After years of terrifying international audiences via the Wolf Creek films and TV series (along with similarly horrific detours like Rogue, The Darkness, and The Belko Experiment), Australian director, Greg McLean, takes a hard-left out of genre filmmaking with Jungle, but crafts something just as unsettling as his previous cinematic bloodbaths. While there are no serial killers or supernatural entities, this internationally-flavoured local production boasts a truly dangerous “villain” in the form of the eponymous wilds of Bolivia, a place of unrivaled savagery that McLean can’t help but apply his horror filmmaker’s instincts to. The results are chilling, harrowing, and occasionally near puke-inducing.
Based on the true life book by Yossi Ghinsberg, this gut-churning tale of survival is worthy of placement next to the highly impressive likes of Into The Wild, Deliverance, Wild, 127 Hours, and Alive. In a richly physical and immensely sympathetic performance, Daniel Radcliffe (whose continuing quest for challenging roles doesn’t receive nearly as much praise as it should) is superb as Ghinsberg, a young man travelling the world in the early 1980s, against the better wishes of his strict parents.
In the insular backpacking community of Bolivia, he meets two new friends in robust American, Kevin Gale (an excellent Alex Russell) and sensitive Swiss teacher, Marcus Stamm (a fine turn from rising Aussie star, Joel Jackson). Thirsty for adventure and new experiences, they take up the unlikely offer of enigmatic adventurer, Karl Ruprechter (played with an imaginative streak of the unpredictable by Thomas Kretschmann), to head into the jungle in search of a lost tribe of Indians, and perhaps a little gold along the way. But once in the wild, the three travelers soon start to question the credentials of their guide, and then realise how enormous and truly horrifying the jungle that surrounds them truly is.
Just as nervous urban-bound horror filmmakers have found treachery and evil in the backwater towns of America and the dark unknown of Europe (and, of course, the Australian outback), Greg McLean locates terror in the jungles of the Amazon. Yes, we’ve seen this winding, tangled river used as the backdrop for the gruesome likes of Cannibal Holocaust and The Green Inferno, but the nightmare of Jungle is much more real and far less sensationalist. Never have bug infestations, starvation, dehydration, pounding rain, wild river rapids, fire ants, and blistered feet registered with such force and fury – McLean grinds the gore here with admirable aplomb, giving Jungle the kind of kick that a non-genre filmmaker wouldn’t even have considered. But he’s in touch with his characters too, and as we endure the horrors of the jungle with them, the film soars in strange and unexpected ways. A survival film that marches to the delirious beat of its own hallucinogenic drum, Jungle bows inventively before the bad guy to end all bad guys: Mother Nature.
Family abuse, nude modelling, chainsaw art, twins, tattoos, murder, and more…when it comes to ticking outré buttons, Innuendo is edgy independent cinema personified. And indie this Australian-Finnish mash-up is, being crafted well outside the auspices of traditional local funding via crowdfunding and other modes of finance. The work of an impressive multitasker in the form of Finnish-born, Australian-based writer/director/producer star Saara Lamberg, Innuendo wears its influences (David Lynch, Yorgos Lanthimos, and, most clearly, Roman Polanski) proudly and with reckless abandon, but always functions as an engagingly original film in its own right.
Defying easy genre categorisation, Innuendo tracks the dour, disconnected Tuuli (Lamberg) from Finland to Australia, where she hurls herself into the world of nude art class modelling. Haunted by memories of a painful childhood defined by her complex relationship with her angelic twin sister and domineering parents, Tuuli appears to drift aimlessly before lolling into the staid orbit of sensitive uni student, Thomas (Andy Hazel). Unimpressed, Tuuli quickly moves onto the rough, charismatic chainsaw sculptor, Ben (Brendan Bacon), who leads a far more marginalised life. Mixing with his circle of friends, the singular Tuuli begins to act out in strange and confronting ways, eventually becoming a threatening and malignant anti-life force.
Though the low budget occasionally hurts, Innuendo is a stylish exercise into dark psychological territory, with a finely tuned pay-off electrifying the final act. The performances are strong, with Brendan Bacon a particular stand-out. Boasting the kind of idiosyncratic physicality and presence that would mark him for top-tier character actor gigs if he was American, he provides the film with much needed earthiness in the face of its often elliptical stylisation. Dreamy, strange, and daring in its willingness to challenge and distance the audience with its remote, icy anti-heroine, Innuendo is a brave effort from the keenly talented Saara Lamberg.
The kind of experimental trip rarely taken in this country, this true original manages to draw you in while keeping you at arm’s length at the same time, and that’s no mean feat.
“There were no hits,” singer/songwriter, Robert Forster, says emphatically of his group, The Go-Betweens. “We didn’t have any hit songs.” No case of false modesty, The Go-Betweens indeed failed to crack the Top 40, despite making appearances on Countdown and inspiring collective swoons from the local music press. But proving (again) that commercial success and true artistry rarely go hand in hand, many of their songs – most notably “Cattle And Cane” and “Streets Of Your Town” – are now justifiably part of the Australian lexicon.
While the band’s (formed by Forster and fellow songwriter, Grant McLennan, in Brisbane in the late ’70s) music is deceptively simple, their tortured, angst-ridden history is deeply, heatedly complex. Refusing to play to its more sensationalist qualities, busy director, Kriv Stenders (Boxing Day, Red Dog, Lucky Country, Australia Day), crafts this melancholy story into wonderfully cohesive and richly intimate documentary form with The Go-Betweens: Right Here.
Mixing starkly shot talking head interviews (irreverent music journo and friend of the band, Clinton Walker, steals the show) with artful recreations and stylish bridging visuals, along with vintage interviews and music clips, the story of The Go-Betweens: Right Here – in which two friends innocently form a band while at university, and eventually fall prey to ego, booze, drugs, and complicated relationships – is a familiar one, it’s also entertainingly perverse. Like a far less successful ABBA or Fleetwood Mac, the internal romantic machinations of The Go-Betweens are the stuff of legend, with the relationship of Forster and the band’s drummer, Lindy Morrison (a truly unusual and endearing figure), crumbling, only to be replaced by the equally intense coupling of McLennan and the group’s gifted violinist, Amanda Brown.
Stenders is obviously fascinated by these wonderfully eccentric characters and their fractious entanglements, but he’s also compelled by the complex nature of creativity and collaboration, and he incisively works these two central strands together seamlessly. Refreshingly, Stenders is far less interested in McLennan’s dalliances with drugs and alcohol, and his sad, curious death at the age of just 48 from a heart attack. Though less astute directors would opportunistically hone in on these more sordid story points, Stenders knows that there’s even more interesting stuff going on elsewhere, and cannily avoids merely making another doco about a muso who falls to the sway of narcotics and drops way before his time. With wit, warmth, and a lovingly bent sense of pathos, The Go-Betweens: Right Here digs through the surface details, and gets right to the battered heart of one of Australia’s most important and under-valued bands.
There’s a constant buzz these days about the paucity of behind-the-camera female talent in both Australian and world cinema. That’s very slowly starting to change, thanks to films like Rip Tide, which boasts a female director (sophomore helmer, Rhiannon Bannenberg), screenwriter (Georgia Harrison), cinematographer (Tania Lambert), production designer (Jan Edwards), as well as a central female character and supporting players. But because it’s aimed directly at a young female (or tween) audience, there likely won’t be much in the way of celebration for the admirably estrogen-charged Rip Tide, which is a pity, because there are some nice messages tucked away amongst the film’s glossy images and social media-era storytelling.
Utilising the city-slicker-shifts-to-the-countryside trope tapped in everything from Footloose and Doc Hollywood to Funny Farm and Baby Boom, Rip Tide follows American it-girl fashion model, Cora (winningly played by Disney Channel fave Debby Ryan, best known for the TV series, Jessie), who runs off to Australia to see her long lost aunt, Margot (Genevieve Hegney), after she’s involved in a humiliating social media disaster. Also fleeing the Kris Jenner-like clutches of her model agency-owning mum (Danielle Carter), Cora eventually ditches her big city ways and embraces the decidedly slower lifestyle of her new temporary home in the sleepy beachside town of Tea Tree, which of course includes a little romance in the very handsome form of local surfer and all-round nice guy, Tom (Andrew Creer).
Beautifully shot (has NSW’s Illawarra region ever looked so stunning?) and with an engaging sweetness and sincerity, Rip Tide knows exactly who its audience is, and makes no apologies for it. Even emblazoned with a rare G-rating, this raunch-free charmer has been designed specifically for girls at the lower end of the teen spectrum, and should offer them plenty of appeal. Yes, the story is nothing new and the performances are a little uneven, but the positivity of Rip Tide is contagious, while its standing as a modest piece of cinematic female empowerment (both in its narrative and off-screen creation) can’t be understated.
The late Albert Namatjira is unquestionably Australia’s most famous Aboriginal artist, with his works hanging in galleries all around the world, and even somewhere inside Buckingham Palace. But like so many high profile indigenous Australians, his story is touched by sadness and tragedy. While he was featured on a postage stamp, Namatjira was also mistreated by the government. His paintings are currently tied up in a copyright bind that has long prevented Namatjira’s relatives – many of whom continue to paint in his watercolour landscape style – from seeing any of the considerable revenue generated by his work posthumously. The Namatjira Project – which includes exhibitions, workshops, a stage play, and a public campaign – was set up in an effort to raise funds to buy back the copyright to Namatjira’s work, and it’s the focus of Sera Davies’ sprawling but cogent eponymous documentary.
With the creation of the Namatjira Project stage play as its narrative centre, the doco shoots off in many directions, but the emerging theme is what extraordinary good can be achieved when Australia’s black and white communities come together in the spirit of peace and harmony. The work of Albert Namatjira was introduced to the world largely through the artist’s discovery by fellow painter and Anglo-Australian, Rex Battarbee, and the pair would also eventually become close and long-lasting friends. In a similar vein, The Namatjira Project is the result of intercultural cross-pollination, with the stage play a powerful collaboration between writer/director, Scott Rankin, and his charismatic leading man, Trevor Jamieson. Wedged in amongst the stinging sadness and constantly ebbing waves of pain, these relationships dose Namatjira Project with a welcome sense of warmth and positivity.
Though splicing together multiple narrative strands, debut director, Sera Davies, crafts something clear and concise with Namatjira Project. She expertly tells Albert Namatjira’s story through interviews and historical footage while also delivering an entertaining “behind the curtain” showbiz doco, as the stage play’s creators sweat on it all coming together and then smile with shock and wonder as they’re later swept off to perform in London. The plight of Namatjira’s descendants, meanwhile, is treated with dignity and sensitivity. When stitched together, it makes for a fascinating and deeply human portrait of the complicated life, stunning work, and unfairly misplaced legacy of Australia’s most famous indigenous artist.
Radio Birdman are one of Australia’s truly seminal rock bands, a primal, full-tilt musical force right up there with The Saints and The Birthday Party. Ingeniously art directed and soaring on a militaristic image complete with arm patches and ersatz uniforms, they tagged their tours as blitzkriegs and sent audiences into a frenzy. Like all essential rock bands, they’ve also been through a rolling swathe of personal wars. Battered and bruised, Radio Birdman now still stand with three original members and a roster of long-standing replacement musicians.
But in his stellar documentary, Descent Into The Maelstrom, director, editor, and producer, Jonathan Sequeira bravely refuses to allow the history of this ragged rock’n’roll war to be rewritten by its victors. With sensitivity and respect, he gives just as much time to the players ousted from the band as he does to the men who remain in it. It makes for a wonderfully candid, multi-layered, and morally upstanding documentary that never veers anywhere near hagiography. Sequeira paints the fight from all corners, and provides one of the best pictures you’ll ever see of how a band can go from a tight-knit, all-for-one ethos to one beset by personal battles and internal division.
The story of Radio Birdman – a stand-alone Sydney musical outfit from the 1970s inspired by the likes of The New York Dolls and The Stooges who created an entire social scene in their deliriously propulsive image – is a great one, and that gives Sequeira an instant framework for artistic success. But his stylistic flourishes (not to mention the sizzling archival footage of the band’s anarchic, to-the-edge stage shows) add even more colour, and his lack of compromise is admirable. This is a warts-and-all telling, but the extraordinary charisma of the band members means that this lots-of-ups-but-even-more-downs tale never becomes sordid or too bleak.
The remaining band members – wild frontman, Rob Younger; guitarist and songwriter, Deniz Tek, who also just happens to be a trained ER doctor and ex-navy flight surgeon; and keyboardist, Pip Hoyle, who “sidelines” as a doctor and medical administrator – are keenly intelligent, enjoyably eccentric, and very funny. They’re the best-known players, but their discarded “opposite numbers” – guitarist, Chris Masuak; bassist (and poster and album artist), Warwick Gilbert; and drummer, Ron Keeley – are equally arresting. Their bitterness is evident but actually endearing, and their investment in the mythos of Radio Birdman is palpable.
With Descent Into The Maelstrom, feature film debutante, Jonathan Sequeira, proves himself to be not just a fine cinematic stylist, but also a director with an investigator’s heart. His relentless excavation of the facts is a joy to watch, with the filmmaker drilling down deep and getting way beyond the surface details to tell the vividly full-bodied and deeply moving story of a great Australian band, and the diverse personalities that have contributed to its decades-long wall of sound. Yeah, hup!
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