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Snapshots

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Three generations of women convene at the lakeside residence of Rose Muller (Piper Laurie) to spend the weekend catching up. Rose’s daughter Patty (Brooke Adams), along with Patty’s daughter Allison (Emily Baldoni), both arrive to spend quality family time together. Allison is facing the breakdown of her marriage and her mother Patty attempts to hammer advice home. Fights escalate, long kept secrets and petty grudges come to the fore and across the weekend, the trio hammers out their issues.

The story then flashes back to 1960, to tell the story of a much younger Rose (Shannon Collis) and her torrid love affair with Louise Baxter (Emily Goss). Louise reinvigorated Rose and instilled her with a defiant sense of her own worth and of the possibilities that could await her as an independent woman in the world. This romantic relationship then informs events that unfold in the present day.

Director Melanie Mayron (an actor who started on Thirtysomething and is currently starring in TV’s Jane the Virgin) interprets the painfully rote script by Jan Miller Corran and Katherine Cortez in an utterly mechanical way. It’s a shame really, considering it was apparently inspired by a true story.

While the earnestness of the filmmakers’ intentions are front and center, it tips over into outright cringe-worthy cliché at many points. Structurally (and emotionally) it wants to be The Notebook meets Carol but it just feels bloodless and way too televisual in its pacing and cinematography.

Alternately, it can’t really succeed by leaning into any kind of Douglas Sirk-style melodrama because the dialogue is just so damn flat; it plays like a lifetime movie of the week in tone and feel. When a script is this leaden and by the numbers, a director’s vision could help, but little can be done to save it. The poor actors do their best (Days of Heaven & Invasion of the Body Snatchers star Brooke Adams clearly struggles with the clunkiest dialogue imaginable) but it’s ultimately just stilted and artificial.

 
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Border

Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Tina (Eva Melander) is a Swedish border control officer with an almost preternatural ability to smell people’s emotional states, making her extremely effective at seeking out illicit carriers of contraband.

Her almost Neanderthal appearance (protruding teeth, heavy brow, bristled hair and thick set nose) and a lifetime of rejection and stares, makes her withdrawn and cautious of people’s intentions. She keeps to herself, living in a cabin in the woods where her only company is her feckless live-in boyfriend Roland (Jörgen Thorsson), who seems to love his show dogs more than her.  Her only other relationship is with her elderly father (Sten Ljunggren) who she visits often, though he suffers from dementia and struggles to remember her at times.

One day, while working at her border control station, Tina encounters Vore (Eero Milonoff) whose luggage she searches. Vore looks almost identical in appearance to Tina, same features, same teeth, though with a charismatic swagger and intensity that Tina struggles to shake off. Who is he? Where did he come from? Tina can’t ‘detect’ anything about Vore, he’s mysterious and intoxicating to her but she feels something dark and dangerous about him.

While in Vore’s presence, her sixth sense is inexplicably muted, and she’s forced to rely solely on her more ‘human’ frailties: her emotions. Driven to investigate her own murky past, and Vore’s, Tina begins to uncover disturbing revelations about Vore and her childhood and the unanswered questions begin to pile up.

Iranian-born, Denmark-based filmmaker Ali Abbasi has crafted one of the most singular and genre-defying films to come along the pike in a great while. Based on a short story by Let the Right One In author John Ajvide Lindqvist, Border (original title: Gräns) is a mind-bending melange of romance, Nordic dark noir and fantasy-horror. It’s almost social realist in its style yet interweaves moments of fantasy with a seamless ease.

Lindqvist co-wrote the script with Abbasi and Isabella Eklöf and it’s a filmic experience unlike anything in recent memory.

Eva Melander and Eero Milonoff’s performances are equal parts subtle nuance and searing, primeval intensity, delivered from under layers of prosthetic appliances. It’s in their characters that the film’s truly haunting edges are revealed and even then, it’s hard to isolate precisely what’s going on in its engine-room; to narrow-down precisely what buttons it’s pushing while you’re watching it. The sheer left-field sideswipe of letting several genres bleed into each other, it creates an unsettling, hypnotic and chilling experience that defies description and prediction. An absolute cracker.

 
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Night Comes On

Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Pitch: A freshly released inmate stalks across state on the hunt for the man that killed their mother. It has the workings of a bombastic noir helmed by Jeremy Saulnier (Green Room) or S. Craig Zahler (Dragged Across Concrete). In actuality, it’s the bare bones of Jordana Spiro’s heart bruising Night Comes On.

Teenager Angel (Dominique Fishback, who can currently be seen in George Tillman Jnr’s The Hate U Give) has been released from juvenile prison, supposedly under the wing of her girlfriend. In reality, Angel skips out on her parole officer in order to find and kill her father. No longer knowing where he lives, she fishes her ten-year-old sister, Abby (Tatum Marilyn Hall), out of her foster home in the hopes that she’ll show her where to go.

Life leading up to, and including prison, has numbed Angel, who will passively hand over the body to a sleazy adult in exchange for a gun. Abby, however, despite her surroundings and blue language, still has a child’s desire for love and adventure. Unaware of Angel’s thirst for revenge, she’s just happy to have her big sister back in her life and play with any stranger she meets on a bus.

Spiro, alongside co-writer Angelica Nwandu, doesn’t settle for easy emotions, as the two girls – and we really must remember they are children – search for their father. Despite moments of light poking through the darkness, there’s never the feeling that a walk on the beach or a big hug and kiss is going to resolve everything. Largely, because Angel appears to get in her own way; best summarised by the scene where Abby has her first period and, despite her attempts to mother her, Angel manages to ruin a shared experience by spitting out a one liner presumably inherited from her father.

Not that you should go into Night Comes On thinking it’s another chapter in the despair porn genre, where the audience is asked to wallow in sadness under the pretence of art. Angel is broken and whilst temptation comes to ease her off the path she’s chosen, she knows exactly what she must do. Fishback’s performance ensures we completely understand her urges, but still want to shelter her from harm, nonetheless. Equally, Hall gives a brilliant performance in a film whose plot, like Tillman Jnr’s The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, asks a lot of its youngest star.

Perhaps where Night Comes On comes apart is in its final moments when, after taking the long way home, it seems to wrap itself up all too quickly. There’s a conversation that needs to be allowed to play out longer, a moment that could be teased out more, a resolution that might not land for everyone. But then, it could be argued, this reflects the journey of Angel herself. She has set out to achieve one thing and one thing only, and she can’t expect everyone to like every decision she makes.

Moody without crashing into despair, with strong performances from the leads, Night Comes On is a tough but rewarding watch.

 
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Believer

Documentary, Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Imagine Dragons front man Dan Reynolds was born into the Mormon Church and was raised believing that homosexuality was a sin and therefore an impediment to reaching the afterlife.

As a result of this doctrine, the suicide rate amongst young gay Mormons has been escalating over the last decade, calling into question the condemnation of gay women and men by the Mormon Church, who, once they come out, are expected to live celibate because the Mormon Church believes it’s OK to be gay, you just can’t ever act on those feelings.

When Dan Reynolds is written to, by numerous fans of his music, many tell stories of being gay and Mormon and struggling to survive within the LDS Church. Reynolds sets about organising a rock concert in Orem, Utah called Loveloud, that’ll spotlight the issue. He invites the participation of the lead singer of the band Neon Trees, Tyler Glenn, who’s also a Mormon and was excommunicated from the church for being gay.

Focusing on the lead up to the Loveloud festival, Reynolds promotes the concert on local radio and discusses his concerns about the local opposition to organising and staging the concert, as he awaits an official response from The Mormon Church regarding the event and moving forward, whether it would be open to altering its doctrine on the treatment of LGBTQ+ individuals.

This is a fairly earnest documentary and Reynolds’ heart seems in the right place, but there’s a deodorised sheen to the treatment of the topic, most likely because it’s clearly targeted at Mormons, so it doesn’t seek to offend anyone who is in the LDS Church. Being largely non-confrontational and just focusing on Reynolds, who is a recognisable Mormon-friendly face, it feels odd then, when Tyler Glenn’s story (which seems to strike more succinctly at the heart of the documentary’s themes) shows someone who is way more invested in the issue, having experienced excommunication from the Mormon Church. Additionally, Reynolds’ wife, Aja Volkman, discusses her conversion to Mormonism in order to marry Reynolds (something that resulted in a number of her gay friends boycotting their wedding).

One wonders, why aren’t these people a larger part of this documentary? Why is a wealthy straight, white rock star selling the urgency of this gay rights issue, while people with actual ‘skin in the game’ aren’t?  Granted, that’s a cheap shot because ultimately Reynolds acted on his sense of moral justice and did something, anything, in order to raise awareness of the issue. It’s enjoyable on that level, though ultimately it feels awkward how mawkish the film plays at certain times, like the anodyne slick of the Hillsong Channel or an ethereal Coldplay concert that won’t ever end.

That said, it’s undeniable that every fight for rights needs an ally, and it’s admirable that he’s intervening on an issue that Dan Reynolds can bring some awareness to.

 
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Rafiki

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Within the busy urban sprawl on the edges of Nairobi, Kenya (in an area known as ‘The Slopes’), Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) cruises on her skateboard through candy-coloured streets as children play on bikes, street-side cafés serve soda to local clientele and the bustling neighbourhood bristles with an energy of possibility, where anything could happen at any time.

A tomboy with no female friends, Kena whiles away her days playing soccer and cruising the streets with the affable Blacksta (Neville Masati) who sees Kena as ‘one of the boys’ and never seems to clock that she really isn’t into guys. Kena’s mother Mercy (Nini Wacera) is divorced from her father John (Jimmy Gathu), who is a shopkeeper in ‘The Slopes’ and is currently campaigning in upcoming local elections. Mercy is initially pleased by the fact that Kena has started spending time with Ziki (Sheila Munyiva), hoping that her tomboy daughter is positively affected by the exposure to the upper-class, day-glo dread-locked girl who also just happens to be the daughter of John’s election campaign rival.

Director Wanuri Kahiu and co-writer Jenna Bass adapted a short story by Ugandan author Monica Arac de Nyeko, and the film never shies away from depicting the rampant homophobia that’s endemic in Africa. So, the stakes are definitely high for the couple, though their relationship might just as well be enclosed in a bubble of giddy elation; while there’s a danger in their secret being discovered, we’re also swept up in their romance. It’s on this hinge that the film hangs, and the two co-leads are really effective and engaging.

The storytelling itself is fairly perfunctory but the message is vital and Kahiu’s artistic flourishes are vibrant and at times, visually fabulous, such as the Do The Right Thing inspired depictions of the colourful characters within ‘The Slopes’ as well as an almost bio-luminescent, black-light disco sequence.

Homosexuality is still a criminal offence in Kenya and accordingly, Rafiki was banned for its positive depiction of being gay, which is ultimately something that lends the film an added sense of glorious defiance, as it sticks its middle finger up at the government.

 
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Silvana

Documentary, Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Born in Lithuania, raised in Sweden by a Syrian father, rapper Silvana Imam has a lot to say about her roots, her gender and her sex. She’s a queer voice trying to be heard in a genre more likely to lean towards misogyny and violence, and when we first meet her in Silvana, it looks like Sweden is ready to listen.

Directed by Mika Gustafson, Olivia Kastebring, and Christina Tsiobanelis, the documentary follows Imam over three years as she copes with fame and finds love. Dropping in on her in 2013, Imam’s new single has hit number one on the charts and she’s practically bouncing off the walls. The rapper appears to relish the opportunity to get her message out there and is unafraid to admit that she enjoys the recognition. To be fair, it’s not like she initially hides herself from the adulation; stalking around Sweden in an oversized black hoodie and clutching a megaphone, both emblazoned with her name and logo.

This, we soon realise, is just surface level Imam; the documentary’s directors quickly cracking through this layer to show us what runs underneath the posturing, and a large part of it sees Imam utterly head over heels in love with fellow musician, Beatrice Eli. Imam doesn’t hide her affection for the singer, whose music tackles the same themes with a pop music coating, and the filmmakers capture gorgeous glimpses of Imam watching her from a far. These moments will resonate with anyone who has been in love and it makes it all the more heart-warming to watch their fledgling romance become Europe’s answer to Jay Z and Beyoncé. Eli cuts through Imam’s pretence, and gleefully shows off her partner’s softer side for the camera.

Mixed into the music and romance are flashes of Imam’s life growing up with conservative parents. Knowing she liked girls from a very young age, Imam experimented with wanting to be a boy called Eric. Something which the rest of the family went with for some time. The documentary follows Imam on a trip to Lithuania to visit her mum, where the performer must hide her sexuality and relationship for fear of some kind of retaliation on her mother. The most sobering moment comes when Imam meets a priest who, following a long diatribe about why women are basically just necks for men (no, we don’t get it either), reprimands her for her musical themes.

It’s all fascinating to watch unfold, but there’s so much going on in Silvana that, at times, the documentary picks up threads only to forget about them later on. For example, Imam’s burnout from her sudden rise to fame is only touched upon in a montage that doesn’t really add anything to the discussion on mental health, even though that appears to be the aim.

However, with so many different facets to Imam it could be argued that focusing too closely on one or two would do a disservice to the artistic talent as a whole. With that in mind, think of Silvana as more of a living, breathing portrait than a documentary.

 
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Melodrama / Random / Melbourne!

Asian Cinema, Australian, Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

An unusual pink hue is one of the shades that Melbourne is seen through in Melodrama / Random / Melbourne!, the film by VCA alum and emerging Australian-Fillipino director Mathew Victor Pastor.

Melodrama / Random / Melbourne! is the second part in the up-and-coming practitioner’s Filipino-Australian trilogy following I am JUPITER I am the BIGGEST PLANET (15 mins) – a thriller about a mother in the red light district of the Philippines.

Co-written and starring Celina Yuen, MRM! screened at the 2018 Adelaide Film Festival, and follows various disparate characters around the metropolitan Melbourne melting pot.

In this vast milieu, we are introduced to an assortment of personalities: amongst them a Filipino-Australian feminist documentarian, a pickup artist, and a virgin – all of whom are disparate characters removed from each other; all trying to go about their lives and all crossing paths.

It is a lens we nary see through, especially in Australian films. The perspective of those living on the margins and fringes, who never would have met each other.

The narrative is told by filmmaker Aries Santos (Bridget O’Brien), who is struggling to complete her new film.

In this mix, sheaths of pink, red and various others are just a few of the colours employed in Pastor’s movie.

As various individuals tussle and interlace – the internet, toxic masculinity, racism and xenophobia are but a few of the topics that the 80 minute feature touches on.

This is a tale that wavers between experimental and narrative, and takes on several characters and storylines.

Despite this, or perhaps because of it, there are a few issues with the piece. Some characters, such as the virgin come across at times as not fully sketched, not entirely multi-dimensional.

Several stories feel unsatisfactorily closed, occasionally pre-emptively or arbitrarily introduced or finished.

This may be due to a larger question of the film taking on too many strands and disparate beats, in the end confusing viewers.

What does it all add up to? What Pastor is trying to say, or not say, in this jungle, ultimately becomes clouded amidst the range of styles, POV, place, character.

Effort, vivacious colours and zaniness are there, albeit inconsistently – though one gets the sense that this relentless image-maker will refine this.

MELODRAMA / RANDOM / MELBOURNE! (Trailer 2) from Matthew Victor Pastor on Vimeo.

 
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I Was a Teenage Serial Killer

Festival, Film Festival, Review, short film, This Week Leave a Comment

A wild mix of fired-up feminist rallying and pitch black humour, this early ‘90s short from influential filmmaker Jacobson still packs as much of a punch as it did back in Riot Grrrl’s hey-day.

The ground-breaking underground film cost an estimated $1600, and has a grainy sliced-up look perfect for its gritty subject matter. Featuring ultimately serious comment and inquiry into patriarchal society (along with gruesome laughs amidst some decidedly non-professional acting) that is as relevant now as it was then, the 27min film is far more than merely a museum piece or passing curiosity.

To reinforce the darker dreams of the film, the grungy soundtrack features a song from the notorious cult leader Charles Manson. That piece plus tracks from ‘90s punk rockers Heavens to Betsy and underground stalwarts Gas Huffer merge sound and vision for a short, sharp shock to the senses.

This was Jacobson’s debut in a career tragically cut short by illness that also included the feature Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore (1996), which will screen with I Was a Teenage Serial Killer at the inaugural Paracinema Fest.

A memorable intro to her work, the film shows how a lasting statement can be made with a purely indie DIY approach to filmmaking.

Paracinema Fest at The Classic

 
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You Might Be The Killer

Festival, Film Festival, Horror, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Taking its cues – and one of its stars – from meta-slasher comedies such as the Scream films and Cabin in the Woods, this is a clever and entertaining indie-flick perfectly suited to the geekier end of the horror-comedy spectrum. Offering a sideways take on the summer camp style of horror film – a mini-genre all of its own – the film scores highly for sardonic laughs and horror fan reference points.

Fran Kranz (Cabin in the Woods) stars as camp councillor Sam, a guy with a serious blackout and memory loss problem. He wakes up in the great outdoors, which soon become not so great as he discovers corpse after corpse. Luckily for him, he has a phone to connect with best friend and horror movie expert Chuck (Alyson Hannigan). Chuck runs through the various possibilities with Sam, including the fact that, yep, he might be the killer…

With lots of entertainingly envisaged death scenes and a few jump scares, this movie certainly has the requisite nods to the glory (and gory) days of summer camp slashers. But more than that, it has plenty of witty lines examining the state of play of that particular type of film. The tropes of cursed masks, lost loves and of course the ‘final girl’ are all closely looked at by Chuck – who just happens to be working at a comic book and video store – and calmly delivered to a bloody and near-psychotic Sam.

What initially sounds like an uninspiring premise scores highly for laughs and sheer entertainment. Simmons gets the tone just right, with a succinct and always funny script offering lots of scope for the performers to get the best out of it. Good support to the main duo comes from Brittany S. Hall as Sam’s romantic interest Imani and Jenna Harvey’s sweet natured Jamie. A repeated joke involving Steve ‘the Kayak King’ (Bryan Price) is also far funnier than it probably has any right to be.

On the surface, You Might Be the Killer takes simple ideas, jokes and scares and builds on them to create a highly accomplished horror-comedy. A top treat for any horror fan, the film is sharp, snappy and executed with a killer touch.

Also playing at Cameo Cinemas and Classic Cinemas

 
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Luz

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Luz

Lars von Trier’s Dogville comes to mind while watching Luz. Its stripped-back examination of the cinematic form and sequences featuring ‘set-less’ scene construction bear similarity to the intent of Tilman Singer with this, his debut feature.

It’s at once a synth-soaked ‘80s-inflected demon possession thriller but also an experiment in narrative re-structuring and re-jigging conventional cinematic storytelling language. It plays with event chronology as well as depicting sequences played out through re-enactments of the events by individuals who are demon-possessed, their actions controlled by a literal puppet-master.

Nora (Julia Riedler) meets Doctor Rossini (Jan Blurhardt) in an empty bar. Nora buys drink after drink for the doctor, intent on getting him plastered. Rossini mentions he’s a psychiatrist and eventually the two disappear to the restroom where Nora moves to kiss Rossini and a strange glow begins to emanate from her mouth. The kiss is less romantic and more like a regurgitation of food. Whatever is animating Nora vanishes after the transition into Rossini and Nora drops to the floor unconscious.

Rossini then shows up to a police station, where Luz (Luana Velia), a taxi driver, is being held for questioning after a car accident. As Detective Bertillion (Nadja Stubiger) watches, along with translator Olarte (Johannes Benecke), Rossini creepily places Luz under hypnosis and steers the unwitting woman through re-enacted scenarios in the room which further unravel the story and reveal just what the hell might be going on.

Dialogue is repeated by different characters within various contexts, this puzzle-like, fractal recycling of dialogue and alternating perspectives of the scenes themselves creates different conceptual layers through which this film can be understood and digested.

Like Nolan’s Memento was an exercise is deconstructing form to tell a genre story, Luz fragments the narrative structure as well as the form itself. The story, as it is, is something of a lo-fi reworking of the 1987 sci-fi action-horror The Hidden. The emphasis here is on atmosphere and there’s a good deal of creepiness elicited as Singer works within his budgetary limitations utilising the unique structure and format to spark audiences’ imaginations.

If you’re willing to go with it, there’s an exhilaration at the sheer audacity of a filmmaker bringing this kind of storytelling perspective to bear on a genre picture. Fascinating stuff.

Also playing at Classic Cinema and Cameo Cinema