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Review, sci-fi, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

A colonial spaceship of 30 young adults is destined for humanity’s new home; hormonal hijinks ensue, naturally, but it seems like writer/director Neil Burger picked up all the wrong tips from making Insurgent when it comes to YA storytelling.

While largely devoid of adult characters, save for Colin Farrell as the surrogate captain, the way the premise is set up is eerily reminiscent of Hunger Games-era adaptations, where teenagers are expected to save the world that the adults screwed up, albeit by moving to an entirely new world. It also falls into many of the same logic holes as its retroactive competition (when the YA adaptation trend has mainly shifted over to Wattpad), where the story at large doesn’t make much sense and, worse, feels like it was specifically engineered in-universe just so things would go wrong, and we’d even have a story to watch unfold. One adult taking care of (and lying to) 30-some teenagers; what could possibly go wrong?

Narratively, quite a bit, particularly in how Burger appears far too eager to give up plot developments before they’ve had a chance to take effect. The premise hints at chances for proper paranoia-driven thrills, with the passengers getting in touch with their primal instincts, while something might be waiting just outside the ship to attack them all; it proffers a similar ‘which is worse?’ dilemma as 10 Cloverfield Lane. Except the filmmakers seem determined to cut any intrigue off at the pass, focusing far more on the characters’ reactions to events than building up any mystery about those events.

Which isn’t the best idea when the characters are not that interesting. Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead gets to channel his inner Miles Teller as the douchey but entertaining bad guy, but everyone else? It’s as if the plot point about drugs meant to hinder emotions was written in after the fact to excuse how lifeless they all are. Muted emotion gets confused with complete lack of emotion in what amounts to a high school production of Lords Of The Flies, but with the detailed social structure and characterisation ripped out and replaced with a cluster of chuckleheads.

Voyagers has pretences of showing teenagers making choices about morality and tribalism, but only does so through artificial contrivance so prevalent that it’s practically part of the narrative itself. Every decision made on either side of the camera is all too obvious (and more than a little stupid if thought about for too long), and in between the limp acting and the obnoxious editing, all it amounts to is High Life for teens, made by someone who doesn’t think that highly of the average teenager, either on-screen or in the audience. It’s not as transparently nonsensical as Burger’s Insurgent, but it still shows him stuck on that same track to unsatisfying filmmaking.

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Short Film of the Day: Utopia

Years in the making, Kosta Nikas's future warning strikes a chord... cashless cards anyone? Following his impressive indie feature debut Sacred Heart, this short film bodes well for what the Sydney filmmaker will come up with next.
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Occupation: Rainfall

Australian, Review, sci-fi, Theatrical, This Week 1 Comment

Luke Sparke’s Occupation was a rare breed of cinema when it hit in 2018. Not many Australian films come out with that level of blockbuster ambition, and even fewer have the technical chops to back it up. But Sparke managed to utilise cultural iconography and a small budget to show the Americanised face of modern action/sci-fi that they weren’t the only game in town, with a bombastic crowd-pleaser fit for the world stage.

And with this follow-up, he’s aimed even higher and, astonishingly, managed to hit the mark.

The production values have suitably elevated to create the kind of action eye-candy that usually shows up with a much, much bigger price tag attached to it from the likes of Disney. While some of the green-screening can be a little obvious in places, the way it, and the visual effects in general, are wielded makes up for all sins.

Everything, from the designs of the various aliens on-screen, to the finesse put into the action scenes both on and off the ground, to the space-opera-sized scope of the dramatic stakes and narrative; it all fits and makes for film craft that manages to one-up the original.

It helps that Sparke’s writing has also been given an upgrade, expanding beyond the Independence Day/Tomorrow, When The War Began/War Of The Worlds genre cribbing of the original and forging its own identity.

Not that it completely abandons its influences (there’s plenty of Star Wars, Star Trek and maybe a little Mass Effect within); just that they are remixed better here. It’s an alien invasion war flick that looks at all three of those descriptors and brings out some difficult ideas from them, delving into trauma, torture, and good old-fashioned xenophobia to add appropriate murkiness to the proceedings. It can be as subtle as a laser to the face at times, but it’s still a nice change-up from the Reagan-quoting missteps of the first film.

And speaking of missteps, after what happened with Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, who thought that bringing Ken ‘Deep Wang’ Jeong back into this genre was a good idea? It is genuinely bizarre just how quickly he and Jason Isaacs start to shake the foundations of this entire film’s entertainment value within moments. When everyone else, from the returning faces to the newcomers, are doing just fine with balancing darker war drama with an Ocker sense of humour, in comes ‘hasn’t been funny since the first Hangover’ and ‘have we learnt nothing from Red Dog: True Blue?’ to muddy the waters.

But while they stick out like asteroid-sized splinters, they are far from irrevocably wrecking the film around them.

A locally-produced sci-fi epic with real cinematic muscle and the kind of cultural commentary that shows why the Aussie/sci-fi intersection is such a match made in heaven, Occupation: Rainfall should serve as a splendorous oasis for those feeling the current drought of mainstream action blockbusters.

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Occupation: Rainfall

Australian, Review, sci-fi, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Tell you what, one thing Aussie director Luke Sparke doesn’t lack? Chutzpah. In 2018, he released Occupation, an action-packed alien invasion flick that got a lot of bang for its buck but didn’t exactly set the local box office on fire. Undaunted, Sparke went straight into pre-production on its ambitious sequel, Occupation: Rainfall. And the result? Eh, you know what? It’s a mostly good time.

Occupation: Rainfall continues the alien invasion yarn of Occupation. Most of the Earth’s cities have been taken over by a fairly unpleasant group of organisms, but humanity – being a bunch of stubborn buggers – is fighting back. On the side of good are beefy jock shooty man, Matt Simmons (Dan Ewing), certified bad arse (and Bobba Fett on The Mandalorian!) Peter Bartlett (Temuera Morrison) and the uber efficient Captain Wessex (Mark Coles Smith).

After Sydney is basically destroyed (soz everyone), this group of bonzer battlers must take the fight to the aliens, in a plan involving secret tech known as “Rainfall” and an extended cameo from Ken Jeong and a turncoat alien named Steve (voiced by Jason Isaacs no less).

The thing you have to know about Occupation: Rainfall is that it’s big, dumb fun. It has zero interest in nuance, subtlety or logic. Hell, it’s the kind of film that would make Independence Day blush at some of its plot contrivances. It’s also, after the rather too busy opening ten minutes, a lot of fun if you can go along with its at times corny rhythms. This is an alien invasion ripped right out of an epic session of X-COM 2 and something big and explosive (and silly) is likely to happen every five or so minutes.

The cast are all having a good time, particularly Dan Ewing who seems born to play roles like this, and while the special effects are occasionally ropey, you can’t help but admire the ambition on display. Luke Sparke would do well to hire a script doctor to punch up some of the story beats and dialogue if the heavily implied Occupation 3 ever manifests, but it’s still appealing to see an Aussie writer/director swing so passionately and ambitiously for the fences.

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Zac Garred – Going Rogue in Occupation: Rainfall

2018’s ambitious sci-fi spectacle Occupation, written and directed by Luke Sparke, was a surprise global hit, and now comes the far more ambitious sequel, which sees the return of Zac Garred’s character Dennis, who he describes as “cheeky, cocky and a little roguish.”