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Thor: Love and Thunder

comic book, Disney, Marvel, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Do you still feel grief-stricken after the heartbreaking death of Tony Stark? Can’t get yourself back to the pre-Endgame happiness? Then Thor: Love and Thunder is definitely a movie for you.

Set after the events in the Endgame, the story follows Thor (Chris Hemsworth) on his journey to rediscover himself. Thor needs to rejoin the fight and pick up his battle axe Stormbreaker in order to save the universe one more time. He has to stand against Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), who is wielding a terrifying sword, set on destroying deities from all myths and legends. Thor recruits Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Taika Waititi) and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) to help him on his quest.

Jane is seen taking on a new role as the Mighty Thor while undergoing cancer treatment. She wields a reconstructed Mjolnir and is dressed in a dazzling costume; the new look definitely works for her.

Thor: Love and Thunder is something different in the MCU. It gives Thor a human side and shows him amidst what seems to be a mid-life crisis. There is also more humour and focus on emotions in the film. These aspects could even be taken one step further; you could categorise Thor: Love and Thunder as the first modern superhero romcom.

The film introduces new characters who may in the future take more significant roles. A fun and surprisingly hilarious character is Zeus played by Russell Crowe. Another terrific asset is the soundtrack, with the Guns’n’Roses and their hits incorporated smartly, adding to the film’s combination of the greatest and cheesiest movie moments of the ‘80s expertly glued together by modern special effects and sensibilities.

One of the most interesting visual moments in the film is Thor’s venture to the Shadow Realm, reminiscent of that moment of watching Sin City for the first time.

Thor: Love and Thunder combines so many styles that it makes watching it a unique experience. Taika Waititi has said that the movie was filmed in a family atmosphere with children of the cast playing small parts in the movie and even designing all the monsters in it. This togetherness can truly be felt throughout the movie.

On a final note, as expected, there are 2 post credit scenes, so don’t rush out too early.

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Mrs Paine and the Assassination

Documentary, Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

The last two phone calls Lee Harvey Oswald ever made were to Ruth Paine. Oswald, the official lone assassin of John F. Kennedy, took aim at the Presidential motorcade from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas. It was November 22, 1963. Oswald, who would be fatally shot two days later, had only been working there briefly. It was Ruth Paine that got him the job…

Ruth Paine, now in her 80s, insists that Oswald acted alone. There was no conspiracy. Case closed. And yet it appears she herself is a student of the assassination. That’s just one of many contradictory elements in Max Good’s film. A film so dense with information you may want to watch it a second time to take it all in.

Good presents a dual narrative – on the one hand, there’s the articulate Mrs Paine, a child psychologist by trade. On the other, there’s the filmmaker’s narration – plus a parade of JFK researchers – constantly raising questions about her story, suggesting that, at the very least, she was a pawn for the CIA, used to gather information or be an unwitting ‘babysitter’ for Oswald’s pregnant wife, Marina.

Paine’s father possibly worked for the CIA, and her sister definitely did. But was Mrs Paine a CIA agent or an asset herself? Or was she simply a good Quaker woman, lonely after separating from her husband, needing some company and someone to help?

Paine became friendly with the Oswalds after meeting them at a party nine months before the assassination. In the months to come, Ruth Paine would take Marina – who was having marital problems – into her Dallas home, helping the young Russian immigrant who spoke little English prepare for the birth of the Oswalds’ second child.

Good has chosen a murky storytelling path. Paine is believable. There are no telltale signs that she’s lying, but there’s that barrel of contradictions. To tackle those contradictions would take more than a single feature-length documentary. Questions raised are inadequately explored – such as the letter, apparently written by Oswald, which Paine discovered as it floated out of the pages of a book. The letter implicated Oswald in another shooting. But Oswald’s fingerprints were not on the letter, we’re told.

Good tiptoes around Paine. He doesn’t want to damage the trust he’s built with her, and while he does attempt some tougher questions, he doesn’t sufficiently challenge her.

Marina Oswald told Good not to waste his life looking for answers about the assassination. The truth, she said, will never come out. Marina refused to be interviewed for this documentary, and she’s changed her position on the guilt status of her late husband over the years. But Ruth Paine, who’s hardly media-shy, has been consistent since 1963 – to the point that she’s been accused of sticking to a script.

Mrs Paine and the Assassination is an extremely interesting yet unsatisfying affair. It doesn’t get you any closer to the truth. Looks like Marina Oswald was right.

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A Life on the Farm

Documentary, Festival, Film Festival, Review, Streaming, This Week Leave a Comment

When filmmaker Oscar Harding was growing up, he recalls sitting down with his family to watch a home movie given to them by Charles Carson, local farmer, and budding director. The film caused such a reaction in the living room, that Harding’s dad leapt up and switched it off almost immediately. It wouldn’t be until Harding’s grandfather (Carson’s neighbour and how they got the tape in the first place) passed away that he would have a chance to revisit and finally finish watching Carson’s VHS.

A Life on the Farm explores not only the bewildering contents of the tape, but also the history of the man who made it. In doing so, Harding has created a must-see documentary that is at times disturbing, but ultimately heart-warming.

Described as feature length, the titular home movie sees farmer Carson introduce the viewer to his world, including his wife, his elderly parents and dead cat. Yes, that’s the first hint that things are not usual down at the farm. Sat next to his deceased pet, now stuffed, Carson gives a brief eulogy before filming himself burying the animal in the presence of his other two cats. If this has put you on the backfoot, then understand this is predicative of Carson’s relationship with life and death. As he reminds the viewer, this is life on the farm. Sun rise, sun set and all that.

Harding interviews family members, friends and fellow lovers of Carson’s work to share their experience of watching A Life on the Farm. While it would be easy for Harding to make the documentary solely about sniggering at Carson’s film – and look, there is a lot to enjoy here – there is a shared respect for what he achieved by himself with little to no training in camcorders.

Carson uses edits and voice overs to create humour. He even elicits emotion through background music. Sure, at one point, said music is ‘There’s No-One Quite Like Grandma’ by St. Winifred’s School Choir. And yes, the song plays while Carson shows us photos of him pushing his mother’s recently dead body around a field so his cows can ‘pay their respects.’ However, the fact remains, Carson was pretty skilful.

The key to the documentary’s success is how Harding cuts through the absurdity of Carson’s film to reveal a man who was more than just filming calf births in explicit detail. He was a son, father and husband. He clearly loved his family; giving up a decent job in teaching to care for his parents’ farm when they and his brother could no longer do so. When Carson tells you about how his wife died, it’s done with a stoicism that suggests Carson has a relationship with death that most of us don’t. Interviews with Carson’s neighbours and even a psychologist suggest the same.

In the end, these films that he made were a way to reach out to his fellow villagers, and neighbours recount him editing them specifically to appeal to different people. It’s a heartbreaking moment then when it’s revealed that for a man who wanted to share his love of life, many didn’t even realise when the increasingly ill Carson was moved out of his farm.

A Life on the Farm is a lovingly crafted film that shows Harding’s compassion for his subject, while also highlighting the surrealism of his work. It’s a cinematic universe of prop skeletons, playing farm tools like instruments and taking pictures of cows making babies. On paper, it sounds absolutely insane, but just five minutes in Carson’s world is enough to make you want to keep going back for more.

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Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel

Documentary, Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

There was probably never a place in the Western world more famous – and occasionally infamous – for its extraordinary aggregation of creative and bohemian guests and long-term residents than New York’s Chelsea Hotel.

Built in the 1880s, it reached its apogee in the 1960s, when the denizens included a rollcall of the hip: Dylan, Warhol superstars, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Nico and lots more… Those glory days are long gone, and now – after many years of construction – the Chelsea is about to reopen as a luxury hotel.

While all this was going on around them, an interesting but lesser-known assortment of ageing artists and other rugged individualists kept living there, allegedly being treated like anachronisms and nuisances. They are the subject of this documentary.

There’s Bettina Grossman, a very old photographer and real character (“It [photography] is better than a man, I can tell you”)… Rose Cory, performer and Rimbaud-inspired Street Artist… Dancer Merle Lister… We also hear from some of the long departed, most affectingly via a recording of Dylan Thomas declaiming “Do not go gentle into that good night” as the camera pans across the rooftop.

Dreaming Walls is a bit ramshackle, like the Chelsea itself. You want it to be fascinating and it does have its odd moments, but some of those are flashbacks or ‘projections’ of old images onto the titular walls. The unstructured fly-on-the-wall approach, and the apparent use of hand-held cameras, definitely has its limits. Still, the best parts comprise an effective aural/visual montage. It’s mildly diverting, and a poignant sign of these soulless times.

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The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour

Australian, Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

“We must be wary of false prophets and furniture. Sometimes both at once …”

These are the words of Neville Umbrellaman (actor/writer Nitin Vengurlekar), an intellectual, velvet-voiced DJ, doing the midnight shift from his parents’ garage, offering his lonely, late-night listeners existential thoughts, spiked with absurdist humour. But there’s also another aspect to the tale – which won’t be revealed here – that puts a different spin on what’s going on in the garage.

Director Platon Theodoris (Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites) is also this local film’s production designer, and he’s done a superb job, especially with the garage set. The evidently low budget – at least some of which was raised via crowd funding – is transcended by sheer imagination and ingenuity.

Vengurlekar – who co-wrote the script with Theodoris – is a natural comic, and instantly likeable as Neville. Based on the actor’s own live stage show, the film has a strange rhythm all its own, which you fall into easily and quickly. It can get a little repetitive sometimes, but the occasional missteps are invariably followed by a surreal surprise, or some perfectly pitched advertising satire, to draw you back in.

A string of live guests land in Neville’s garage studio – some work better than others. Jazz band Freddy Nietchze’s Good-time Bee-Bop Quintet add a touch of easy listening radio, while Sabrina (Sabrina Chan D’Angelo), who has an all-consuming crush on the awkward Neville, is seductively amusing.

But the highlight is Alison Bennett’s Yvette, and her truly absurdist – and hilarious – monologue in French and German accents about kneading dough. If The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour becomes a cult smash, Yvette’s scene will be the first that fans learn by heart. It all feels very Pythonesque. But it’s Spike Milligan and Jacques Tati that have been specifically called out as inspirations.

Time, the fleeting nature of life, the night, vacuum cleaners … Few of the big subjects escape Neville. Even Schrödinger’s cat is there (and not there). Is there a deeper meaning under all of this bizarre banter? Maybe. Maybe not. That’s for the viewer to work out, but it’s such clever fun. The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour is that rare beast – one that’s on the cusp of extinction – a true original.

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Documentary, Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

The Middle East’s first all-female thrash metal band star in Rita Baghdadi’s documentary Sirens. Lead guitarist Lilas Mayassi states at one point in the film how “any time a woman wants to be anything other than what society wants, its always an issue”, setting the scene for how thrash metal is perceived in the Middle East, especially when it is crafted by a group of young, bold, non-conformist women.

Based in Beirut, Lebanon, the 5-piece Slave to Sirens is Lilas Mayassi and Shery Bechara, lead guitarists and co-founders of the band, vocalist Maya Khairallah, bassist Alma Doumani and Tatyana Boughab on drums. The film draws its focus on Lilas and Sherry, focusing on the pair’s layered dynamic, creating music which strays from the societal norm, while Beirut’s social and political unrest plays into everyday life. Touching on themes of friendship, sexuality, purpose, freedom of expression and a love for music and art, Sirens brings a fresh perspective to the current state of self-expression in non-western nations.

Sirens offers a character-rich story while also creating a depiction of Arab women that is far from stereotyped, showcasing the multifaceted people that they are. Documentary filmmaker Rita Baghdadi, who operated both as director and cinematographer, has discussed that her vision of the film was to have Arab women star and not be reduced to subplot. Where they could be empowered young women and the narrative wasn’t just focusing on the hardships occurring in the Middle East. Even with this theme in mind, Beirut bubbles with turmoil throughout the 78-minute documentary.

Absolute powerhouses while performing on stage, Sirens also shares intimate moments of the girls interacting with one another, humming in tune, laughing, drinking and jamming. In one particular moment, the girls reveal online commentary that surrounds their thrash music, calling them sluts and whores and their music blasphemous. While Lebanon is still largely traditional, regions are becoming more progressive, however, metal is still looked upon as Satanic.

The documentary quickly establishes that Lilas and Sherry once had a romantic relationship which blossomed in secret. Although the two are not together during the course of the film, the tension between them is evident. While society’s general consensus to being queer in Lebanon is not explicitly stated, one of the opening shots of the film displays homophobic messages scribed on street walls.

At what feels like the climax of the film, the band reaches boiling point. Lilas and Sherry’s past romantic relationship seems to drive a wedge between the band. Alongside this, the documentary features the horrific explosion that occurred in Beirut in 2020 in one long gut-wrenching shot – tying together the band’s internal struggle with the external world of Lebanon. Lilas follows by commenting how “home doesn’t feel safe; friendship doesn’t feel safe; love doesn’t feel safe.”

Genuinely engaging with dialogue that feels delicately constructed, cinematic shots of Beirut that showcase its beauty as well as its hardship, complete with rich and complex characters, Sirens could almost be mistaken for an indie A24 coming of age film. With that being said, it only seems to skim the surface regarding the stories of these women. With most of the screen time devoted to either Sherry or Lilas, the remaining 3 members of the band receive little to no exploration. It would have been interesting to gain a deeper understanding of the metal scene in Lebanon and discover how the band was initially formed. However, Rita Baghdadi has shaped her footage into something memorable, bringing food for thought to freedom of creative expression that can often be taken for granted.

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Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

This is a very odd film. It raises a great many questions, but only answers some of them. (That’s not necessarily a flaw in itself, given that real life obviously involves the unexplained.) It’s arguably underwritten, and definitely frustrating at times. But it gets us in, and Tim Roth’s performance is superb.

Roth plays Neil Bennett, who is holidaying in Acapulco with his sister Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her son and daughter. They’re evidently wealthy. There’s an air of ambivalence – of potential ‘trouble in paradise’ – from the very beginning, and indeed it’s not long before sadness changes everything: Alice is told that their mother has died; she’s naturally grief-stricken, while Neil is… enigmatic. Naturally, the four of them must fly back to England, but Neil can’t because he left his passport back at the hotel. Or did he?

You can pick from a wide range of options in interpreting Neil’s subsequent behaviour. He could be called passive-aggressive or simply passive, numbingly immoral or amoral. Then again, he might be very relaxed or lazy – or sociopathic – or almost catatonic. Or possibly having a nervous breakdown. Or just a creep. Whatever the analysis, he talks very little and his actions are selfish and self-indulgent. He drinks incessantly, lies and rarely explains himself. Alice speaks for us all when she shouts “What the fuck is wrong with you?” Somehow, there are moments of black humour amidst the distress. And then there are some sudden and seemingly random acts of extreme violence…

In Sundown, writer-director Michel Franco has echoes of Camus and Beckett, and – in the use of beautiful but desolate wide shots – the director Michelangelo Antonioni. This is not exactly a movie to be recommended, but if you do see it, you’ll be curious to find out how the story ends.

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Compartment No. 6

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Set in Russia and opening with Roxy Music’s ‘Love Is The Drug’, this film is all about communication barriers, particularly those along language lines. It opens with Finnish student Laura (Seidi Haarla) on a train ride from Moscow to Murmansk, where she is stuck in the same compartment as brash Russian miner Lyokha (Yuri Borisov), but as the story goes on, the distance between these people is shown to be more than just lingual.

Winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes, Compartment No. 6 establishes itself as an Eastern European spin on something like Before Sunrise or maybe even Planes, Trains & Automobiles, where characters with little to nothing in common are crammed into a confined space together and, over time, begin to understand each other better.

Juho Kuosmanen’s direction banks on naturalism and a lack of outward exposition, letting the actors’ movements and gestures carry the discomfort, while her scripting shows sizeable knowledge of social distance in its various flavours. Pining for loved ones over great distances, feeling isolated and alone when sitting right next to other people, differentiating between what is said and what is meant, the urge to physically move when you’re getting too close emotionally; there’s palpable awkwardness here.

However, stories like this that fixate on people communicating (or, in most cases, failing to) need interesting characters at their core to work. While Haarla and Borisov do quite well with the material they’ve been given, they don’t provide a sturdy-enough foundation to support the narrative.

The direction echoes the emotional deadness between them, but it also makes the mistake of having that translate directly to how the audience perceives the characters. And unlike something like Francis Lee’s Ammonite, which also involved a gradual build-up to when the two leads warmed up to each other in more ways than one, there’s no real chemistry or intriguing character detail here to make sticking around seem like it will bear fruit.

It doesn’t help that the story parameters on their own are rather dicey, involving a woman being stuck on a train with a man she actively doesn’t want to be in the same room with from the start. Again, it fits the general air of discomfort, but with the way their interactions and eventual budding relationship develop, it weirdly misses a fairly obvious place to start examining social norms and anxieties, instead going for a muted kind of sentimentality.

Between Lyokha’s comments throughout and Laura’s queer romantic history, there’s an uncomfortable… well, there’s no other way to put it, straight lens to how the story is being presented, which makes investing in it that much tougher.

Compartment No. 6 is as coldly functional as its name suggests. It is the feeling of falling asleep on a train, while your mind idly tries to create cohesion out of the various disinteresting and context-free conversations other passengers are having within earshot, but without the hypnagogic jerk to bring you out of it. There are solid ideas here to do with the social barriers that separate people, and the actors are doing their best, but it’s not enough to overcome the film’s own communication difficulties.

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The Quarry

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

There are few joys in life greater than that of having a few mates over, watching trashy horror movies and taking the piss out of them together. The experience can be improved with booze, or other mind-numbing intoxicants, but generally speaking, it’s a grand old time. Pop on a dodgy Evil Dead rip-off, mock the attractive but beef-witted cast, bellow instructions at the directionally challenged teens – it’s magic.

The talented devs at Supermassive Games are apparently very aware of this fact. Hell, they’ve been capitalising on it since 2015’s Until Dawn. However, the entries since then – the so-called Dark Pictures series – never quite embraced the trashy, gory glory of the first attempt. With The Quarry, the latest iteration, Until Dawn is certainly alluded to. Hell, at times The Quarry feels like a reboot, for good and ill.

The Quarry tells the tale of a group of nine teenage camp counsellors who, as the camp closes for the year, find themselves trapped overnight in Hackett’s Quarry. Naturally they decide to have a party, explore their hormonal urges and get absolutely minced by certain shadowy figures that lurk in the woods. But are the killers human, something else or a combination of the two? Look, we’re not going to spoil it, but the whole narrative follows Until Dawn’s narrative surprisingly closely. A bit too closely, quite honestly, and not quite as effectively executed.

Don’t get us wrong, The Quarry is a fun time. Played with a few mates, nursing an adult beverage or two, it effectively recreates the B-grade movie night fun, but it’s rough around the edges in ways that are not always fun. The animation, while mostly decent, occasionally takes a hard turn into the Uncanny Valley, with actor Halston Sage in particular appearing downright monstrous at times when she absolutely should not be. The script, also, skews a little predictable with a couple of the “big twists” feeling utterly unsurprising and a third act climax that’s underwhelming.

That said, if you enjoy your horror games with a chunky slice of cheese, and quite like the idea of seeing teenagers slaughtered because of your bad decisions, The Quarry will likely provide a robust, albeit trashy, good time for you and a loungeroom (or online lobby) full of like-minded weirdos.

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Where is Anne Frank?

animation, family film, Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Written and directed by Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman, Where is Anne Frank? is a poignant, lovingly detailed animated film following the adventures of Kitty, the human manifestation of the imaginary friend of Anne Frank, world famous teenage diarist and victim of the Holocaust.

As a lonely girl hiding alongside her family in a crowded annex to avoid Nazi persecution, Anne invented Kitty as an outlet for her secrets and fears. Each entry in her famous diary was addressed to Kitty as if Anne were writing to a beloved friend. As the film opens, “one year from now” in the Frank House in Amsterdam, Kitty awakens from the printed page to find herself surrounded by tourists and museum guards, with Anne nowhere to be found. What follows is a fanciful tale of magical realism as Kitty embarks on a dreamlike journey to uncover the truth of what became of Anne after the last diary entry was penned.

The story unfolds in a classic, hand-drawn style of animation that has its own sort of charm. Aimed at an exclusively younger demographic, Folman’s screenplay does its level best to introduce audiences to this undeniably dark period of history without overwhelming them with the grief and horrors. Kitty is seeing the world with fresh eyes and struggling to make sense of it, relying on the connection she forges with Peter, a pickpocket who falls speedily and perplexingly in love with her. Amongst all this, the film also draws pointed parallels between Anne’s experiences beneath the Nazi regime and the current plight of asylum seekers in Europe, a family of whom Kitty befriends along the way.

Softening the tragedy of Anne’s fate by reframing the tale as a love story between a boy and the anthropomorphised personification of Anne’s private diary is certainly a fresh take on the subject. By contextualising the grim reality of the situation within Kitty’s own experiences of love and her sorrow over the loss of her best friend, Folman takes us on a fanciful flight of the imagination that, while soaring to impressive heights, never quite manages to stick the landing.