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Nekrotronic

Australian, Horror, Review, sci-fi, Theatrical, This Week 1 Comment

About a third of the way into Nekrotronic, around the time the protagonists are sending a demon’s soul through a gigantic 3D printer so they can then destroy it with an enormous plasma gun, your brain may ask the question, “what the hell am I watching?” It’s a fair question, because Nekrotronic – the latest offering from Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner (Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead) – is as bullfuck crazy a cinematic offering as you’re likely to see this year. But perhaps a better question is, “am I enjoying the experience?”, because that will very likely be answered with an enthusiastic, “fucken oath!”

Nekrotronic tells the tale of affable-but-luckless sewage worker, Howard North (Ben O’Toole) who through an accident of fate thanks to his app-obsessed co-worker Rangi (Epine Bob Savea) discovers he is, in fact, a powerful Nekromancer and capable of seeing ghosts and battling demons. Howard is roughly taught the tricks of the trade by fellow Nekromancer, Luther (David Wenham) and his daughters, Molly (Caroline Ford) and Torquel (Tess Haubrich). Add to this the evil machinations of super-powered demoness Finnegan (Monica Bellucci), who plans to suck the souls of Sydney’s citizens simultaneously, and you’ve got the zany premise for 97 minutes of fast-paced, neon-hued insanity.

See, Nekrotronic’s story functions more as a video game cutscene, to give brief context for the next section of frenetic, action-packed fun, rather than a ponderous exploration of the world. Which is probably a good thing, because the story is frequently utter nonsense, albeit of an engagingly silly flavour.

The Roache-Turner brothers were clearly weaned on the cinematic teat of George Miller, Sam Raimi and John Carpenter, and the genre-crossing mash-up of The Matrix, Ghostbusters and a heavy helping of 1980s schlock comes together in a joyful explosion of enthusiastic insanity, cheerfully disregarding lofty notions of restraint or logic. There’s an agreeable ‘throw everything at the screen and see what sticks’ enthusiasm to the proceedings, which keeps things lively and unpredictable.

It’s not a perfect film, mind you. The first fifteen minutes are the weakest, with some awkwardly (and likely studio mandated) exposition bogging down the opening and a few attempts at quirky comedy that land with a thud. However, once the training wheels come off, the gleeful lunacy takes over and rarely relents.

Performance wise, Ben O’Toole is an agreeable everyman thrust into a situation beyond his comprehension and Caroline Ford is extremely convincing as a kick arse demon-hunter out for revenge. However, this is indisputably Monica Bellucci’s film and she absolutely nails the role, clearly relishing every goofy second that she’s on screen, chewing the scenery and sucking souls with great alacrity. Bellucci’s performance paired with the stunningly-realised practical special effects from Sydney’s own Make-Up Effects Group, not to mention Kiah’s ambitious, kinetic direction, all combine to make Nekrotronoic look and feel like a film much pricier than its relatively modest budget, and while it lacks some of Wyrmwood’s earthier charms, it frequently dazzles.

Nekrotronic is a deftly directed B-grade midnight movie with lashings of laconic Aussie humour and splattery set pieces. Boasting a vivaciously over-the-top performance from Monica Bellucci, oodles of slime-dripping demons and a clear adoration of 1980s cult cinema, it knows precisely what it wants to be and embraces that identity wholeheartedly. If that’s not your jam you’re unlikely to be converted, but audiences who appreciate that style of lunacy will suck it down like a fresh soul.

To find out where Nekrotronic is playing near you, head to https://www.filmink.com.au/nekrotronic

 
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Control

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

Office jobs are scary and weird, it’s an indisputable fact. You lob up to a strange, utilitarian space, spend hours with people you don’t necessarily like and pretend to care about various menial tasks and bureaucratic bullshit; all so you can make enough money to continue existing as a productive member of society. That’s to say nothing of the interdimensional beings who want to colonise your brain with their strange, unknowable consciousness and make you their slave. That last example is, perhaps, a problem unique to the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC), the main location in Remedy Entertainment’s newest brain-bending game, Control.

Control, at its most basic, is a third person action adventure that puts you in the shoes of Jesse Faden, a spunky young woman with a mysterious past and a couple of big secrets. Jesse is on the hunt for her missing brother, and her investigation has led her to the FBC, a gargantuan building whose dimensions seem to shift and change… and why are there so many office workers levitating limply in the air? Surely that’s an OH&S violation. It soon becomes clear that spooky, potentially world-ending shenanigans are afoot, and before the first act concludes Jesse is made director of the FBC, witnesses extremely scary events and develops telekinetic powers. From there, Jesse must investigate the Oldest House (the name given to the building) and unravel the mystery of The Hiss, the enemy that seems to have possessed so many unfortunate humans.

Plot-wise Control is a staggeringly ambitious effort, with a storyline that features wonderful twists, meaty lore and a sense of mood and place that rival the likes of David Lynch and David Cronenberg. Black upside-down talking pyramids, levitating, glowing-eyed ghouls and morphing sections of building are used to terrific effect, offering both fear and awe in equal measure. Gameplay-wise, things are a little more generic, with the game feeling a lot like other third person action/adventure titles; although to be fair, when Jesse develops the ability to telekinetically hurl objects at her enemies and limited flight, you’ll find yourself changing up your tactics accordingly. Still, the main reason to play Control is the story, which you’ll do so in about ten hours, and it’s absolutely worth the effort, even if the ending(s) are a little confounding.

Ultimately, Control is a stellar story, absolutely dripping with atmosphere and jaw-dropping imagery and while the gameplay is a tad familiar, fanging office furniture at your enemies with your mind never gets old, and the labyrinthine depths of the Oldest House are bound to stick with you long after the credits roll. And hey, maybe chuck a sickie and spend some time in a slightly less terrifying office.

 
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Perro Bomba

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

To be treated as less than human is arguably the greatest injustice someone can experience. For the many Haitian immigrants who relocate to Chile in pursuit of better living conditions, it is a heartbreaking reality, one that is told with confronting unease in Chilean drama, Perro Bomba.

Racism is just as much a part of Haitian-born Steevens’ (Steevens Benjamin) daily routine as his commute to work. If the blatant racism from Steevens’ employer – a man who exploits immigrants for cheap labour – didn’t affirm his feelings of displacency, the racist graffiti occupying the Santiago streets does nothing to make him feel welcome.

Perro Bomba makes it clear early on that it is unwilling to sugar-coat its depiction of the Haitian immigrant experience, shining a spotlight on denigration in an ulcer-inducing, emotional gut-punch of a film.

It is not enough for director Juan Cáceres to capture the suffering afforded to Steevens based on his ethnicity. Racism shows no mercy. To follow Steevens’ descent from wide-eyed optimist to homelessness speaks to the tragic experiences of many immigrants of colour; something that Cáceres understands and uses to incite disgust in the viewer.

Scenes are broken up with footage of music and dancing, momentarily dimming the sombre mood of Perro Bomba by showcasing the persevering spirit of the Haitian-Latin cultures.

The creative license taken by Perro Bomba to use dogs as symbolism for immigrant animosity is a tricky endeavour. In the hands of a lesser director than Cáceres, it would risk offensively portraying immigrants as wild. However, it is one that Perro Bomba successfully executes with a sensitive touch, revealing the mounting trepidation felt by immigrants (only so many times can a dog be flicked on the head before it bites back) and their continued exposure to inhumane treatment.

Perro Bomba explores the destructive potential of xenophobia through the eyes of those at the receiving end; the Haitian community. They see the behaviours of any Haitian as capable of negatively impacting the livelihoods of the collective. Their mounting pressure to present as non-threatening burdens them with paralysing anxiety that showcases Perro Bomba’s complex understanding of the pernicious nature of racial discrimination.

If sacrificing your home, family, friends and culture was not enough, the Haitians at the centre of Perro Bomba are at risk of doing this twice in their pursuit of refuge in Chile. Their subjection to abuse as a cruel term of occupancy is a contract that no one should sign (nor should they be exposed to), with the film providing an unflinching depiction of racial abuse that cuts razor-sharp.

 
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Watch The Sunset

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

You literally have to tip your metaphorical hat and bow to Watch The Sunset co-directors, Tristan Barr and Michael Gosden. Not only is this their first feature film, but it all unspools in one single take, and it’s no talky, stage-type adaptation either. This is a film with multiple locations, varied on-screen action – from fights and shootings to car chases – and a logistically complicated narrative. These young Aussies are obviously highly ambitious, and with Watch The Sunset they literally hit all of their marks in what must have been an extraordinary feat of planning and imagination.

Outlaw bikie gang member, Danny Biaro (Tristan Barr in an amazing piece of double duty work), is a man in deep, deep trouble. He’s on the run after liberating a hopeless young drug addict (Zia Zantis-Vinycomb) from some serious physical and sexual abuse at the hands of his gangland brothers. And now all that he wants to do is reunite with his difficult-to-convince ex-partner, Sally (Chelsea Zeller), and their angelic little daughter, Joey (Annabelle Williamson). But Danny’s one-time partners in crime in The Bloodless Brothers might have a thing or two to say about that…

Against the gritty, grainy but strangely poetic backdrop of the town of Kerang in Victoria, Watch The Sunset slowly picks up speed and eventually starts to move like a freight train. And as a wholly pleasant surprise, the potentially risky (and showy) single-take concept only hurts very infrequently, with some static, not-much-happens moments in the opening, and a slight shakiness in a few of the performances. These, however, are very minor quibbles. Assured, controlled and gripping in a measured, slow-burn kind of way, Watch The Sunset lopes from one dangerous, compelling moment to the next for the entirety of its brief duration, and wields significant enough emotion and power to make it much more than just a cinematic experiment or exercise in snide trickery. Watch The Sunset is one for the heart and mind.

Watch The Sunset will screen in Brisbane on August 29 and on The Gold Coast on August 31, and will launch on Stan, iTunes, google play, FETCH TV, SONY PSN, and Vimeo on demand on August 31.

 

 
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The Cotton Wool War

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

To regard the high-energy music sung by Brazilians in The Cotton Wool War as being the sound of the city’s heartbeat would be apt. It is the product of a flourishing Brazilian culture that is unable to contain their appreciation for freedom. The extent of their passion knows no limit; even in the absence of instruments, it would not deter folks from slapping their bodies like a drum to create background music.

As rampant as this cultural expressionism runs throughout Brazil, so too lies an inherited sexism that – despite previous women’s liberation efforts – continues to exist as an everyday reality for Brazilian women.

The Cotton Wool War understands the potential that these toxic attitudes have on progress and explores their existence under an objectionable gaze.

With a reference to Virginia Woolf’s work in both title and subject matter, The Cotton Wool War focuses on unconscious sexism rearing its ugly head.

Dora (Dora Goritzki), a teenager who has been raised in Germany, is forced to stay in Brazil under the supervision of her estranged grandmother, Maria (Thaia Perez). Dora is unknowing to the reason for her visit to Brazil, nor does she know much about her grandmother. This creates most of the tension throughout The Cotton Wool War’s brief run-time and sets the film up to become a well-thought-out dissection on gender inequality.

Dora’s German upbringing causes people to never see her as Brazilian enough – a result which sees her having to prove herself as Brazilian. Dora’s need to rationalise her familial and cultural identity further complicates circumstances, with The Cotton Wool War successfully managing to juggle a broad scope of issues without feeling overbearing; a feat which is more impressive considering the brevity of the film.

Despite their characters’ affluence, both actors leave lasting impressions due to their ability to make the struggle feel relatable. Dora’s mounting resentment towards her family finds her engaging in regrettable behaviour. If not giving the silent treatment, Dora is curt in response and often aggressive towards her soft-spoken grandmother. The differences between the two juxtaposes the hardships faced by women of different generations and helps establish The Cotton Wool War as being more than just a film with an angst-ridden teenager at the helm.

Marilia Hughes and Cláudio Marques manage directorial duties with subtlety and aplomb. Their handling of the characters with sincere respect, warts and all, results in a nuanced piece of filmmaking that celebrates the significant contributions made by feminist pioneers.

 
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Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden

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

What is it about games where you scavenge for scrap in the ruins of the past, why are they so damn satisfying? Is it the catharsis of confronting the fear of society’s collapse in a safe environment or perhaps a frisson of sick glee at watching what happens to the world after it burns? Whatever the reason, the post-apocalypse is a provocative backdrop for media and used to great effect in tactical adventure game, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden.

Mutant Year Zero puts you in the trotters and flippers, respectively, of Bormin (a gruff pigman) and Dux (a duck bloke), as they embark on a quest handed to them by The Elder, the wise overseer of The Ark. The pair swiftly becomes a trio, with more characters introduced along the way, with various different skills that you can swap out as needed. This is a good thing, because the world of MYZ is deadly, brimming with insane Ghouls, homicidal robots and deadly cults, all of whom would be delighted in doing unspeakable things to your body meats.

Gameplay-wise, MYZ can be broken down into two distinct modes: exploration and combat. Exploration is when you lob around the various areas on the map, searching for scrap, weapon parts and loot. You can use what you find to beef up your gear back at the Ark, or spend it on much-needed med kits and grenades. Combat is the inevitable result of what happens when you run into the antisocial elements of the wasteland and takes place in a turn-based system similar to the likes of XCOM or Divinity: Original Sin. It should be noted that combat is tough, especially in the opening hours, so using stealth pre-battle to silently kill as many enemies as you can is not only recommended, it’s essential to survive. Each mutant has various powers they can use – wings to gain a high vantage, thick skin to absorb damage, mind control to even the odds – which adds new layers of strategy to the proceedings as the game progresses.

Graphically, the game’s isometric view is perfect for the material, and the character models brim with little details that sell their mutant origin. The enemies, similarly, are well designed and slickly animated, lending the game a sense of polish that’s genuinely surprising from a relatively small studio like The Bearded Ladies. Story-wise MYZ is a delight, and while your eventual playtime may only be 15-20 hours (comparatively short for the genre), it’s all killer and (mutant year) zero filler.

Ultimately, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a slick, engaging and cleverly designed romp through humanity’s desiccated ruins. Brimming with engaging characters, a vivid world and tense, tough combat it’s an intense joy to play and one of the best examples of the tactical adventure genre. Plus, you can give your pigman a jaunty top hat so, you know, obviously a timeless classic.

 
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Freaks

Review, sci-fi, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

The modern cinematic landscape can feel a little… homogenised at times. Most films seem to be superhero blockbusters, adaptations of popular YA novels or cringingly mawkish Oscar bait. It’s hard not to be nostalgic for ‘middle class’ movies, ie. medium-budgeted flicks based on original screenplays and untethered to larger franchises. You’ll find plenty of them on streaming services, mind you, but precious few at the old picture house. Freaks, happily, is a great example of the value of said flicks, and illustrates beautifully why we miss them.

Freaks tells the tale of Chloe (Lexy Kolker), a young girl who apparently never leaves her house, thanks to the intervention of Dad (Emile Hirsch), who is either protecting her from a dangerous world outside the four walls of home or is, in fact, severely mentally ill and imprisoning her. This elegant set up gives the first half of Freaks a lot of tension and weight, but it also makes the plot difficult to discuss without spoiling, and this is the type of film that’s best to see without preconceptions. Needless to say, the story evolves along the way, and everything is thrown into a new light when Chloe braves the outside world and meets Mr. Snowcone (Bruce Dern), who does a lot more than just flog Paddle Pops…

Freaks, from directors Adam Stein and Zach Lipovsky, is a film that consistently punches above its weight. It’s directed with style and panache that far exceeds its budget level and features excellent performances from all, with young Lexy Kolker and Emile Hirsch making a very convincing daughter and father. The story is clever without being convoluted, reaching an exciting, heartfelt climax, and the broader allegorical nature of the themes raised makes it feel like a throwback to the golden age of 1970s sci-fi like Soylent Green (1973) and Logan’s Run (1976), but with a distinctly modern execution.

Freaks is an unexpected gem of a film, well-acted, well-written and well-shot, with timely themes and clever staging. While it’s not likely to change your life, it’s a thoroughly engaging 105 minutes and a nice reminder that ‘middle class’ movies, even though they’re the freakish outliers these days, can be just the ticket.

 
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Angel of Mine

Australian, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

There are few things worse than a parent losing their child. One of them would be letting a deceptive hope creep in that maybe, just maybe, the child isn’t lost after all.

Dealing with a tragic situation is already too much for a lot of people to take, as the psychological strain of death that can truly mess with the mind. But throw in the possibility that all that pain and heartache might have been misplaced and… well, you get films like this.

A remake of the 2008 French film Mark Of An Angel, with the only major change being the framing of the narrative climax and who is directly involved, it plays out as a character study of Noomi Rapace’s Lizzie, a divorced mother who has been left traumatised by the death of her daughter, and who starts obsessing over a child in the neighbourhood that she believes is her.

Thrillers of this nature benefit from plot ambiguity, keeping the audience in stasis while the two potential outcomes whirl around the story: Is this actually her daughter, or has she lost her mind from the grief?

In the hands of writers Luke Davies, who has experience with displaced families through his work on Lion, and David Regal, best known for his work in late-‘90s Nickelodeon cartoons, that ambiguity feels somewhat misplaced.

Lizzie herself isn’t given the most sympathetic of frames, even with her emotional baggage. This isn’t helped by Rapace’s performance, which is a little too dead-eyed to give the audience a chance to consider her actually being right.

But as the story plays out, its position both as a stand-alone film and as a remake starts to become clearer. Director Kim Farrant (Strangerland), even when the scripting lets her down, shows staggering empathy for the position Lizzie is in, along with that of Yvonne Strahovski as the child’s mother.

On one hand, having an adult basically stalking your child will never not be cause for alarm. But on the other, it’s a nightmare-come-to-life scenario to be so wracked with sorrow for the loss of one’s own flesh and blood that some hope, any hope, is worth clinging to. And this is all without getting into Australia’s dark heart, with children being separated from their families, a history which is still irritatingly debated to this day.

This is definitely rough around the edges, and the weakest of Luke Davies’ most recent efforts (also Beautiful Boy) dealing with familial strains, but overall, it just manages to work.

The performances may not be as strong as they needed to be, but the film’s sense of mood and unending sense of dread fill in the blanks, and the intent at its core regarding maternal instincts feels like it’s tapping into something real. More than a little unsettling, but real.

 
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The Nightingale

Australian, Review, Theatrical, This Week 2 Comments

The impact on the Tasmanian Aboriginal population by the arrival of the British was genocidal. Whether this was part of the intention is still a matter of fierce debate of course. What is certain is that Van Diemen’s land in the late 18th century was one hellish place.

Director Jennifer Kent (who made the acclaimed horror pic The Babadook) doesn’t spare us the raw details. In fact, she somewhat overeggs it to an extent that some will find it wearisome as well as repugnant. Still, the film is clearly a work of conviction and has startling moments and performances.

At the centre of the story is Clare (Aisling Franciosi), a feisty young Irish lass with a voice as sweet as a nightingale, who is eking out an existence with her husband and their young child. This is a penal colony whose rough inhabitants are pinned down by the brutal regime of the English soldiers. As an Irish woman, Clare feels the old enmity and resentment of the English and the feelings of corrupt garrison commander Hawkins (Sam Claflin) is clearly mutual. The most oppressed of all are the original inhabitants, the Aboriginal people who are rounded up for a bounty or coerced into being trackers to navigate for the whites when they enter the wilderness interior.

Having established the harshness of the world, the film’s drama kicks off when Hawkins tries to exert his ‘rights’ to take/rape Clare. This is a scene that will numb some audiences. After that, Clare turns into an exterminating angel and the rest of the film is the working through of her revenge.

As noted, Jennifer Kent feels the necessity to show us how arbitrary and cruel this land would have been, and to stoke our vicarious desire for Clare’s actions. Franciosi (briefly in Game of Thrones) gives a fine performance and she brings inner strength to her pivotal role. Late in the film, she teams up through necessity with escaped Aboriginal tracker Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) – who has seen his tribe annihilated. This is one of the few elements that comes off contrived, and potentially problematic coming from a non-Aboriginal filmmaker.

The rest of the cast all throw themselves into the historical mayhem with good turns from Damon Herriman as the bullying and bullied subaltern soldier. The revelation though is Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games, Me Before You) as the irredeemably evil Hawkins. He is more well known for his romantic roles but here he relishes the opportunity to show what a range he truly has an actor. His cruelty is what gives the film much of its explosive force.

 
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Dogman

Review, Theatrical, This Week 1 Comment

After his 2008 breakthrough Gomorrah – an unapologetic look at the Camorra crime syndicate – Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone switched lanes to experiment with dark fantasy (Tale of Tales) and meta-media comedy (Reality).

Dogman marks his return to the crime genre, albeit on a smaller scale, with an intense character study of an everyman drawn into violence.

Marcello Fonte is Marcello, a harmless dog-groomer in a rundown coastal town off Southern Italy. Although popular amongst the locals and tight-knit community of business-owners, Marcello also deals cocaine on the side, which brings in the extra cash to treat his doting daughter to scuba-diving holidays.

But his fate is tragically intertwined with Simone (Eduardo Pesce), an unpredictable ex-boxer who terrorises the neighbourhood and frequently coaxes Marcello into his criminal activities.

Despite many opportunities to extricate himself from Simone’s (unorganised) crimes, Marcello is fascinated by his counterpart’s alpha-male toxicity and power. This is underscored in the film’s opening scene where Marcello calmly approaches and washes an aggressive canine – demonstrating his inherent nature to appease men and mad dogs alike.

The cinematography from Nicolaj Brüel is impressive throughout, capturing the town’s derelict boardwalk and dilapidated shopfronts in long lingering takes and natural lighting. This is counteracted with up-close, hand-held filmmaking – a strategy employed in the multi-strand narrative of Gomorrah. When Simone first appears, we get an uneasy sense of his towering presence by focusing on the diminutive Marcello – the camera invading his personal space and creating a sense of disorientation.

Though Garrone originally wanted Roberto Benigni to take the lead role, it’s hard to imagine anyone playing it better than Fonte. The relatively-unknown actor imbues his austere namesake with amiable characteristics, and went on to win the best actor award at Cannes for his performance.

The third act is where the film sags, abandoning Marcello’s prioritisation of his daughter for the pursuit of perceived justice. His moral dilemmas culminate in an overstretched epilogue that is curiously enigmatic and open to interpretation.

Humanistic in tone and carried by a strong central performance, Dogman averts its revenge saga trappings to create a social parable reminiscent of the neorealism era; occasionally drawing to mind the work of Italian masters like Fellini and De Sica.