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Use Me

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Of all the many and various kinks out there, and crikey there are a lot, surely none is quite as confounding yet intriguing as that of the “financial humiliatrix”. For those not in the know, that’s when a woman – usually fully clothed, always dripping with disdain – takes your money, often employing blackmail or vicious verbal humiliation, and you get off on the whole process. Ceara Lynch is a real-life professional humiliatrix and Use Me, an indie thriller from writer/director/actor Julian Shaw, seeks to explore what makes such a person tick, and why that would be so powerfully erotic to a certain type of man.

Except, that’s not entirely true. See, Julian Shaw – a talented New Zealand born director who previously helmed the award-winning documentaries Darling! The Pieter-Dirk Uys Story (2007) and Cup of Dreams (2011) – is delivering something a little different here. While the movie uses many real-life personalities, including Joe Rogan, Ceara Lynch, Julian himself and even FilmInk hefe Dov Kornits, Use Me tells a fictional tale that utilises the stylistic trappings of a documentary. Fiction dressed as fact, if you will.

The end result is fascinating, coming together as a sort of post-truth thriller which feels deeply era appropriate and cleverly engages with its subject matter, morphing from a warts-and-all look at a strange part of the sex industry to something else entirely. Its ambition does occasionally outstrip its execution, mind you, with some of the latter twists straining credulity in ways that feel reminiscent of David Fincher’s The Game. Still, performances are natural, with Shaw’s oddly wholesome energy making him an agreeable protagonist and Ceara Lynch is an excellent subject/foil whose motivations remain ambiguous right up until the tale’s twisty conclusion. Also worth noting are Jazlyn Yoder and genre vet Joseph D. Reitman who both make an impact, although for very different reasons.

Ultimately, Use Me is an engaging, intriguing ride. Blurring the line between fantasy and reality in ways both subtle and overt, it manages to keep you guessing right up until the end. And while it doesn’t answer the question “why would anyone be into that” it may make you wonder about any undiscovered kinks you might have lurking in your own psyche, and what the cost of exploring them might be.

USE ME IS AVAILABLE IN AUSTRALIA TO RENT AND BUY ON APPLE TV, GOOGLE PLAY, FETCH TV AND YOUTUBE NOW.

USE ME IS AVAILABLE IN NEW ZEALAND TO RENT AND BUY ON APPLE TV, GOOGLE PLAY, SKY BOX OFFICE AND YOUTUBE ON WEDNESDAY 11 MARCH.

 
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The Aspern Papers

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The Aspern Papers provides as much gaudy drama as it does poorly-executed American accents.

Suffice to say, the retelling of The Aspern Papers – a 19th-century novella by Henry James based on the romances of Percy Shelley – stumbles on almost every level outside of production design. (Though it would be hard to make a palazzo resting on the edge of the Venetian canals look unappealing.)

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers takes the mantle of Morton Vint; a mysterious and hectoring author looking to acquire the secret letters belonging to the wealthy former lover, Juliana Bordereau (the always impressive Vanessa Redgrave), of a prodigious deceased poet. Vint takes residence in Bordereau’s picturesque palazzo under the guise of an alias. Here, the slimy author manipulates Miss Tina (Joely Richardson delivering the film’s best performance), Juliana’s reclusive niece who is belittled to the point of being docile, to assist with his pursuit.

What unfolds in The Aspern Papers is a woefully melodramatic and ill-conceived tale of obsession that fails to boil past a simmer. Flashbacks bear a striking resemblance to the salacious romance novels of yesteryear, with the film hellbent on achieving sensual flair over compelling motif. The grand effect detracting from dramatic beats (and there are a lot of them) to the point of hokum.

Rhys-Meyers goes over-the-top in a role that requires panache and composure. He narrates the film as though he were auditioning for the title role in Dexter. It is a treatment that director Julien Landais could have developed further, but instead chose to depict Rhys-Meyers as a devilishly handsome sleuth with the inability to keep the top part of his shirt buttoned-up.

 
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Slam

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“Mother, they cannot silence my tongue”. Such are the opening words of a young Muslim-Australian poet Ameena at a Western Sydney slam poetry reading. This is the starting point for Partho Sen-Gupta’s engaging drama-thriller. Ameena (Danielle Horvat), is a talented young woman driven by her passion and by her anger at marginalisation and non-acceptance.

When she suddenly disappears, this drags her whole family and community into a state of defensive anxiety. In particular, it affects her older brother Ricky (previously known as Tariq, played by Adam Bakri). He has an ‘Anglo’ wife Sally (Rebecca Breeds), and he seems to have settled for an identity compromise and a sometimes-reluctant decision to blend in. Like all good immigrants, he translates between the two worlds and tries his best to reassure his devastated mother.

Also drawn into the action is policewoman Joanne Hendricks (Rachael Blake) who carries a certain sadness from the loss of a close family member and who can identify, perhaps too much, with Ricky’s situation. Sen-Gupta doesn’t want to concentrate upon the crime and thriller elements, although the film is occasionally slowed down by scenes that are police-procedural. More central is the characters’ sense of rootlessness and longing and displacement.

The events of Ameena’s disappearance and the grinding lack of any real progress (all played out against the somewhat relentlessly-flagged Islamophobic media background) frays Ricky’s marriage. He begins to doubt whether social acceptance and harmony will ever return. At one point, a character tells him that he should be grateful because “Australia has been good to you”, but we can see this is an ambivalent truth, if not actually an insensitive accusation.

As with the director’s previous film, Sunrise (2014), the hero’s journey is a tormented one. We cannot but feel for Ricky’s plight, but it is not always easy to be in his company. Bakri (who was so good in the arthouse hit Omar (2013)) doesn’t have that much dialogue and is here required to communicate his character’s narrative mostly through his facial expressions. Still, the message that ethnocentrism blights aspects of contemporary Australia comes across loud and clear.

 
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Paradise Hills

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An idyllic island paradise, abound in glorious sunlight and azure waters… it sounds like the perfect place to receive psychological treatment. But in the case of young-adult sci-fi flick Paradise Hills, it proves to be hell on earth for the young women forced to take up occupancy.

According to the world depicted in Paradise Hills, there is nothing more threatening to society than a free-thinking woman. It is so scary in-fact, that young women are dispatched by their affluent families to a Mediterranean-esque ‘centre of emotional healing,’ run by a beguiling Milla Jovovich and her subservient and mostly silent male staff, so they may be ‘reformed’ into decorous women.

While everything seems perfect on the island, the manicured landscapes and decorative food being every influencer’s holiday #goals, something nefarious lingers beneath the beautiful surface.

The latest ‘patient’ enlisted to the island is Uma (Emma Roberts); a rebellious young woman pressured by her family to marry into a wealthy household – an act that Uma rejects. Uma’s longing for independence, being able to marry a man of lower social stratification who she loves, is considered an illness by a society that expects women to be obedient and ornamental. Uma remains defiant, if not dead, and leads an escape from the island with a fellow group of women who are seen as imperfect by their families: their exiling because of mental illness, queerness, and being zaftig in appearance.

Paradise Hills uses the constructs of science fiction as a metaphor for female oppression; applying fantastical elements to highlight the harmful societal expectations placed on women.

Director Alice Waddington allows striking visuals to denote this societal pressure. The first time feature filmmaker constructs a hyper-stylised beautiful-nightmare which brings out the horrors of female submission through iridescent lighting, pastel colour schemes, and avant-garde clothing: ranging from Victorian-era finery to delicate bedwear constructed out of tulle and chiffon.

Waddington succeeds in creating a compelling narrative throughline via production design, yet neglects to give a profound treatment to the script. The conspicuously written dialogue (by screenwriters Nacho Vigalondo (Colossal) and Brian DeLeeuw (Daniel Isn’t Real)), told with petulant grit, finds Paradise Hills bear greater semblance to a work on The CW Network than a feature film. The acting becomes impacted as a result of cliché writing, with the talented cast – including Roberts, Jovovich, Awkwafina, Danielle Macdonald and Eiza González – forced into overbearing performances.

Horror elements that occur towards the tail end of Paradise Hills prove under-whelming; lacking the pizazz needed to viscerally convey the message of oppression baked into the film.

The past decade has seen the rise and fall of the young-adult parable, with adaptations of Twilight, Hunger Games, and to some degree the Divergent films (RIP part 4), finding their audiences. Paradise Hills, not based on IP, comes LONG after the popularity of this genre and tries to spin some sci-fi originality into an overly trodden theme of youth free-will.

Undeniably, there are some interesting (and important) aspects captured in Paradise Hills’ wondrous production design, but unfortunately not enough is done by Waddington to keep contrived dialogue – synonymous with the worst of recent YA films – at bay from this island.

 

 
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Wrinkles The Clown

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It all started with a viral video. A creepy, black-and-white CCTV grab of a very scary clown emerging from beneath the bed of a sleeping child. It was followed by stickers plastered across Florida emblazoned with the horrific visage of the masked Wrinkles The Clown, along with a phone number. From there, it turned into a bizarre social phenomenon, with Wrinkles receiving millions of phone calls and creepy clowns appearing everywhere. There were more eerie videos of Wrinkles, who eventually appeared to be providing a demented form of public service, allegedly taking cash from frustrated parents to scare their naughty children into submission. One of the weirdest internet sensations in the short history of this art form (if that’s the right term), the story of Wrinkles The Clown is a truly fascinating one.

It’s perfect fodder for a documentary, and director Michael Beach Nichols (who helmed 2015’s Welcome To Leith, another tale of communal fear and reaction, this time tracking a small town fighting off a newly arrived white supremacist) delivers something truly special here. Wrinkles The Clown is an intelligent, thought provoking deep dive into a profoundly contemporary type of terror. Boasting a striking visual palette somewhere between Harmony Korine’s Gummo and a Matt Mahurin music video, Nichols wades into the murky mythology of Wrinkles The Clown in sneaky and inventive ways, taking informed comment from folklorists, child psychologists and various other pundits, but striking hard-shining gold in the form of the many children who would become obsessed with Wrinkles. An unlikely modern bogeyman, Nichols punches up Wrinkles’ skin-crawling cache in a series of inventive re-creations; they give the film its ghoulish panache, but the real interest lies in Nichols’ examination of everything that the Wrinkles phenomenon stirred up.

With economic clarity, he cuts into it all: the clown as a figure of terror; the ease with which something so simple as a viral video can whip up nothing short of mass hysteria; our seeming need to believe in bogeymen; society’s shocking propensity for violence, and its desperation to demonise that which it doesn’t understand; and the potential for wild flights of imagination existing in all children. It’s a potent mix, and when spiked with Nichols’ own audacious narrative dares, it makes Wrinkles The Clown something that will really keep you up at night…both in fear and studied rumination.

 
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My Hindu Friend

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My Hindu Friend, directed by filmmaker Hector Babenco (Pixote, Kiss of the Spider Woman, At Play in the Fields of the Lord and Carandiru) is a semi-autobiographical confessional. It’s not the only film he made of this kind, he explored relationships between men and women in similar autobiographical films (such as El pasado and Corazón iluminado), often with a lead character who’s a photographer or filmmaker, as a proxy for Babenco himself.

The story begins as Diego (Willem Dafoe), a highly regarded Argentinian-Brazilian filmmaker afflicted by cancer, is sent to the US to undergo a bone-marrow transplant. Just before he goes, he marries his long-time partner Livia (Maria Fernanda Cândido) who then accompanies him for his extended stay and treatment in the US. Diego is a man of appetites; poetry, art, alcohol, food and most of all: sex.

The film’s told from his perspective, in an alternately surreal, reflective (though never sentimental) fashion with Fellini-esque flights of frank sexuality, eroticism and existential whimsy, such as one sequence that features Diego in his hospital bed, playing chess with a spectre we presume to be Death.

Illusions to Ingmar Bergman notwithstanding, the film is fairly aware that its protagonist is something of a self-centred prick. He’s indifferent and cold to his dutiful wife, accuses her of having affairs in his more paranoid moments and expects solace from her when he collapses in fits of tears in his descent into self-pity. He’s in mortal fear of his life and he’s angry.

The treatment for his cancer is a harsh process, though it’s when he’s visiting the hospital as an outpatient during chemotherapy that he befriends a young Indian boy (Rio Adlakha) who’s also undergoing therapy, whom Diego refers to afterwards only as ‘My Hindu Friend’. The hours they share in the treatment room, both tethered to IVs, sees Diego regaling the boy with stories of make-believe and adventure that seem to pierce through the emotionally deadened exterior Diego has exhibited up till this point, allowing him to access a long-dormant part of himself. The rest of the story then plays out how this changes his life perspective and the relationships with his family and wife.

Of Babenco’s harrowing neo-realist film Pixote, film critic Pauline Kael said: “Babenco’s imagery is realistic, but his point of view is shockingly lyrical. South American writers, such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, seem to be in perfect, poetic control of madness, and Babenco has some of this gift, too.” By fuelling the story of My Hindu Friend with details from his real-life battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and his subsequent bone-marrow transplant, his tribulations became grist for the cinematic mill, though as fate would have it, his fatal heart attack in 2016 has seen the film become his final statement of sorts. Such a rapid shift in context sees it taking on a tone and perspective that’s vastly different than the one initially intended. Babenco was clearly in the thrall of Fellini (whose death is referenced in the film) and its fragmented, dream-like examination of the flaws and foibles of a self-centred filmmaker reassessing his life and art, is made all the more compelling with the knowledge that there’ll be no further films from this singular and stridently honest filmmaker.

My Hindu Friend is released digitally (Amazon, iTunes, inDemand, DirecTV, Vudu, Google Play, FANDANGO, Vimeo on Demand, FlixFing, Hoopla, AT&T, Xbox, Sony & Sling/Dish).

 
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Mad House

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Found footage movies are considered by many to be a relatively easy go-to for the independent filmmaker. At least, that can be the takeaway if you digest the vast quantity that are released each year. Since the days of The Blair Witch Project (and before that), everyone and his dog has had a crack at some shaky cam narrative; making its way into episodes of Doctor Who (Sleep No More), the Paranormal Activity franchise, numerous Asylum knock offs of said franchise (Paranormal Entity), and even faith based movies centred around the evils of pornography (2014’s The Trap). Most, if not all of them, nailing their colours to the mast of some kind of supernatural vessel.

Australian film Mad House, directed by Ross Perkins, can certainly rub shoulders with its horror counterparts. At least initially, when you look at the brief: a well-off banker and his family are home invaded by a trio of methheads looking to grab some serious cash. Cass (Jess Turner), Wes (Perkins again) and Bryce (Aaron Patrick) bully and torture the family in the hopes of striking big. Those who have seen, or are aware of James Cullen Bressack’s Hate Crime, which purports to be the found footage of a family being needlessly harassed by skin heads, may have already declared a loud ‘no, thank you’ and moved elsewhere. But come closer, reader, for Mad House has moments that outshine its torture porn possibilities.

Using a pinched smartphone to capture their crimes, seemingly because they’re not too quick on the uptake that this can all be used as evidence, the device slowly becomes a comfort blanket to the gang as they realise that they might be in over their heads. As the minutes turn into hours into days, Perkins pulls out choice little moments to make you – gasp – care for the motley crew.

A standout scene centres around Cass, a former socialite fallen on hard times, who uses the phone as a confessional to her unborn child; encouraging him not to trod the path she has. When Wes’ fate grows ever worse, the phone becomes his diary to record what he sees as his final days. It’s not only a way to get us to know these people, but it acts as a handy way of explaining away why everyone is recording every bloody thing that happens – something which curses every found footage film ever.

Obviously, your mileage will vary with this kind of emotional mugging. Your thoughts and prayers should be focused on the harassed family after all. However, it’s a credit to the writer/director that he’s tried to craft humans out of what could easily just have been played as feckless drug takers, the like of which would make the Herald Sun shake their fists at a cloud. Equally, Perkins, Turner and Patrick turn in performances that never stray into Housos territory. Sure, they are going to do some terrible things before our time together is over, but spoilers: real people do real bad things sometimes.

Starting slowly but finding its pace once all the players are on the stage, Mad House manages to breathe life into a genre that’s been on its last death rattle for some time and does so with a hell of a lot of confidence.

STREAMING NOW:

Prime Video: http://bit.ly/primemad

Vimeo: http://bit.ly/madvime0

 
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A Vigilante

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By design, Australian writer-director Sarah Daggar-Nickson rarely provides a moment free from unease with her powerful rumination on domestic violence, A Vigilante.

Sadie (Olivia Wilde) uses her combative abilities to help women and children escape from abusive households. In her wake, Sadie encounters victims of varying backgrounds; an effect which highlights the rampant prevalence of domestic violence amongst society.

Reliving her own harrowing trauma with blood-curdling intensity, Sadie offers her services as both a means to cope with her own loss, brought to her by the hands of her abusive ex-partner (Morgan Spector), and an offer of salvation to others.

While not always able to reach the dramatic high notes needed to fulfil such a challenging role, there is no denying Wilde’s deep-seated commitment to the lead role. She proves herself a compassionate actor that is deeply invested in the film’s vision of inspiring outreach.

With A Vigilante, Daggar-Nickson allows the subtext of the film – the bravery of speaking out amidst living in abusive surroundings – to act as a beacon of support to people who are victims of domestic violence. Every effort is made not to trivialise the experiences of the characters.

As a filmmaker, Daggar-Nickson does not allow genre to restrict her vision, blending the fabrics of drama, horror, and revenge-thriller to heighten the characters’ sense of isolation and fear. The third act of the film turns to horror-thriller sensibilities, offering the viewer, as effective as a film can depict such an atrocity, a confronting glimpse into the traumatic experiences endured by too many.

Daggar-Nickson turns every frame into an opportunity to establish mood. The bleak, natural lighting and muted colour-scheme baked into the cinematography imbuing a distressful, authentic vibe. She demonstrates an absorbing sense of poeticism – correlating the imposing and immovable force of trucks with abusers – and a piercing point-of-view that ought to command attention from Hollywood.

The graphic depiction of violence in A Vigilante is affecting. It will likely be troublesome for many viewers. Violence is applied two-fold: (a) denoting how abuse is used to control, and (b) highlighting the leniency of law in preventing it.

A Vigilante is a hard watch, but an important one, delivering career-defining work by both Daggar-Nickson and Wilde.

 
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Watchmen

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Only four episodes into the first season, HBO’s Watchmen series could very well be the best comic book adaptation of 2019… that’s saying a lot in a year that’s given us The Boys, Avengers: Endgame, Joker and Preacher.

This isn’t a traditional sequel or spin-off, yet it feels closer to the source material than Zack Snyder’s almost-honourable 2009 feature, which basically recreated Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ beloved graphic novel panel-by-panel. What Snyder made up for in visual styling, he lost with some of the bigger ideas that hit home previously.

Watchmen (the series) is helmed by Damon Lindelof, the brilliant/frustrating mind behind Lost, which makes sense with the many disconnected events that occur within the first episode alone. Thankfully, as with The Leftovers, the grand design here seems much more intentional, so viewers are encouraged to take the leap of faith that it’ll all make sense eventually.

Much like Amazon Prime’s The Boys, the casting is what differentiates this from your average silver-screen adaptation. Regina King remains one of the most exciting faces in Hollywood; believably coordinated and violent as the masked vigilante Sister Night, but equally protective and vulnerable as a loving wife/mother.

The supporting cast is bang-on too, from Don Johnson’s smirking police chief to Tim Blake Nelson as the genius redneck known as Looking Glass, and most importantly, the aptly-buff Jeremy Irons in a role that’s hard to describe (even though the producers let slip who he’ll be playing prior to release).

While on the topic of source-related Easter Eggs, the always-magnetic Jean Smart pops up in the third episode as FBI agent and vigilante hunter Laurie Blake – who fans of the comic may know as an ex-vigilante herself, Silk Spectre. Laurie was one of the major players in the original comics, most notably for her love triangle between Dr. Manhattan and Night Owl, so comic fans will salivate knowing she’s playing such a pivotal role once again.

Production-wise this is exceptionally structured & shot. Close to the source, it cuts seamlessly from past to present, with gimmicky interludes of fictional shows that make clear parallels with the current environment, and climactic episodes that will have viewers anticipating each weekly release.

Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross expertly tackle the score, using a diverse mix of trappy bass and old-school soul to full effect, with clear influences from Fight Club to Twin Peaks. Fans will be able to get their hands on three different vinyl releases, with volume 1 available November 4.

Needless to say, whether you know everything or nothing about the original comic or previous film adaptation, this is quality television that deserves patience and multiple viewings. Hopefully it might even inspire a few people to go back and read the comic – there’s a reason it’s the only graphic novel on Time Magazine’s Top 100 Books.

Who will watch the Watchmen? You, that’s who.

Episode 5 will air Monday 19th November 2019 on Foxtel.

 
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Lieutenant Jangles

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When you think cop action movies, your mind likely turns to thoughts of transatlantic settings, such as Los Angeles and New York, more than it does Brisbane. However, Lieutenant Jangles, the new comedy from local filmmaking duo; Nic Champeaux & Daniel Cordery, is out to reset your bias.

Set in a cartoonish interpretation of the ’80s – so, like most action movies from that time period, then – the film sees the titular Lieutenant Jangles (Matt Dickie) seeking revenge for the death of his partner, leading to him stumbling into the machinations of the maniacal Baron Von Schmidt (Jack McGirr). As the two men cross swords, there are car chases, bloody violence and peeing contests. No, literally.

Director Champeaux, who also wrote the film, not only manages to capture the aesthetic of ’80s action films, such as Lethal Weapon and Commando, he does so whilst skewering the very idea of what makes a lean, mean action hero. Forget your world-weary John McLane’s, Jangles is a crude, chain-smoking, alcoholic man-child; a walking Aussie stereotype who, unfathomably, appears to be the only thing stopping chaos raging through Brisbane. He’s Wolf Creek’s Mick Taylor, but with a more developed sense of justice. You wouldn’t want to share a towel with Jangles, but his oafish ‘charm’, played with brilliant comic timing by Dickie, ensures that you’re not completely put off by him.

Outside of Jangles himself, the film takes pot shots at the entire action genre, dissecting the very tropes they’re built on. From the extreme machoism and xenophobia, to the genre’s distinct lack of strong female characters, encapsulated in the only female in Jangles’ life who is simply known as “The Woman” (Tamara McLaughlin). Deliberately bringing nothing to the table except being a trophy for the protagonist, her dialogue is knowingly centred around not knowing anything except her inexplicable lust for Jangles.

If your love of apery encompasses the likes of Black Dynamite or Danger 5, then Lieutenant Jangles will most definitely float your boat. The film’s humour comes not from word for word re-enactments of iconic scenes ala Scary Movie, but from the characters themselves; some of whom will look extremely familiar in more ways than one. Take for example, Mark (Daniel Cordery), Jangles’ tattooed, handlebar moustached informant, whose bouts of violence are interrupted by his overbearing father’s need to watch a VHS. Cordery certainly does Eric Bana’s performance in Chopper proud.

Admittedly, all humour is subjective and there are only so many dick jokes in the world which you can laugh at – all of which appear to be in Lieutenant Jangles – meaning the film is clearly not going to be for everyone. However, embrace the anarchy and, from the pre-show trailers packaged with the film, through to the killer synth soundtrack, Lieutenant Jangles will leave you with one hell of a dirty smile on your face.

Lieutenant Jangles will be released through American distribution company Scream Team Releasing on streaming platforms, Blu-ray AND a limited VHS run for hardcore collectors, just in time for Christmas 2019!