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Australian, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

A change is as good as a rest for many, allowing us to step away from crushing stagnation of our supposedly dull lives. In Trench, the Melbourne mystery from Director Paul Anthony Nelson, the change is a whole new career and the stagnation comes in the form of the comedy circuit and toxic masculinity.

Marking Nelson’s feature debut, after several shorts for the independent company Cinema Viscera, Trench takes a blanket of film noir tropes and casts it over a modern Aussie cityscape. Trudging through this landscape is stand-up comedian Sam Slade (Samantha E. Hill) and writer Becky Holt (Perri Cummings, who also helped write Trench), two women trapped within their own lives. For Sam, this means shedding the shackles of her microphone and reinventing herself as a private detective, and Becky is going to be her first case.

Filmed in sumptuous black and white, Trench uses this initially simple premise to subvert the detective genre. Gone are the dames who teach you how to whistle, and being handy with your fists is no longer a suitable substitute for conversation skills. Investigating strange things happening in Becky’s flat, the progressive Sam crosses paths with the kind of arched brow, public face misogynists that have taken an unfortunate front seat in the current political climate. Ostensibly set up as interrogations for Sam to gather clues, Trench explores why these archetypes – from ‘ironic’ funny men to sleazy raconteurs in ‘negging’ – they do what they do, and in doing so, manages to flesh them into real people. It is, to be fair, only a light grilling, played mostly for laughs, but it is an interesting way to wrestle with this particular mindset.

For all its modernism, Trench is equally comfortable falling back on some good old fashioned storytelling; with the film’s denouement seeing the unmasked villain donning black gloves and detailing their masterplan like they’re in a Bond film. To some this might be a little played out, but it highlights Nelson’s desire to emulate cinema from the likes of Howard Hawks.

Whilst Cummings and Hill play well off each other, Sam’s picking apart of Becky’s life means we never really get to know much about our hero outside of being exceedingly broke. There are some lovely flourishes that show a Sherlock Holmes just simmering under her surface – using her deductive powers to blag free lattes – and it would have been interesting to see Sam apply more of the skills of her former trade to her new career.

When all is said and done though, Trench is a slick looking piece of independent cinema that mines laughs out of its premise, whilst biting its thumb at the kind of people who were never going to take a female detective seriously in the first place.

Melbourne’s Lido Cinemas is hosting a special Q&A screening of Trench tonight, May 17, 2018. Click through to book your seats

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Between Land and Sea

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

In the Irish town of Lahinch, filmmaker Ross Whitaker finds a community of surfing enthusiasts drawn there because of the town’s craggy rocks and killer waves. The documentary follows these folks for 12 months, and sees how they keep their heads above water, recreationally and financially, when both are dependent on the country’s erratic seasons.

Signs the locals of Lahinch are a people who have to adapt comes in the film’s first shot; a sign at the front of a milkshake bar informs its patrons of its closure and that it’ll return in the summer. As grey clouds loom over, it’s obvious to most that there’s probably not much current demand for Coke spiders.

Whitaker meets a surf teacher whose very career choice relies on tourists, and whilst they can sort of hibernate for the winter, the summer means a lot. Which is why you will feel for them when the ‘sunny’ season does arrive, bringing with it miserable weather. During these times, Whitaker never plays up their stress – and it’s clear they are – instead choosing to focus on their pragmatic nature to muscle through the days.

And that’s what Between Land and Sea is about; like surfing itself, you must adapt and change to suit your environment. Whether it be the surf teachers, the charity swimmer who refuses to let his age affect his hobby, or Fergal Smith, the professional surfer who went full The Good Life and dived into organic farming. Narration free, Whitaker lets his subjects tell their stories and for the most part it’s engaging. Even if it never feels like Whitaker is really digging deep and that he may have missed an opportunity in not talking to Lahinch’s less sporty citizens, who may have something to say about this influx of outsiders.

Where Between Land and Sea really shines is through its cinematography and the way it captures the thrill of surfing. These scenes are the strongest parts of the documentary and manage to translate to non-surfers what makes the sport so intoxicating. Definitely worth a watch.

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Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story

Australian, Review, Theatrical, This Week 1 Comment

Kangaroos are a national icon. They’re a symbolic part of airlines, sports teams, assurances of quality and, sadly, that Kangaroo Jack film. They hold such a place in the nation’s heart, it can be surprising to some, particularly to those overseas, as to how hated they are as well.

 Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story is ostensibly about why Skippy stirs up such a dichotomy of emotions. Fighting for the rights of ‘roos are the likes of Mike Pearson, NSW counsellor for the Animal Justice Party, and environmentalist, Tim Flannery. Believing kangaroos to be nothing but pest are farmers and National Party members. Rather than simply being a knockabout talking heads doco allowing both sides to air their praise or grievances, Kangaroo takes a darker route and quickly evolves into something much more political.

Filmmakers Michael McIntyre and Kate McIntyre Clere (Yogawoman) set their sights on the culling of Kangaroos and how, despite a strict federal code, corners are being cut to meet the demand of food and clothes companies here and overseas. The evidence they provide can be alarming and if Wake in Fright’s culling scene stirred something in you, footage of joeys being torn from mothers and dismembered carcasses spread across fields is really going to fire you up. Kangaroo takes an eyes-on-the-ground approach by talking to the likes of a Blue Mountains landowner who has kangaroos being hunted on her grounds without her permission, due to a law that states licensed shooters can access neighbouring property to do so. It’s completely understandable the filmmakers are yearning for a change. And yet, they aren’t without their faults.

The film has already screened in the US and the UK where the response is ruffling feathers with various stakeholders back home. Kangaroo’s intent to stir up conversation is certainly warranted and returning to the testimonies and videos from others, it’s hard to justify a lot of practices being used to meet quotas. However, despite a supposed two-sided debate, Kangaroo can sometimes feel frustratingly one-sided. Those who work in the food industry or have other stakes in kangaroo culling don’t seem to be given that much time to talk when stacked against that given to Pearson and Flannery. Whilst Kangaroo is quick to address these people’s concerns about kangaroos, it doesn’t feel like there’s a place for them to address some of the accusations hurled at them.

This is not to say the overall message of Kangaroo suddenly becomes null and void. It is still a well-made and emotive film. Like the SeaWorld-crucifying documentary, Blackfish, there’s a sobering feeling that comes from watching it. Kangaroo may not change government legislation overnight, but it does throw events that happen at night into broad daylight for all to see. That has to amount to something.