Scandinavian Film Festival – A White, White Day

The Scandinavian Film Festival is back to warm Perth’s winter nights. Making its Australian premiere as the centrepiece of the festival is Icelandic film, A White, White Day (Hvítur, Hvítur Dagur).

Elle Cahill

A White, White Day is the latest offering from Icelandic director Hlynur Palmason about an ex-cop turned family man who discovers his wife was having an affair prior to her death. Now he must decide whether to pursue the person she was having an affair with, or to continue trying to maintain his new lifestyle for the sake of his family.

Palmason’s second feature film is carried brilliantly by its two main cast members. Ingvar Sigurdsson plays stony widower Ingimundur to perfection. Busying himself by building his daughter a new home, his one joy in life is spending time with his young, curious granddaughter Salka. Sigurdsson plays Ingimundur with an emphasis on physicality, speaking volumes with his facial expressions and body language, negating the need for words.

ScandinavianFF_WhiteWhiteDay_July2019 (2)

This is contrasted by young Salka, played by Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir, who fills the silence with comfortable chatter and asks her grandfather tough questions. The chemistry between the two is what holds this film together, and their dynamic is incredibly believable. There’s an easiness between them, and it’s the only time we really see any glimpse of affection from Ingimundur.

Like most Icelandic films, the harsh, natural environment is treated as its own character, with time lapses used to show the unpredictable weather cycles and the danger lurking just behind the guard rails.

A lot of tension is built by placing some distance between Ingimundur and what’s happening around him. When he’s alone, director Pálmason chooses to film from afar, giving the film a voyeuristic feel.

A White, White Day is an unpredictable tale. It’s hard and unforgiving, like the environment the movie is set against. It’s softened only slightly by the presence of family, and the innocence of youth yet to experience the darkness in the world.

Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival 2019 screens in Perth from 17 July-7 August. 

Images courtesy of Palace Films and Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival 2019. 


Movie Review – The White Crow

Ralph Fiennes takes the director’s helm for the third time in his career with The White Crow. While beautifully shot, Fiennes’ latest fails to nail the life story of ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

The White Crow follows the journey of famous Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev (Oleg Ivenko) as he travels to Paris at a time when the USSR is treated with suspicion all across Western Europe. Intertwined with moments from his poor childhood, The White Crow attempts to demonstrate not only Nureyev’s exposure to and immediate love for the Parisian art and culture, but also why he eventually chose to defect from the USSR.

Ivenko is brilliant as Nureyev, managing to juxtapose his constant arrogance with his physical strength and beauty as a ballet dancer. There are a lot of layers to Nureyev that Ivenko brings to the surface without ever overshadowing Nureyev’s core characteristics.

Director Ralph Fiennes has taken a risk in choosing a professional dancer to star as his lead, as opposed to a seasoned actor with a body double for the dance scenes. His risk thankfully pays off, as it gives Ivenko’s performance a rawness that I don’t think would have been achieved if Fiennes had chosen otherwise.

The White Crow is beautifully shot, with distinct colour palettes used to define different parts of Nureyev’s life. The glimpses we see of his childhood, with a largely absent father and a mother struggling to feed her children has a distinct, dark blue and grey palette that slowly becomes warmer and brighter as he is accepted into the prestigious Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet.

Fiennes has also done a wonderful job of making the ballet performances the standout scenes of the film, with a strong focus on capturing Nureyev’s emotions pre and post-performance. There’s a lot of frenetic energy in this film, which is contrasted by the eerie quiet and stillness of the dance scenes, and the result is truly captivating.

For the most part, this film is a great offering from Fiennes, but at times the storytelling becomes disjointed. We are only offered glimpses of Nureyev’s past and are left to our own devices to piece it all together. There are a lot of questions about Nureyev’s character that are left unanswered, with his underdog side never fully explored and his unlikable qualities never explained or justified.

The White Crow is a visually strong delivery from Fiennes but lacks real direction or purpose beyond showcasing a beautiful harmony between Paris and professional ballet. Much more of Nureyev’s story could have been told if the film did not focus so heavily on indulgent shots of Parisian architecture and galleries.

The White Crow is available in Australian cinemas from July 18

Image © Universal Pictures 2019

Movie Review – The Lion King (2019)

Jon Favreau’s latest CGI-fest is not so majestic.

⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

There is a reason why animals shouldn’t speak in the movies. They don’t express emotion the way humans do. It’s why when a movie like The Lion King is made, it should only exist as an animation. This new “live-action” Lion King, for all its visual splendour, is deeply unsettling, because even though the story pulls its characters through a range of emotions, they’re plastered with the same expression from start to finish. It’s like a nature documentary with the animals possessed by highly paid actors.

I think Disney has entered a dangerous phase. Its movies used to have the power to transport us to faraway places. Now it seems more like a time machine stuck on repeat, hurtling us into the past with remake upon sequel upon remake. This “live-action” Lion King is the poorest remake of them all, because since it basically trades one form of animation for another, it’s neither live-action nor a remake, and struggles to be something in between.

Anyway, I’m sure I don’t need to go over the plot. Anyone wishing to see this picture would’ve seen the original, or the hugely successful Broadway musical that followed, or read Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. The truth is none of it matters, because this Lion King follows the original step by step, down to certain lines of dialogue and shot choices. It offers no room for original thinking. Like Gus Van Sant‘s ill-advised Psycho remake, it’s a brilliant facsimile of a great movie, and irrefutable proof that facsimiles of great movies, no matter how brilliant, are pointless.

So what’s left to talk about? The cast is okay, I suppose. The two best vocal performances come from John Oliver as the hornbill Zazu, and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar. Ejiofor is really quite frightening. His voice doesn’t register like Jeremy Irons’ from the original, but he finds a cool menace that works for his blank-faced villain. Donald Glover voices adult Simba and almost passes by unnoticed. Beyoncé, as adult Nala, does all her own singing. And we get Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as the hipster outcasts Timon and Pumbaa, who naturally trigger the most laughs. Meanwhile, James Earl Jones probably sets a record for most Nostalgic Voiceover Paycheques. Though at 88, his Mufasa sounds awfully frail.

Alas, I return to the animals’ faces. Their thorough lack of expression cripples the movie beyond repair. Simply consider the moment after Mufasa rescues Simba and Nala from the hyenas, and Mufasa bellows to Zazu, “I’ve got to teach my son a lesson!”. In the original, Simba’s face weakens and he sinks miserably into the tall grass. At once, the animation makes his fear and embarrassment clear. We get nothing of the sort in this new version, because this Simba can’t emote, at least not in the way we need him to. I felt like I was staring at empty faces, into empty eyes. The animals looked convincing. Their mouths moved. I heard their voices, but no one was home. This Lion King is a grave miscalculation.

The Lion King (2019) is available in Australian cinemas from July 17

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Documentary Domination – Revelation Film Fest 2019

Documentaries are dominating at this year’s Revelation Film Festival. Diving deep into unique topics to provide a fresh, eye-opening perspective, these documentaries will challenge your preconceived ideas.

Elle Cahill


A light-hearted look into the world of taxidermy and the big players in the industry.

is a brilliantly made documentary about the art of taxidermy and its place in the modern world. It features interviews with a wide range of subjects, from veterans who have worked in museums for more than twenty years, to those who have turned taxidermy into an artform through experimentation, and newcomers who are looking to modernise the world of taxidermy and how it is perceived.

Director Erin Derham offers a well-rounded, international take on the industry and handles the subject with sensitivity. She tackles the topic with eyes wide open, showing the taxidermy process, including the removal of the skin from the dead animal and the manipulation of the corpse into a pose. It’s less shocking than you’d expect, and far more intriguing, as it’s all done in such a casual manner. The opening credits alone make this documentary one worth watching.

Midnight Family

A tense and uncomfortable look into the private ambulance system in Mexico City.


Midnight Family follows the Ochoa family, taking an intimate look into their ambulance service business. It provides an unflinching portrayal of multi-faceted issues, both on a human level as well as a political and economic level.

The Ochoa family are stuck between a rock and a hard place, wanting to help people in need of their service, but also needing money to survive. While you can certainly empathise with the difficulty of their situation, director Luke Lorentzen doesn’t hide away from the ugliness of their business. I was continually shocked by the brazenness of their actions, from taking people to a hospital further away as part of a paid agreement or having to approach people in grief to ask for money for their services.

There’s a strong sense of injustice that runs through the documentary; while the state-run ambulances clearly can’t keep up with the demand, the private ambulance services pursue accidents like hungry paparazzi, constantly bribing the police to be able to go about their work.

There’s a desperation at the core of Midnight Family that follows you long after the documentary has finished, showing the power it has to open a very small door to a much larger problem.

Hail Satan?

More political than expected, Hail Satan? is a look at American politics in a Trump era from a fresh perspective.


Hail Satan? explores the history of the Satanic Temple and its role in a Trump era America. Offering a safe space for people who don’t fit in with traditional religious organisations, the Satanists are presented as being more human and down-to-earth than first thought.

Taking a tongue-in-cheek approach, director Penny Lane is given access to a religion that has been vilified in the press by people who simply misunderstand their beliefs. While they are continued to be treated as outsiders to this day, the Satanists are mostly concerned with being moral and just citizens who support equality.

Hail Satan? is a fun yet intellectually driven documentary that shows the power a small group of people can have in unnerving the bullies that govern our countries.

The Revelation Perth International Film Festival screens from July 4-17 2019. Images courtesy of Revelation Perth International Film Festival.

Movie Review – Booksmart

Whether it likes it or not, Booksmart is Superbad for a new generation.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Few movies this year will seem as worldly as Booksmart, the directorial debut by Olivia Wilde. It’s a raunchy teen comedy that could double as a crash course on contemporary social politics. It is female-led. One of its main characters is gay. There are interracial flings and gender-neutral skateboarders. I half expected Laverne Cox to barge in at some point. It is also piloted by one of the most electric, lovable lead pairings in a long while. This is Superbad 2.0, told by women, about women, retrofitted for 2019.

The movie begins with the end of high school. The hallways are boisterous and messy and all the cool kids have already planned their respective graduation parties. Best friends, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein), have never partied. They have played it safe, thought about their futures and aced every exam (when Amy proudly contests their innocence by mentioning their fake IDs, Molly retorts “they were college IDs to get into their 24-hour library!”).

Molly’s been accepted to Yale, which, naturally, is big news. So you can imagine her consternation when she discovers that all her beer-chugging, sexually ravenous classmates have also been accepted to prestigious colleges across the country. How did this happen? If everyone else fooled around and still succeeded academically, why did she spend the last few years studying her ass off like a schmuck? Her plan? Make up for lost time by partying the night away with her crush Nick (Mason Gooding), where maybe, just maybe he might finally notice her.

Booksmart is more concerned with style and forward momentum than with scribbling out the finer details of teenage life. Party scenes are generic. Plot points are broad. Amy and Molly spend the majority of their evening hopping from party to party, trying desperately to reach Nick’s house (neither knows his address). Don’t you think that by the second or third party the night would be over? I mean, how many hours are there? But never mind. Because Amy and Molly are in every scene and they work so well together, logic is easily forgotten.

I just wish the movie had tried a little harder to explore these two complex, intelligent, quirky girls instead of chucking them into a series of mindless gags. There’s clearly a lot more to them than hooking up and getting wasted. By the end, what exactly have they gained? Was it all simply an opportunity to get crazy? I dunno, they seemed cool enough from the start. Nothing’s wrong with loving crossword puzzles and Ken Burns documentaries. The baffling thing is, these girls know that. But I suppose teenagers care more about what others think of them than what they know of themselves. Maybe now that it’s all over, they can go back to sneaking into college libraries.

Booksmart is available in Australian cinemas from July 11

Image © Universal Pictures 2019

Movie Review – After

Sometimes fan fiction should remain just that. New teen romance After never should have made it from the page to the screen.

Elle Cahill

Based on the One Direction fan fiction of the same name, After follows good girl Tessa (Josephine Langford) who moves away to college and meets resident bad boy Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes Tiffin). The pair begin a tumultuous relationship, leading Tessa to disappoint her family and friends, and test her once grounded morals. As they fall further and further in love, Hardin’s past threatens to tear them apart.

After is as melodramatic as it sounds. There are many similarities that can be drawn between it and the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise. For starters, neither is any good. Both scripts are poorly written, with highly under-developed stories, and both feature bizarre casting choices, with two leads that lack the connection needed to drive a romantic drama.

If you could take every romantic cliché in existence and put it into a single film, you’ll end up with something that resembles After. The dialogue is jarring and unnatural, making you very aware that you’re watching a film, and there are endless corny  scenes that made me cringe so hard I wanted to be swallowed up by my chair.

Coming in at just under two hours, After is far too long. It moves at a glacial pace that forces you to feel every painstaking minute as you wait and wait for some form of conflict to arrive. But never fear, the conflict eventually comes along, only to be quickly resolved in the last 15 minutes.

Perth-born Langford (younger sister to Katherine Langford from 13 Reasons Why), does her best to find something in the role, making her immediately better than Dakota Johnson in Fifty Shades.

Fiennes Tiffin’s performance is wooden and contrived. He seems completely disinterested in Tessa at times, with the exception of a bathtub scene. But alas, he opens his mouth again, and the feeling is lost.

Admittedly, I’m not the target audience for this film, but even so, After is condescending and embarrassing even for chaste teenagers. Apparently, a sequel is already in the works. Let’s hope the filmmakers put more effort into crafting a romantic drama that at least contains some romance or some drama.

After is available in Australian cinemas from July 4

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

2019 Revelation Perth International Film Festival

July always brings two pieces of good news to Perth. Firstly, it means that we’re halfway through winter. Secondly, it means the Revelation Perth International Film Festival is back for another year! Here’s a snapshot of some of the films screening around Perth over the next fortnight.

Elle Cahill

Metal Heart
Feature Film

A funny coming-of-age tale about twins who are worlds apart.

Metal Heart
follows fraternal twins Emma (Jordanne Jones) and Chantal (Leah McNamara) who are on the cusp of graduation from high school. Although they may have shared a womb, the two could not be more different. Chantal is blonde, perky, pretty twin who is convinced her venture as a skincare and make-up influencer will lead her straight into a profitable business as soon as high school is over. Emma, on the other hand, takes part in Goth culture, and is relying on university as her ticket out of her seemingly underwhelming existence.

When their parents go away for the weekend, the two seemingly swap lives, as Chantal becomes house bound after a minor crash, and Emma becomes determined to get her band going with her best friend Gary (Seán Doyle). Enter the charming but troubled neighbour Dan (Moe Dunford), and the twins plotting against each other reaches new heights.

Metal Heart is a charming young adult comedy about discovering yourself and the daunting move from adolescence to adulthood. It’s a story that could be set anywhere in the world, and it’s this connection with the teenage experience that makes it one to not be missed.

Cobby: The Other Side of Cute

A fascinating look at the underbelly of childhood innocence…

Cobby: The Other Side of Cute
follows director Donna McRae as she travels to the US to seek out Cobby, a chimpanzee who starred in the TV show Cobby’s Hobbies back in the 1960’s. The show holds a lot of sentimental value to McRae, having helper her through some lonelier times in her childhood.

The documentary quickly turns from an expression of childhood glee into a poignant telling of the history of performing animals and animal cruelty. It’s a saddening documentary to watch, but McRae keeps it upbeat in reiterating how far humans have come in being able to emphasise with animals and animal rights. It’s also incredibly interesting to see people struggle to understand what their parents and the generations before them were thinking, despite performing animals being socially acceptable not that long ago.

Feature Film

A nail-biting historical drama about a group of men fighting to survive underwater.


When a naval exercise on a Russian submarine goes terribly wrong, 95 men are instantly killed. Only 23 make it to a safe space within the submarine, with oxygen supplies slowly dwindling and a continuous flow of water gradually filling the cabin. Meanwhile, a political war wages on the surface, with Russia desperately trying to save face in front of the whole world.

Matthias Schoenaerts plays the lead role of Mikhail Averin, delivering a strong and very human performance as he attempts to keep the men alive for as long as possible. The film is incredibly tense, with scenes throughout only heightening the stakes as desperate acts are taken in the name of survival. The political scenes are infuriating and it’s shameful to watch Russia’s ego get in the way of saving their countrymen.

A great opening film for Revelation Film Festival and about a disaster from 2000 that could have been avoided.

Images courtesy of Revelation Perth International Film Festival

Movie Review – Spider-Man: Far from Home

Marvel closes its third phase with a light, entertaining coda about everyone’s favourite webslinger.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Spider-Man: Far From Home is one of the better Spider-Man movies because, try as he might, poor Peter Parker can’t seem to do anything right and spends a great deal of time coming to terms with his role as a hero. He enjoys his time as Spider-Man, but he also wants to hang out with friends, enjoy the class vacation to Europe and tell his crush, MJ (Zendaya), how he truly feels. That’s hard enough for a regular teen. Try doing it when you have bad guys to fight and a world to save.

This time the bad guys are monstrous. Gigantic otherworldly creatures based on the four elements. Peter (Tom Holland) teams up with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and a newcomer, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), who says he’s a warrior from a parallel Earth and seems like everything Peter could hope for. He’s friendly. He says all the right things, like a compassionate Tony Stark. When he slips on a pair of Tony’s glasses, he even looks like him. And now that he’s come to fight on Earth’s behalf, could Spider-Man finally be able to hang up his leotard, permitting Peter Parker to begin life as a regular teenager?

I won’t divulge much more than that. But if you’re familiar at all with the Spider-Man property, you’d know that Mysterio is a master of trickery and illusion, which means no one, not even us, should take him at his word. All this builds up to great drama for Peter, who completely wins our affection because he’s awkward and goofy and so bad at everything. In our hearts we want him to succeed, both at kicking the villain’s butt and walking away with the girl. Tony Stark chose him to be an Avenger for a reason, and now that Tony’s dead, the responsibility to be Spider-Man weighs heavier than ever.

Far From Home is directed by Jon Watts, who also directed Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and feels just as comfortable the second time around. There’s more for his spunky cast to do, especially MJ, who was quiet and aloof before but is now allowed the space to strut about as a desirable love interest. Zendaya, with her lanky frame and knowing eyes, projects just the right balance of sophistication and immaturity to appear as Peter’s ideal partner. And of course, with the initials “MJ”, her fate is more or less sealed.

This is a fun, well-made movie, with crisp CGI and a villain who embraces the theatrical. I like it when superhero stories delve deeper into their characters instead of simply flinging them through special effects. Nothing drives character like conflict, and because Spider-Man is but a wee teenager, he is a jumping, swinging canvas for conflict. Tony Stark wanted to be Iron Man. Bruce Wayne chose to save Gotham City. Peter Parker never asked for that mutated spider to give him a love bite. It just happened, and it may be a long time before he’s able to find peace with it.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is available in Australian cinemas from 1 July

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Movie Review – Parasite

Biting, observant, outrageous; Bong Joon-ho continues his political rampage with a modern classic.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

There is something about South Korean cinema. I’m not quite sure what it is. It is wild, energetic, sometimes forceful. It thinks laterally and is always powering forward even when nothing seems to be happening. It is, I suppose, uniquely entertaining. Now comes Parasite, the latest film by Bong Joon-ho, and not only is it immensely entertaining, it’s damn near ready to bite your head off.

This is a slick black-ish comedy about the devastating reality of capitalism. That in the same country, in the same city, one family can live like kings while another lives in constant worry that neighbourhood sewage might one day flood into their shabby basement apartment. The poor family is made up of dad Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho); mum Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin); son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik); and daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam). They have three things in common: they’re out of a job, they’re desperate for money, and they’re quite comfortable committing fraud.

The first half of Parasite is straight-up comedy, as Ki-taek’s household forges documents and instigates scandal to supplant the domestic staff of the wealthy Parks. Ki-woo earns a lucrative job tutoring the Parks’ daughter, Da-hye (Ziso Jung), in English. He ropes in Ki-jung, posing as his cousin from overseas, to mentor Da-hye’s brother’s artistic development. Ki-taek becomes the family driver and Chung-sook takes over as housekeeper. Before we know it, Bong has created an ingenious situation in which an entire family earns its collective income directly from another.

The second half is something I suspect no one would see coming, as once Ki-taek’s family establishes its parasitic takeover, the movie descends into madness. All they really want is to earn decent cash, preferably at the expense of rich fools. Also, it helps that the Parks are basically begging to be screwed in the ass.

Parasite is a thoroughly visual movie. The camerawork by Hong Kyung-pyo is precise and beautiful in a way that makes every shot mean something. Observe, for example, how often the darkened doorway to the cellar of the Park kitchen sits in the middle of the frame, immediately drawing importance to itself. Or how Bong likens the dangers of social media to guns by having one character threaten an entire family at phone-point. Or how the rainwater that cleanses the driveways of the rich gushes downward and downward until it floods the houses of the poor. Bong makes it quite clear that one of capitalism’s great faults is its disparaging negligence of the lower classes.

I would’ve maybe preferred Bong to have made his comments a little more subtly, but there’s no denying he has crafted here a movie of artistic, thematic and visual superiority. It’s insanely funny but also heart-breaking. It makes you feel for the poor and hate the rich, one of capitalism’s inevitable by-products. Why shouldn’t the less fortunate be allowed just one day in the company of luxury, or the privileged be taken down a peg or two? No one should have to deal with sewage water filling up their living room.

Parasite is available in Australian cinemas from June 27

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment

Movie Review – Yesterday

The Beatles deserve more than a one-note Ed Sheeran joke.

⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

In Yesterday, struggling musician Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) gets hit by a bus during a worldwide power outage and wakes to find himself in an alternate universe where no one else knows that The Beatles exist. Jack decides to pass off the songs of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr as his own, but rather than being able to relish in his newfound success, Jack becomes guilt-ridden and paranoid that someone is going to uncover the truth.

Yesterday has all the makings of an English hit. It has Richard Curtis as its screenwriter, Danny Boyle at the directing helm, and a loveable cast that includes modern music icon Ed Sheeran. But while Yesterday has a lot going for it, the end result just doesn’t land right, and it turns out to be a bit of a lacklustre affair.

Curtis, who is known for bringing us films like Bridget Jones’s Diary, Love Actually and Mr Bean, doesn’t quite give us his usual charm. His characters are often written as offbeat yet quintessentially English, and while we see glimpses of this in Lily James’ love interest character Ellie, we don’t get enough of it.

For instance, Jack’s dry English wit doesn’t translate; he comes off as miserable and arrogant, making it difficult to empathise with him. In saying this, I do hope to see more of Patel in the future. It’s not that he’s necessarily bad in this film, it’s just that the role isn’t strong enough to showcase his abilities.

Lily James is the stand-out here, perfectly expressing girl-next-door innocence and the heartbreak of unrequited love. Unlike her ditzy and downright annoying turn in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, this is the most comfortable James has seemed in a long time. In fact, Yesterday would have made for a much more interesting film had it centred around Ellie being hit by a bus instead of Jack.

In the midst of a recent influx of musicals (Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman, A Star Is Born) Yesterday struggles to find its place. The inclusion of Sheeran as a self-deprecating caricature of himself is funny for the first five minutes, but quickly becomes tiresome as the joke is hammered to death. Boyle misses the mark in his direction, unable to tell a succinct story or inspire strong performances from his actors. Nothing in Yesterday really pays off in spectacular fashion, and there’s nothing really at stake. The concept is wild and clever, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The Beatles deserve more.

Yesterday is available in Australian cinemas from June 27

Image © Universal Pictures 2019