dendy Opera Quays)

“The death of a woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world,” said Edgar Allen Poe, and the gialli movies of the 60s and 70s made them their centrepieces. Brian De Palma, who has rebuffed claims of ripping off Hitchcock for most of his career, also champions their peril in cinema; “Women are more sympathetic creatures in jeopardy, plus they’re more interesting to photograph.” 

Alfred Hitchcock’s shower scene in Psycho (1960) is a standout sequence in a standout movie. The masterful director broke so many rules with Psycho, not least by refusing to directly follow North by Northwest another colourful romantic adventure. Instead he took Robert Bloch’s pulp shocker and turned it into a case study of successful cinematic rule-breaking, and the murder of Janet Leigh’s character one-third of the way into the movie was the clincher. 

Alexandre O. Philippe has made a thoroughly engaging, fascinating, and often quite funny, examination of this iconic scene. 78 was the number of camera set-ups for the scene, and 52 was the number of shots that ended up in the final edited scene. Numerous celebrities, actors, directors, and film technicians offer their thoughts, including Bret Easton Ellis, Elijah Wood, Eli Roth, Richard Stanley, Walter Murch, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Guillermo del Toro, and, of course, Jamie Lee Curtis. You may know Psycho well, but I bet you didn’t know the shower scene quite like this. Scintillating stuff. 

Spookers

Saturday June 10th, 8:45pm (Event 4) & Sunday June 11th, 8:50pm (Dendy Newtown)

Florian Habicht has framed a very kooky picture of the extended “family” that work in the Southern Hemisphere’s most successful theme-park, Spookers, a fun place outside of Auckland, New Zealand, where people go to get frightened, and in some cases so spooked they actually crap their pants (a “code brown” for the unfortunate staff who have to clean it up on a semi-regular basis). The Spookers clan took over a derelict mental institution that sits on the edge of a small forest. Perfect. The owners, Andy and Beth Watson, also created a huge maize maze (which was the original Spookers experience) to add further bang for your boo! 

It’s a frequently funny, and disarmingly poignant look at the kinds of young people that have been taken under the Walton’s wing. They’re “freaks” in the most affectionate way, or “carnies” to outsiders, fringe-dwellers who have finally found a home. It’s amusing to learn that Beth has never watched a horror movie, and sad to learn that the zombie bride is HIV. Habicht lets the freaks tell their stories, and in true Kiwi style, they are happy to admit their foibles, quick to champion their bosses, and keen to stay in character. 

Spookers is the first family movie, and also the first documentary programmer Richard Kuipers has included in his "Freak Me Out" section, and it fits hand in glove. A colourful delight, with a great soundtrack, Spookers may have been New Zealand’s best-kept secret, but now, due to Spookers, it’s going to be added to every travelling horrorphile’s bucket list. 

A Modern Man

Sunday June 11th, 3:45pm (Dendy Opera Quays) & Sunday June 18th, 7pm (Event 9)

Documentarian Eva Mulvad’s portrait of virtuoso violinist and sometime Armani and Hugo Boss model Charlie Siem is a quietly compelling look into a kind of elusive loneliness, an almost silent quest for happiness; that contentedness people take for granted, that no amount of money or fame or striving for perfection can ever attain. But the search continues, the gaze burns on. 

Siem seems to have most of what most people can only dream about. He is young, but mature, very handsome and composed, incredibly talented (not only can he play a fiddle like there’s no tomorrow, but he’s a dab hand tickling the ivories too), is fabulously wealthy, has loving parents (a Norwegian father and English mother) and sisters, and is charming and quick-witted to boot. But. Turning thirty he reveals he hasn’t had a relationship in six years, and he doesn’t have any friends. He spends most of his downtime in fancy hotel rooms and ritzy plaza cafes. He spends spare change on a new Porsche, and is told by his personal masseuse that his detached bond with his mother – and competitive bond with his tycoon father - is the reason why he seemingly can’t connect with any prospective partners. 

Charlie is very likeable, but he’s driven, a machine tuned for maximum delivery in very specific areas; classical music and a toned physique. It’s unlikely any woman is going to be able to break through that chiseled front, and Charlie knows it. But, for the moment, maybe even the next ten years, his career is top priority, and if that means more modelling to expand his musical presence, then bring in the next photographer, and measure him up for his next performance suit, for this is one man who is resolute in his modernism. 

Roller Dreams

Sunday June 11th, 7:15pm (Event 9)

Aussie editor-turned-director Kate Hickey’s loving tribute to a very special time in dance culture’s history, a period during the free-wheelin’ late 70s and 80s when Venice Beach, California, become the hot spot for improvised roller dancing is both a wonderful date-stamp, but is also surprisingly affecting and poignant. The veterans and survivors of this curious scene, mostly black folk - and a clutch of funky honkies - congregated along the beach promenade and listened to rollerskating jams (called Saturday) and electro-funk boogie tunes on ghetto-blasters, while crowds, sometimes into the hundreds, would gather to watch these street dance hustlers roller-strut and glide their stuff, each known for their individual styles and moves. 

Oakwood Venice, originally referred to as the slum by the sea, became known in the 70s for its bohemian influence, a kind of wild, wild west full of roller cowboys and cowgirls. Roller Dreams focuses on the recollections and musings of a small bunch of these cats; Tyrell, Larry, Sally, Jimmy, Duval, and, last but not least, Mad. They’re older and crotchety now, but they’ve got stories to tell, most importantly, the destructive power of racism and police prejudice that eventually ruined the Venice Beach roller scene. 

Venice Beach became gentrified, it happens. There was an ethnic cleansing, the anxious affluent manipulating the council. Noise control came down hard. Gangsta rap didn’t help either. It’s such a shame to see, time and time again, while the physical landscape changes, yet the social climate remains tainted, poisoned by racism. Even when Hollywood wanted a piece of the Venice pie, back when the 70s ended, they whitewashed it, with Roller Boogie, Skatetown USA, and Xanadu all featuring exclusively Caucasian casts. But socio-political gripes aside, let the retro-cultural magic of Roller Dreams spin your troubles away. 

McLaren

Sunday June 18th, 4:20pm (State Theatre) & Sunday June 18th, 8:35pm (Event 9)

New Zealand director Roger Donaldson has several hefty notches on his belt, having kickstarted the New Zealand film industry proper with Sleeping Dogs in 1977. He went on to direct my favourite Kiwi feature, Smash Palace, and my favourite Kevin Costner flick, No Way Out. His first directing credit was a short documentary for television on Burt Munro, a Kiwi motorcycle land-speed record holder. He returned to Burt for a feature biopic, The World’s Fastest Indian, and has returned, once again, to the world of speed and champions, this time with the story of Bruce McLaren, the humble Kiwi motor racing legend who conquered the world of Formula One racing and lead the longest-running and most successful racing team ever (behind Ferrari). 

By using archival stills, Super-8, 16mm, early videotape, and combining them with talking heads of his weathered colleagues and wife (four of whom passed away during the making of the film), and reenactments, the story unfolds of young Bruce’s peerless passion for driving and his knack for custom engineering and pioneering design, which eventually lead him to pole position in all the major racing championships. But there is a tragedy lurking in the background of this tale of sweat, motor oil, and sweet Champagne. Bruce McLaren died behind the wheel of his new M8D, whilst test-driving it at high speed in 1970. He was just 32. McLaren is the fraternal documentary to Senna (2010). 

On one hand McLaren is strictly for the rev-heads, as it doesn’t dig that deep into the bigger picture of what drives certain people, like Bruce, to drive at such crazy speeds on narrow, treacherous circuits. That fascinating philosophy is barely touched on. On the other hand, McLaren is a compelling and smartly-paced portrait that exudes much charm, character, and poignancy, chiefly by the main interviewees. McLaren is a winner. It’s curious to note that there were two pioneering McLaren enterprises that came out of New Zealand, one developed top shelf audio equipment for the serious audiophile, the other developed world class auto equipment for the serious petrolhead.

 

For more information and ticketing please visit the Sydney Film Festival website here.  

Stranger With My Face International Film Festival - 2017

The Tasmanian horror festival with a focus on female filmmakers returns for its fifth year. Originally founded by Briony Kidd & Rebecca Thomson, the festival is programmed and run by Kidd over the course of four days, this year 4th - 7th May, and amongst showcasing a small selection of features and shorts, it also sports numerous Q&As and symposiums, as well as being home to the 48-Hour Tasploitation Challenge. 

This year’s program includes the following features: The Book of Birdie from the UK, Dearest Sister, a co-pro from Laos/France/Estonia, the American anthology XX, Innuendo from Australia, and three retrospective screenings; Wes Craven’s 1991 The People Under the Stairs, and from New Zealand, Gaylene Preston’s Mr. Wrong (1984) and Perfect Strangers (2003). The cinematographer from People Under the Stairs will be present for a Q&A, and Gaylene Preston will be present for Q&As for both her screenings. 

Mr. Wrong was one of those runaway success stories, a sleeper that kept a lot of Wellingtonians awake back in 1984. I remember it ran in Wellington for months and months. A micro-budget affair, based on a story by Elizabeth Jane Howard, the screenplay was co-written by Preston, Graeme Tetley (who would go on to script several other successful New Zealand movies, such as Vigil, Bread & Roses, Ruby and Rata, and Out of the Blue), and director Geoff Murphy. 

Murphy was probably still riding high from the huge success of his road movie, Goodbye Pork Pie, which came out a few years earlier. In fact, both movies, along with Smash Palace (1981), were part of the first wave of Kiwi movies to make an impact overseas. In 1986 Mr. Wrong was released on VHS in the States, and re-titled Dark of the Night. Quentin Tarantino must have seen it while he was working at Video Archives, as he was eventually quoted as saying how impressed he was with the movie in particular the unconventional (plain Jane by Hollywood standards) casting of Heather Bolton as the central character.

Bolton plays Meg, a lonely Wellington woman, who buys a second hand Jaguar (a beautiful machine), and finds that the car is haunted. David Letch is perfectly cast as a leering stalker (he’d appear as Spider in David Blyth's cult exploitation-horror Death Warmed Up released the same year), as is Perry Percy, as a silent ghost waiting for revenge. Meg struggles with her fear and the car’s supernatural clinginess.

It’s a classic example of the low-key, but surprisingly effective approach Kiwis have had in telling cinema stories. Sure, the movie moves a little slow for a horror, and the suspense and scares, while atmospheric, aren’t exactly going to have you on the edge of your seat, yet there is a quaintness to the movie, both in performance and vibe, that works in its favour, especially watching it more than thirty years later. Thom Burstyn’s cinematography (with legendary Alun Bollinger doing the camera operating) is excellent, especially the location shooting, in particular a creepy set-up with the car by a creaking fence by the edge of the cliff, up on Paekakariki Hill. 

Mr. Wrong has aged in a pleasantly surprising way. For X-Gen Kiwis it's curious to spot the local actors in their younger years (including a very young Rebecca Gibney in a blink and you’ll miss her moment), but it’s also a fascinating example of very economical, but effective storytelling. 

 

Mr. Wrong screens at 8pm, Friday May 5th, followed by Q&A with director/co-writer Gaylene Preston, Salamanca Arts Centre, Hobart, Tasmania, as part of the Stranger With My Face International Film Festival

"Fright Night" mini horror fest

For Film’s Sake is an organisation focusing on diversity within the film industry and championing gender equality. As more and more female filmmakers are rising up and making strong independent, artistic, and challenging ciné statements, particularly within the genre of horror, it’s becoming increasingly clear that their voices are proving to be more exciting and interesting than the majority of male filmmakers. I’m generalising, of course, but FFS’s “Fright Night” mini-festival, being staged at a pop-up Sydney venue, “Alaska Projects” (in a darkened carpark!) is all about hearing the female voice in horror roar sharp and loud. 

In conjunction with the Los Angeles mini-festival Etheria Film Night, comes a selection of four short films that are accompanying three features, all screening on one night. The Puppet Man (US), Nasty (UK), The Stylist (US), and Black Cat (AUS), all play alongside the new horror anthology XX (which consists of four segments), new twisted, blackly comic drama Bitch, and the fangtastic, late 80s cult classic Near Dark

Jill Gevargizian’s short The Stylist is an elegant tale of one very troubled woman’s search for perfection. Claire (Najarra Townsend) is a hair stylist working in a small salon. She may appear pretty and composed, but she has a very dark and disturbing nature. It is the end of another working day, and the last client, Mandy (Jennifer Plas) arrives with the simple request of wanting to look perfect for her boss’s 25th anniversary celebrations. Claire offers Mandy a wine, then quietly listens to her rant and gossip, as she shampoos and treats the woman’s blonde locks. Soon enough it is time for Claire to do her other thing. The thing that helps her deal with her own ingrained insecurity, her dark desire for some kind of elusive beauty, of “perfection”. 

I saw Jill’s first short, Call Girl, a few years back at Sydney Underground Film Festival, and was very impressed with her style and originality. She continues her collaboration with screenwriter Eric Havens, this time mining her own experiences as a hair stylist, but portrayed as a slice of “Sweeney Todd” meets Maniac nightmarishness. The Stylist works a charm due to Jill’s assured direction, Colleen May’s excellent special effects, Nicholas Elert’s brooding score, but particularly fast rising star Najarra Townsend’s superb performance, who left a memorable impression on me after seeing Contracted a few years back. 

The Stylist’s final scene punctuates the film with an emotionally resonant edge, pushing the horror into unusually melancholy territory, and proving that “Jill Sixx” is a director whose debut feature will no doubt be something worth waiting for. 

 

"Fright Night"

Saturday, April 29th, 6pm

Alaska Projects - Level 2, Kings Cross Car Park, 9A Elizabeth Bay Road, Elizabeth Bay, Sydney. 

Tickets ($30) for the event can be purchased at forfilmssake.org/frightnight