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Lost Gully Road (Monster Fest)

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In the second feature from filmmaker Donna McRae (Johnny Ghost), Lucy, a young woman played by Adele Perovic, spends time roaming through the woodlands, her red jacket in sharp contrast to the greenery that surrounds her. It would be a postcard moment of peace and harmony, if it weren’t for the isolation that underscores this scene and several others. Lucy is in hiding, sheltered in a cottage set up by her sister. And whilst she waits it out till she can go back home, an unseen presence within the cottage is trying to reach out to her.


Ostensibly a gothic-tinged Aussie ghost story, Lost Gully Road’s simple premise is one from which the director, along with her co-writer Michael Vale, manage to explore a less supernatural societal issue; attitudes towards women. It’s not just the presence that haunts Lucy which appears to have unclear boundaries of acceptable behaviour. From the minute Lucy arrives at her temporary home, she comes under scrutiny from those she meets; particularly the local shopkeeper Brian (John Brumpton), who makes a simple transaction into something more salacious. Much is made of Lucy’s mental health and whether what’s happening to her is part of that illness. Rather craftily, by doing so, the film makes the audience complicit to some extent in Lucy’s treatment by making them question what’s truly happening to her.

All of the above gestates in a slow burner of a tale that doesn’t feel rushed to get to where it’s going. Some may find the pace too languid for their tastes when it comes to things that go bump in the night. However, spending so much time with Lucy as her days of isolation blur into one, gives the film a dark brooding sense of fear. Like the everyday micro-aggressions that can wear out a person, it’s not Lost Gully Road’s shocking and brutal ending that does the most damage, it’s being witness to the small things that led us there.

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Inseparables (Cine Latino)

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French film The Intouchables was a major hit both in its home country and abroad back in 2011. So much so, it probably comes as no surprise that it’s been booked in for an American remake, which should surface next year in the shape of The Upside. Meanwhile, over in Argentina, the film has already been reinterpreted as Inseparables and the result is a mixed bag.

Felipe (Oscar Martínez) is a wealthy quadriplegic who requires around the clock support. Tired of being babied by the people hired by his PA, Felipe decides to give duty of care to his fiery-tempered gardener, Tito (Rodrigo de la Serna). Tito lives a hand to mouth existence and his rough and ready approach to life is in sharp contrast to Felipe’s.

Even if you’ve never seen the original, or simply know about the true story upon which it’s based, you’ll already be fully aware of where this all going; with Felipe discovering, through Tito’s abrasive care, that there’s still so much more to enjoy in life.

There’s no denying that Inseparables wears a large heart on its sleeve. It’s a sweet natured film and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Both leads have a strong chemistry that ensures you’re more than happy to stay in their company for the remainder of the film. De la Serna is particularly strong as the boisterous but fragile Tito.

And yet, what truly lets the film down, is director Marcos Carnevale seemingly not wanting to deviate too much from the source material. We’re not talking Gus Van Sant’s Psycho in terms of mimicry, but if you’re not going to put your personal stamp on it, and with so much brought over wholesale from the original, it’s a wonder why you would remake it all.

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That’s Not Cheating (Cine Latino)

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Sometimes, in relationships, we promise our partners things that we will never follow through on. Whether that be getting a pet, cutting down on fatty foods, or allowing them to sleep with a celebrity should the opportunity arise. It’s the latter of these options that makes up the premise of Argentine comedy, That’s Not Cheating.

Nerdy Mateo (Martin Piroyanksky) has an undisguised crush on actor Zoe del Rio (Liz Solari), which his girlfriend Camila (Lali Esposito) gently mocks by offering him a ‘free pass’ in the unlikely event of him ever getting to meet her. Unfortunately for Camila, Mateo does indeed cross paths with Zoe and the two end up getting on like a house on fire.

Directed by Ariel Winograd, That’s Not Cheating initially mines its humour from Mateo’s decision to hide this initial encounter from his loved one. However, it manages to avoid being a bro-ey celebration of his infidelity by quickly ensuring his plans go awry. From there on out, the film follows both sides in the relationship as they try to deal with the aftershock. It’s a smart move and allows Esposito to be something more than the cliched nagging girlfriend who just doesn’t understand what it’s like to be a ruddy bloke. Refreshingly, she makes just as many mistakes as Mateo, particularly when it comes to her own celebrity crush in the shape of hipster celebrity, Antonio (Guillermo Argeno).

Genuinely funny in parts, with solid performances from its leads, That’s Not Cheating runs aground due to its predictability and rather stale approach to vacuous celebrity culture. Additionally, for a film that chastises its male lead for objectifying women, it certainly goes out of its way to objectify Solari, whilst suggesting that anyone who doesn’t meet her body measurements is liable to be mentally unstable.

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At The End Of The Tunnel (Cine Latino)

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The bank-heist is a tough sell in the modern thriller canon. In 2017, it would be near impossible to break new territory after a slew of immortal heist films throughout the nineties and early noughties — Point Break, Heat, or even the first act of Nolan’s The Dark Knight come to mind. At the End Of The Tunnel isn’t even half as good as these, nor should we expect it to be. There’s no dead president masks in this one, after all. Still, Argentinian director Rodrigo Grande makes a solid attempt at revitalising the genre — throw some bad guys in a tunnel and the (somewhat) good guy in a wheelchair and we have relatively new territory to plunder. The results are mixed.

Joaquin (Leonardo Sbaraglia) is a broken man in more ways than one. He’s paraplegic with the inexplicable loss of his family haunting him. Presumably the circumstances are somehow linked, but he now wiles away the days tinkering with his computers in the basement. Joaquin also happens to live next door to a bank stacked with dirty gangster money. When Berta (Claro Lago) and her mute daughter Betty (Uma Salduende) start renting Joaquin’s room upstairs, the stage is set for thrills and a few spills.

At the End of The Tunnel twists and turns enough to keep things interesting. Pablo Echarri is suitably menacing as Galetero, el jefe of the tunneling criminals. The heist itself is well orchestrated, but other plot points are ham-fisted and occasionally troubling. In the first act, Berta — an exotic dancer — casually stripteases for her new landlord Joaquin on his birthday as a get-to-know-you. By the second act, Joaquin is shooting her up with doggy meds (it’s as bad as it sounds). The third act is the real kicker though, because there’s love at the end of this impossible tunnel.

The juries of several international film festivals would tell you there are good reasons for the jarring moments, but the cognitive dissonance on paper is about the same on screen. Still, it has a grizzly ending worthy of Hollywood and truth be told, if you put Denzel in the wheelchair, At The End Of The Tunnel would come off like many of his paint-by-numbers thrillers. That’s not a bad thing. Those films are perfectly good rainy day fare.

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King Cohen (Monster Fest 2017)

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Cult filmmaker Larry Cohen occupies a deeper substrata of cult culture than the more widely celebrated horror auteurs – your John Carpenters, George A. Romeros, and Wes Cravens. Everybody* has seen A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween, but you have to dig a little deeper to get to Cohen’s oeuvre, be it monster baby trilogy It’s Alive, Jaws-in-the-sky exploitation classic Q the Winged Serpent, or ballsy satire The Stuff. Now this exhaustive and affectionate documentary puts the defiant and deliciously subversive filmmaker, and the result is an absolute must for fans of exploitation cinema in particular and genre films in general.

Not that Cohen was always on the fringes – after detailing his formative years growing up in NYC, the doco paints a vivid picture of his early successes in the golden age of television, where he became an in-demand writer after making his first story sale at the tender age of 17. Frustration over the lack of creative control drove Coen to take up directing for the big screen, and from there we’re off to the races, carving a manic path through his early blaxploitation successes (Black Caesar, Hell Up in Harlem) to the horror hit It’s Alive, which managed to challenge The Exorcist at the box office with a fraction of the budget; to his audacious ’80s output and beyond.

The real fun happens when genre notables offer up anecdotes about the irrepressible Cohen. Makeup legend Rick Baker recalls doing up his then-wife as the monstrous tyke in It’s Alive, blaxploitation star Fred Williamson challenges Cohen’s recall of their ad hoc stunt work in Hell Up in Harlem, and all and sundry chime in on the making of Q the Winged Serpent, the doco’s centrepiece, a film that Cohen cobbled together on the fly when another project fell apart and shot without permits  on the streets of Manhattan.

It’s noted again and again that you just couldn’t do this stuff today, and that’s no lie – anyone firing machine guns from the Chrysler Building in the post-9/11 world would soon find themselves on the wrong end of a SWAT team. There’s something so charming about Cohen’s “ask forgiveness, not permission” attitude, and perhaps it’s because it simply wouldn’t fly today, either in attitude or execution; Cohen’s subject matter, steeped in exploitation sensibilities, is too rough-hewn for modern tastes, while his working methodology, whereby he frequently shot without permits, roping in passersby as extras and gleefully ignorant of the chaos he frequently caused, is simply a lawsuit magnet.

What King Cohen really drives home, though, is Cohen’s overlooked position as a New York filmmaker. The attitude he brings to bear on his films screams NYC: cynical, mistrustful of authority, sympathetic of underdogs and suspicious of sentiment, romantic nonetheless. Cohen may have pent his career toiling in the genre ghetto, but this film insists he no less a New York film voice than Abel Ferrara (who, lest we forget, started out with the exploitation cheapie Driller Killer) or even Martin Scorsese who, wonderfully, shows up to sing Cohen’s praises as only the master cineaste can.

It’s really fantastic stuff, and at the centre of it all is the irascible Larry Cohen himself, a dyed-in-the-wool cinema rebel who deserves a far more elevated place in the genre pantheon than the one he currently occupies. Hopefully King Cohen goes a long way towards making that happen.

*Well, everybody worth knowing.

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Tarnation (Monster Fest 2017)

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Having tackled roller derbies, wrestling and cyborgs in his previous films, Melbourne filmmaker Daniel Armstrong (From Parts Unknown) turns his attention to good old-fashioned devil worshipping. Well, demon unicorn worshipping, but it all amounts to the same thing, right?

Having been fired unceremoniously by her manager, singer Oscar (Daisy Masterman) is persuaded to join her friends for a dirty weekend in the country. ‘It’s not exactly like a weekend away in a cabin in the woods is going to kill anyone, is it?’, Oscar incorrectly prophesises. Despite sex and alcohol being readily available, things quickly turn sour when demon possession crashes the party and Oscar is left to punch, kick and eviscerate her way to safety.

Looking slick, though a little rough around the edges due to budget constraints, horror fans who have grown tired of CGI over practical effects will certainly get a kick out of what the film has to offer, from pro-wrestling demons to a nifty looking bleeding painting. Anyone else with a fondness for Sam Raimi’s body of work will certainly appreciate what is, in essence, Armstrong’s homage to a certain Bruce Campbell-led trilogy. Rather than simply aping the premise, Tarnation builds upon it, running amok with the tropes which have been a staple of horror since time immemorial.

Tarnation hits the ground running from minute one and never really lets up. Admittedly, your mileage may vary with a horror that doesn’t take itself at all seriously for the entirety of its running time. Raimi certainly never had Ash go up against a boxing kangaroo (replete with boxing gloves), and a third act rap battle means Tarnation, if anything, is a cross-pollination of The Evil Dead and The Mighty Boosh. It’s a lot of fun and you’re not going to walk away bored.

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This film is “based on” events in 1985, when Salyut-7 – an unmanned Soviet space station – suddenly stopped communicating with Ground Control. If it crashed to earth it could be devastatingly destructive – and there was the also the less serious but real consideration of damage to the Soviet Union’s international image at a fairly tense stage in the Cold War. Two cosmonauts were sent to ‘dock’ with the station and (hopefully) solve the problem. It’s been alleged that the movie is somewhat factually inaccurate, which means that one of two unsatisfactory situations will pertain. Either A: you already know what ensued, and there will be a complete lack of suspense; or B: you simply won’t know which bits to believe.

Be all that as it may, Vladimir Vdovichenkov – who plays the ‘ship’s captain’ and bears an uncanny resemblance to Roy Scheider – has a considerable presence. Whilst trying to carry off the rescue mission/repair job, he and his one-man crew float around a lot, bond with each other and deal with extreme cold. They chat with Ground Control, and we are given glimpses of the anxiety felt by their loved ones back on Earth. Time is of the essence, mainly because of the cosmonauts’ finite and ever-dwindling supplies of oxygen.

The ending is unbelievably corny, there’s a fair swag of (admittedly unavoidable) tedious technical talk, and the whole thing is too long and slow moving. That said, the SFX are good without being showy, and there are a few fleeting moments of gripping human drama.

Not an unqualified success.

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The Journey

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As is well known, poor old Northern Ireland suffered terribly in the latter part of the twentieth century. A low level civil war, referred to with euphemistic resilience as the Troubles, raged in the streets and countless lives were lost to bigotry and terrorism. By the noughties the armed struggle was more or less played out and ordinary folk did not want a return of the ‘the gunmen’. But the question was; how to move forward to a workable peace?

Nick Hamm’s wonderfully well-constructed historical drama takes place in 2006, around the time of the crucial peace talks held in Fife in Scotland. On the Catholic side there was Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney). On the protestant side there was Reverend Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall). When Paisley announces that he must duck out of the talks to attend his 50th wedding anniversary, the wily English (under Tony Blair) see a chance to get McGuinness and Paisley to share some down time. The rest of the film follows this car journey; a road trip with a difference.

As played by Meaney here, McGuinness is openly announcing he is playing the long game. Ireland will one day be reunited. In the meantime, he needs to get the older man to accept some power sharing. Paisley is initially as intransigent, and he was famed to be. He despises the gunmen (and McGuinness saw ‘active service’. A point the film does not deny). McGuinness tries everything he can – teasing, flattering, cajoling – to try and get Paisley to really talk man to man. It is a long road from formality and hostility to calling each other by their first names. Here it suggests that McGuinness has the keener sense that they have to grasp this singular moment. As he says, in one of their beautifully-written exchanges, “Young men fight for the hell of it, but old men fight for their legacy”.

At times the film feels a bit like a two-hander play but, as indicated, the acting and the script carry all before them. Spall just keeps on getting better and better. Not only does he get Paisley uncannily in terms of looks, bearing and voice, he also draws us into the man’s personal journey. Meaney is probably less well known internationally but he doesn’t put a foot wrong here either. The film shouldn’t work as well as it does but, like Northern Ireland itself, there is a little bit of grace on display which is really affecting.

Blair’s gamble and machinations paid off and the two men did go on to share power. Paisley, representing the Protestant majority, became First Minister and McGuinness became Deputy First Minister. That historical endpoint anchors the film. Strangely, the two men when sharing power, apparently, became quite good friends and they were often seen joking together. Sometimes they were referred to as the chuckle brothers. Stranger things have happened but then history is strange.