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Intruders

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Home invasion films run a fairly predictable and tight schedule. Nice family/person have their home life interrupted by not so nice person/people. Horrible things happen till credits, and then home for tea. See The Strangers, Knock Knock, and perhaps the daddy of them all, Funny Games.

Intruders’ nice person is Anna (Beth Riesgraf), a woman with such extreme agoraphobia that she can’t even attend the funeral of the brother that she’s been caring for. An utter recluse, with her sibling dead, her only friend is Rory Culkin’s Dan, the meals-on-wheels guy who visits. During her brother’s funeral, Anna is visited by burly men looking to rob her house. Unable to leave her home for fear of the outside, Anna has to fight off her intruders. And this is where Intruders turns left instead of right, for Anna appears pretty well equipped to deal with them. This turning of tables gives Intruders that little something extra for its audience to stick around for. Unfortunately, this feature length debut by Adam Schindler doesn’t know when enough is enough.

Midway through proceedings, a revelation raises its head that, whilst interesting, taints the plot as a whole; it’s like adding a tablespoon of hot sauce to a light soup. The curtain is pulled back on Anna and, as her secrets lie exposed belly up, Intruders starts to feel a bit cheap, cashing in suspenseful storytelling for garish sensationalism. It’s as if writers, T.J. Cimfel and David White, weren’t confident enough to leave Anna’s particular backstory under a veil. A little less exposition and a little more mystery would certainly have worked wonders. Intruders at least tries to do something different, and it does manage to keep things ticking over smoothly enough before ending everything on a literal bang.

 
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Spear

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Bangarra, Australia’s leading indigenous contemporary dance company, with the help of The Adelaide Film Festival’s HIVE Fund (which commissions arts projects), has adapted one of their stage pieces with Spear, helmed by Bangarra’s long-time artistic director, Stephen Page.

Made up of expressionistic dance and movement pieces, we are led through the action by Djali (the striking Hunter Page-Lochard from Around The Block) as he witnesses various scenarios of Aboriginal life, both traditional and modern. The latter is best represented by a character played by Aaron Pedersen (originally portrayed by Wayne Blair in the theatre production), who has become disenfranchised by trying to live the white man’s life. For traditional cinemagoers, this is the segment which they can grasp onto, as it contains a moving monologue and an actor who knows how to play for the camera. The rest of the film, apart from an amusing school hall scene and a rousing finale, is really up for grabs; if you like expressive dance, then you will relish it, but if you prefer things laid out for you, the experience may prove laborious.

Like a previous HIVE Fund recipient, The Boy Castaways, there is a lot to love about Spear, but it simply cannot escape its theatrical roots. Beautifully shot by Bonnie Elliott (These Final Hours), with music by David Page, the mostly-male cast contort their bodies in beautiful ways, and you sense that this is representative of the many faces of the modern Aboriginal experience and identity, but something has been lost in translation, and you can’t help but feel that the exhilaration and immediacy of a live performance would have been far superior than sitting in the darkness of a cinema. Admirably, Spear certainly has something to say, but you can’t help but wish that it was more cinematic.

 
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The Will To Fly

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To neophytes of Olympic sport, the pursuits wherein exist in a curious temporal vacuum: once every four years, the swimmers swim, the runners run, the skiers ski, and then they quickly disappear back into the stasis from which they came, to be unthawed for competition again in another four years. Naturally, the perception of the casual observer bears little relation to reality.

The Will To Fly chronicles the travails of Australian Olympic aerial skier, Lydia Lassila, from her early career to her performance at The 2014 Sochi Winter Games, where she undertook the most complex acrobatic manoeuvre ever attempted by a woman in an Olympic competition. The most remarkable thing about this Australian feature documentary is that it dispels the conceptual vacuum by chronicling the gaps that go astray for all but the people directly involved. What it reveals is the phenomenal commitment, effort, and time that go into an eventual thirty seconds or so.

While all this is logically deducible, what makes The Will To Fly instructional is the benefit of narrative context. Lassila’s story is one of amazing tenacity, self-will, and perseverance that supersedes one’s interest (or disinterest) in sport, essentially because the human achievement is all too recognisable. Lassila ruptures an anterior ligament, undergoes knee reconstruction, re-ruptures the same ligament, births two children, and keeps training to do a quad-twist-triple somersault mid-air on a ski slope. In other words, the trump card of this documentary is that it is effortlessly inspirational, boasting a highly likeable subject. The Will To Fly is aided by depicting an especially visceral sport whose performances are able to elicit a genuine sense of danger and excitement. While for sports aficionados this is a no-brainer, the apathetic may be pleasantly surprised too.

 
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Triple 9

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Within the first few minutes of Triple 9, we’re thrust into an elaborate bank heist, planned by Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Russell Welch (Norman Reedus), his brother, Gabe (Aaron Paul), and bent coppers, Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) and Franco Rodriguez (Clifton Collins, Jr.). The heist, like all movie heists, goes awry, and the group of seasoned crims need to act fast, and smart, to escape with their loot and lives intact. It’s a tense, exciting sequence that bristles with suspense.

Ordinarily, such a propulsive, kinetic opening would be followed by relaxing downtime, when measured character development and exposition are used to fill in the blanks in the story. Triple 9 ignores this ubiquitous trait of modern cinema and director, John Hillcoat (The Road, The Proposition), continues to ratchet up the tension, with only minor lulls, for the entire 115-minute runtime. That’s not to say that Triple 9 is simply a dumb action film – in fact, the action is used relatively sparingly; it’s just that the narrative never slows down to hold the hand of the viewer. If you want to know about the relationships between the characters and the nuances of the backstory, you’ll have to pay attention. There are no elaborate flashbacks, and no lengthy speeches – this is a movie that moves.

That’s mostly a positive thing, as Triple 9’s somewhat familiar structure works well on the go. On the downside, it does mean that some of the supporting characters feel thinly developed. The scenery chewing turn from Kate Winslet as a Russian-Jewish crime boss is fun but almost too broad, and Casey Affleck’s cop, Chris Allen, is too slight, although Woody Harrelson has a wonderful time as a stoner detective. It also means that the film never specifically identifies a main character to root for, because everyone’s morality is murky and no one is entirely untainted.

Triple 9 is a stark, frequently brutal thriller that manages to be gripping and shocking for its entire runtime. The main cast are superb, the score by Atticus Ross sustains the uneasy mood, and John Hillcoat bests his last film, Lawless. It’s not a crowd-pleaser, to be sure, but it will be a delight for those who like their crime flicks with a sharper edge.

 

 
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Dick’s Clinic

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Dick (Justin Rosniak) is 32-years-old, single, unemployed, and undergoing regular therapy. When his regular therapist has a mental breakdown and quits, Dick is left at a loose end until he decides to start his own practice, out of his garage, selling cheap mental health advice to the proletariat with a side course of beer and weed. While beginning a romance with one of his patients (Nicole Shostak), Dick must also contend with the competition of his housemate, Reece (Ben Geurens), who has fashioned himself upstairs as a spiritual guru and is attempting to sabotage Dick’s clinic.

While Dick’s Clinic sounds relatively madcap in synopsis, it is actually so laid back as to be horizontal. Something about the way its characters prove so un-phased is almost quintessentially Australian. This also holds true for its brand of humour, which is slightly ironic and very dry, but acerbic in its own way. The film’s sense of subtlety is certainly one of its major strengths, as it never becomes more ridiculous than it needs to, but always remains amusing. While you could call it irreverent, its aim is not to be outrageous.

The downside is that its laidback pace occasionally drags, leaving the film – especially in the middle – to meander about rather aimlessly while it gathers the necessary traction to project itself forward. Most pleasingly, apart from its humour, the film has heart and a lot of compassion for its working class characters. It never descends into the condescending boganisms that are the hallmark of filmmakers sneering snidely at their economic inferiors from afar. Dick’s Clinic is a charming film that, while aiming towards the inevitable outcome of all romantic comedies, feels fresh in its execution. A modest, small film and a very good one.

 
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The Lady In The Van

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Maggie Smith ascends from the earth with as much fuss as she might do the groceries, her bulbous doe eyes stoic amid the throes of divine rapture. The clouds above part to reveal the heavenly seraphim; God with a giant finger beckons from the mist; and Maggie is subsumed into eternity. It may be aesthetically trite, and God was not afforded the best in computer graphics, but the moment is sardonically moving once it happens.

The Lady In The Van is based on Alan Bennett’s 1989 memoir and 1999 West End play of the same title, while he also self-penned the screenplay for this adaptation. Alex Jennings plays Bennett, a neurotic middle aged playwright prone to flights of narrative fancy and conversations had with a literal manifestation of his own conscience. When Miss Shepherd (Smith), an elderly vagrant living out of the back of a van, moves into his neighbourhood and, eventually, his driveway, their lives over the next two decades become increasingly inextricable, as titbits of Miss Shepherd’s extraordinary existence reveal themselves.

Smartly directed by Nicholas Hytner (who also helmed the big screen version of Bennett’s much loved play, The History Boys, along with the acclaimed The Madness Of King George), The Lady In The Van is a film with charm to spare, and it strikes an agreeable balance between dry wit and pathos. Smith is fantastic as the curmudgeonly vagrant, as is Jennings in his dual role playing two versions of Bennett, and their rapport is particularly endearing.  Only the fact that it is aware of its own meta-cleverness means that the film is sometimes too precious for its own good, though its droll sense of sentiment makes up significantly for its so-slight smugness. A minor gem.

 
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Fear The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season

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When it was officially announced that Fear The Walking Dead would be a prequel to the incredibly popular The Walking Dead, set before the zombie uprising, tongues started to wag about what this could possibly involve. After all, what’s the point of The Walking Dead if it doesn’t have any dead? Walking or otherwise. Those fears are, to a certain extent, mitigated upon viewing this six-part first series.

Set in the first few days before society’s collapse, the series follows high school counsellor, Madison (Kim Dickens), her boyfriend, Travis (Cliff Curtis), and their children from previous marriages: Madison’s drug addict son, Nick (Frank Dillane); her perfect daughter, Alicia (Australian actress, Alycia Debnam-Carey); and Travis’ resentful son, Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie).

After a skilfully crafted opening that reintroduces the audience to the idea of cities being populated with colour and living, breathing people, the wheels of the show spin as this blended family separately pick up on unrest in their community. The opening is unjustifiably an hour long, presumably to flesh out the characters, though it mainly just stirs a desire to shout, “Get on with it!” Things certainly pick up, however, once the military come to clear up the infected, and everyone finds themselves prisoners in their own homes. This armed presence gives the series its antagonist, as the family take on roles outside of their comfort zone in order to make sense of the insanity.

As troubled Nick, Frank Dillane certainly stands out, refusing to let a zombie apocalypse get in the way of his addiction. Reminiscent of a young Johnny Depp, circa Dead Man, Dillane is continually watchable throughout. Fear The Walking Dead might not be everything that the fans could wish for, but it works not only as a companion to its parent series, but as a standalone work about real family struggles in surreal circumstances.

 

 
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The Boy And The Beast

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The Boy And The Beast begins with a prologue, setting up a typically convoluted, pseudo-esoteric anime premise: a world of beasts where men compete to become lords, and lords possess the capacity to willfully reincarnate into gods.

The homeless orphan, Kyuta, stumbles into this world by pure happenstance, finding his entrance via a narrow alleyway. He is soon taken into the care of Kumatetsu, a warrior beast who raises and rears him in the ancient martial arts of his people. As Kyuta grows into a young man, he is forced to confront a great darkness which threatens to throw the worlds both of beasts and men into chaos.

The biggest problem with The Boy And The Beast is that for all its fantastical leanings, it isn’t terribly original. The world of beasts exists principally as a facsimile of archaic Japan, and it is only by their irregular appearance that the beasts vary substantially from humans.  Similarly, the young-warrior-in-training plotline is a trope used and re-used exponentially, an archetype of both Japanese and western storytelling.

Having said that, most storytelling is inevitably archetypical by degrees, and the critical demarcation is whether the treatment rendered it is expedient. What The Boy And The Beast has going in its favour is that its familiar characters are likeable, and that its central relationship is rendered with a depth of heart and humour. There are genuinely touching moments throughout the film, especially a montage of several years’ passage wherein the bond between Kumatetsu and Kyuta is elucidated.

The Boy And The Beast, however, is never quite as transcendent as it might be, and certainly not in the manner of movies like Spirited Away or Grave Of The Fireflies. What it lacks is a certain cinematic gravitas: its pacing and exposition are too cumbersome, and it leans towards being more cartoonish than it should. Still, in terms of thoughtful anime, The Boy And The Beast is above average.

 
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Survivor

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V For Vendetta director, James McTeigue, helms this spy thriller which sees Milla Jovovich as Kate Abbott, a Security Agent working for the US embassy in London, who becomes the target of a terrorist known as The Watchman (Pierce Brosnan). Having brought in stricter vetting processes, Kate is wanted by shadowy ne’er-do-wells who would like to see her six feet under…which is where The Watchmaker enters, setting up a bomb in a local restaurant that Kate is frequenting.

Surviving that initial blast, mainly through gratuitous good luck, Kate has to then make her way through the city to a secret rendezvous point set up by her agency for just such an occasion. Along the way, she uncovers a terrorist plot, which may involve members of her team. All the while, The Watchmaker closes in on her in an attempt to tidy up his loose ends.

More Salt than Bourne, Milla Jovovich is game enough as the story becomes crushed under its own logic. It’s Brosnan who has the most fun though, lapping up the opportunity to play the bad guy as he stalks Kate through the backstreets of London. Despite pitching its tent in a stoic post 9/11 landscape, Survivor is an absurd film that would have done better by not taking itself so seriously. Having survived the initial bombing, and following protocol that is reiterated several times by her colleagues to be the right thing to do, Kate is strangely eyed-up as a potential dirty agent. It’s the kind of premise that falls apart quickly when you realise that one phone call to say that she’s alright could solve all her problems. Where Survivor does pick up points is through not falling back on the stock stereotypes of all Middle Eastern people being terrorists. That doesn’t justify everything else though.

 
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The Last Survivors

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With Mad Max: Fury Road having blazed a trail last year, and Katniss’ story coming to an end in the second part of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, The Last Survivors arrives at a time when female characters are not simply strong because they can kick hard.

Sometime in the future, the world has been crippled by a ten-year drought. In a valley somewhere in America, a water baron by the name of Carson (John Gries) has taken it upon himself, like any good George Miller antagonist would, to round up anybody using his precious water on their dilapidated farmland. Hayley Lu Richardson plays Kendal, a young woman keeping her head whilst those around her literally lose theirs. Having managed to hide herself and her ill partner (Booboo Stewart) from the machinations of the corrupt baron and his small army, she soon finds that time and water are running out.

Visually bleached to the bone, The Last Survivors plays out like the adaptation of a Young Adult novel that’s yet to be written, where youth must triumph over the old. Kendal, however, is a resourceful protagonist who isn’t trying to lead a revolution, but just trying to survive. Richardson plays her with ruthless efficiency, and there are chills when she confesses to her boyfriend that she hadn’t planned on him surviving as long as she has.

John Gries (Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite!), meanwhile, plays Carson as the hero in his own story, forgoing the usual villain’s arched eyebrow and moustache twirling. Both Carson and Kendal don’t want to have to hurt anyone really, but needs must when the devil drives. At times, like its cast of characters, The Last Survivors looks a little rough around the edges, but it certainly achieves more than its glossy compatriots.