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Alex Proyas: The Heretic

A judge at last year’s Flickerfest International Short Film Festival, the Australian filmmaker returns to Bondi’s premiere event to compete with a number of other thematically charged entries for this year’s top gong in the Australian Shorts category with his film Mask of the Evil Apparition.
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Australian, Review, Streaming, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Australian cinema has a rich legacy of survival stories, especially when it comes to stranding foreigners in the unsympathetic wilderness of our unforgiving outback. And while newly minted Gold continues this distinctly Australian sub-genre, alongside the likes of Wake in Fright, Cargo, the recent limited series The Tourist, etc., its director Anthony Hayes has managed to craft a nerve-wracking survival legend that is at once compelling, visceral and utterly unique in its own clogging ether of desperation and despair. And, one could argue, imbued with a refinement expected from a filmmaker with far more experience in a director’s chair than Hayes can lay credit to (short feature New Skin (2002), Ten Empty (2008)).

Gold rides upon a simple enough premise: two unnamed strangers – a gruff seasoned guide and his traumatised passenger – set out across a desert landscape to a location innocuously referred to as The Compound. However, when their truck breaks down, the passenger happens upon a massive gold nugget, embedded in the desolate plains.

After a brief discussion on the risks of being stranded alone in the desert, it is decided the guide will leave his passenger behind to guard the rare metal from potential scavengers while he heads out to a settlement in order to retrieve an excavator to help unearth their find.

Set in a post-apocalyptic landscape of an Australian Outback reeling in the wake of massive environmental collapse, Hayes has crafted a perceptive survival saga which gracefully skims the trappings of a blunt morality tale, instead taking a deliberate and subtle approach to the exploration of pivotal themes such as greed, violence, and the inherent cruelty of human nature, all under pretence of his wider survival narrative.

Hayes’ most inspired play is his casting of Zac Efron as the film’s lead, with the Californian delivering a performance both exceptional and affecting. In fact, Efron’s turn as the unnamed foreigner stranded in the isolated outback to guard a chunk of metal, is essential to the film’s intensity and integrity, with the Bad Neighbours actor filling every frame with an unnerving, creeping dread that deliberately escalates alongside his physical decline at the hands of the environment.

While Efron’s performance is striking, it would be remiss not to also acknowledge the work of cinematographer Ross Giardina, who captures the bleak Australian landscape with a blistering clarity and authenticity that resonates with ominous beauty, while Hayes himself, alongside an almost unrecognisable Susie Porter, add an intriguing distraction as two, again unnamed, desert dwellers navigating their own paths in the deadly plains of the wastelands.

Lensed with a chromatic starkness, elevated by a harsh soundscape of crawling insects, buzzing flies and various elemental threats, Gold is undeniably the kind of cinema that demands you experience it. And Hayes, who also penned the script with his partner Polly Smyth, has managed to morph these various, unpalatable elements into a darkly compelling, richly satisfying film.

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animation, Asian Cinema, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

At a time when Black Mirror remains the dominant pop culture reflection of man’s relationship with technology, and the Internet in particular, this film immediately grabs attention because it swings in the opposite direction.

In the latest cyberspace coming-of-age story from Mamoru Hosoda, of Summer Wars and two-thirds of Digimon: The Movie fame, the depiction of the Internet through the virtual world of U is among the most inviting ever put to screens. The beautifully rendered 2.5D animation, the sheer scale of the digital world and all its facets, the conscious but optimistic tone of the story; this ain’t your daddy’s Hellscape.

With that as the foundation, Hosoda offers a spin on the classic story of Beauty & The Beast. Bolstering the original’s look at surface-level prejudices and finding one’s true self, the story of Suzu and her titular pop idol avatar (acted and sung angelically by Kaho Nakamura) is as much about her coming to terms with her own identity as it is about her trying to break through to that of The Dragon (Takeru Satoh).

In its exploration of the Internet as a place for introverts to discover themselves, the writing and visuals have Makoto (Your Name) Shinkai-sized gut-punches lying in wait, showing a breadth of understanding of what can make socialised media such a drag to deal with… but also, something that a lot of people need to help them with the real world’s vile nonsense. It sticks firmly to the idea of the digital self as a source of empowerment, and through the eyes of Suzu, both as an awkward high schooler and as a captivating music star, is an invigorating one.

Much like the Disney’s version of Beauty & The Beast, Belle is also a musical. Well, in as much as something like anime Macross Plus could be considered a musical, since they share an equal emphasis on music and song as a means of personal and even communal revelation.

Nakamura’s utterly disarming voice, combined with the work of composers Taisei Iwasaki, Ludvig Forssell, Yuta Bandoh, and Miho Sakai, creates an enveloping and rapturous soundtrack, one that manages to push the film’s already-monumental levels of emotional engagement even higher. At this point, tickets for it should be printed on facial tissue, because audiences are going to need it on hand.

Belle is one of the most heartrending depictions of the Internet in recent memory, not by resorting to trendy cynical nihilism, but by showing that it is also capable of the miraculous. It manages to celebrate the good that can take place, but in an honest fashion, which only makes its consistently tear-jerking developments hit that much harder. And beyond that, it’s a very touching and resonant tribute to those who occupy these screens not to punch others down, but to raise others up, including themselves.

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

Memoria starts with a locked off, very mundane shot of a curtain with a dark, triangular shape in the foreground. This holds for around a minute until an incredibly loud bang provokes the shape to move. This is the shoulder of Tilda Swinton’s Jessica, and she slowly rises and wanders through her apartment, settling at a table next to some caged mice. Cut to a car park at night, where alarms start sounding and continue for what feels like ages. They eventually die out one by one, all held in a glacial zooming shot. The director, Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), is deliberately setting out his stall.

The source of the loud bang is the nominal thrust of the film, as Jessica, almost half-heartedly, investigates the cause. But the noise is just a pretext for Weerasethakul to explore ideas of displacement, disconnection, memory, and the weight of history. Jessica is an English botanist, working in Colombia, where her sister and sister’s family also live.

This is an elliptical film, most of the decisions are made off-screen, and the setting suits its cryptic nature. Jessica is alien to this place, and her discombobulation affects the audience as well. She visits a sound mixer called Hernán (Juan Pablo Urrego) to try to pinpoint the exact noise. This is a great scene, maybe the most technical of the film, the rest hang somewhere between the oblique and the spiritual.

Audio is an important touchstone in Memoria. The soundtrack is filled with noises, from a creaking chair, incessant bug chirping, running water, to the recurring bang. The whole thing plays out like a mild psychological horror film. There’s a scene in a restaurant where the bang happens a few times, each one cranking up the tension, as Jessica’s sister and family react to her reaction, and it’s oddly mesmerising. Incidentally, the bang Jessica hears is actually a phenomenon called ‘Exploding Head Syndrome’. Yep, really. Anyway, the constancy of sound is highlighted near the end when Jessica puts her hands to her head and ALL sound disappears from the film for a moment – it’s a neat trick by the director.

The look of Memoria is simple, even perfunctory at times, yet comfortingly rich at others. The aforementioned long takes are there throughout, and though ponderous (and sometimes boring), they suit the feel of the film. At one point, Salvador Dalí is mentioned by a doctor and the events following this moment would certainly fit Surrealism, though some of the shots border on Abstract Expressionism or maybe Suprematism, in their near rejection of art.

Jessica’s search takes her to the jungle, accompanying an archaeologist friend, where she meets another Hernán (Elkin Díaz), who helps her ‘discover’ the source of the bang. The film does something strange here. It slows down dramatically, while also speeding up the resolution. It’s maddening, unsettling, almost close to a joke at times, but if you can go with it, there are enough enigmatic touches to maintain curiosity levels.

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Trailer: X

There's a Texas Chainsaw Massacre grimness about the look of this latest film from Ti West, about a porn movie crew that heads out to shoot their latest opus in a deserted hamlet, only to find a new kind of hell. Kiwi Aussie Martin Henderson looks great (though he'll probably die very quickly) as does Sydney's own Stephen Ure as the old man, however the kids will probably come for Jenna Ortega, Mia Goth, Brittany Snow and Kid Cudi! Shot in New Zealand.