Sunday, 21 May 2017

THE PHANTOM MENACE (audio review)

The Phantom Menace audio review for Triple J

DONNIE DARKO (audio review)

 Donnie Darko audio review for Triple J

Thursday, 11 May 2017


In an unnamed, neon flecked future city, the Major (Scarlett Johannson) heads up a counter-terrorist squad called Section 9. Following her parents’ death and severe personal injury in a terrorist attack, the Major’s brain is loaded into a cybernetic body. In a world dominated by robotic appendages and cybernetic enhancements, the Major represents the first complete merger of human and artificial intelligence. Her consciousness within the metal frame personifying the ‘Ghost in the Shell.’ Torn between her desire to remember more of her former life, and dedication to duty, the Major and her team must track down the illusive cyber terrorist Kuze, as he wreaks murderous havoc upon the executives of the Hanka Robotics company.

Drawing on elements from Masamune Shirow’s revered manga, the TV series and Mamoru Oshii’s iconic 1995 animated feature, Ghost in the Shell is a lustrous piece of cyberpunk tech noir, which impresses on a visual scale, but struggles to make a connection elsewhere.

Scarlett Johansson gives an oddly subdued performance as the Major. Disturbed by glitches and memories of her former life, she comes across Robopcop-Lite, but remains perpetually aloof. Where Verhoeven’s android copper drew us in, Ghost in the Shell keeps us firmly at arms length, so we’re never fully on board with what she’s trying to do. The movie’s heart has been replaced with cold circuitry.

Juliette Binoche has more success as Dr Ouelet, scientist and surrogate parental unit in charge of the Major’s general wellbeing. She brings much needed emotion to the sterile proceedings. Takashi Kitano also fares better, on reliably good form as the enigmatic head of Section 9, muttering in Japanese yet being fully understood by his English speaking subordinates. Most of the other characters fail to leave much of an impression. The villains are uncharismatic, and the Section 9 team have no real motivation beyond catching bad guys and patting dogs.

Structurally, the set up is unclear. At some points Section 9 are beholden to the whims of Hanka Robitics, and at others they adhere to orders from the (unseen) Prime Minister. It feels underdeveloped, as if the filmmakers didn’t quite make their minds up about how this universe operates before they started filming.

Ghost In The Shell’s problem is not style over substance, because there is substance here – the meaning of existence, personal identity, simultaneously conflicted and sympathetic protagonists – it’s just never satisfactorily explored. And whether or not it’s bringing anything new to these themes rolled over from the original, is a question for the fans to debate.

The fans will also likely be pleased to see scenes lifted directly from the source material, and the tightly packed, hologram enhanced cityscape makes for a perfect Tokyo/Blade Runner mash up. There’s an extensive array of stylish tech and robots on display, intricately designed and perfectly realised, that nail the ‘high tech, low life’ aesthetic.

What makes Ghost in the Shell disappointing is the hints that it was nearly a great film.  It’s better paced than the slow burn anime, and credit is due to any sci-fi in the modern era, that doesn’t feel compelled to over explain or over contextualise its universe. But it’s too loosely drawn, and we never really understand the importance of the stakes involved. The ultimate irony is we have a movie that centres on what it means to be human in an artificial world, yet it comes across so impersonally.

IMDB: Ghost In The Shell

Thursday, 27 April 2017

NEWS: Freak Shift

Ben Wheatley participated in an audience Q&A following a screening of his latest movie Free Fire, at The Lido Cinema in Hawthorne last night. Wheatley fed us a few facts about his next movie, Freakshift, a science fiction movie originally mooted as his follow up to Kill List back in 2012. He confirmed that Free Fire’s Armie Hammer is on board and that at this stage it looks all set to begin in August.

The eponymous Freak Shift are a special police unit engaged to fight monsters who emerge at night to terrorize the populace. Wheatley went on to succinctly summarise it as “a group of women fighting giant crabs.”  Freakshift, once again co-written with Amy Jump, will be Wheatley’s seventh feature film and his first foray into science fiction in a filmography that comprises an eclectic mix of genre and art house fare.  His latest movie Free Fire opens in Australia this week, and is a hugely entertaining black comedy / action movie meld.

Ben Wheatley has an almost perfect track record so far and it sounds like Freak Shift is ticking all the right boxes.

IMDB: Freakshift

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

WITCHFINDER GENERAL (full review at The Reel Word)

The year is 1645. The English Civil War rages and as half the country fights, the other half borders on anarchy. Superstition runs rampant in the lawless countryside. Young Roundhead soldier Richard Marshall (Ian Ogilvy), takes leave to see his girlfriend Sara (Hilary Dwyer) and her uncle, the local priest John Lowes (Rupert Davies) in the village of Brandeston. Sensing trouble afoot, Lowes encourages Marshall to marry Sara and take her away from an increasingly volatile local atmosphere. As the war rages on and Marshall and his colleagues are well occupied with the fighting, Witchfinder Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price), and his associate John Stearne (Robert Russell), patrol the East Anglian countryside torturing, molesting and executing alleged witches and Satan worshippers... so long as the price is right.

Read the full article at The Reel Word:

IMDB: Witchfinder General

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

ROSALIE BLUM (full review at The Reel Word)

Vincent (Kyan Khojandi) is a perennial nice guy, living alone with his cat. He is unassuming, shy, and tied to his mother’s aprons stings. She lives in the apartment above him and he looks after her since his father passed away. A chance encounter leads to Vincent meeting grocery store proprietor, Rosalie (Noémie Lvovsky). Overwhelmed by a feeling of deja-vu, Vincent is compelled to follow Rosalie in an attempt to find out more about her.  But she quickly cottons on to Vincent’s crude attempts at espionage, and deploys the services of her unemployed niece, Aude (Alice Isaaz), to follow Vincent in return.

Read the full article at The Reel Word:

IMDB: Rosalie Blum

Sunday, 25 December 2016


Top Ten Movies of 2016

1. La Noche Del Virgen (The Night Of The Virgin)
Utterly deranged Spanish horror movie that took me completely by surprise. Imaginative, disgusting and perverse in equal measure. Nothing matches the complete joy of unearthing a truly original horror movie and Night of the Virgin is a total degenerate pleasure.

2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The first Star Wars movie since Jedi that doesn’t have to be qualified with an ‘if’ or a ‘but’. It isn’t really a stand-alone movie in as much as it’s an appendix to the original trilogy. It looks incredible and does its utmost to be as authentic as possible. I also love K2SO.

3. Green Room
Anton Yelchin delivers his best performance just prior to his untimely passing, in Jeremy Saulnier’s uncompromising punk siege movie. A violent, uncomfotable horror film that gives Saulnier a 100% hit rate so far.

4. The Neon Demon
Nicholas Winding Refn’s art-o treatise on beauty and ego. Horrific and beautiful at the same time, much like the characters themselves.

5. The VVitch
Effective old tyme creeper, as a disgraced young family ups sticks and moves next to a maligned forest. Favouring slow build tension over outright shocks, it twists your comfort zone into knots, as their God-fearing existence starts to look a lot less parochial than at the outset.

6. Baskin
Can Evrenol’s occult horror dreamscape really delivers the goods as a bunch of ill prepared cops stumble across a bloodthirsty cult. Bringing to mind Lucio Fulci at his most surreal, Baskin keeps it weird and visually challenging. A beautiful obscenity.

7. Hunt For the Wilderpeople
Taika Waititi gives you a gigantic cinematic hug with the tale of adolescent tearaway Ricky Baker and his Uncle Hec. Funny, sad and always uplifting.

8. Sausage Party
Despite suffering considerable fatigue with Seth Rogan et al, nothing can diminish the fact that Sausage Party is a flat out riot. Just when you think the laughs have climaxed, they insert you into a place you were sure they’d never go. Very filthy and very funny.

9. Everybody Wants Some!!
Linklater’s movies are by-and-large a masterclass in why character is everything. Even when the plot isn’t moving anywhere, you remain riveted because you want to spend as much time with these people as possible. Dazed and Confused comparisons are apt, but Everybody Wants Some more than holds its own. The Big Boys are on the soundtrack too.

10 Cloverfield Lane
Another of the year’s best surprises. A tense, claustrophobic horror movie that keeps you asking questions right up until the end. John Goodman cranks the nutbag dial all the way to the top, as Mary Elizabeth Winstead grasps for any remaining threads of sanity.

The Other Best Movies of 2016
The irresistible good intentions of Rosalie Blum charmed their way into my heart; The bizarre and sweet magical realism of Swiss Army Man made it one of the best movies of the year; Ben Wheatley’s brutalist yet stylish tackling of High-Rise was an essential watch; and the compelling, salacious true story of American gutter politics made Weiner the best documentary of the year.

The Worst Movies of 2016

The Lobster
The oddball premise was not the cause of the Lobster’s undoing, its excruciating delivery and characterisation were. An über bore.

Suicide Squad
Spectacularly unimaginative in just about every conceivable department. It boggles the mind to think that DC believed they would be giving Marvel a run for its money with this. It’s not that it was bad – it was not anywhere near as grating as Man of Steel, for example - in so much that it set a new bar for the definition of average. Utterly predictable and it reeked of committee filmmaking.

If Paul Verhoeven is refusing to make sci fi anymore then frankly he should just get retired. Elle opened to limited but generally positive reviews but I utterly hated it. From its lazy depiction of gaming culture, to its generic 90s thriller tropes. Worst of all was its reprehensible attitude toward sexual violence. Verhoeven made some of my favourite movies of all time, but Elle is hot garbage.

Blair Witch
With Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett on board, Blair Witch should have been great. The result was a muddled disaster that relied exclusively on cheap sound effect scares and, most criminally of all, missed the point entirely about what made the original so exceptional.

Movies that came out at the tail end of 2015, or bypassed Australian cinemas altogether so I was unable to include them on last year’s list a.k.a. everything that Kurt Russell has done lately.

The Hateful Eight

Tarantino’s gripping chamber play pitted a motley assortment of travellers against each other, as paranoia and suspicion take over. It had more in common with The Thing, then just the soundtrack.

Bone Tomahawk
Top drawer cannibal western, with Kurt Russell leading a superlative cast off in search of Patrick Wilson’s kidnapped wife. It burns slow at times, but it’s simply prepping you for an unforgettable denouement.

Movies I wanted to see but missed
Don’t Breathe
Hell Or High Water
Mechanic: Resurrection
The Nice Guys
Midnight Special