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Inseparables (Cine Latino)

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French film The Intouchables was a major hit both in its home country and abroad back in 2011. So much so, it probably comes as no surprise that it’s been booked in for an American remake, which should surface next year in the shape of The Upside. Meanwhile, over in Argentina, the film has already been reinterpreted as Inseparables and the result is a mixed bag.

Felipe (Oscar Martínez) is a wealthy quadriplegic who requires around the clock support. Tired of being babied by the people hired by his PA, Felipe decides to give duty of care to his fiery-tempered gardener, Tito (Rodrigo de la Serna). Tito lives a hand to mouth existence and his rough and ready approach to life is in sharp contrast to Felipe’s.

Even if you’ve never seen the original, or simply know about the true story upon which it’s based, you’ll already be fully aware of where this all going; with Felipe discovering, through Tito’s abrasive care, that there’s still so much more to enjoy in life.

There’s no denying that Inseparables wears a large heart on its sleeve. It’s a sweet natured film and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Both leads have a strong chemistry that ensures you’re more than happy to stay in their company for the remainder of the film. De la Serna is particularly strong as the boisterous but fragile Tito.

And yet, what truly lets the film down, is director Marcos Carnevale seemingly not wanting to deviate too much from the source material. We’re not talking Gus Van Sant’s Psycho in terms of mimicry, but if you’re not going to put your personal stamp on it, and with so much brought over wholesale from the original, it’s a wonder why you would remake it all.

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That’s Not Cheating (Cine Latino)

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Sometimes, in relationships, we promise our partners things that we will never follow through on. Whether that be getting a pet, cutting down on fatty foods, or allowing them to sleep with a celebrity should the opportunity arise. It’s the latter of these options that makes up the premise of Argentine comedy, That’s Not Cheating.

Nerdy Mateo (Martin Piroyanksky) has an undisguised crush on actor Zoe del Rio (Liz Solari), which his girlfriend Camila (Lali Esposito) gently mocks by offering him a ‘free pass’ in the unlikely event of him ever getting to meet her. Unfortunately for Camila, Mateo does indeed cross paths with Zoe and the two end up getting on like a house on fire.

Directed by Ariel Winograd, That’s Not Cheating initially mines its humour from Mateo’s decision to hide this initial encounter from his loved one. However, it manages to avoid being a bro-ey celebration of his infidelity by quickly ensuring his plans go awry. From there on out, the film follows both sides in the relationship as they try to deal with the aftershock. It’s a smart move and allows Esposito to be something more than the cliched nagging girlfriend who just doesn’t understand what it’s like to be a ruddy bloke. Refreshingly, she makes just as many mistakes as Mateo, particularly when it comes to her own celebrity crush in the shape of hipster celebrity, Antonio (Guillermo Argeno).

Genuinely funny in parts, with solid performances from its leads, That’s Not Cheating runs aground due to its predictability and rather stale approach to vacuous celebrity culture. Additionally, for a film that chastises its male lead for objectifying women, it certainly goes out of its way to objectify Solari, whilst suggesting that anyone who doesn’t meet her body measurements is liable to be mentally unstable.

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Tarnation (Monster Fest 2017)

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Having tackled roller derbies, wrestling and cyborgs in his previous films, Melbourne filmmaker Daniel Armstrong (From Parts Unknown) turns his attention to good old-fashioned devil worshipping. Well, demon unicorn worshipping, but it all amounts to the same thing, right?

Having been fired unceremoniously by her manager, singer Oscar (Daisy Masterman) is persuaded to join her friends for a dirty weekend in the country. ‘It’s not exactly like a weekend away in a cabin in the woods is going to kill anyone, is it?’, Oscar incorrectly prophesises. Despite sex and alcohol being readily available, things quickly turn sour when demon possession crashes the party and Oscar is left to punch, kick and eviscerate her way to safety.

Looking slick, though a little rough around the edges due to budget constraints, horror fans who have grown tired of CGI over practical effects will certainly get a kick out of what the film has to offer, from pro-wrestling demons to a nifty looking bleeding painting. Anyone else with a fondness for Sam Raimi’s body of work will certainly appreciate what is, in essence, Armstrong’s homage to a certain Bruce Campbell-led trilogy. Rather than simply aping the premise, Tarnation builds upon it, running amok with the tropes which have been a staple of horror since time immemorial.

Tarnation hits the ground running from minute one and never really lets up. Admittedly, your mileage may vary with a horror that doesn’t take itself at all seriously for the entirety of its running time. Raimi certainly never had Ash go up against a boxing kangaroo (replete with boxing gloves), and a third act rap battle means Tarnation, if anything, is a cross-pollination of The Evil Dead and The Mighty Boosh. It’s a lot of fun and you’re not going to walk away bored.

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Three Summers

Australian, Review, Theatrical, This Week 1 Comment

In Ben Elton’s second film as director, the writer and comedian uses the microcosm of a WA folk festival to pick at the scabs of Australia’s political climate both past and present. Elton has always been known for his politics, so his desire to sink his teeth into something like this is not surprising. What is surprising is how he wraps up the political back and forth in the form of a romantic comedy which sees overly serious theremin player, Roland (Robert Sheehan) and down to earth fiddle player Keevey (Rebecca Breeds) pretend they don’t fancy each other over three years.

Without this ‘will they? won’t they?’ as the main thrust of the film, Three Summers could come across a little overwrought and perhaps even on-the-nose. That said, the film’s backdrop is a smart choice on Elton’s part; allowing characters of differing POVs to rub shoulders, without it feeling like they’ve been crowbarred into the scenario.

There’s Michael Caton as a disgruntled grandfather who grew up as a displaced child immigrant, whilst Carlton Pell plays an aboriginal elder, whose gentle joshing of his white audience hides painful truths. Elsewhere, Three Summers casts its light on immigration and asylum seekers. All of which – including our romantic leads – is brought together by the sublime Magda Szubanski as local radio DJ Queenie, who would rather everyone just saw eye to eye.

There have been other comedies that have tackled Australia’s attitude to race relations and Three Summers certainly isn’t as acerbic as Cronulla Riot based comedy, Down Under. However, whilst it doesn’t go for the jugular, it still makes its observations just as pointedly with its softly softly approach. And when all is said and done, it’s still an extremely enjoyable movie that holds some good old-fashioned belly laughs. It may not change the world overnight, but its determination to raise conversation is to be commended.

Click here for nationwide movie times Three Summers 

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What if it Works?

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Technical genius Adrian (Luke Ford) has OCD, which appears to have swallowed his life up wholesale after an unexpected break up. Holed up in his apartment, which is in a continuous cycle of cleaning, his only real escape is tearing around in his car at high speeds. When he meets Grace (Anna Samson), a painter with Dissociative Identity Disorder, the pair seem destined to be together. But only if they can overcome Adrian’s fastidious habits and Grace’s predatory personality.

Giving the leads of your romantic comedy mental health issues is tricky ground to navigate. Jokes built around your characters could be seen as laughing at them, rather than with them. Additionally, in the pursuit of true love, there’s a certain danger of downplaying their daily struggles. What if it Works?, from first time director Romi Trower, not only tackles these issues, it does so with success.

It helps that Trower writes Grace and Adrian as fully developed characters, rather than tropes wrapped up in human skin. They are not drawn to each other because they’re ‘outsiders’, other ‘normal’ characters, such as Adrian’s ex (Brooke Satchwell), are shown to have their own issues to figure out. Instead, we see a genuine affection brewing between the pair in the brightly shot painted laneways of Melbourne. All of which is further bolstered by humanistic performances from Ford and Samson that steer clear from pantomime. Samson, in particular, does a fair amount of heavy lifting as Grace and her several personalities.

Whilst What if It Works? may not have the most complex of plots and secondary characters do seem light on exposition, this simply gives us the opportunity to enjoy the company of our heroes. And considering how touching and big-hearted that company is, it’s completely worthwhile.

Click here for nationwide movie times for What If It Works?

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The Staging Post

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In 2014, filmmaker Jolyon Hoff set out to understand what happened to those refugees turned away from Australia after the PM at the time, Tony Abbott, promised to ‘Stop the Boats’. Jolyon’s journey led him to Indonesia where he met two Afghan Hazara refugees, photographer Muzafar Ali and wannabee filmmaker Khadim Dai. The men, like many others, are waiting for the UNHCR to confirm their refugee status. Until then, they must live with the bare minimum, disallowed from being able to work or even study. Between the three men, The Staging Post gives an honest portrayal of refugee life and the steps taken to improve their situation.

The Staging Post is a quiet film with a loud message. It doesn’t overcompensate with flashy editing, or try to emotionally manipulate with a soundtrack of portentous piano music. It doesn’t need to, as what transpires on screen would cut through any superfluous bells and whistles. What it does do is show how a community can thrive even in the face of an uncertain and fearful future. Deciding to do something about the lack of education for their children, the two men and others set up a learning centre; something which is surprisingly in direct violation of UNHCR policy.

Over the course of the documentary, Hoff allows Ali and Dai to tell their own stories as their centre blossoms; we’re even shown a short film Dai has shot using his phone. In doing so, the political portraits of a faceless swarm invading Australian shores are dismantled to emphasise the individuality of each person we meet. At times heart-warming and heartbreaking, The Staging Post’s subjects radiate love for their fellow men and women. Even when Dai learns of how his people are portrayed overseas, it doesn’t stop him from shrugging it off and staying focused on helping the children around him.

 The Staging Post is an important and uplifting documentary that reminds you that we are all human and capable of making change.

For information on community screenings of The Staging Post, go to the official site

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Anna Karenina: Vronsky’s Story (Russian Resurrection Film Festival)

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There have been numerous adaptations of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, so one could argue that if you’re going to wrestle with the popular tome, then you should be willing to bring something fresh to the table. In this instance, director Karen Shakhnazarov (Ward No. 6, Assassin of the Tsar) takes the original story, blends it with the war memoirs of writer Vikenty Veresaev and recounts the whole affair from the point of view of Anna’s lover Count Vronsky.

On the battlefields of the Russia-Japan war in 1908, a middle aged Vronsky (Max Matveev) unexpectedly meets his ex-lover’s son Sergey Karenin (Kirill Grebenshchikov), who has held a simmering hatred for the former over 30 years. Vronsky’s Story is quick to bring up Anna’s passing as it plays out in the novel, and the two men attempt an uneasy reconciliation in order to understand her and the events leading up to her death.

Done right, this kind of revisionism can really open up an established text, throwing light into its shadows in the hopes of finding something new. Sumptuous in its costumes and set design, Vronsky’s Story starts strong; the Count admitting that the deceased Anna, played by Elizaveta Boyarskaya, haunts his every waking day.

However, Anna’s all-consuming grip on Vronsky’s life bleeds into the narrative and he literally becomes a bit part in his own story. As such, we see events play out before seeing them recounted to our hero by others. Elsewhere, in the ‘present day’, Sergey disappears into the background, popping up only occasionally to insist Vronsky continue his tale. Something he does, even when peculiarly Sergey isn’t around.

It’s certainly easy to get swept up in the grandiose spectacle of it all, whilst Matveev and Boyarskaya give strong performances. However, there’s this inescapable feeling that by sticking rigidly to its source material, Vronsky’s Story is doing itself a disservice, ultimately struggling to tell its own story.

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The Devil’s Candy

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Sean Byrne’s The Loved Ones was a darkly comic horror that took a teenager’s obsession and entitlement to the extreme. In The Devil’s Candy, the Tasmanian director tackles those long time bedfellows of Satanism and Metal Music.

Ethan Embry plays Jesse, a Metallica loving artist moving into a new home with his punky daughter, Zooey (Kiara Glasco), and straight-laced wife, Astrid (Shiri Appleby). Soon after settling in, the large figure of Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince) turns up at their front door. Ray used to live in their home and wants to move back in, whether they want him to or not. This is the perfect setup for a home invasion film, but Byrne refuses to let the film settle on this routine premise. First there’s the little matter of the demonic voices Ray can hear speaking to him through his radio; the same voices that Jesse has begun to hear too; the voices which centre on the men’s obsessions of varying morality. Jesse wants to be taken seriously as an artist, whilst Ray will do whatever it takes to make the voices stop.

This is a down and dirty film that relies on unease and tension for a large part of its narrative, with Ray taking a disturbing interest in young Zooey. As the two men become more and more intrinsically linked, Byrne lets the tension simmer before exploding into a violent finale lit by the literal fires of hell. Whilst Ray isn’t your average satanic antagonist – he’s shown to be a bumbling whiner on more than one occasion – the danger he conceals is never in doubt, due to Byrne’s skilful direction and the film’s ominous throbbing score.

 The Devil’s Candy is a short, sharp shock of terror that knows well enough to keep its audience in the dark even as the sun rises in its final shot.

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Small Town Killers

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When the battle of the sexes is played out on the big screen, particularly in comedy, it can work in the story’s favour if the combat zone is even. Danny De Vito’s War of the Roses is a good example of balancing out your leads by allowing them to be both equally vicious. Small Town Killers, from writer and director Ole Bornedal, tackles similar homicidal marital strife.

Ib (Nicolas Bro) and Edward (Ulrich Thomsen) are two Danish builders who think nothing of fleecing their neighbours for dodgy work at a high cost. Their wives, Gritt (Mia Lynne) and Ingrid (Lene Maria Christensen), think nothing of living off the profits and berating their husbands’ sexual prowess in public. Neither couple reflect the virtues of a perfect marriage, and the film becomes decidedly darker when the husbands hire Russian hitman Igor (Marcin Dorocinski) to off their wives, and their better halves respond in kind with the elderly poisoner Miss Nippleworthy (Gwen Taylor).

Painted in broad strokes, Small Town Killers shuns subtlety and nuance to deliver humour fueled by stereotypes and viciousness. In fact, aside from the couple who run the local Salsa club, you’ll be hard pushed to actually root for anyone. Not that that’s completely a bad thing, but it is fair to say that your mileage may vary when it comes to slumming it with the darker side of suburbia.

However, if you’re happy to throw caution to the wind then Small Town Killers does offer something bleakly joyful to those who persevere. Case in point, the aforementioned Taylor (The Lady in the Van), who steals every scene as the bloodthirsty Miss Nippleworthy, believing her Britishness to be the very essence of her particular skill set. And as has already been hinted at, it’s always refreshing to see both sides of the gender gap able to get the boot in. For, as one of the wives says, women ‘have just as much right to be bastards as men.’