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Brightburn

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The story of Clark Kent is a tender one, and you almost certainly know it already. A child from another world lands on a small Kansas farm and is cared for and raised by a sweet, childless couple. They instill their values in the little tyke and years later he grows up to be the heroic metahuman known as Superman. But what if that kid hadn’t come from an essentially good place like Krypton, and what if that boy, when he grew older, had zero interest in using his powers for good? That is, essentially, the premise of Brightburn and it’s a beauty.

The childless couple in this case are Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman), who live in the small town of Brightburn and raise young Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) as if he were their own flesh and blood. For twelve years things proceed beautifully. Brandon is a sweet kid, and appears normal in every way, but once puberty starts knocking at the door, things turn nasty fast. You think adolescence is rough with a normal kid, try that same journey with a sullen superpowered pre-teen!

Brightburn, produced by James Gunn and written by his brother Mark and cousin Brian, is very much a dark and violent “what if” story. And the notion of a young superhero as a budding serial killer is darkly ironic and appealingly subversive in a misanthropic sort of way. The cast do a solid job, with Elizabeth Banks giving a typically strong performance, and director David Yarovesky manages to keep the tension high and really delivers on the squirmy gore when needed. One sequence in particular involving ocular trauma will have even the stoutest of gorehounds wincing.

In fact, the only really flaw that can be levelled at Brightburn is that it doesn’t do much with the premise other than what’s on the tin. The story proceeds briskly, and sometimes very nastily, but it never really offers much in the way of big surprises or twists once the conceit has been established. Still, if you’ve had a gutful of hopeful heroic adventures, and crave something from the darker side of the genre, Brightburn offers a jet-black look at a bad seed with super powers. And you don’t need X-ray vision to see that this is one story that’s going to get super bloody.

 
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Aladdin

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Few films in recent memory have managed to maintain a level of potential audience scepticism like the remake to Disney’s Aladdin. With every new piece of marketing that became public, it somehow grew less and less appealing at every turn. And bear in mind that it started with the idea that Guy Ritchie should direct a musical, as if his collaborations with Madonna weren’t enough of a sign that he shouldn’t. This film could only go in one of two directions with that in mind: It could either be a pleasant surprise that sticks to the mostly-positive turn-out for Disney’s recent remakes, or it could be a trainwreck that ranks among Disney’s recent worst. Sadly, this is the latter.

More so than any of the other remakes thus far, this film is hurt the most by the transition from traditional animation to live-action. All of the personality and expressiveness and just plain fun of the original is sorely lacking here, managing to make a screen flooded with Bollywood colours feel drab and uninteresting. Where there should be wonder, there is CGI serving as the watered-down substitute. Where there should be frisson-creating music, there is feeble lip service to the music of the region. And where there should be a fun and exciting comedic presence with the Genie, we get Will Smith doing his best Kazaam impression.

In keeping with Disney’s M.O. of late, the intent behind this film is to fix something that was present in the original, in this case being the agency of characters that aren’t in the title. However, much like when Bill Condon attempted the same with Beauty And The Beast, raising supporting characters comes at the expense of others.

Naomi Scott as Jasmine has been given a more wilful presence, akin to someone who could foreseeably be the ruler of a kingdom, and Smith as the Genie has been more humanised and even given a love interest. But even with an extra 40 minutes in running time, Ritchie and co-writer John August (Frankenweenie) somehow weren’t able to juggle the character boosting without turning Mena Massoud’s Aladdin into a footnote. The attempts at juggling even result in a gaping plot hole, making the filmmakers look like they’re unable to count up to 3 accurately.

With everything being considerably toned-down, including the legendarily-energetic Genie who basically made the original into the classic it is today (and whose actor got screwed over by the House of Mouse in the process), there’s nothing here that makes this remake feel like it has a reason to be. Even the Beauty And The Beast remake, as misguided as it is, still has a stronger raison d’etre than this. The only reason this doesn’t turn out worse than B&TB is because this doesn’t actively hurt the original through sheer proximity to itself. Let’s just hope that Disney doesn’t try for a Return Of Jafar remake anytime in the near future; they’ve done enough damage to this IP already.

 
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Mortal Kombat 11

Game, Gaming, Home, Home Entertainment, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

I can still remember when Mortal Kombat hit the pinny parlours in early ’90s Australia. Rat-faced teenagers with bad skin and violent minds flocked en masse to attempt to beat the crap out of their mates, finishing the battles with gory fatalities and screeching happily at the carnage. Mortal Kombat seemed hardcore, dangerous even, at a time when video games were generally pretty safe, family friendly affairs.

Smash cut to 2019 and video games are all over the shop in terms of content. Just this year we’ve had the staggeringly violent Resident Evil 2 remake, which puts the earlier Kombats to shame. So where does a game like Mortal Kombat 11 fit and how do developers make it stand out? The answer, bafflingly, seems to be by turning the damn thing into a Saturday morning cartoon. Even more baffling? It bloody well works!

Mortal Kombat 11’s story campaign is a ten or so hour long romp through the multiverse, featuring time travel, alternate realities and elder gods. It’s gleefully stupid nonsense, that feels like something 13-year-olds would adore, and comes equipped with the series’ notorious – although defo not dangerous – graphic violence. Heads explode, guts are ripped out, spines shattered and whole bodies cleft in twain. It’s mayhem, although these days it feels more like splattery slapstick than anything that could conceivably offend any but the most pearl-clutchy of folks.

The game comes equipped with multiple modes, the best of which are the versus matches (both online and off) and the various Towers you can play through to grind for better loot and character customisation options. Honestly, the grind won’t be for everyone, but the obsessives out there will find a lot of value for their dollar in this title.

Ultimately, Mortal Kombat 11 is the best pure fighting destination you’re likely to come across this year. A wonderfully stupid story, multiple off and online modes and all of it dripping with handfuls of graphic gore. If that sounds like your jam, get ready to unleash your inner rat faced teenager and yorp with glee as the bodies hit the floor.

 
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Game of Thrones, Season 8 Episode 6: The Iron Throne

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[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

Saying goodbye is hard. It’s a trial both in real life and pop culture, and the difficulty level spikes even higher when it comes to saying goodbye to the most successful television show of all time, say. That’s the unenviable task that David Benioff and D. B. Weiss – showrunners of Game of Thrones and writer/directors of the final episode – have set themselves with “The Iron Throne”.

So, how’d they do? Well, naturally opinions will vary. Hell, after last week’s divisive episode “The Bells”, some one million (!) pissed off fans have signed an online petition for season eight to be remade “with competent writers”. And while that’s a bit funny in a slightly sad sort of way, it also demonstrates the range of passionate reactions floating around out there. That said, “The Iron Throne”, while flawed in the same ways seasons 6-8 have been, does a pretty solid job of putting a fork in this fantasy opus. But let’s recap, one final time.

The episode opens with Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) wandering through the smoking ruins of King’s Landing. It’s a rough stroll, filled with weeping survivors, shell shocked wounded and many, many crispy skin corpses. He is joined by Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington), but the wee man isn’t in the mood for chatter. Jon wanders on and finds Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) about to slit the throats of some Lannister soldiers. Wormy reckons he’s doing it on the queen’s orders, but Jon disagrees that it is necessary. The pair almost come to blows, but Davos manages to calm them down, and Grey Worm starts killing the prisoners in bold defiance of whatever the Westeros equivalent of the Geneva Convention is.

Tyrion goes digging through the rubble and finds the corpses of Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey). Their underwhelming, silly deaths from last episode are rendered even more underwhelming and silly by the fact that the rest of the room appears relatively intact and they could have easily survived. Tyrion, nonetheless, is moved by the sight of his dead siblings and cries, showcasing yet again how wonderful Peter Dinklage has been in this role.

Outside Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) wanders about looking lost, when she spies Jon ascending the stairs, moving past the massed Dothraki Riders and Unsullied. Drogon arrives with Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and she hops off and gives a rousing speech, in which she talks about “freeing” the people of Westeros, just like she “freed” the people (aka piles of ash) of King’s Landing. Grey Worm gets a promotion, Jon looks pensive and Tyrion tells Dany he quits, which leads to his immediate arrest. Tyrion is going home in the back of a divvy van!

Jon visits Tyrion in his cell and over a rather bittersweet sequence, Tyrion talks about how he has been so very wrong and how it would be pretty great if Jon killed Dany. Jon looks pensive.

Jon heads over to visit Dany, whereupon he meets a snow-covered Drogon who gives him a quick once over but deems him okay to enter. Jon visits Dany who is dreamily fondling the Iron Throne. Sure, she’s massacred thousands of people, but she genuinely believes she’s doing the right thing. She’s not a full Mad Queen, but rather something more insidious, Dany is a true believer who genuinely thinks she can do only good. We understand this from a cracking little interaction between Dany and Jon, and the pair are both acting their little hearts out.

“Be with me, build the new world with me. This is our reason,” Dany says, “we do it together, we break the wheel together.”

“You are my queen,” Jon whispers, “now and always.”

The pair pash on like their pingers are kicking in but Jon takes the moment to slide his dagger into Dany’s heart. She’s too surprised to be angry and dies, her mouth leaking blood and her eyes wide in disbelief. Jon cries at what he’s done, and then Drogon pops in for a visit. It looks for all the world as if Drogon is going to fire Jonno, but instead the scaly champion turns his burning attentions to the Iron Throne itself, melting it down to a puddle of boiling slag. The concept of the throne being a symbol rather than a literal source of power is apparently lost on Drogon. Stupid dragon. Drogon then grabs Dany’s corpse and pisses off into the sky, to places unknown.

Some weeks later, Grey Worm grabs Tyrion from his cell and takes him to a staff meeting of pretty much everyone who is still alive. The important players are Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), Brandon Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright), Arya, Davos, Ser Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) and Samwell Tarly (John Bradley). The question of what to do with Tyrion and Jon is raised, with Grey Worm falling very much on the side of Team Decapitate. The point is, a leader needs to be chosen and though Sam gamely tries to raise the idea of democracy (to much laughter and disdain) it is ultimately Bran who everyone wants. Wait, what?! Fucken BRAN?! Captain Uncomfortable Stare? Good lord. Everyone seems pretty down with the idea, except Sansa who wants the North to be an independent state. Bran accepts the role but insists that Tyrion be his hand, and will make up for his mistakes for the rest of his life. So begins the reign of “Bran the broken”. Which, guys, awkward name, hey?

Tyrion goes to tell Jon the good news. Said news being “you won’t be killed, but you’re back off to the Night’s Watch again”. Jon takes the news pensively.

Jon walks along in a fancy fur coat, with his fellow men of the Night’s Watch, and farewells his family. Sansa is going to be Queen in the North, Arya is going to explore the lands “west of Westeros” and Bran the Broken (ugh) will rule the Seven Kingdoms. Meanwhile, Brienne fills in Jaime Lannister’s Wikipedia entry, and manages to make him sound like not a complete fuckwit, which is pretty big of her, to be honest.

Next, we have the first meeting with the new king, with Tyrion, Davos, Samwell and Bronn (Jerome Flynn)! Yes, in a lovely moment for a character much ignored in this final season, Bronn gets a somewhat happy ending as the new “Master of Coin”. Tyrion is nonplussed to be left out of “A Song of Ice and Fire”, a rather meta tome that has the appealing feature of ACTUALLY BEING FINISHED, EH GEORGE? Bran enters, does very little, and buggers back off with Ser Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman) and the adults are left to talk about the best way to rebuild. It’s not a perfect system but it works.

A gorgeously directed final sequence shows where our Starks have ended up. Jon joins Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) and Ghost (WHO FINALLY GETS THAT PAT) and heads North of the Wall with the Wildlings. Sansa gets the crown and becomes Queen of the North. Arya commands a ship heading out to lands unknown and we can only wonder what happens next, because that’s all she wrote, ladies and gentleman, Game of Thrones – at least in this incarnation – has ended.

There are endings great and terrible in television. Of the former, Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Shield are notable examples. Of the latter, Dexter, Lost and How I Met Your Mother wear the shame crown. So, where does Game of Thrones sit? Look, it’s subjective but in terms of these last three seasons, it’s pretty good. Dany’s execution isn’t particularly exciting, or tense, but the genuine emotion of the moment lands. And the episode actually improves in the second half, with a brief-but-tantalising look at what will happen next in Westeros.

Of course, “a brief look” is likely the biggest problem here, with these last two seasons being needlessly truncated. Two ten episode seasons would have served this narrative better, and yet what we got, while imperfect, still managed to feel emotionally resonant and satisfying on a level that admittedly has to ignore a lot of dangling plot threads, missing characters and various prophecies that were, apparently, just wrong.

Current internet punching bags, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss direct this series finale with a kind of somber style, bringing a solid conclusion to an increasingly inconsistent saga. And whether you loved, hated or were simply bemused by how it all wrapped up, let’s take a moment to appreciate the mammoth undertaking this entire series represents. This is an epic fantasy told over many hours, brimming with love and death, monsters and gore, characters and locations. There may be shows that equal, or even surpass, it in the future but this was the first one to sing the song of ice and fire.

The major missing piece was, of course, Ser Pounce’s paw bursting through the ashes and clawing its way to victory, but they probably just ran out of money before they could shoot that one. Thanks for reading, everyone, see you at the next wildly entertaining, if controversial, cultural landmark!

 
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Use Me

Australian, Australian New Wave Filmmakers, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

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 screening June 02 / June 03 at Brooklyn Film Festival. Tickets, trailer and showtimes @ https://www.brooklynfilmfestival.org/film-detail?fid=2050

 
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Days Gone

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When talking about Days Gone, it’s probably wise to address what the PS4 exclusive title isn’t, as much as discussing what it is. Days Gone isn’t another masterpiece from Sony, following in the staggeringly good run of Horizon: Zero Dawn, God of War and Marvel’s Spider-Man. This is a title with numerous problems and shortcomings, both technical and conceptual, and is destined to be treated like the red-headed stepchild of the PS4. All that being said, Days Gone is still pretty damn fine, if you’re willing to dig a little deeper into its somewhat rough charms.

Days Gone takes place in an open world largely destroyed by a fast zombie (or “freaker”) apocalypse that began a couple of years earlier. In that bitey beano, outlaw biker Deacon St. John lost his missus and now does odd jobs for various communities in Oregon. Deacon and his bestie, Boozer, keep talking about heading “up north” and Deek keeps trying to find out more about his wife’s demise, all the while fighting freakers and crazy humans. It’s an elegant premise, and a pretty convincing world, that you inhabit. After an initial bit of business Deek’s bike is trashed and he’s forced to use a gas-guzzling hunk of junk that you’ll do your best to improve as you engage in missions, main and side, plus other generic open world activities.

What Days Gone does best is its main story. The characters are well realised, if not always terribly original, and the freakers are legitimately scary, particularly when they form enormous, 200+ strong hordes. Moving from camp to camp, chatting with the leaders of each one, and finding out the philosophies that exist in a post-collapse America is engaging and interesting, and once you get used to the clunky controls, there’s fun to be had just tootling around getting into trouble. Less successful is the more time-wasting side content like bounties, which often aren’t worth the fuel you’ll waste – because, damn, you’ll be spending a lot of time refilling your crappy bike.

On the very downside, Days Gone is still – after a bunch of patches – beset by bugs of the visual, audio and frame rate variety. It never attains Fallout 76 levels of wretchedness, but it’s strange to see in a big budget AAA game, and for some folks that will be a hard pass.

However, if you rather like exploring the bones of a dying civilisation, and if you’re still engaged by zombies and apocalyptic cultists, then Days Gone is at least worth a squiz. It’s no masterpiece, and could have used some judicious editing, but Days Gone is, at many times, a diamond in the (very) rough.

 
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John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

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The original John Wick came out in 2014 and was a neo-noir action flick with a tight premise, spectacular action and an utterly committed performance from the apparently ageless Keanu Reeves. A sequel, John Wick: Chapter 2, dropped in 2017 and while the action remained kinetic and exciting, it was let down by an overly convoluted plot that rather diluted the elegant simplicity of the original. Now, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (oy, that title) is here, snap-kicking its way into your heart. But is it worth the bruises? Actually, yeah!

The story starts seconds after the previous film, with John Wick (Keanu Reeves) declared excommunicado by The High Table, and a fat bounty placed on his head. Basically, in a city brimming with assassins, John is now a very tempting target. As is typical of this series, the action begins almost straight away and rarely relents for the following 131 minutes. Parabellum is, thankfully, a lot more streamlined than Chapter 2. Oh, there’s still a bunch of goofy bullshit involving golden coins, secret societies, claimed marks and whatnot, but it never slows the pace of the overarching plot.

Keanu Reeves, still drinking from the same fountain of youth as Paul Rudd, delivers another grim but knowing performance as the titular Wick, and is joined once more by the always reliable Charon (Lance Reddick) and Winston (Ian McShane). Also, we have some newbies this time around, with canine-friendly killer Sofia (Halle Berry) and dark matriarch The Director (Anjelica Huston). Not to mention a delightfully camp villain, Zero (Mark Dacascos), who exudes giddy madness.

Chad Stahelski once again directs and does so with style and panache. Almost every action scene is shot in long lingering takes framed for maximum clarity, showcasing just how much of the action is genuinely performed by humans, and the result is often breathtaking. Combined with a spare script containing minimal dialogue, the film is a beautifully choreographed bullet ballet of shattered glass and broken bones.

Ultimately, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is not quite the equal of the first film, but a stark improvement over the second. Fast-paced, explosive and chockers with jaw-dropping stunt work, it’s easily the best pure action destination in town. If that sounds like you, put John Wick on your hit list.

 
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The Reports on Sarah and Saleem

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Directed by Palestinian filmmaker Muayad Alayan, we follow the ill-fated affair between Sarah (Sivane Kretchner), an Israeli café owner from West Jerusalem and Saleem (Adeeb Safadi), a Palestinian delivery driver from East Jerusalem.

After a tryst at a bar in Bethlehem brings them to the attention of security services, their relationship is mistaken for espionage and Saleem is arrested. While his pregnant wife races to find answers, Sarah contemplates telling the truth; the consequences of which would clear Saleem’s name but also vilify her as a traitor in the eyes of her military husband and conservative community.

Inspired by true events, The Reports on Sarah and Saleem gives a refreshing and vicarious look at two families in contemporary Israel – a part of the world that is often reported in the media for its conflicts. From geography to religion, Sarah and Saleem’s relationship is dangerous in practically every way imaginable. This is exemplified in a scene where Sarah confides in a co-worker about her affair and is met with immediate forgiveness. Yet when Sarah divulges that he was Palestinian and not Israeli, her friend is disgusted. Because in her eyes, the crime is more a concern of identity than it is of adultery.

What’s also interesting is that the film begins in media res and never determines the motivation behind the affair. For Saleem, perhaps it was a distraction from his working-class job and impending fatherhood. For Sarah, who mentions her business failing twice, it could be a means of escaping the shadow of her husband’s burgeoning career. Instead Alayan – whose brother, Rami Musa Alayan, also wrote the screenplay – looks at the ethical and political ramifications of the affair, with the “reports” in its title referring to the numerous cover-ups and accounts that permeate the story.

As the second half of the film turns into more of a legal drama, we move away from Safadi’s helpless Saleem to focus on the morally-concerned Sarah and their respective spouses. Maisa Abd Eihadi gives an earnest performance as Saleem’s wife, who carries out her own detective work in hopes of clearing her cheating husband from a mistaken political crime. Just as good is Isahai Golan, playing Sarah’s ambitious Israeli army husband – unafraid of employing any means necessary to preserve his family and position.

From lingering shots over Saleem’s shoulder, as he gazes over Jerusalem’s settlements, to glimpses of the Israeli West Bank wall when Sarah rides in the back of his van at night, the hand-held camerawork captures the partition and unrest of its characters and environment.

Despite wearing a little towards the end of its running time, The Reports on Sarah and Saleem is an insightful and well-acted drama that draws you in without having to settle on either side of its socio-political backdrop.

 
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Little Woods – Big Ideas

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Last seen as a bad ass space renegade in Avengers: Endgame, and soon to appear in Men in Black: International, Tessa Thompson is a revelation in her portrayal of Oleander, a woman struggling on the edge of poverty in Little Woods. It’s the first feature by New York based writer/director Nia DaCosta whose second film will be Candyman, a reimagining of the popular ‘90s horror film, due for release in 2020.

With compelling cinematography by Matt Mitchell, Little Woods grips you into a forbidding world and keeps you on the edge as Tess and her sister Deb (Lily James) battle for survival. The screenplay was supported by the Sundance institute where DaCosta gained a place in the Screenwriters Lab followed by the Directors Lab.

The location of the town of Little Woods in North Dakota was recreated in Texas and the poetic landscape in the early frames are literal and a metaphor for danger lurking. As an archetypal story of female struggle, this is no fairy tale. The use of sound is effective, alternating between passages of backwoods fiddle music, bold thrash song and strategic silences. The dialogue is naturalistic, though sometimes to the point of inaudible.

From the outset we see the sisters, who are mixed race as well as polar opposite personalities, caretaking men – Ollie to bandage a wound and provide painkillers, Deb as mother to a young boy. DaCosta has cleverly woven a narrative that embraces a catalogue of women’s issues. The sisters have to negotiate a harsh world where men, often disadvantaged and damaged themselves, still have more power to intimidate. Even a supportive man like Tess’s probation officer puts pressure on her with his high expectations and random visits to her home.

It’s a credit to Thompson that she gets us on her side from the intense, compelling start. When we meet her, she is a reformed criminal almost at the end of her probation for drug smuggling. When her sister is in dire need she is tempted to risk everything and re-offend. The story makes much of her being pushed into a corner through need but there’s also a nice admission when she tells her sister the danger isn’t just that she may do it again, but that she likes the rush of power it gives her. And, despite Ollie’s toughness, we come to realise her very human need to be needed.

While Thompson is totally believable as the resourceful, beleaguered Ollie, the casting of her flaky and fragile sister Deb is less sure. Perhaps we know Lily James too well as the refined period heroine in War and Peace and Downton Abbey, or the princess in Cinderella, but while she holds a strong emotional centre, she is rather less convincing as a product of the world we find ourselves in. Perhaps DaCosta made a deliberate choice to take a princess ‘type’ and explore what she becomes under hardship – unstable, susceptible to pimps and users. In this world, fine beauty can only get you pregnant and jobs in the sex industry. While we wonder if Tess will bust probation, we follow Deb’s conflict about being pregnant. Her side of the story illuminates a desperate lack of choices for single women in her position. There’s a pivotal fight between the sisters that is electrifying.

While the film doesn’t flinch in its portrayal of men as parasites and bullies, DaCosta reveals the context, a world where men are also brutalised and exploited. They are not the central characters but rather just people trying to live their lives and do the best they can with their circumstances.

We see rodeo riders and construction workers, and there is a fascinating theme of widespread drug dependency that drives the action. With bodies broken by years of harsh living, and in the grip of a pitiless, money-based medical system, the men’s pain is the weak link in the chain that Ollie can exploit. They are desperate for relief and she can get illegal prescription drugs on her runs across the border. The complication, apart from breaking her probation, is an attack by a local drug dealer when she threatens to infringe on his territory.

Described as a western and with echoes of Thelma and Louise, Little Woods is essentially a microcosm of many feminist themes wrapped in a tense thriller, worth the watch for Thompson’s virtuoso performance. When asked by Collider why she was drawn to the role, she explained, “it was getting to make a story about these two sisters that have to learn how to choose each other again that resonated with me so deeply. Obviously, it’s a film about two women, but I feel like she wrote Ollie, especially, as a character without gender. (She) just felt like a person that has a lot of things to do.”

 
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Acute Misfortune

Australian, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Famed for his now iconic Archibald Prize-winning portrait of actor, David Wenham, and notorious for his combat-shock brand of art and occasional associations with criminal figures (he illustrated Chopper Read’s “children’s book”, Hooky The Cripple), the late Adam Cullen scratched out a well-deserved position as one of Australia’s most polarising and unusual artists. It’s wholly appropriate then that a film about his life and death should be so profoundly strange and singularly unsettling. Making his directorial debut, hard-working character actor Thomas M. Wright (Sweet Country, The Bridge, Top Of The Lake) proves a prodigious talent, crafting stunningly bleak visuals and working wonders with an impressive cast.

No standard biopic, Acute Misfortune is just as much about Adam Cullen’s biographer, Erik Jensen, as it is about the artist. Just nineteen at the time, Jensen was tapped by Cullen himself to write his biography. Cullen hooked Jensen by falsely telling the young writer that the book had been commissioned by a major publishing company, leading to a long, drawn out interview process over a number of years that blurred the lines between truth and fiction, and subject and author. Built on a booze-soaked sham, the pair’s relationship was an aggressive and unsteady one, but Jensen ultimately got to the heart of the matter when it came to the myth-making Cullen, whose outer shell of toughness protected a deep, deep well of sadness, pain, and mental illness.

Wright captures the pair’s dangerous relationship brilliantly, as do his actors. Toby Wallace (the Romper Stomper mini-series) does a fine job as Erik Jensen, getting at the neuroses that lurk beneath the young writer’s surface cockiness. It’s certainly the more thankless of the two roles, but Wallace gives it everything he’s got. The real towering work here, of course, is done by Daniel Henshall (Snowtown), whose performance as Adam Cullen is nothing short of staggering. Bouncing from bullying jerk to arrogant hipster artist to scared little boy with deft assurance, it’s the kind of big, brave, full-bodied turn that wins major awards. Henshall gets to the real flesh and bone of Cullen, and it’s a bruising, dark-hued joy to witness.

Just like Adam Cullen’s art, Acute Misfortune plays out like a cinematic brand of aggravated assault, shocking the senses, puncturing moral expectations, and stirring the emotions with a wailing flurry of narrative kicks and punches. It’s a powerful, richly crafted, and undeniably important work of art from a major talent to watch.