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First Love

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

Is there a more versatile and prolific director on the planet than Takashi Miike? The Japanese master has lobbed out 100+ films since the early ‘90s and, shockingly, many of them are straight up masterpieces. Don’t believe us? Try Audition (1999), Ichi the Killer (2001), Gozu (2003), Thirteen Assassins (2010) and Blade of the Immortal (2017) for just a sampling of the legend’s work. Put simply: any time there’s a Takashi Miike film to be seen, it’s good news. And his latest effort, First Love, continues the trend of excellence.

First Love weaves a twisted tale featuring multiple characters intersecting in interesting and ironic ways. We’ve got Leo (Masataka Kubota) as an expert boxer who has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. There’s Monica (Sakurako Konishi) who is forced into drug addiction and prostitution to pay off her father’s debts. Sneakily ambitious Kase (Shota Sometani) who has a plan to rip off his Yakuza bosses, and corrupt cop Ōtomo (Nao Omori) who decides to help him. Naturally nothing goes to plan for anyone, and Miike delights in throwing these disparate plot strands into a pot and boiling up a heaping helping of violent, fast-paced, blackly comedic magic.

In terms of Miike’s other work, First Love is a much more crowd pleasing affair, eschewing the genuinely shocking gore of Audition or Ichi the Killer for slick, but non-gratuitous blood-letting. Tone-wise, the film feels a bit like a Japanese riff on Quentin Tarantino’s True Romance and a bunch of other ‘90s flicks. Performances are rock solid, with the always reliable Masataka Kubota making a solid lead, and Nao Omori providing a deliciously schlubby turn. However, it’s the recording artist known as Becky who has the most fun as the vengeful Julie, who doesn’t so much chew the scenery as set it alight and snort the ashes.

First Love is Takashi Miike in full-on crowd-pleasing action/thriller mode. Expect twists, turns, surprises, violence, love and Miike’s wry, knowing wit. If a bloke can make films this fun after directing over one hundred of the bloody things, here’s to Takashi knocking out a hundred more.

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Trailer: Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Tom Hardy is back as Eddie Brock and his charcoal dark comical alter ego Venom, with Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Reid Scott, Stephen Graham, and Woody Harrelson in support - some of them, the opposite of support.
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Son of the South

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

The year is 1961, and in the southern United States, Jim Crow laws are still enforced leading to the near sanctioned murders of black Americans. A young student, Bob Zellner (Lucas Till), is writing his senior college paper on race relations and takes the unprecedented step of deciding to try to speak to members of the black community in Montgomery Alabama. Segregation is still in full swing and his appearance at a black church run by Reverend Abarnathy (Cedric the Entertainer) and attended by Rosa Parks (Sharonne Lanier) threatens to derail his promising academic career.

When news spreads that Zellner and four of his college cohorts went to the church, it not only alerts law enforcement, but brings the Klu-Klux-Klan to his college campus to protest the white students’ involvement with what they consider “negro matters.” Included in the members of the Klan is Zellner’s own grandfather (Brian Dennehy) who warns Bob that he’s getting on the wrong side of things. The consequences of the students attending the service leads to the college demanding they leave before graduation or possibly face arrest.

Bob refuses to leave, and as an academic star bound for a Masters degree at an Ivy League school, he is able to graduate. His life seems on track for success. He’s dating Carol-Ann (Lucy Hale), and will soon leave the South for a life of privilege. However, his interactions with Abernathy and Parks have led him to begin to see the just cause of the Civil Rights movement. His later interactions with Virginia Durr (Juila Ormond) and her husband, who are local activists, set him on a path that leads him to become involved in assisting the Freedom Riders; a group of black and white people who ride a bus through Southern states to protest segregation.

A riot breaks out in Alabama and the freedom riders are savagely beaten by white townsfolk. The scene plays in a brutal fashion and delivers the non-too-subtle message that the South is a bastion of racism and lawlessness. It also offers a chance for Zellner to put himself bodily on the line by going into the crowd to rescue Jessica Mitford (yes, of the Mitford sisters, here played by Sienna Guillroy) and an accomplished young black woman called Joanne (Lex Scott Davis), who will become his romantic interest once Carol-Ann realises that Zellner isn’t going to play by the rules and follow his career path to a prestigious university.

Zellner decides to volunteer with the activist group the SNCC (Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee), which again places him in Joanne’s orbit and cements his conviction to Civil Rights – a conviction that was life long and detailed in his book The Wrong Side of Murder Creek, which director and screenplay writer Barry Alexander Brown used as the basis of the film.

Son of the South is a well-intentioned but clunky film. It rarely moves beyond the quality of a made-for-television biopic. Partly, the cliché driven script is to blame for this, but mostly, it rests on the inert performance by Lucas Till. Till’s emotional range seems to be close to non-existent. When the audience should be seeing righteous indignation, passion or even conflict, there is little to grasp on to. Director Brown also relies on massive exposition dumps at dramatically inappropriate times. There is an overall amateurish feel to the production which does nothing to serve the story, which in the right hands could have been a gripping drama.

Brown also spends little time creating meaningful characterisations for his black characters. It’s understood that it’s Zellner’s story, but without significant representation of the people that Zellner is fighting with and for, the film falls into the trap of placing a white character as the focus for a black struggle. With so many excellent films about the Civil Rights movement, such as Ava DuVernay’s Selma, Son of the South is an also-ran that barely deserves a cinematic release.

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Finding You

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

This fast-paced romantic drama/comedy sets itself up within the first fifteen minutes. Does it feel like you’ve seen what you need to see in that time? Kind of.

Within the first three minutes, New Yorker Finley Sinclair (played by Rose Reid) has unsuccessfully auditioned for a prestigious music school, suggests she’d better start over, and is on a plane abroad. Within the first five, we’ve had a cheesy line from bad-boy movie star, Beckett Rush (played by Jedidiah Goodacre). She’s ‘seen the headlines’, she ‘knows his type’.

Beckett is starring in a weird Lord of the Rings rip-off, and, ironically, is blasted by the director (Tom Everett Scott) for taking a more ‘subtle approach’ in hisacting style. The female lead in the blockbuster being filmed is a total airhead (Katherine McNamara), of course, and Beckett looks pensive. He’s obviously looking for something more, and the down-to-Earth New Yorker has got to be the one.

Finley starts her classes, and in Irish Studies, each student is asked to spend twenty hours with a senior citizen. But alas, her assigned ‘senior’ is a ‘crazy witch’ (Vanessa Redgrave)! Finley needs this grade to get into music school, so they are going to be friends whether this crazy witch likes it or not! She’s given a ‘good on you, lass’ when the nurse asks if she entered the witch’s room without permission. It’s uncomfortable.

Beckett shows Finley around Ireland because ‘you never know what’ll happen tomorrow’. They’d better take a chance on love! Unfortunately, neither character is quite likeable enough to really root for them.

Beckett asks Finley to the local dance and the scenes that follow are lively. Nice shots of the harbour, fairy lights littering the pier, and Finley gets down on the fiddle with a group of local musicians. It’s fun, and it does improve slightly from here.

Without giving too much away, everything turns out alright. There are plot points aplenty, but if you miss half the film, don’t fret. Look, it’s a little (or a lot) too packed with poorly-written cliches but if you’re after a mood-booster and love a soapie, you might enjoy it.

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WRIGHT: New Blood

WA Fashion brand WRIGHT is known for challenging the norm. They have done this again in their latest film project Watch The World Go By.