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Zero-Point

Australian, Home, Review, This Week, web series Leave a Comment

Comprising of four episodes that are each approximately five minutes long, the political animated web-series Zero-Point wastes no time ostensibly exposing the injustices experienced by Indigenous Australians beneath the backdrop of a society policed by superheroes.

The series focuses on Indigenous Superhero Zero Point (Mark Coles Smith), who is part of a government superhero crime fighting syndicate, A.F.E.C.O (Australian Federal Extra-Normal Civil Operatives), that is determined to uncover and take down a mysterious villain, Samson (Steven Oliver), who is determined to reassert sovereignty.

Zero-Point is then embroiled in a mystery to discover what happened to his father, with the show able to touch on topical Indigenous issues including white-patriotism, the stolen generation, substance abuse, and racism experienced in the judicial system.

All the more impressive due to the short length of each episode, characters are fleshed out to the extent that the audience can rationalise and understand their motivations, with enough mystery left should there be a second season.

There is a distinctly rigid style to the animation that resembles an ‘80s cartoon, that when combined with the action scenes elevate the story to highlight Indigenous Australian struggles.

Zero-Point, as was the case for Black Panther, uses the confines of a superhero story to highlight the inequality felt by Indigenous Australians and is done so with a clear agenda that never feels overbearing.

https://zero-point.tv/

 
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The Cry

Australian, Home, Review, Television, This Week Leave a Comment

Compelling four-part television drama mini-series The Cry will shock and enthral viewers.

Based on the novel by Australian author Helen FitzGerald, viewers will be on the edge of their seat watching this drama unfold. Over six-million people tuned into watch the show when it premiered on BBC One last year. The popular series also attracted 10 million plus plays via BBCs i-player.

The British-Australian co-production was filmed across the two continents (Glasgow and Melbourne) and features a strong cast – including Ewen Leslie (Top of the Lake, Safe Harbour), Asher Keddie, Alex Dimitriades and Jenna Coleman (Dr Who, Victoria) – each delivering powerful and convincingly-played emotive performances.

Adapted by Jacquelin Perske (Love My Way, Seven Types of Ambiguity), The Cry follows the lives of a young couple, Joanna (Jenna Coleman) and her husband Alistair (Ewen Leslie). Joanna and Alistair travel with their baby from Scotland to Australia to see Alistair’s mother, and to fight for custody of Alistair’s daughter against his Australian ex-wife Alexandra (Asher Keddie). Almost as soon as they arrive in rural Victoria, every parent’s worst nightmare is brought to life when their four-month old baby boy Noah goes missing. The already fragile relationship between the young couple quickly disintegrates as the public scrutiny intensifies and the mystery deepens.

There are echoes of little Madeleine McCann and Azaria Chamberlain disappearances and while the abduction of baby Noah is the catalyst and what drives this story, it’s the characters that provide the intrigue. The lines of truth and manipulation are blurred in this plot-twisting drama where everyone is a suspect.

Viewers will slowly despise Leslie’s character, who is smug, patronising and a completely unhelpful new father. “He earns the money; he wears the earplugs” Joanna justifies, explaining why Alistair never wakes to help with Noah’s night-time feedings.

Keddie is brilliant as the ex-wife to Leslie but it’s Coleman who excels, unravelling before our eyes. The English actress does not hide her feelings of loss, anger or confusion. She’s completely relatable as a struggling mother and viewers will feel her pain during the flight to Australia scene as she repetitively walks up and down the aisle trying to quieten her screaming baby and ignore the look of distain from fellow passengers. This intelligent drama provides a harsh view of motherhood at its most harrowing.

The Cry will not be relaxing Sunday night viewing, but audiences will find it grippingly addictive.

 
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Stay Human

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With the world regularly looking like it’s going down the toilet, how do we stay positive? That – though asked in far more eloquent words – is the question at the centre of this absorbing documentary.

Michael Franti, best known for his lyrical and musical work with The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and Spearhead, fronts his own story, exploring what it means to be human, and how we can hold on to it in a complicated and unpredictable reality.

Franti takes the audience on a journey through his songs and creative processes and plays them alongside the inspiring tales of people he’s met throughout his career. These are people such as Robin Lim, a midwife who founded special birthing centres in the Philippines following the devastating effect of typhoons. She pinpoints the pain of living in the modern world as originating in how we are born, with the trauma of being surgically removed from the parent a hurt that takes many years to recover from.

The central fight for staying human is, in Franti’s view, the battle between cynicism and optimism. Steve and Hope Dezember are a couple with an integral role in the film, displaying this optimism and love of life, no matter what the circumstances. The pair’s enduring love is reflected in Hope’s commitment to her partner after he developed a diagnosis of the neurodegenrative disease ALS. The challenges faced by the couple, and their strength in enjoying every part of life, is captured beautifully, and served as a starting point for the film project itself.

A love for the whole world, and how humanity can help treat it better, is reflected in the story of Arief Rabik, a Balinese environmental scientist who has come up with an ingenious way of processing bamboo to reduce deforestation.

Franti also travels to Port Elizabeth, South Africa, where he meets two young people, Busisiwwe Vazi and Sive Mazinyo, who have inspired their local community through the power of music and education.

Franti’s own difficulties, including troubles with depression and a complicated relationship with his father and history as an adopted child, are movingly addressed. His passion and constant search for inspiring vision is at the beating heart of this powerful documentary, that shows how and why humans can remain engaged with life.

 
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The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling

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Pre-internet, for many people in Australia, Garry Shandling arrived on our shores in 1986 with It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. We hadn’t seen anything like it, as this postmodern take on the sitcom format broke every rule in the book, and the show developed a cult following, with its creator cementing it years later with The Larry Sanders Show between 1992 – 1998.

When Shandling passed away in 2016, there was an outcry from North America, where comedians – through podcasts and online followings – paid their respects to a comedy genius. One of his loudest champions was Judd Apatow, now a comedy industry in his own right, who was given plenty of breaks early on by Shandling, and has now directed this personal, grandiose documentary.

With AAA footage, journals and talent, Apatow has constructed an exhaustive and entertaining film, and unlike his later feature films (This is 40, Funny People), the extraordinary length of the enterprise is actually for the audience’s benefit. When after more than 4 hours, Apatow reveals the secret to Shandling’s being, you would be hard pressed not to tear up at a beautiful but complicated life that you have just had presented before you.

Divided into two eps, the first part charts Shandling’s childhood and family life, the journey to comedy, all the way up until the launch of The Larry Sanders Show. Part two ends with the comedian’s memorial service where anyone who is anyone was moved to laughter and tears in equal measure.

A bunch of talent – Jim Carrey, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jay Leno, etc – is interviewed sitting down in conversation with Apatow, who appears often and makes for a sensational, knowing moderator; whilst others – Seinfeld, Alec Baldwin, Tom Petty, Chris Rock, etc, etc – are captured in intimate behind the scenes footage during Garry’s often filmed career.

The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling fills in a lot of gaps about Shandling’s life and career, especially for Australian audiences, and does it in a dramatic, often hilarious, ultimately profound and highly emotional way. It’s a highly fitting tribute to a comedy genius who touched millions of lives on a macro level, but here we discover the hundreds that he affected daily, and how.

At a minimum, you will be hunting down a DVD copy of The Larry Sanders Show to check out the special features, which this documentary poses was Garry’s final masterpiece.

 
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Bird Box

Home, Horror, Review, Streaming, This Week 2 Comments

The first time that we see Sandra Bullock in the terrifying dystopian thriller, Bird Box, she’s flatly and brutally laying down the law to two sweet faced little children who she refers to plainly as “Boy” and “Girl”, providing them with a bone-shaking guide for survival free of sugar coating. It’s tough stuff, and an instant signpost that this is not the Sandra Bullock that we know and love. Harsh, desperate, and no-nonsense, this is a call-back to her stunningly abrasive turn in the Oscar winning Crash, and she’s just as good here, if not better. Superbly directed with a wonderfully grim sense of economy by Danish filmmaker, Susanne Bier (Brothers, Open Hearts, In A Better World Bird Box), Bird Box punches hard and offers no emotional quarter, and neither does Sandra Bullock.

In this semi-sci-fi shocker’s very, very near future, a cruel, unforgiving – and unseen – presence has decimated the world’s population, with all who make the mistake of glimpsing it prompted into a suicidal frenzy. With pockets of humanity staking out their own claims, and other groups not jumped to suicide but instead taking on a kind of zealot’s fury in forcing others to embrace the horror, the world has become a truly horrifying place. With these death-bringing creatures swooping out of the sky at any moment, Bullock is Malorie, a mother desperately trying to protect her children from the nightmare around them. All blindfolded to prevent them from inadvertently looking at the thing that will instantly make them lose their minds, this vulnerable trio embarks on a journey toward hoped-for safety.

While the world created by Bier and screenwriter, Eric Heisserer (adapting Josh Malerman’s novel), is a singularly frightening one, Bullock’s Malorie is equally fascinating. As we learn in flashback scenes (including an extraordinary set-piece introducing the unseen horrors), she is a cynical, deeply reluctant mother, and her actions throughout the film are never quite what we expect. Whether in her relationship with fellow survivor, Tom (the charismatic Trevante Rhodes in a sweetly sympathetic turn), or her harsh interactions with the kids in her care, Malorie constantly switch-foots audience expectations.

She is, however, a real anchor in this very scary film, as her glacial exterior slowly melts to reveal the humanity beneath. It’s a fine performance from Bullock, and an equally impressive one from director, Susanne Bier. While her decision not show the film’s threat (except in a few briefly glimpsed drawings) is a bold and daring one that will infuriate many viewers, her expert handling of the material is undeniable. There are a number of sequences that will literally have you on the edge of your seat, and Bier’s mastery of suspense and emotion is near remarkable. Packing an intense emotional wallop and a truly nail-grinding sense of suspense, Bird Box is a surprise stunner.

 
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The American Meme

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Like some visitation of a harbinger of a coming apocalypse that is starting to seem more-and-more like something we deserve, the documentary The American Meme explores the rise of the Instagram celebrity, the ‘influencer’ and in particular, a cross-section of Insta-celebs who’ve gained an insane amount of notoriety through shameless self-promotion in social media.

Musician and producer DJ Khaled, an affable personality who documents his daily rituals and combines self-promotion of himself as a brand.

Kirill Bichutsky, known to his 1.1 million Instagram followers as @slutwhisperer. He lives the kind of Girls Gone Wild, party-every-night lifestyle that would be the daily routine of a cashed-up, feckless, misogynist douchebag. Curiously though, at his core, Kirill seems tormented by the utter emptiness of his fame and ultimately sees the party-boy reputation he’s constructed as being an impediment to moving on to a different career and phase in his life, mainly because of the gargantuan legacy of his digital footprint. If you search his name online, all that appears are reaction-baiting boorishly sexist memes, such as selfie shots of Bichutsky wedging his head between hundreds of different women’s naked backsides and breasts or numerous images of the Russian American bon vivant spraying champagne in the faces of a plethora of glazed-eyed women. By celebrating this debauched lifestyle, he’s become a social media celebrity though even he himself seems innately aware that it will dry up sometime soon, faster than you can say ‘vine’.

Brittany Furlan is an actress and comedian who built a huge following on Vine with little mini comedy clips and character skits, only problem was Vine closed its doors. Furlan’s self-promotion has seen her gain small movie roles and development deals for TV comedy shows.

Josh Ostrovsky goes by the twitter name @thefatjew and has likewise established himself as a personality unattached to any kind of comedy or acting career, though he will most likely move into those areas.

Capping off all of these personalities is the one who really started this: Paris Hilton. Having established perfume and fashion accessory lines, she has built her own huge pile of cash on which to cry herself to sleep at night. These days, Paris exploits her fanbase on social media as something of a rent-an-acolyte as she visits international cities and DJs at various parties and events. Paris Hilton is nothing if not a businesswoman, seemingly possessing an almost Warhol-esque sense of the pop culturally relevant (Warhol is something of a touchstone for her), she rides a self-obsessed wave of narcissistic branding which no doubt rubbed-off on her former assistant, Kim Kardashian West.

Frankly, we are not entirely sure if this documentary is genuinely informative and interesting or, in its depiction of the weapons-grade vacuity of its subjects is actually just terrifying and galactically disheartening.

 
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Marvel’s Iron Fist Season 2

Review, Television, This Week 2 Comments

Boy, did Marvel listen.

The first season of Marvel’s Iron Fist landed with a resounding thud not unlike a noob kung fu disciple hitting the mat. Critics were unkind, fans were unimpressed, and the general consensus was that it was the worst of Marvel’s Netflix offerings so far.

However, it seems that the powers that be had considerable faith in Danny Rand (Finn Jones), heir-to-billions-turned-mystic-martial-arts-master, and after co-starring in The Defenders and guesting on Luke Cage, the wielder of the titular metal mitt is back in the saddle of his own series. And while Iron Fist is still not in a position comparable to the best of the MarFlix series (if you’re wondering, Jessica Jones S1 is the reigning champ), this season it has definitely found its feet, becoming a solid action procedural.

That’s chiefly down to some serious tonal retooling. Season 2, under the stewardship of new showrunner Raven Metzner, handily picking up the baton fumbled by departing incumbent Scott Buck. Metzner doesn’t retcon anything that has gone before (although to be honest, memories of Season 1 are rather indistinct…) but rather deftly pushes the whole operation in a new direction. The show now feels like it knows what it wants to be and where it wants to go, and that confidence is refreshing.

The changes are myriad but generally subtle. One thing that jumps out is that our hero is less of an asshole. Original Recipe Danny Rand was nigh-unbearable in his #worldtraveller smug wokeness, but this season he’s a much more humble and driven character, having taken up Daredevil’s vigilante duties in the wake of the events of The Defenders. Eschewing luxury, he’s moving furniture by day, mopping up criminals in Chinatown by night, and making a cute couple with fellow martial artist/former member of The Hand (there is so much backstory and jargon now – just go with it if you’re a bit lost) Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick).

It’s a nice little superhero life, suddenly complicated by two things: the arrival of Danny’s old friend and rival Davos (Sacha Dawan), a fellow student in the mystical city of K’un L’un (so much backstory and jargon…); and the appearance of the mysterious Mary (Alice Eve), who is either a naive artist trying to make it in the Big Apple, a deadly assassin who can go toe to toe with Iron Fist, or both.

Davos functions as the now overly familiar “dark mirror” villain of the piece, a self-flagellating ascetic bad-ass who thinks he deserves to wield the power of the Iron Fist more than Danny, and is willing to do some pretty awful stuff to wrest our guy’s glowing hand from him. As for Alice, her agenda is murkier, but fans of the comics and denizens of the internet will already know that she’s the live action incarnation of noted Marvel villain Typhoid Mary, normally an opponent of Daredevil, and we’ll just leave this hyperlink here for those who don’t mind spoilers.

Whenever these plots intersect, violence erupts – and it’s good violence, too. For all its leaden pacing and poorly sketched characters, the first season’s biggest problem was that its fight sequences were embarrassingly lackluster – that’s a serious handicap when your show is literally and specifically about a guy whose main power is Super Punching. Wisely, the production team called in veteran fight choreographer Clayton Barber to bring this season’s action beats up to par, and the improvement is immediately and viscerally noticeable. Barber understands how to reveal story and character through action. While the show is still somewhat hampered by the practical limitations of time and money, each fight scene is its own beast with its own flavour. Of the first six episodes previewed, the two stand outs are a pretty nifty scrap in a restaurant kitchen that could fit nicely in a prime-era Hong Kong action flick, and a flashback sequence that sees Danny and Davos battling in a K’un L’un temple, all flowing scarves, graceful leaping kicks, and misty lighting.

While there are connecting threads to both The Defenders and Season 1, six episodes in, Season 2 seems content to be just a street level action drama, and that’s to its credit. The plot more or less just exists to get us to the next fight, and the fights exist because, well, properly choreographed and framed fights are cool – here, as in the best action cinema, action is its own reward. While shows like Jessica Jones and Luke Cage – and even, to a degree, Daredevil – have loftier thematic goals, Iron Fist is a straight-up chop-socky beat ’em up, and that’s fine.

 
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How Heavy This Hammer

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Imagine Tony Soprano had no affiliation with the mob; instead of spending time amidst criminals and criminal-related activity, he was addicted to computer games.

Fat, lazy, selfish, childish and at times unnecessarily violent, these are the same characteristics of Erwin, the very unlikeable protagonist conceptualised by Canadian director Kazik Radwanski and actor Erwin Van Cotthem.

On first impressions Erwin may seem like your typical family man; middle-aged and overweight, living with his wife (Kate Ashley) and two children. He has a respectable job and enjoys playing rugby and having a beer with his mates. However, most nights or whenever else he can find the time, Erwin sits alone playing a fantasy game on his computer – he’s addicted.

It’s clearly impacting his personal life, and Erwin soon starts to neglect his responsibilities. He’s physically exhausted from playing all night, often falling asleep at family outings, but also detaches himself mentally from the real world. Erwin becomes isolated and frustrated with the people closest to him and eventually decides to move to his own place.

So he settles into a new life, free to drink and play computer games as much he wants, which is great… for a while at least. However, Erwin soon realises the situation he created for himself is also a lonely one – and in the end the real question is whether or not he’s too lazy and selfish to do anything about it.

Just as Erwin gazes blankly at his computer screen, Radwinski and Cotthem evoke the same behaviour from viewers, who can’t help but be mesmerised by this miserable creature – partly fascinated by his antics but also terrified that it’s not far from reality for many people these days.

Radwanski uses an intense operatic score to depict these key sequences, switching between the actual gameplay and a close-up of Erwin’s face. The music is used effectively as both a representation of the character’s obsession but also ironically, to illustrate the insignificance of his actions.

The ambiguous ending will have audiences divided but that shouldn’t detract from the performances within. Van Cotthem makes you love to hate him and Kazik Radwanski seems to be cementing himself as a master of character studies, clearly one of Canada’s most exciting new talents.

All in all, it’s a quiet-achieving gem that will definitely make you evaluate your own relationship with technology. For that, it’s definitely worth a watch.

 
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Sheilas

Australian, Home, Review, web series Leave a Comment

Sheilas‘ premise is simple: tell four unjustly obscure stories of great women from Australian history.

Sheilas‘ execution is brilliant: coming off the success of Growing Up Gracefully, sibling creators Hannah and Eliza Reilly undertake four quick, comedic commando raids into the past, banging out the stories of WWII commando Nancy Wake (Cecelia Morrow), Olympic swimming legend Fanny Durack (Nikki Britton), pub-occupying feminist Merle Thornton (Brenna Harding), and bushranging Indigenous single mum May Ann Bugg (Megan Lilly Wilding, a comedy shotgun of prodigious talent) in ribald, risque, take-no-prisoners style.

It’s simply great stuff, easily surpassing its three-way remit of a) celebrating some amazing women, b) dropping a little history on the audience, and c) being brutally, laugh-out-loud funny the whole time. The jokes come at a machine-gun clip, and whether the scripted gags are funnier than the on-the-record historical events and quotes (Nancy Wake was wild, guys!) is in the eye of the beholder. The show makes a merit of its budgetary constraints in true self-deprecating Australian style, with dodgy props (see: Captain Thunderbolt’s horse) and deadpan line deliveries, along with a finely tuned sense of the absurd, carrying the day.

It is, in the shell of a nut, a nigh-perfect dose of Aussie comedy. We need a second season yesterday.

Head to the official Sheilas site for more

 
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Birthmarked

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Most memorably cinematically distilled in the 1983 comedy classic, Trading Places, the concept of – or rather, questions around – “nature versus nurture” have long fascinated big and small thinkers alike. Is a person’s character primarily formed by what they’re born with, or is it the experiences that one goes through during life that makes a person what they truly are? That query is right at the heart of the quirky and engaging comedy drama, Birthmarked, which doesn’t come up with any definitive answers, and in the process, perhaps proves that there actually aren’t any nailed-down answers to be found. From co-writer, Marc Tulin, and co-writer/director, Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais (who crafted the little seen 2013 thriller, Whitewash, starring Thomas Haden Church), it’s an enjoyably unusual rummage through a big bag of old but always valid ideas.

Eccentric married scientists, Catherine and Ben (played with typical perfectly nuanced abandon by the always on-point Toni Collette and Matthew Goode), are so hung up on the question of nature versus nurture that – under the guidance of the even more eccentric bigwig scientist, Gertz (Ben Wheatley fave, Michael Smiley) – they opt to turn their own family home into a petri dish. Along with their own baby-on-the-way, they also adopt two children from diverse backgrounds, and then set about raising them in a manner directly defiant to the circumstances of their birth: the child of the two scientists is brought up to love and focus on art, the progeny of two less-than-intelligent parents is pushed toward the academic, and the son of two people with serious anger management issues is prodded in the direction of pacifism.

To say that the “experiment” doesn’t go as planned would be an understatement, with the general instability of this oddball family having the greatest influence on the lives of its children. The continuing roll of eccentricities (not to mention the arch narration, 1970s setting, top notch soundtrack, and unashamed intellectualism) make comparisons to Wes Anderson starkly obvious, but Birthmarked remains a thoroughly original charmer, always showing a genuine warmth towards its characters. Smartly written and superbly performed, it cannily shows that the only thing predictable about families is how unpredictable they are.

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