Review – ‘The Hunt’

Pushed back from its September 27 release date last year, without any real reason given by Universal Pictures and Blumhouse, ‘The Hunt‘ finally finds an audience on VOD after a limited theatrical release – due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Promoting it as “the most talked movie of the year that no one’s actually seen” is a bit of a stretch, as a lot of people actually have never seen an ad for it in the first place. Unfortunately, Craig Zobel‘s (Z For Zachariah) newest feature isn’t worth all the fuss to begin with.

What looks like as if it could’ve been an obvious sequel to continue ‘The Purge‘-franchise, turns out to be a bit more clever, tongue-in-cheek and almost satirical when it comes to its ambiguous political commentary, but is done in a kind of very cheap looking and plotwise messy way. Twelve strangers wake up in a clearing. They don’t know where they are, or how they got there. They don’t know they’ve been chosen – for a very specific purpose – The Hunt. Everyone’s heard of it, but what was thought to be a myth, is actually something that’s real. Normal people being hunted by the rich, but nothing is exactly what it seems, when the real reasoning behind it all rises to the surface with Southern femme fatale Crystal (GLOW‘s very own Betty Gilpin) headed towards the organiser’s manor.

Written by Nick Cuse (The Leftovers) and Damon Lindelof (HBO’s ‘Watchmen‘), the film seems to have some sort of message but surprisingly never choses a side when it comes to political or social stands. It tries to please too many different POV’s and thus kind of feels like a lost opportunity when just using gory kills for shock value. Why not go full out and really shock audiences? What the filmmakers really excel in, is their way of introducing and following certain characters in the first half hour to then just killing them off. Don’t root too hard for your favourite actors, they probably won’t even make it past the first 30 minutes. Wild is an understatement when victims get blown up because of their skin colour or just because they make a dumb decision. Or as caucasian gas station owners/couple Ma and Pop (played by Amy Madigan and Reed Birney) say, “We really are the worst“.

Cinematically paralleled kitchen fight sequence between big chief Athena (Hilary Swank) and Crystal, looks like the extended opening of Kill Bill Vol. 1‘s fight between Uma Thurman and Vivica A. Fox, which is one of the highlights of the film. With only a 90 minute running time, the film flies by, but is as forgettable as last week’s episode of ‘Neighbours‘. Great for streaming, but definitely not worth a visit to the cinema – perfect for an afternoon of self-isolation in these daring times and to escape to a world where people roam free, even if they’re being hunted for expressing their racy opinions on social media.

⭐⭐

Review – ‘The Hunt’

Reviewed online. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 90 min.

PRODUCTION: A Universal Pictures release of a Blumhouse Productions, White Rabbit production. Producers: Jason Blum, Damon Lindelof. Executive producers: Nick Cuse, Steven R. Molen, Craig Zobel. Co-producer: Jennifer Scudder Trent.

CREW: Director: Craig Zobel. Screenplay: Nick Cuse, Damon Lindelof. Camera: Darran Tiernan. Editor: Jane Rizzo. Music: Nathan Barr.

WITH: Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Ethan Suplee, Ike Barinholtz, Wayne Duvall, Amy Madigan, Reed Birney, Ethan Suplee, Emma Roberts, Christopher Berry.

Review – ‘Onward’

Writer and director of 2013’s Monsters Inc. prequel, Monsters University, Dan Scanlon, is back with a new Pixar-animated film. This time no monsters, but mythical creatures such as elves, dragons and not enough unicorns, to make us smile and tear up just that tiny bit, like we’re so used to from animation powerhouse Pixar. But does Onward also feel like an instant Pixar-classic?

Set in a suburban fantasy world, two teenage elf brothers, Ian (Tom Holland Spider-Man: Far From Home) and Barley Lightfoot (Chris PrattGuardians of the Galaxy), go on an journey to discover if there is still a little magic left out there in order to spend one last day with their father, who died when they were too young to remember him. Barley being so familiar with some sort of otherworldly Dungeons and Dragons game, helps his brother to overcome his fears and insecurities by using geeky quotes and magical spells which will help them on their quest. Along the road they meet up with the long forgotten deadly warrior, Manticore (Octavia SpencerMa), who now owns a kids-friendly diner, and their mom (voiced by Julia Louis-DreyfusDownhill) chasing them all over town to make sure they’re safe and don’t get into any trouble.

Scanlon’s film hits every mark necessary for a classic Pixar film: emotions, jokes, some clever writing and character development. But it does lack in certain areas. The animation and especially the character design doesn’t always feel original or clever in any way. We all know what fairies, mermaids and cyclops look like. Putting them in a modern world, doesn’t necessarily make it all fresh. The marketing around the film was also a bit flat, not really focusing on what Onward was really about. The main take was two brothers going on a quest to see their dad one more time, but in fact the film is all about brotherhood, not so much about parenthood.

Voice actors Holland and Pratt are perfectly cast and do an incredible job at bringing these two main characters to life. Pratt’s Barley is without a doubt one of the funniest Pixar characters to date, while Holland’s Ian will definitely resonate with more insecure teenage boys who feel like they don’t fit in. Dreyfus‘ Laurel is not your typical mom, she’s a cool mom. The most badass scenes are probably the ones in which she’s involved. Although Onward sort of feels like a copy of Scanlon‘s previous Pixar effort, Monsters University – outcasts trying to fit in and going on some sort of quest to then battle a big bad at the end – it still has a lot of new stuff to entertain us with (Note: pixie fairies on motorbikes!).

More of a Disney Animated film than an actual Pixar classic, Onward delivers on an emotional level that’s mostly addressed to adults instead of children. Entertaining as it is, it for sure is forgettable and there’s nothing wrong with that. Made for those who appreciate some geeky D&D-references and just want to watch another magically cute animated film with a wonderful message, brought to you by the Mouse House.

⭐⭐⭐

Review – ‘Onward’

Reviewed at Hoyts Entertainment Quarter, Sydney, March 1, 2020. Australian Classification: PG. Running time: 104 min.

PRODUCTION: A Walt Disney Pictures presentation of a Pixar Animation Studios release. Producer: Kori Rae. Executive producer: Pete Docter.

CREW: Director: David Scanlon. Screenplay: Dan Scanlon, Jason Headley, Keith Bunin. Camera: Sharon Calahan, Adam Habib. Editor: Catherine Apple. Music: Jeff Danna, Mychael Danna.

WITH: (voices) Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Mel Rodriguez, Lena Waithe, Ali Wong, George Psarras, Tracey Ullman, John Ratzenberger.

Netflix Review – ‘Locke & Key’ Season 1

Netflix Series Locke & Key is based on the comic book series written by Joe Hill (son of writer Stephen King) and illustrator Gabriel Rodriguez. Several studios and creative minds have been trying to get this comic book series onto the big screen, and the little one, for over a decade. The time has finally come for fans to dive back into the fantasy world of Locke mansion and see if the series actually lives up to the hype.

Three siblings who move into their ancestral estate after their father’s murder discover their new home’s magical keys, which must be used in their stand against an evil creature who wants the keys and their powers. It becomes quite clear early on in the show, that this isn’t a new Stranger Things or a horror version of another Netflix family friendly series, such as Lost in Space. Locke & Key is like Goosebumps with a darker, and somewhat, choppy edge. The first episode is not necessarily good. Yes, it has to build an entire world around demons and hidden keys with mysterious powers, but it also wants you to connect with each and every one of the Locke-family without given us a chance to digest any of it.

To do so, it throws in so many elements from the very start, that it all becomes a bit of a dysfunctional mess, that loses any power behind some seriously horrific events. The entire family is obviously traumatised, as each one of them witnessed the murder of their father/husband. The psychological consequences behind this event do get paid more attention separately by finding a somewhat therapeutic key, and this is where the series finds its strong suit. What doesn’t help is that there’s so much teenage drama happening outside of the house, bringing down the level of writing that’s otherwise absolutely fine, when not having to deal with bitchy high school girls and boys that don’t know whether a pretty girl or a nasty demon is hitting on them.

The acting is mostly terrific. Lead by ‘It‘-actor Jackson Robert Scott as Bode Locke, the youngest member of the family brings a certain innocent-but-troublesome-charm to the house. Scott starts off quite annoying in the first few episodes, but grows on you the more time you spend with him. Laysla De Oliveira, who recently starred in another Joe Hill Netflix project – ‘In The Tall Grass‘, plays ancient demon and irresistibly beautiful villain, Dodge, who will do anything to get her hands on all the keys. Siblings Kinsey and Tyler (played by Emilia Jones and Connor Jessup) have a lot of scenes together, since they’re basically the same age, and deal with the loss of their father in more deviant ways. Although they don’t abuse the powers of the keys in a way their younger brother does, their dynamic as brother and sister is convincing and emotionally heightened. While recovering alcoholic mother Nina (a poorly cast Darby StanchfieldScandal) digs deeper into her late husband’s past, as more and more secrets come knocking at her door.

The use of the keys are particularly impressive, as they all possess different abilities that could get used in your advantage to unlock new dimensions or give you the power to swap bodies and such. The design of the keys is top notch and some keys are hidden in a very clever way, although these get found pretty easily and what could’ve become a fun version of hide-and-seek for audiences, becomes something dull and repetitive. So much, you start to care less about the children keeping the keys safe from the big bad and actually are keen to see what would happen is she finally obtains every single of them.

Just like in Lost in Space, Netflix shows they have money to spend when it comes to production design. Locke & Key‘s mansion and certain hidden rooms and caves are just as majestic as you’d see in certain fantasy blockbusters. For those wondering, this series is definitely categorised under fantasy, unlike the horror vibe in the series’ trailer suggests. It does get pretty dark at times – there’s a lot of death and a good amount of swearing – but never in a way does it go full on slasher or demon slayer.

Locke & Key has so many ideas it gets lost in trying to execute them all. The high level production and VFX-quality keeps you from getting bored, but the first four episodes are a chore to get through. Once you get through those, that’s when the real high stakes come in place and twists happen all around, when more characters get introduced and previously seemingly normal actions have consequences in the long run. This sets things up for a second season, but will fans of the comics eat this up or spit it out before even finishing it?!

⭐⭐⭐

Netflix Review – ‘Locke & Key’ Season 1

Reviewed online (screener provided by Netflix PR-team), Sydney, Jan. 31, 2020. Running time: 10 x 45 min.

PRODUCTION: A Netflix release of an IDW Entertainment, Take 5 Productions, Circle Of Confusion production. Producers: Ra’Uf Glasgow, Kevin Lafferty. Executive producers: Andy Muschietti, Barbara Muschietti, Ted Adams, David Alpert, Meredith Averill, Carlton Cuse, Joe Hill, Rick Jacobs, David Ozer, Chris Ryall, Tim Southam, Lindsey Springer.

CREW: Directors: Michael Morris, Vincenzo Natali, Tim Southam, Mark Tonderai, Dawn Wilkinson. Screenplay: Meredith Averill, Carlton Cuse, Aron Eli Coleite, Michael D. Fuller, Joe Hill, Elizabeth Ann Phang, Vanessa Rojas. Camera: Tico Poulakakis, Colin Hoult, Checco Varese. Editor: Paul Trejo, Lilly Urban, Matthew Colonna, Philip Fowler, John M. Valerio. Music: Torin Borrowdale.

WITH: Laysla De Oliveira, Connor Jessup, Emilia Jones, Jackson Robert Scott, Darby Stanchfield, Kevin Alves, Thomas Mitchell Barnet, Coby Bird, Asha Bromfield, Griffin Gluck.

Mardi Gras Film Festival Review – ‘Top 3’

Swedish animated film Top 3, part of this this year’s Mardi Gras Film Festival program, is straightforward and tells its story in a very unique way. In this funny, bittersweet romantic comedy, perpetual list-maker Anton (Eric Ernerstedt) falls in love with David (Jonas Jonsson), but things start to go awry when Anton realises that his dreams in life might be in direct opposition to David’s.

Although Sofie Edvardsson‘s film is only 45 minutes long, it does a great job at delving deeper into Anton’s emotional state of mind before and after he finds love. The digital animation style is full of details, although our main characters facial expressions are a bit monotone at times. What’s satisfying is the use of vibrant colours throughout – especially when Anton and David go on a trip to India – simply stunning.

Anton always puts his life in perspective by making top 3-lists, starting with the top three idiots he hates the most: the Prime Minister, me (himself), and you (David). In a clever and quirky way, writer Simon Österhof thinks of the most surprisingly relatable and human insecurities by asking the right questions and understanding a gay man’s struggle when it comes to finding love and dealing with certain complications when it comes to a person’s individual needs in life. What’s also beautiful to see is that Anton, although animated, is a normal Swedish guy, who isn’t your typically muscular model-like man. Representation is important, and if an animated film can contribute to a more inclusive environment, then I’m all here for it.

Top 3 isn’t necessarily groundbreaking storywise, but for sure keeps the pace up and even establishes a more emotional connection the more time you get to spend with these characters. A sympathetic look at the joys and struggles of young people falling in love and growing up in different directions, including mismatched dreams. Clearly created with a heart full of love, Top 3 is a resonating tale about how life can be a journey of growth and new experiences, with a little bit of pushing and pulling, and a lot of butterflies and insecurities.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Top 3 is showing as part of Mardi Gras Film Festival on the following date:

  • Saturday February 15 – 6:30 PM at Dendy Newtown

Buy your tickets now: https://tix.queerscreen.org.au/Events/Top-3

Mardi Gras Film Festival Review – ‘Top 3’

Reviewed online (screener provided by MGFF PR-team), Sydney, Jan. 27, 2020. Australian Classification: Unclassified 15+. Running time: 45 min. (original title: Topp 3)

PRODUCTION: A Soja production. Produced by Simon Österhof.

CREW: Directed by Sofie Ervardsson. Screenplay: Simon Österhof. Music: Felix Martinz, Patrik Öberg.

WITH: (voices – Swedish) Eric Ernerstedt, Jonas Jonsson, Caroline Johansson Kuhmunen.

Review – ‘The Lighthouse’

Robert EggersThe Lighthouse could’ve easily been perceived a classic film from about a century ago. It isn’t just disturbingly strange and undeniably tense, this original fantasy gothic horror also has some pitch-black comedy blended in. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before – and that in 2020?

Two lighthouse keepers try to maintain their sanity whilst living on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s. What was supposed to be a four week stay, turns into something more surreal when time and space isn’t exactly what it seems anymore, and Thomas Howard (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) flirt with insanity and all kinds of mythical sea creatures. Or are they?

The mysteries pile up while a fog horn can be heard all over the island. But while Howard is rather new to the job, Wake isn’t exactly telling him everything he knows when taking care of “the light” at night. What should have been an easy job, has now become something much more complex in which boundaries are being pushed between two men who are keeping all kinds of secrets, and playing a dangerous game of dominant versus submissive. Director Eggers (The Witch) has masterfully crafted something distinctively peculiar that lures you in like a siren ready to seduce and kill you. Going in blind, is the best way to experience The Lighthouse, but nothing can prepare you for the ingenious work that has been put into this folk tale brought to the big screen.

So odd it becomes hilarious and disconcerting. The choice to film in black and white, makes A24’s newest film in their catalogue, one for the ages. Nothing that has been made (even in black and white) comes close to what Eggers has skilfully achieved here. Together with his cinematographer Jarin Blaschke (who just received an Oscar nomination for his work on this film) and composer Mark Korven, they’ve designed something that only lives in books – old books. Bringing it alive in the most sonically and unconventionally cursed way, is almost poetic. Especially when Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate) constantly speaks in riddles and old marine terms with an accent almost in need of subtitles. Dafoe acts like his life depends on it, going total-loss and disappearing in someone so shamelessly repulsive and reticent, delivering his lines in one breath, sucking you into his powerful presence on screen.

Pattinson (High Life), while very well known as someone who started his career in the blockbuster box office phenomenon The Twilight Saga, once again proves he is more than capable of standing his own next to a remarkable actor such as Dafoe. Their dynamic is out-of-this-world perfection. Pattinson’s Howard, being the most enigmatic character in the film, runs from constant reminders of what exactly occurred before arriving on the island. With nowhere to go but the rough saltwater waves that surround the obscure island and its soul-stirring towering lighthouse that compels whoever faces its rotating soul, the cliffs towards the depths of madness seem closer than ever.

When it comes to the production design and how the director and crew use the surroundings and its shadows to frame an extra dimension, they’ve created this gritty eeriness in which everything just falls into the right place to keep you interested in observing the lighthouse keepers’ every move. Nothing is what it seems and The Lighthouse will linger far longer in your mind than you might anticipate. Without a doubt, this is a film that will divide audiences. A creatively cursed fable that’s not only memorable, but especially flawless when it comes to conjuring something as unusual and mesmerising as Egger’s newest film.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review – ‘The Lighthouse’

Reviewed at Universal Pictures, Sydney, Jan. 28, 2020. Australian Classification: MA15+. Running time: 109 min.

PRODUCTION: A Universal Pictures release of an A24, New Regency Pictures, RT Features production. Producers: Robert Eggers, Youree Henley, Lourenço Sant’ Anna, Rodrigo Teixeira, Jay Van Hoy. Executive producers: Chris Columbus, Eleanor Columbus, Sophie Mas, Arnon Milchan, Yariv Milchan, Caito Ortiz, Josh Peters, Michael Schaefer, Alan Terpins.

CREW: Director: Robert Eggers. Screenplay: Robert Eggers, Max Eggers. Camera: Jarin Blaschke. Editor: Louise Ford. Music: Mark Korven.

WITH: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe, Valeriia Karaman, Logan Hawkes.

Review – ‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’

First time full feature film directors and writers Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz bring a subtle commentary on social care, to what seems to be just your typical feel good film. In doing so, they’ve crafted not just an incredibly enthralling gem of a film, but also one that lingers in your mind long after you finished watching it.

In what could’ve easily been a Mark Twain tale, a down-on-his-luck fisherman and a young man with a big dream make their way down the waterways of the American South with the help of a handful of colourful strangers. Tyler (Shia LaBeoufTransformers) has been stealing other fishermen’s catch of the day, in order to survive, since the death of his brother. Zak (played by unforgettable newcomer Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down syndrome, dreams of a life as a professional wrestler. When Zak escapes from his care facility, he bumps into Tyler, who’s being chased by a duo of angry fishermen. Our newly acquainted friends head on a journey from North Carolina down to Florida, to find the professional wrestling school of Zak’s hero, the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden ChurchWe Bought a Zoo).

Directors duo Nilson and Schwartz took home the 2019 Audience Award for Narrative Spotlight at the SXSW Film Festival. Their inspiring and timeless American tale is nothing short of heartwarming. It doesn’t invent anything new, but in changing some very timely factors, such as putting an actor with Down syndrome front and center – who’s very confident next to acting talents such as LaBeouf – they’ve made some choices that’ll show people just what The Peanut Butter Falcon is all about: chasing dreams.

Along with Eleanor (Dakota JohnsonSuspiria), a conscientious aide from Zak’s residence who comes to retrieve him, our friends set sail for a once-in-a-lifetime journey on a makeshift raft through an unfamiliar and extraordinary landscape. It’s just this mix of characters that gifts us with different perspectives and opinions on this somewhat risky journey. Although The Peanut Butter Falcon has an indie feel to it, it’s one of the most mainstream indie films in recent memory. A film that will for sure get overlooked by many, when it drops on streaming platforms, but should benefit from word of mouth.

LaBeouf’s acting range since the Transformers-trilogy has grown exponentially into something worth admiring. The way he shows what really goes on in Tyler’s broken heart, is not only poignant, but also becomes more and more real when you see this man finally opening up to Zak, after dealing with the traumatic loss of his brother. Gottsagen’s Zak is a role specifically written for the actor and you can tell how much fun he’s having. His sympathetic innocence will bring many smiles to your face, while you cheer for him to succeed in achieving his goal. The casting is so perfect, it makes you wish they’d cross your path along their journey, just so you could join them.

While the cinematography is pretty basic, the use of colour must be addressed. Filmed in Savannah, Georgia, the scenery’s interesting colour palette wants you to think of arid areas, although everything is covered in water. A mind fuck for sure. With an original score to accompany Zak and Tyler on their journey, Zachary Dawes, Noam Pikelny, Jonathan Sadoff and Gabe Witcher composed something exceptional that fits so perfect it sounds like a natural backdrop throughout the film. Combined with some of the best country music, all supervised by Zachary Dawes (True Detective), you quickly realise this is all part of the story without ever feeling out of place.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is worthy of every spotlight. A bright, enthusiastic, sit-back-and-relax kinda film, that makes you feel connected to its characters. The heart of the film lies in its actors, scenery, music, and the passion behind the scenes in putting this project out there for everyone to experience.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review – ‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’

Reviewed online (screener provided by Rialto Distribution), Sydney, Jan. 26, 2020. Australian Classification: M. Running time: 97 min.

PRODUCTION: A Rialto Distribution release of an Armory Films, 1993, Lucky Treehouse, Nut Bucket Films, Tvacom Film and Tv production. Producers: Albert Berger, Christopher Lemole, Lije Sarki, David Thies, Ron Yerxa, Tim Zajaros. Executive producers: Carmella Casinelli, Manu Gargi, Aaron Scotti, Anthony K. Shriver, Timothy Shriver, Michelle Sie Whitten.

CREW: Directors/writers: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz. Camera: Nigel Bluck. Editors: Nat Fuller, Kevin Tent. Music: Zachary Dawes, Noam Pikelny, Jonathan Sadoff, Gabe Witcher.

WITH: Zack Gottsagen, Dakota Johnson, Shia LaBeouf, Bruce Dern, Thomas Haden Church, Jon Bernthal, Tim Zajaros, John Hawkes, Yelawolf, Jonathan Williams.

Fantastic Film Festival Australia Unveils Full Program

STRANGE, SUBVERSIVE AND SURREAL

Dystopian zombie mutants, reality-bending psychological terror, dreamlike animations, and a healthy dose of gore – the inaugural Fantastic Film Festival Australia (20 Feb – 4 March) has announced its full program of strange and surreal, boundary-pushing and bizarre cinema screening at Lido Cinemas, Hawthorn (VIC) and Ritz Cinemas, Randwick (NSW).

Offering up its own distinct perspective on genre and alternative cinema, FFFA marries (un)guilty pictorial pleasures with subversive storytelling that hacks away at conventions, unearthing core truths that are typically shied away from: from hard-hitting sociocultural commentary, to unique perspectives on what’s widely taken for granted.

“Genre cinema has a unique ability to act as a monument; marking the social, cultural and political climate within which it exists,” says Fantastic Film Festival Program Director Hudson Sowada. “It’s not just mutants, monsters, and apocalyptic bloodlust, although of course there’s plenty of that too – these are thought-provoking works from filmmakers with something important to get off their chests.”

“Expect stories of the horrors of colonialism seeping through generations; the exploitation of those marginalised within society; and unflinching challenges to our near-glamorisation of serial killers in pop culture,” he said. “Join us as we collectively wade through the chaos, to land at the feet of monumentally powerful messages in the dark.”

Kicking off the Festival will be Chained for Life, an ode to the boundary-pushing spirit of filmmaking. The clever comedy-horror stars Jess Weixler (Teeth) as a beautiful actress on a horror film set who struggles to connect with her co-star Rosenthal, a man with a major facial deformity, as boundaries blur between reality and fiction, fair representation and exploitation cinema. Rosenthal is played by UK actor and disability activist Adam Pearson – who like his character, lives with neurofibromatosis.

Mutant Blast

Bringing the madness to a close will be mind-frying closing night film, Mutant Blast, from legendary off-the-rails horror studio Troma. When the zombie apocalypse strikes after a superhuman scientific experiment goes awry, a fearless soldier and a man with superhuman strength must navigate a mutant-ravaged cityscape, along with their accomplice with few ambitions and a brutal hangover.

FFFA also presents special screenings of Australian sci-fi metal-musical Sons of Steel, celebrating 30 years since its release. Sydney-based director Gary Keady, plus cast and crew, will attend the Ritz Cinema screening (27 Feb) for a post-film Q&A, taking audience questions about their cult hit following hard rock vigilante Black Alice, as he’s sent on an adventure through time to save Sydney from an impending nuclear apocalypse.

Based on the true story of serial killer Fritz Honka is The Golden Glove, a wake-up call response to the rise of serial killers in popular culture in recent years, by acclaimed director Fatih Akin (In the Fade); Suicide Tourist follows insurance detective Max (Game of Throne’s Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) investigating a secretive facility specialising in elaborate assisted suicide fantasies; and psychological horror Saint Maud is a chilling vision of faith, madness and salvation in a fallen world, the latest from indie studio A24 (HereditaryMidsommar, The Lighthouse).

Not to be missed are two titles scrutinising colonialism and racial oppression: based on a real-world Haitian case of Voodoo zombie slavery, Zombi Child follows a Haitian teenager who reveals her family secret to her friends, not suspecting it will push one of them to commit the irreparable; and documentary Horror Noire traces the under-represented history of African American artists in Hollywood through the horror genre: from caricature and exploitation, through to the late 2010’s horror renaissance heralded by films like Get Out.

Jallikattu

Audiences can go further down the weird and wonderful rabbit hole with special festival events, including screenings at Lido Rooftop and the newly opened Ritz Laneway. Melbourne fans can craft their own fantastic adventure at the one-off Dungeons and Dragons night (27 Feb, 4:30-8:30PM), hosted by the city’s most experienced Dungeon Masters; and the free Analogue Orgy (Saturday 29 Feb, 3:30-9:30PM), specially curated by Richard Sowada (St Kilda Film Festival Artistic Director), is a 16mm throwback to rare and bizarre education films and other oddball moments from the 50s, 60s and 70s, including the forgotten Disney classic The Story of Menstruation.

Fans across Melbourne and Sydney can also put their knowledge of the strange and absurd, horrific and hilarious to the test at Trivia nights (2 March, 7:30PM) that’ll have you scratching your head and clenching your sides in laughter.

2020 Fantastic Film Festival Australia Screening Dates

MELBOURNE: Thursday 20 February – Wednesday 4 March 2020 (Lido Cinemas, Hawthorn)

SYDNEY: Thursday 20 February – Monday 2 March 2020 (Ritz Cinema, Randwick)

Tickets are now available on:

Ritz Cinema – https://www.ritzcinemas.com.au/events/fantastic-film-festival-australia

Lido Cinemas – https://www.lidocinemas.com.au/events/fantastic-film-festival-australia

Review – ‘A Hidden Life’

We lived above the clouds.” – Fani Jägerstätter

Director Terrence Malick isn’t known for his very straight forward story telling methods. Surprisingly ‘A Hidden Life‘ is his most mainstream film in years. In saying that, he doesn’t necessarily let go of his visionary filmmaking strategy, but makes it more approachable for audiences who unknowingly sit down for a Malick-film.

Based on real events, A Hidden Life is the story of Franz Jägerstätter (August DiehlInglourious Basterds), who refused to fight for the Nazis in World War II. When the Austrian farmer is faced with the threat of execution for treason, it is his unwavering faith and his love for his wife, Fani (Valerie PachnerThe Ground Beneath My Feet), and children that keeps his spirit alive.

After an introduction to late 1930s’ Nazi uprising, using real footage of Hitler around that time, we dive into the breathtaking scenery of Radegund, Austria – and also the close-by natural beauty of Italy. We meet the Jägerstätter-family – close-ups and shaky cam are used to get a more “natural” feeling of intimacy, but while the English narration of the story switches between Franz and Fani, the actors interact with their fellow family members and other farmers in the village in almost incomprehensible German (there’s also no subtitles, for those who really wonder what they’re saying). It makes you think Malick wrote the story after the entire thing had already been filmed.

After being sent to Enns Military Base in 1940, Franz’s conscience gets in the way and he realises he doesn’t want to kill people in war. When back in Radegund, he asks for guidance from his excellensie (played by the late Michael NyqvistJohn Wick). When a trio of nazi’s visit the village to ask for a contribution to the army, Franz decides to send them away, as he isn’t interested in pledging allegiance to Hitler, which causes the small farmers town to turn their back on the Jägerstätter-family, out of shame. Resenting his pride, the townspeople bully the couple and curse at them on every possible occasion, even long after Franz gets taken into custody for treason.

The almost three hour long film feels much longer than that. Without much happening throughout its runtime, there’s always a chance of people leaving the theatre before the credits start rolling. There’s no need to cut back to scenery for minutes at a time, or just watching kids playing in the grass, when this doesn’t contribute to any narrative you’re trying to persuade. Malick is a pro at doing so. His films are without a doubt made for cinephiles, who like to dissect every single shot and find a meaning behind certain angles within the story. Jörg Widmer‘s (The Tree of Life) cinematography is stunning, there’s no arguing about that, and with James Newton Howard‘s absolutely magical strings-heavy score playing in the background, you can mostly just sit back and enjoy what’s on screen. What also helps is the quality of sound, that just seeps like warm butter into your ears. It makes up for a disappointing story that could’ve been told in a simpler way, without losing the sheer brilliance of Malick’s admirable style of filmmaking.

The acting ensemble, mostly driven by Diehl and Pachner’s undeniably natural chemistry, isn’t anything remarkable. You’ll believe them as peasant farmers, but other than that, the film never feels authentic in its time period, solely because it’s set in an environment that is so distant from the real world, besides the scenes that take place in prison. The moral of Malick’s story is so stretched out, it loses the core essence on the unbreakable bond of family and religion, to a slowly faltering yet pompous way of showing how lost a director can get in his own form of art. Without any emotional pay off in a film that has been set up so dramatically, what’s even the point?!

⭐⭐⭐

Review – ‘A Hidden Life’

Reviewed at Event Cinemas, Sydney, Jan. 23, 2020. Australian Classification: PG. Running time: 174 min.

PRODUCTION: A Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release of a Fox Searchlight Pictures presentation with support of Medienboard Berlin-Brandeburg of a Studio Babelsberg, Elizabeth Bay Productions. Producers: Elisabeth Bentley, Dario Bergesio, Grant Hill (p.g.a.), Josh Jeter (p.g.a.). Executive producers: Christoph Fisser, Marcus Loges, Henning Molfenter, Adam S. Morgan, Bill Pohlad, Yi Wei, Colton Williamson, Charlie Woebcken. Co-producer: Jini Durr.

CREW: Director/writer: Terrence Malick. Camera: Jörg Widmer. Editor: Rehman Nizar Ali, Joe Gleason, Sebastian Jones. Music: James Newton Howard.

WITH: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Karin Neuhäuser, Mario Simon, Tobias Moretti, Ulrich Matthes, Matthias Schoenaerts, Franz Rogowski, Karl Markovics, Bruno Ganz.

Review – ‘Seberg’

“Who is Jean Seberg?”, many might ask. Seberg was an American actress who lived half her life in France. Her performance in Jean-Luc Godard‘s 1960 film Breathless immortalised her as an icon of French New Wave cinema. Now, Hollywood has found the perfect actress in Kristen Stewart, to portray her and the real events of the late 1960s when Hoover’s FBI targeted her because of her political and romantic involvement with civil rights activist Hakim Jamal (played by Anthony Mackie).

Seberg isn’t your typical biopic, it dramatises certain events, and thrills at the same time, while delving deeper into Seberg’s psyche and, in the end, justified paranoia. But first we get to meet a very ambitious Jean back in France, late ’60s, when she says goodbye to her husband and son, to pursue her next role in Hollywood. While traveling there, she quickly realises the civil rights party, the Black Panthers, is bigger and more outspoken than ever before, which piques her interest into joining the movement herself. She wants to make a difference, and mostly does so by donating high sums of money to the party. When the FBI starts to follow her every movement, Seberg gets highly suspicious of everyone she works and interacts with, up to the point of self destruction.

Benedict Andrews‘ (Una) film is more of a thriller that explores Seberg’s last years of her career, than a by-the-books introduction into the actress’ life. Although the actress is the main plot device, her involvement as a caucasian woman with the Black Panthers is intriguing and especially interesting when looking at it from a more human point of view. She was the kind of person who wanted to make a difference by using her skin colour as something more than just fame. Kristen Stewart (Still Alice) proves over and over again, that she can play any type of character and fully gives in to their mannerisms without holding back. Fresh off the back of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, another 1960s story set in Hollywood and also starring Margaret Qualley, Seberg not only feels unique – it looks like it.

The extraordinary architectural brilliance that goes into its production design and the sets being used to portray iconic films in which Seberg starred, are breathtaking. To breathe even more life into what’s already so vivid on screen, Jed Kurzel composes a vibrantly brilliant score that feels different from any other music he has created before. Oscar-nominated cinematographer Rachel Morrison (Black Panther) knows just how to frame Stewart’s moments, to make her look vulnerable when necessary, without ever losing the simplistic beauty of the scenes she’s in.

Not only is Stewart the one bringing her A-game, but British actor Jack O’Connell (Money Monster) as an FBI-agent who’s personal feelings get in the way, shows promising growth. Vince Vaughn (Fighting With My Family), in a more serious role, is just as loud as he usually is, but surprises in a scene around the dinner table with his family, when a sudden outburst of anger towards his daughter will for sure make you jump out of your skin. Zazie Beetz, recently seen in DC-juggernaut Joker, is once again being wasted as an undeveloped side-character, this time a housewife who’s basically just there to fill up the room. Her talent goes unnoticed film after film – it’s time for Hollywood to take notice and give her a role to shine in.

The intensity and slow build up to Jean Seberg’s mental struggles, while the FBI secretly bullies her just far enough into insanity, are portrayed in a very personal and at times gut wrenching manner. Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse‘s story does just what it’s supposed to do, and that is to make us aware of Seberg’s brilliantly overlooked and forgotten oeuvre, showing us how talented she really was and making sure she’ll forever be remembered by many generations to come.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review – ‘Seberg’

Reviewed at Dendy Cinemas, Newtown, Jan. 14, 2020. Australian Classification: M. Running time: 102 min.

PRODUCTION: An Icon Film Distribution release of an Amazon Studios presentation in association with Encrypted Productions, Ingenious Media, Memento Films International of an Automatik, Indikate Production, Totally Commercial Films, Bradley Pilz Production. Producers: Marina Acton, Fred Berger, Kate Garwood, Stephen Hopkins, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Bradley Pilz, Alan Ritchson. Executive producers: Naima Abed, Emilie Georges, Philip W. Schaltz, Joe Shrapnel, Stephen Spence, Dan Spilo, Marsha L. Swinton, Peter Touche, Anna Waterhouse.

CREW: Directed by Benedict Andrews. Screenplay: Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse. Camera (color): Rachel Morrison (ASC). Editor: Pamela Martin. Music: Jed Kurzel.

WITH: Kristen Stewart, Jack O’Connell, Margaret Qualley, Vince Vaughn, Anthony Mackie, Zazie Beetz, Yvan Attal, Gabriel Sky, Colm Meaney, Stephen Root.

Prime Video Review – ‘Troop Zero’

After its premiere at Sundance Film Festival, in early 2019, Troop Zero went on to screen at a couple of American film festivals, until it premiered just recently on Amazon’s streaming service, Prime Video. It tells the story of a misfit girl in rural 1977 Georgia, who dreams of life in outer space. When a competition offers her a chance to be recorded on NASA’s Golden Record, she recruits a makeshift troop of Birdie Scouts, forging friendships that last a lifetime.

Bert & Bertie‘s (pseudonym for director’s duo Katie Ellwood and Amber Templemore-Finlayson) feature film debut plays it very safe as a feel good film. There’s a few outbursts of pure heart, with an edge, but most of the story feels just a bit too familiar. It does have the benefit of being set in the ’70s in the deep South, where women’s rights and religion don’t always go hand in hand. These subjects get handled in a very direct and sometimes frustrating way, especially when it comes to kids bullying each other for being “different”.

McKenna Grace (Annabelle Comes Home) leads our troop of Birdie Scouts as the quirky and optimistic Christmas Flint. Her mannerisms and looks are reminiscent of a young Dakota Fanning, always pushing to bring different sides to her character and fully giving in to her emotions. She’s in the great company of Viola Davis (How To Get Away With Murder) as Miss Rayleen, a pessimist who’s had to deal with her share of setbacks while growing up, and who pushes this group of kids to come out of their shell and step up against the expected norms of society. It’s wonderful to see her character develop throughout the course of the story. This is the case with most main characters in the film and shows great craftsmanship from writer Lucy Alibar. Davis, who also produced the film, is here to support this group of young actors and sort of helps them shine – shining the spotlight on them. A very noble and charismatic side we haven’t seen of her, since she’s usually such a powerhouse who owns every scene she’s in. Another standout, as usual, is Allison Janney (Mom). She doesn’t bring anything new to her already impressive resume, as the condescendingly uptight Miss Massey, who’s Miss Rayleen’s direct adversary for reasons that become clear later on in the film, but she’s just born to play these kinds of highly entertaining parts. Especially the scenes where Davis and Janney go head-to-head, are some of the most engaging ones.

The music being used in Troop Zero, is of great significance. Songs such as David Bowie’s ‘Rebel Rebel’, Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Say a Little Prayer’ and Elvis Presley’s ‘I’m Gonna Walk Dem Golden Stairs’, are there to lift up these young characters’ spirits and help them express their feelings. Lucy Alibar‘s (Beasts of the Southern Wild) screenplay has a clear message of acceptance, encouragement and friendship, that personifies itself in unique ways through each character of our troop.

Troop Zero is perfect for streaming giant Prime Video. It’s one of those family crowdpleasers you can watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon, while tearing up in its final scenes, knowing you’ve seen it all before, but you’re a sucker for these kind of feel good empowering stories. Nonetheless, a highly entertaining film to lift up your spirit, when you’re feeling a bit blue yourself.

⭐⭐⭐

Prime Video Review – ‘Troop Zero’

Reviewed on Prime Video, Sydney, Jan. 21, 2020. Australian Classification: PG. Running time: 98 min.

PRODUCTION: An Amazon Studios presentation of an Escape Artists, Zhiv, Juvee production. Producers: Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch, Alex Siskin, Viola Davis. Executive producers: David Bloomfield, Jenny Hinkey, Lucy Alibar.

CREW: Directed by Bert & Bernie. Screenplay: Lucy Alibar. Camera (color): James Whitaker. Editor: Catherine Haight. Music: Rob Lord.

WITH: Mckenna Grace, Viola Davis, Allison Janney, Jim Gaffigan, Charlie Shotwell, Milan Ray, Johanna Colon, Bella Higginbotham, Mike Epps.