View Post

Drone

Home, Review Leave a Comment

The introduction of drones into warfare is a sobering and terrifying prediction of what’s to come. Relatively safe within the confines of a US military base, a drone operator can obverse and report on the enemy in real time. They can also assassinate quickly, but perhaps, as this documentary from Tonje Hessen Schei points out succinctly, not so efficiently. In the effort to show whose army is the biggest, Drone points out the dangers of trying to be king of the castle. As one candid official wonders aloud during the course of the film, are some of the costs of drones outweighing the benefits?

With no added narration, Schei allows the subjects of his film to answer this question. Take, for example, Brandon Bryant, the drone operative suffering from PTSD and shunned by his peers for speaking out. Closer to the ground, there are the people of Waziristan, who have been rocked by the careless use of drones. That they look forward to cloudy days, when even the drones’ powerful telescopic lens is useless, speaks volumes. Hauntingly effective is Schei’s usage of headshots of those civilians who have died in drone raids, despite often having no connection to those originally targeted. Some old, many young, all of their deaths achingly pointless.

 Yes, Drone clearly has an agenda, and sometimes that clouds its judgement. The documentary is quick to point out that the military funds computer games for training the next generation of soldiers. However, without explicitly stating who these companies are, the accusation sounds simply like something from The Last Starfighter. But with 89 countries reportedly owning their own drones, it’s hard to deny the film’s ultimate goal of opening up a public discussion about how we wish to be defended by our governments.

 
View Post

[REC] 4: Apocalypse

Home, Review Leave a Comment

Spanish filmmakers, Paco Plaza and Jaume Balaguero, gave the found footage genre a shot of adrenaline back in 2007 with REC and later REC 2, which saw a theological tinged virus corrupt the tenants of an apartment block in Barcelona. Co-directing those first two, Plaza and Balaguero went solo for the next chapters in the franchise. Plaza shifted to an anarchic comedic tone with 2012’s Genesis, and now it’s Balaguero’s turn with the fourth and final chapter, Apocalypse.

Despite the promise of the title, there’s very little that’s apocalyptic about this fourth film. Set immediately after the events of REC 2 – but making cheeky references to the third – it sees Manuela Velasco return as TV journalist, Angela, now under quarantine on a tanker in the middle of the ocean. Her captors have her under close scrutiny as her constant survival could lead to the development of a retrovirus to cure the zombie outbreak. Of course, nothing in life is that simple, and when the virus spreads again due to zombie monkeys (yes, really), Angela must fight her way off the floating coffin.

It’s interesting to note how Plaza and Balaguero’s styles contrast when they don’t work together. Plaza aimed for splatter comedy, and here, Balaguero’s efforts resemble more of an action movie, as he replaces heightened tension with bombastic set pieces and a high body count. That’s not a dismissal of the film’s scope, just an acknowledgment that Apocalypse is perhaps not the ending to the franchise that fans were expecting. Those wanting to sift further into the REC universe will certainly leave wanting. Thrilling in parts but just missing the mark in so many other aspects, Apocalypse literally ends on a confused look instead of a bang. Maybe use less zombie monkeys next time.

 
View Post

Terminus

Home, Review Leave a Comment

This high concept (though evidently low budget) dystopian sci-fi thriller is set in America’s Midwest, although it was actually filmed in Sydney and Portland, NSW. The title refers – at least in part – to Operation Terminus, an engagement which has involved the US occupation of Iran. It’s all gone horribly wrong, and a nuclear war appears to be imminent…

Meanwhile, back in the States, the focus is on the less apocalyptic but still dismal problems of three people. There’s David Chamberlain (Jai Koutrae), a widowed small-town mechanic who donated a kidney to his late wife. Her dying words were the portentous statement “Nothing bad will ever last”. Then there’s their distressed daughter Annabelle (Kendra Appleton), and a stereotypically embittered war veteran called Zach (Todd Lasance), who does actually have some reason to be bitter, given that one of his legs was amputated in combat.

A series of untoward and bizarre incidents occur, and it becomes apparent pretty early in the proceedings that some sort of alien life form has arrived. Read no further if you want to retain what little suspense can be generated by this story, but it seems that the organism has the very useful property of being able to repair or reanimate any ruined organs with which it comes into contact. Severed legs, say, or donated kidneys. And then, on a much larger level, there is its implicit potential for use in warfare…

Terminus is slow moving and often underlit – presumably in the interests of ambience, but the murkiness gets monotonous and the creepy soundtrack music does little to alleviate the torpor. And it’s also patently absurd, without the requisite sharp dialogue or imaginative direction to get away with it.

 
View Post

The Shannara Chronicles

Home, Review Leave a Comment

There is a peculiar dichotomy to fantasy fiction. If by name it suggests a limitless scope for imaginative invention, its pitfall in too many examples is that it binds itself to the tropes of its own genre too rigidly. Rather than stretching its own capacity, it is prone instead to slavishly repeat its own inbred repertoire of invented pro-nouns, elvish caricatures, and mythic demons

The Shannara Chronicles, a new series produced by MTV and based on the novels by Terry Brooks, epitomises this problem to a fault as a virtual catalogue of fantasy genre clichés, a show in which a jargon talking race of future Elves must fight to conquer an awakening army of demons formerly warded off by an ancient but now dying tree.

For generations, The Chosen have been charged with protecting the Ellcrys Tree in order that it will continue its mystical function. The problem is that over time, these young upstarts have lost faith and come to view the tree as merely folkloric. Bad idea. The tree starts to decay, and a three-thousand year old Druid devil imprisoned by its branches wakes up, summons his hellish army, and begins to wreak havoc.

Amberle Elessedil (Poppy Drayton) is one of the newly Chosen. Feared and fleeing from her destiny, she must be recovered to the kingdom by Wil (Austin Butler), a naïve half breed whose father was a great magician, and Allanon (Manu Bennett), a druid newly woken from several decades sleep.

In narrative terms the show is reasonably compelling, if unsurprising. The tried and true nature of its arc would be more tolerable if its themes and characters were fleshed out further beyond its stock standard ad hoc. Instead, its vague allusions to Christianity – the confounding of myth with faith – function primarily to serve the action rather than to enhance the subject.

Meanwhile the actors do their best with cumbersome, over expository dialogue, filled with self-specific jargon and LA accents; and contemporary music ups the teen angst several fold.

The Shannara Chronicles is entertaining, if violent, fantasy that will probably endear itself to young adults and genre enthusiasts. Whereas Game of Thrones crossover appeal is its ability to render its goings-on with Shakespearean gravitas, The Shannara Chronicles suffers by contrast from its inability to reach beyond its own self-imposed restrictions. Fantasy by its nature should be imaginatively boundless; by a stringent reliance on worn out archetypes, The Shannara Chronicles chokes out its own potential.

 

The Shannara Chronicles airs 7:30pm, Saturdays on SyFy.

 
View Post

The Lives We Lead

Home, Review Leave a Comment

Made on a budgetary shoestring of $20,000, Davo Hardy’s The Lives We Lead is summed succinctly by its title. Following the intertwined fates of four friends from early childhood until old age and finally death, the film is a painful snapshot of human mortality and the worst aspects of its pitiful ordinariness.

Pamela (Sally Williams) grows up enthralled by the prospect of stardom. Oblivious to her lack of ambition and natural talent, she finds herself diverted into unplanned pregnancy and a dead-end marriage with Kerrod (Davo Hardy), growing ever more despondent as age and lovelessness erode her spirit. Kerrod’s best friend Gavin meanwhile (Josh Wiseman), an aspiring actor, is railroaded into porn by his boyfriend and eventually raped by Pamela’s writer sister Edith (Georgina Neville), a frumpy and cynical spinster looking to get pregnant.

While the film is as melodramatic as its plot suggests, what actually redeems it is its own amateurishness, a Tommy Wiseau by way of Larry Clarke cinema aesthetic whose result is a cross between employment training film and government service advertisement; wherein is a gritty sense of honesty that excessive polish could only erode. Despite for instance, the clunky dialogue which, based on a play, retains the sort of stagy exposition less suitable to film than to theatre, the film manages to be convincing on an emotional level. The characters as individuals are authentically pathetic as to be recognisable, and structurally the film benefits from its ability to capture the finite and fleeting nature of life by way of its birth to death story arc.

This also means that by its nature The Lives We Lead is highly depressive, seeming to revel in the dire misfortune of its proponents with malevolent glee while its conversely ‘uplifting’ musical theme plays repeatedly. Blackly comic, but mostly just black, this small Aussie film is an interesting, if rather acquired taste.

 
View Post

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Based on the sick-lit novel by Jesse Andrews, the ‘Me’ in the title alludes to seventeen-year-old loner Greg (Thomas Mann) who narrates his final year navigating the social battlefield that is high school; made even more arduous when his mother (Connie Britton) insists he befriend Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a girl from his old Hebrew class who has just been diagnosed with stage IV leukemia.

Greg’s social unease is evident when he describes himself as a pudding with a rat face. He has only one friend (or ‘co-worker’ as Greg prefers to call him), an African-American boy named Earl (RJ Cyler) whom he has known since the age of six. The duo’s friendship is founded in a mutual passion for making amateur art house films and their collective lenience toward exotic meats, which was introduced to them at an early age by Greg’s eccentric and cultured father (Nick Offerman).

Initially unenthused by Greg’s disingenuous offer of companionship, the reality of Rachel’s deteriorating health is brought to light through the platonic nature of their simple relationship. There are spectacularly cringe worthy black humour moments, particularly with Rachel’s seductively fragile and boozy mother (Molly Shannon).

Well cast and with clever dialogue, the film emulates the high IQ ‘quick wit’ of the summer indie flick Juno. Unpredictable camera work paired with the repeated stop motion animation interludes nicely compliment the aspirations of the endearing filmmaking teens. The glimpses we get of Greg, Earl and Rachel’s parents are both an accurate and charming view of the love and shortcomings inside a family home.

Me and Earl & the Dying Girl is a superb tearjerker that skilfully captures the vulnerability that comes with intimacy and the bittersweet inevitability of life and death.

 

 
View Post

Demonic

Home, Review Leave a Comment

A group of twenty-somethings pile into the Livingstone House after one of their number experiences several visions about the dwelling. Camcorders in hand, they plan a séance to speak to the spirit of the home, Martha Livingstone, who went on a killing spree there in the ‘80s. You don’t have to talk to the spirits to see where this one is going; the story of Demonic is as creaky as the house it’s set in.

Where Demonic does manage to distance itself from the usual found footage go-arounds is through using the group’s camerawork as flashbacks for the main crux of the narrative. For, as we’re quickly told, the group are dead and it’s down to Police detective Mark Lewis (Frank Grillo) and his psychologist partner Dr Elisabeth Klein (Maria Bello) to go full X-files and find out what really happened. Unfortunately, like 2013’s Evidence, Demonic takes a fairly interesting take on the found footage genre and struggles to give anything back that could be considered truly attention grabbing.

Even when one of the group is discovered to be alive and well, albeit a little beaten up, the film doesn’t know what to do with the revelation. Perhaps with James Wan being credited as a producer on Demonic, expectations run a little high. Wan, after all, gave us Saw and The Conjuring, and there’s always the potential going into it that Demonic can steal a little of his glory for itself. Unfortunately, it’s full of ramped up clichés, a tired script and performances that rely a little too heavily on shouting. Yes, you’re being stalked by a demon but does it all have to be so loud? Doing so much that’s been done before, with little room left for anything truly original, Demonic is ultimately a flat experience.

 
View Post

Bloodsucking Bastards

Home, Review Leave a Comment

Telephone marketer Evan (Fran Kranz) has broken up with his girlfriend Amanda (Emma Fitspatrick), had his promotion given to his former high school bully, and found the blood-spattered corpse of a colleague in the toilet. All things considered, it’s not been a good day. Swapping gothic castles and coffins for office politics and water cooler moments, Bloodsucking Bastards is a horror comedy – with more emphasis on the latter than the former – from Ryan Mitts and comedy collective, Dr God.

Getting off to a shaky start with jokes that reach for low hanging fruit, Bastards soon finds its stride as Evan’s colleagues succumb to vampires, and literally no one seems to care. Like Zombie Strippers, which saw burlesque dancers deliberately becoming the undead for the benefit of their patrons, the best way to get ahead in business is to clearly take someone else’s. This all dovetails into a strong third act that shows that there’s always time to learn about delegation, even when you’re Nosferatu.

Bastards’ self-aware humour, acknowledges that the audience might be a few steps ahead of them and then turns left when they turn right. Evan’s slacker buddy, Tim (Joey Kern), is great fun as he sleepwalks through the insanity of the events with the simple desire of leaving at five on the dot. Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick’s Amanda is sadly a plot device to spur Evan on to do things. It’s a shame as something like Shaun of the Dead proved you could invert the damsel in distress trope if you put your mind to it.

Proving that a nine to five existence can be life draining, Bloodsucking Bastards is as juvenile as its title suggests, but with a strong script and a stronger cast, it’s also a lot of irreverent, gore tinged fun.

 
View Post

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Home, Review Leave a Comment

Mission: Impossible is a curious movie franchise. It’s a property based on a classic TV series, a trait that usually indicates a total lack of creativity behind the scenes, and yet previously employed a diverse group of directors including Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird. Each director left an unmistakably individual stamp on their entries; for better (Bird) and worse (Woo). This makes it all the more confounding when faced with the latest instalment, Rogue Nation, which has the dubious honour of being the blandest mission yet.

Ethan Hunt (Cruise) returns with colleagues, Benji (Simon Pegg), Luther (Ving Rhames) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner) to face a mysterious global terrorist organisation called The Syndicate. Yet again the IMF is in the political doghouse for their gung-ho ways and Hunt must fly under the radar to face off against the enigmatic Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). There’s nothing particularly wrong with the shop-worn premise, and indeed the first act has a few stellar sequences (the attempted assassination during a session of Turandot at the Venice State Opera is memorable), however it’s not long before the action gets bogged down in lengthy scenes of talky nonsense and absurd plot contrivances.

That’s not to say a Mission: Impossible film needs to be even remotely plausible, but Christopher McQuarrie’s direction is so unremarkable that there’s no energy to the piece and the whole story takes way too long to unfold. It’s not a total loss; Simon Pegg is delightful as usual and Tom Cruise proves he’s still a leading man, even if he spends a baffling amount of time shirtless and exercising. Less successful is new character, Ilsa Faust (yes, that’s Rebecca Ferguson’s character name) who is basically a long-legged plot device with great taste in shoes.

We’re told, repeatedly, that the stakes are high but it never really manifests in the story and the action sequences feel overly familiar and executed with little panache. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation isn’t the worst blockbuster released this year (that honour goes to Terminator: Genisys) but it’s a rather ordinary one, that never rises far above the level of competence. It can be your mission, if you choose to accept it, but there are many superior options for your entertainment dollar.

Special features include a host of featurettes taking yoiu behind the scenes on the action as well as a commentary with Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie.

 
View Post

Zipper

Home, Review Leave a Comment

The critically acclaimed Shame showed Michael Fassbender coping, or not coping to be exact, with sex addiction and the subsequent fallout from it. Even lighter films like This Means War hypothesizes the extent a man will go to when dragged along by his libido. In the bluntly titled, Zipper, dilmmaker Mora Stephens throws the spotlight on Sam (Patrick Wilson); a hotshot federal prosecutor with his sights set on congress. With George, a powerful campaign adviser (Richard Dreyfuss) on his right hand side and backed by his dominant wife, Jeannie (Lena Heady), Sam is the boy most likely to succeed. However, a stolen kiss with a co-worker starts Sam down a path of pre-paid phones and escort services that threaten to tarnish his squeaky clean appearance.

Whilst Sam hops from sexy montage to sexy montage, the true strength of the film lies in Heady’s portrait of ambiguous support. She practically runs away with every scene she’s in as the cuckquean wife trying to balance her righteous anger at her husband’s infidelity with her desire to see him achieve the dreams they have shared for so long.

George makes a none to subtle reference to the lawyer’s ‘zipper problem’ and in a way, this succinctly describes the film itself. When it’s good, it is very good. Sam’s new addiction and the disposable manner in which he treats his escorts is perfectly captured when he gives a post-coital pep talk to a young escort, chastising her for sleeping with him. But every time it gets right, Zipper is let down by heavy-handed writing. When George hands Sam an envelope filled with voter donations, the clanging comparisons with how Sam’s pays for his own proclivities is deafening and unwieldy. None to subtle in its approach, Zipper works only when it wants to.