Movie Review – Berlin Syndrome

Given Berlin’s dark history, there’s a rich metaphor hidden within the title of Cate Shortland’s tense, traumatic boy-meets-girl, boy-kidnaps-girl thriller.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Clare (Teresa Palmer), a young Australian photographer, is backpacking solo around Germany on a journey of soul-searching and self-discovery. A chance meeting with a handsome, charismatic local named Andi (Max Riemelt) leads to the pair spending the day together, then eventually a passionate one-night stand. Waking the next morning, Clare finds herself locked inside Andi’s apartment.  Believing this to be a simple mistake at first, she soon comes to the sinister realisation that she is Andi’s new prisoner.

From Misery to The Silence of the Lambs to Gone Baby Gone to many, many others – kidnapping and abduction is definitely nothing new in cinema. What makes Cate Shortland’s (Somersault) third feature Berlin Syndrome  so fresh is its unnervingly organic and genuine take on the subject. One of the biggest phobias associated with travel anxiety is given a painstakingly real treatment via a slow build of tension – the disoriented awe of being in an unfamiliar place, the exciting rush of a spontaneous encounter with a stranger, the “surely not” moment of disbelief, followed by the true horror of an irrational fear confirmed.

Shortland expertly guides us through these motions, subtly hiding double meanings in motifs and moments as an effectively eerie foreshadowing device of what’s to come. The captor/captive dynamic of the pair once Andi’s true intentions are revealed is where things become very interesting. Both Andi and Clare’s actions become highly unpredictable as each delves into the complicated emotions on either side of the coin.

Teresa Palmer, who’s been a long-time presence in both local films and big Hollywood blockbusters, has always been reliable, yet has never been given the chance to truly showcase her talents as an actress until now. Hearing her speak in her modest Aussie accent is a little offbeat at first, but it lends to a nuanced, naturalistic performance that feels like this could very well be a girl you know whisked away on her Euro trip. She makes a meal of the complexities of being prisoner to someone she thought she could trust, plus there’s something in her eyes that seems to suggest she’s hiding something throughout; she’s utterly mesmerising.

Likewise, Max Riemelt is a fascinating monster. He’s simultaneously charming and intimidating, his straight face never giving away the threatening things he has planned. In an inventive twist, we also see Andi’s normal life outside of the apartment; functioning beneath a mask as a teacher, but with his rage against women and fear of his double life’s exposure bubbling to the surface.

Though a tad repetitive and drawn out at times, Berlin Syndrome’s uncomfortable levels of tension and hypnotising leads keep it a compelling, almost-too-real watch. How it all wraps up is shattering and immensely satisfying.

Berlin Syndrome is available in Australian cinemas from April 20 

Image courtesy of EntertainmentOne Films 

Interview: Fin Edquist – Bad Girl

Rhys Graeme-Drury 

Filmed in Perth’s lush green backyard of the Swan Valley and its surrounds, Bad Girl is a low-budget thriller garnering widespread critical acclaim. After premiering at the Melbourne International Film Festival in August last year, the film scored a WA Screen Award for Best Long Form Drama.

However, the process of bringing the project from page to screen wasn’t a smooth one. Built on a confronting cornerstone of destructive family units and domestic in-fighting, Bad Girl suffered through a long and tricky gestation before finding its true voice, as Hooked on Film found out when it sat down to chat with writer/director Fin Edquist. After working on a range of popular Aussie TV staples (House Husbands, The Secret Daughter, Home and Away) and animated children’s films (Blinky Bill the Movie), Edquist put together a wildly different beast in Bad Girl.

RGD: Bad Girl is a project that took several years to truly come to fruition – what is the story behind this lengthy development process?

FE: I was approached by Stephen Kearney (one of the producers for Bad Girl) about 10 years ago to write a generic revenge-based thriller. That isn’t usually how I set about a new project; usually I get inspired by one aspect and work from the inside out.

But this one went the other way. We spent a couple of years writing around the idea of a father whose family is brought under siege by a girl who may or may not be his long-lost biological daughter. The script read okay but we couldn’t get much interest in it, so we thought we’d make a brief teaser, take it to Cannes and try and get some interest over there.

We had a couple of actors lined up for the father, but they weren’t going to do a teaser for nothing and said, “forget it”. But we realised we could get a couple of up-and-coming teenage girls for the peripheral supporting roles and I wrote a couple of scenes with these two girls specifically for the purpose of being a teaser.

After we filmed it, we realised that this was the story – this was the really interesting angle. The story of two girls fighting over a family is great. They have all their mistakes in front of them and they’re at a crossroads, like a lot of people are at 17. The decisions you make can largely affect how your life turns out.

RGD: So that’s the hook that got you interested again?

FE: Absolutely. I rewrote the screenplay with them at the centre and from that point onwards, everyone got interested.

RGD: Were Sara West and Samara Weaving (who play lead characters Amy and Chloe respectively) attached at this point?

FE: Sara featured in the teaser; we auditioned for the role of Chloe and it was a long process. We really needed someone who could match and counterpoint Sara, who is a really strong actor. Eventually, on the second last day of auditions, Samara rocked up and immediately it was one of those moments where it all came together.

RGD: How did you as a filmmaker alter your approach towards the movie and its characters once you had made that decision to change direction?

FE: It was quite a large shift. It was liberating too. Prior to that, the story was pretty straight-up with clearly defined characters, both good and bad people. I actually drew a lot on my experience of having two warring sisters as teenagers and enjoyed deepening the characters from there. I brought a lot of relatable domestic experience to the new angle. It’s called Bad Girl but both girls are bad and both have positive qualities.

RGD: So that’s where the central idea of family and the notion of belonging stemmed from?

FE: I think so; at that age, everyone goes through those questions of identity and where you fit in. My marriage had also recently broken down so I was channelling a lot of what was going on in my life at the time through the characters.

RGD: Sounds like a very deeply personal vein of inspiration.

FE: Definitely. Having these two girls articulate that in a different way was maybe cathartic to an extent, for sure.

RGD: Tell us a little bit about working with frequent Nick Cave collaborator Warren Ellis (Band member of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; composer on Hell or High Water, Lawless, The Road) on the soundtrack. How did that come about?

FE: One of my producers, Bruno [Charlesworth], lives in France and has a lot to do with the entertainment and music industry. He knew Warren through that and approached him with the film at the script stage, and Warren really responded to it.

Warren is unlike other composers in that he doesn’t work off the picture or traditional cue points; he’ll get a feel for the sequence and will riff on that and develop a number of different themes that he feels speak to the sequence. The music he composed for Bad Girl works as both ambient noise and then it will swell and rise and catch you out. It increases and crescendos towards the end of the film until it’s hammering you at 100 per cent.

I really enjoyed working with him; he’d just pump out hundreds of samples and send them too me at all hours of the night. He composed everything on his bass guitar, a keyboard and a laptop – very lo-fi, but it suited the film. I didn’t want a lush orchestral score but something stripped back and menacing. The soundtrack is actually being released soon through his label.

RGD: What was it about the Swan Valley region, Kalamunda and Serpentine that suited the story you wanted to tell?

FE: The film was originally set in the Dandenong Ranges outside Melbourne but the funding came through from ScreenWest. I had no idea what Perth was like, I thought it was going to be dry and hot…

RGD: Well, you’re not too far off – most of the time it is! What time of year did you shoot?

FE: September. We got very lucky, as it was suitably cold, grey and sombre. The Swan Valley really suited the film because of the house – we were looking for a house that could sustain the drama. It was perfect; I wanted a really austere and architecturally severe house, but the art department actually had to dress elements into the house to make it look like people who lived there! It was like a display home, not an item out of place.

WA was a really fantastic place to work in. ScreenWest were very enthusiastic and were keen to cultivate the industry. Everyone was keen to be involved.

RGD: Yeah we’ve got really cool industry chugging away over here!

FE: Hopefully I can make the next one over there too (laughs).

RGD: What is the next one – anything concrete lined up?

FE: I’m developing a project that is set off the northwest cape of WA. It’s a two-hander and a thriller also.

RGD: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today Fin.

FE: My pleasure.

Bad Girl is available in Australian cinemas from April 27

Image courtesy of Curious Films 

Movie Review – Bad Girl

A duo of impressive young performances elevates Bad Girl above your usual humdrum psychological thriller.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Filmed right here in Perth, and winner of a 2016 WA Screen Award, Bad Girl is the feature length debut for filmmaker Fin Edquist: one of the creative minds and writers behind some of Australia’s best-loved TV series’ such as The Secret Daughter, House Husbands and McLeod’s Daughters as well as the recent Blinky Bill Movie.

The film follows tearaway teen Amy (Sara West), a sulky drug-addicted 17-year-old living with her adoptive parents, whose life is turned around after meeting new neighbour and all-round darling Chloe (Samara Weaving). The two strike up a dynamite friendship that at first seems wholly harmless – but secrets and lies start to etch away at their relationship and before long it’s clear that nothing is as innocent as it first appeared.

Having been moulded and fine-tuned by Edquist over a period of about a decade, Bad Girl offers raw and unrelenting insight into female friendship and sexuality, as well as commenting on the idea of belonging and family. The purposely-vague title should be your first clue as Edquist succeeds in penning and shooting a project that plays both sides and shapes a bold new twist on the classic cinematic femme fatale.

A lot this success stems from West and Weaving’s respective performances, which grow and develop naturally across the tight 87-minute runtime. West deftly traverses the tricky tightrope that is the sulky teen, both frustratingly self-destructive and sullen but also sympathetic. The film hinges on her performance navigating both extremes, and the actress successfully explores both with ease. Weaving shines too as the almost too-perfect girl-next-door with watery blue eyes that conceal her true intentions.

The cinematography (Gavin Head) and moody score (Warren Ellis) round off an impressive debut for Edquist, who is able to root himself in the minds of two girls and deliver a film that is honest, raw and often shocking. The third act feels a little protracted and the twists and turns a little convoluted at times, but on the whole this is an notable Australian production that offers a notch or two more than your average psychological thriller.

Bad Girl is available in Australian cinemas from April 27 

Image courtesy of Curious Films

Rising Australian Stars

Corey Hogan

If you’re a regular reader of Hooked on Film, then you certainly don’t need to be reminded that the Australian film industry has become a powerhouse in recent years. Australia has always been known for its endless stream of acting talent ready to export to the city of stars and beyond: Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Geoffrey Rush, Toni Collette… sometimes it feels like there’s more Aussies in Hollywood than Americans. Our invasion looks set to only grow from here, especially with so much up and coming talent.

Here are three local actors who you soon won’t be able to stop hearing about. And here’s the catch – none of them have reached their twenties yet. It’s enough to make anyone look back and think, “damn, what the hell have I done with my life?”

Odessa Young

2016 - 01 January - Looking For Grace
A quick glance at nineteen-year-old Odessa Young’s filmography might seem a tad underwhelming; there are just a handful of short films, guest roles on TV series and two features to her name. But this is what makes Young’s career so impressive. The few roles she’s had have made such a splash that the teenager has skyrocketed to one of Australia’s most promising up-and-comers. Her scene-stealing performances as the titular characters of both Looking for Grace and The Daughter have mesmerised; the latter of which earned her an AACTA award, ranking her alongside seasoned greats like Jacki Weaver and Cate Blanchett.

Young now has a whopping list of projects on her plate this year –  another two local short films, two TV series and a shift to Hollywood for high-profile thrillers Assassination Nation and Sweet Virginia.


Angourie Rice

04 April - Rising Aust Stars AR
Sixteen-year-old Angourie Rice kicked off her career in Perth with the aid of her director father (Jeremy Rice, Cloudstreet) and actress mother (Kate Rice, Ocean Star). Her fame has now surpassed them both; starting with a number of shorts and commercials, Rice attracted attention with her role in Zak Hilditch’s post-apocalyptic short film Transmission. So pleased with her work, Hilditch kept her on as the female lead in his similarly-themed feature film These Final Hours, which enjoyed such a healthy festival run that Rice was almost immediately exposed to (and swept away by) Hollywood.

After lending her voice to the animated Walking with Dinosaurs, Rice cracked the big time in a starring role next to Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in Shane Black’s The Nice Guys, and returned home again for another lead in this year’s Jasper Jones. Next up? Only Sofia Coppola’s new film The Beguiled, and an entrance to the unstoppable Marvel universe in Spider-Man: Homecoming.


Levi Miller

red-dog-true-blue
Another young actor appearing seemingly out of nowhere and skipping straight to stardom, Levi Miller has shown he holds the charisma and charm to carry entire films on his shoulders – pretty amazing for a fourteen-year-old. Leaping from a mere extra role, to guest starring on popular shows Terra Nova and Supergirl, to playing the one and only Peter Pan in Joe Wright’s reboot Pan, Miller has crossed that bridge to Hollywood and achieved in a couple of years what most actors take a lifetime to barely crack.

Granted, Pan was a critical and commercial failure, but it’s done nothing to stop Miller, who’s atoned for this by leading two Australian films in the last six months alone – the prequel Red Dog: True Blue and Jasper Jones. Miller’s back to Hollywood next, for Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of the classic science fiction novel A Wrinkle in Time.


Image courtesy of  Madman Entertainment, Palace Films & Roadshow Films 

Flickerfest 2017

Josip Knezevic

60 Shorts. 1 Academy Accredited Award for Best Australian Short Film. Yes, it’s the 26th Flickerfest Short Film Festival: a showcase from Australian filmmakers to Australian audiences. Compared to Australia’s most popular short film festival Tropfest, which displays 16 films each year, Flickerfest has the ability to boast a larger catalogue, which will be sure to please anyone’s genre tastes.

But with a larger array of films, it can be more challenging to decipher which ones are worth your time. Never fear: Hooked On Film is here to help. If you do get a chance to see the festival, be on the lookout for these four, which are bound to impress you with what Australia has to offer. While there may be a series of international films also available in the festival, we’re only looking at the Australian entries today.

4. I’m Raymond (17 mins)
Produced by Lib Kelly, Catherine Williams
Written and Directed by Eddy Bell

03 March - Flickerfest Im Raymond
Distorting the lines between fiction and reality, I’m Raymond takes a trivial idea and extorts it to the highest of consequences. 8-year-old Raymond Banks starts a name and shame campaign against his family’s company on the sole basis that they are responsible for jeopardising his future by contributing to global warming. Soon a drug-addicted model becomes involved, an official case is lodged and Karl Stefanovic reports it on the news – see what I mean by the highest of consequences?

Whilst the ludicrousness of the situation escalates on screen, a deeper meaning subsides the visual conflicts. Ultimately this is what elevates Bell’s short film to be in top 4 of this list. It becomes a message not about global warming or climate change but one that deals with the relationships between children and adults.

3. Face (13 mins)
Produced by Luke Tierney, Michelle Hardy
Written by Luke Tierney, Henry Nixon
Directed by Luke Tierney

03 March - Flickerfest Face
Speaking of distorting lines, Luke Tierney’s Face takes it to another level. The pitch: James urgently needs to get to the pharmacy by midnight to receive his “mysterious” pills otherwise his face will literally fall off. Unfortunately it’s 11:30pm and the only one who can drive him is his weird neighbour Steve. OK, let’s go.

What I enjoyed the most about Tierney’s experiment was the way the film was shot and presented. There’s a real lucid like feel to the whole drive and it works incredibly well with the overall tone of the short. It’s strange, but that’s what makes it great. The humour is unique and unsuspecting and you can’t help but be completely induced by its trippy presentation. It’s a stoner’s idea for a movie but thankfully it’s one that holds up to its absurdity and is enjoyable to watch.

2. Fish With Legs (10 Mins)
Produced by Nikos Andronicos, Tania Frampton
Written by Nikos Andronicos
Directed by Dave Carter

03 March - Flickerfest Fish with Legs
Short but bittersweet. Fish with Legs effortlessly brushes through the conflicts of science and religion with humour, emotion and beautiful animation to leave a lasting impression long after the credits roll. The story follows a school of fish who awake to discover that everyone in their society has now grown legs. A young enthusiastic preacher of science takes this as the proof he’s been waiting for and declares that evolution is occurring and it is now time for them to take action and move forward out of the seas. What lies ahead is short film that is smarter that what it appears to be.

Andronicos’ script carefully weaves logic with faith to present an array of meanings to take away. This is not a short film bashing those of religious faith over those in the scientific community; it’s a presentation of how these ideas would have manifested in earlier times and how they still reflect the reality of today. Steadied with the careful eye of Dave Carter at the helm, Fish With Legs represents a rare but well overdue gem of Australian animation.

1. The Eleven O’Clock
Produced by Derin Seale, Karen Bryson, Josh Lawson
Written by Josh Lawson
Directed by Derin Seale

03 March - Flickerfest Eleven Oclock

It’s hard to argue against the winner of the Flickerfest festival, Josh Lawson’s The Eleven O’Clock. A cleverly written, sharp and fast paced film that packs memorable lines of dialogue – I can’t wait to watch this short film again. Following the footsteps of iconic comedy routines by Abbott and Costello, the setup involves a delusional patient of who believes he is actually a psychiatrist up against his “real” psychiatrist. As they attempt to treat each other, a battle of wits begins with all glory going to the winner and a tragic end to the loser.

The best part about Lawson’s script is how actively it includes the audience in its story. You become the detective trying to solve the very puzzle itself of who’s who and this is what makes it so much fun. Up until the very last minute, you have no clue on what the outcome is going to, be but looking back, the subtle foreshadowing will make you kick yourself. Truly an equally funny film as it is smartly written.

Images courtesy of Flickerfest

Movie Review – A Few Less Men

This Aussie comedy sequel no one asked for may be flogging a dead corpse, but surprisingly it isn’t quite dead on arrival. Only just, though.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan 

Immediately following David’s (Xavier Samuel) farcical wedding (the events of A Few Best Men), his honeymoon plans are put on hold when his drunken friend Luke topples off a cliff and is crushed to death by a rock. David and his remaining friends, Tom (Kris Marshall) and Graham (Kevin Bishop), board a plane to return Luke’s body to England, but things naturally go awry when Graham accidentally causes the plane to crash land in the middle of rural Western Australia. The boys must now find their way to Perth carrying the corpse, depending on the colourful characters of the outback they come across, before missing Luke’s funeral and facing the wrath of his violent cousin Henry (Ryan Corr).

Australian cinema has become a truly respectable entity, especially these past few years, consistently releasing content that rivals the best of Hollywood’s recent offerings. And yet, every once in a while, there still seems to be an incessant need to drop all standards and fart out a mindless, lowbrow raunchy comedy to appease the masses. Why a sequel to 2011’s A Few Best Men was thought necessary is perplexing, given its forgettable critical reception and lukewarm box office takings.

On the bright side, A Few Less Men is definitely an improvement on its predecessor. It’s still completely braindead, of course, but in shaking off the single setting and ensemble nonsense of the first film, it finds firmer ground as a ridiculous road trip, focusing on the mismatched dynamic of its three leads – now essentially Australia/England’s Hangover trio. Each has a more clearly defined role in the group – the straight man (David), the sex-obsessive (Tom), the moron (Graham) – so each bounces off the other and gives a neater flow to their reactions in the many zany situations they find themselves in.

The plot of Dean Craig’s script (who also wrote Death at a Funeral) is essentially an afterthought; all that really matters here is what ludicrous character the boys will be forced to seek the help of, or what is going to go wrong for the boys next. The supporting cast are clearly having a ball with their eccentric weirdos – Chloe Hurst’s horny backpacker, Lynette Curran’s 70-year-old sexual deviant, and Shane Jacobson’s Norman Bates-esque crossdresser all raise amusing hell for our trio. But it all becomes a bit too repetitive, fizzling out and becoming tiresome as the frequent finding and losing Luke’s body out of stupidity becomes numbing. And despite a well-intentioned emotional scene near the end, it’s impossible to become invested or feel anything in a story so relentlessly silly.

It’s a scrappy affair, but raunchy comedy aficionados should be satisfied enough with all the corpse boners, granny shagging, pants shitting and penis-shaped coffins. It’s unlikely to win any AACTAs, but there are enough cheap laughs to make for a modestly amusing, switch-off-your brain time. Maybe just down a few beers first.

A Few Less Men is available in Australian cinemas from March 9 

Image courtesy of StudioCanal

Movie Review – Jasper Jones

Jasper Jones is certainly one of the stronger Australian films that we’ve seen in recent years, but it falls just short of achieving the status of beloved classic.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½  
Cherie Wheeler

Appearances: we’re all very quick to judge one another by what we see on the outside, and how this fits in with society’s expectations, but what really goes on behind closed doors can be a very different story.

It’s these sorts of prejudices and secrets that fuel the story of new Australian film Jasper Jones – based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Craig Silvey. Set in the 1960’s in a fictional, rural Western Australian town, Jasper Jones follows 14-year-old Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller), who inadvertently becomes tangled up in the town mystery surrounding the disappearance of Laura Wishart. The finger is immediately pointed at mixed race outcast Jasper Jones (Aaron L. McGrath), who enlists Charlie’s help to prove what really happened to the beautiful girl next door, but the deeper Charlie digs, the darker the truths he uncovers. This all becomes further complicated by Laura’s younger sister and object of Charlie’s affections Eliza (Angourie Rice), Charlie’s overprotective mother (Toni Collette) and dangerous town hermit Mad Jack Lionel (Hugo Weaving).

In trying to cover so many storylines – often shifting in tone from light and humorous, to foreboding and thrilling – Jasper Jones does become an uneven viewing experience at times. It explores almost every possible theme associated with a small Australian town in the 1960’s, from the Vietnam War to the corruption of those with power, and this often detracts from the core conflict. For me, the enigma of Jasper Jones is the most intriguing and engaging part of the story, so I found deviations to frivolous scenes such as a community cricket game to be enjoyable, yet slightly annoying distractions. Additionally, drawn out moments of Charlie considering all the clues bring the pacing of the film to a grinding halt.

Similar to Fences, I think more could have been done to fully transform this narrative for the screen. As an example (mild spoiler alert), when Jasper first approaches Charlie for help, we’re provided long takes of the pair skulking throughout the town, with a voice over from Levi Miller expressing Charlie’s uncertainty and rationale behind following Jasper – someone he barely even knows. There’s a lot of telling and not a lot of showing going on, and I feel these scenes would have had far more impact and would have been far more credible if the audience had already been introduced to Jasper and how he is perceived by both Charlie and the rest of the town.

Having said all that, this doesn’t mean that director Rachel Perkins (Bran Nue Dae) has done poorly. On the contrary, there are some outstanding dramatic scenes sprinkled throughout the film that allow the all-star cast to shine. Hugo Weaving and Aaron L. McGrath steal the show in an intensely moving confrontation, while Susan Prior, who plays the mother of Laura and Eliza Wishart, packs a real emotional gut-punch during a crucial moment. Toni Collette is on fire from start to finish with her usual authenticity and sincerity, and Levi Miller (Peter Pan, Red Dog) and Angourie Rice (These Final Hours, The Nice Guys) are often left to carry the weight of the film and do so satisfactorily.

Backing up the high calibre performances is stunning production design that brings the era to life most convincingly, and the gorgeous cinematography really shows it off. Overall, Jasper Jones is a welcome addition to the repertoire of Australian film, but it’s not quite the absolute knock-out I was hoping for.

Jasper Jones is available in Australian cinemas from March 2nd 

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment

Top 4 – Tropfest 25

Cherie Wheeler 

Around this time last year, we were all left shell-shocked by the threat of Tropfest becoming extinct, but 12 months later, against all expectations the festival has endured. Sensitive topics of lawsuits and the mysterious disappearance of millions of dollars have all be swept under the rug… and maybe that’s a good thing. With the behind-the-scenes controversies shoved firmly into the shadows, this year the spotlight has been rightfully turned to shine on the competing filmmakers for the 25th anniversary of Australia’s largest short film festival.

Tropfest celebrated its quarter of a century in style, with a televised event held at Parramatta Park where the 16 finalists were screened. This year’s short films had to incorporate a pineapple as part of Tropfest’s tradition of the signature item, and as always, there were varied interpretations of this; from subtle inclusions, to cringe-worthily obvious plugs.

Overall, this year’s top short films were a bit hit and miss; some of the weaker productions made me question whether many filmmakers even entered the competition, given the ambiguity surrounding the festival’s continued existence. On the bright side, however, there was a notable number of female filmmakers among the top crop, with roughly half of the finalists directed or produced by women.

Despite being a bit of a mixed bag, of those short films that did hit the mark, there were some truly outstanding displays of storytelling. So without any further ado, here’s my top 4 from this year’s finalists.

4. THE WALL
Story by Nick Baker
Animation by Tristan Klein

02-february-tropfest-the-wall
It always blows me away when amateur film festivals produce high quality animations. With absolutely stunning 2D visuals that bring to mind the early films of Georges Méliès, The Wall is like a children’s picture book for adults. Inspired by the plight of today’s refugees and Trump’s absurd proposal for a Game of Thrones-esque Mexican wall, Nick Baker’s short animation tells the tale of an elderly grandmother trying to survive in a tough reality. Narrated with a mystical quality by David Wenham, and supported by an emotive score from Helen Jane Long, The Wall does fall into slightly preachy territory in its final third, but its bittersweet ending more than makes up for this.

Going Vego was another animated finalist that at first appeared to be for children, but had very strong adult themes. Although boasting some amusing dialogue and excellent comedic timing from the voice talent, The Wall just pipped this one at the post in my humble opinion.


3. TALC
Directed and shot by Jefferson Grainger

02-february-tropfest-talc
In the short runtime required by Tropfest, this mini documentary only just gets to scratch the surface of what could potentially expand into a much broader narrative. Living alone in the outback, Talc is a deeply intriguing artist with a very strong worldview. At times, it’s difficult to tell whether he’s completely insane or a total genius… perhaps he’s both, but Jefferson Grainger’s exploration of this real-life character does not judge or manipulate opinion. It simply presents this incredible man through a beautifully shot and edited journey that will leave you deep in thought as you consider Talc’s fascinating theories and way of life.


2. SERVICE UPDATE
Produced & Directed by Olly Sindle

02-february-2017-tropfest-service-update
“I smile, you smile, the whole world smile”.

These are the words of Carl Downer – a Jamaican man who has carved an unexpected career out of bringing joy to any who cross his path in the London Underground. Service Update, like Talc, is another gorgeously shot documentary that’s based around a compelling character. While Talc intrigues, Service Update is imbued with the glorious feeling of pure, unadulterated happiness. It’s a viewing experience that will leave you grinning from ear to ear, as if you’ll actually float away out of your chair from the sheer elation. Carl Downer is a beautiful soul brimming with love for his job, other people and life in general. His story is a definite mood booster if there ever was one.


1. THE MOTHER SITUATION
Written & directed by Matt Day

02-february-2017-tropfest-the-mother-situation

The winner of Tropfest 25, and also my top pick, The Mother Situation is easily the most cinematic of all the finalists. Starring experienced Australian actors Sacha Horler (Offspring), Harriet Dyer (Love Child) and also writer/director Matt Day (Rake) – this short film is really in a class of its own. It’s a little unfair, really. Tropfest has always been a showcase of amateur filmmaking by emerging storytellers, and these three are well-seasoned in comparison to some of the other entrants. But Matt Day’s script is so fucking fantastic that it’s hard to sit here and complain too much. Channelling similar vibes to 2014 winner Granny Smith, The Mother Situation is a black comedy that’s best watched with as little knowledge of its concept as possible. Find it. Watch it. Enjoy it. That is all.

Another dark comedy to reach the finals was Meat & Potatoes, but while it featured some great banter between its leads, and some wonderfully absurd situations that bring Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet to mind, it just falls short of my top 4, despite being the runner up of the whole competition.

Images courtesy of tropfest.com.au 

Top 5 Australian Films of 2016

Corey Hogan

If you’re still one of those people who writes off Australian film out of “cultural cringe” or fear that you’d simply be paying for big screen versions of Packed to the Rafters, then boy, are you missing out. Every year our local industry is increasing its repertoire with better and better releases; lately, much of it is even surpassing cinema from the rest of the world. Why bother with the disappointment of countless Hollywood sequels, remakes and reboots when there’s so much original content being made in our own backyard?

That said, what better way to celebrate Australia Day than to check out some of 2016’s best Aussie films? Last year was a colossal showcase for the great things our filmmakers are capable of, and if we keep releasing such excellent films it won’t be long until the industry is a force to be reckoned with across the globe.

5. Girl Asleep

08 August - Girl Asleep
Australia’s own Wes Anderson emerged last year in the form of writer/director team Matthew Whittet and Rosemary Myers, though the pair somehow managed to out-eccentric even Anderson with their bizarre coming-of-age oddity Girl Asleep. It’s basically Moonrise Kingdom on meth. Like a feature-length Tame Impala music video, every single shot is a dreamy, perfectly framed visual marvel that proves more than ever that our home-grown technical prowess can easily rival international counterparts, even on a micro-budget. The characters may be stereotypes, but they’re perfectly cast, especially young Bethany Whitmore, making a breakthrough as the titular girl. It’s awfully quirky, almost overbearingly so, but for anyone who can deal with this it’s a short and sweet sensory delight, and likely a new favourite for the alternative crowd.

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4. Red Dog: True Blue

red-dog-true-blue
Red Dog is probably one of the last films you’d expect to get a follow-up – with its titular pooch tragically biting the dust at the end, where else is there left to go? Director Kriv Stenders’ answer is backwards – to the days when Red was just a pup named Blue, up to all sorts of mischief with his young owner (Levi Miller). Unlike most prequels, True Blue actually feels worthwhile, cleverly narrowing its focus to a single setting and just a couple of characters. It’s great fun, highly entertaining and once again ultimately heart wrenching, but in an uplifting way; one for dog lovers everywhere.

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3. The Daughter

03 March - The Daughter
The quarrelling family drama is a long-time staple of Australian cinema, and in some ways Simon Stone’s debut does channel classics like Lantana and Jindabyne. But the sheer operatic volume of strife, contorting twists and juicy secrets breathe a new life into the genre, and make The Daughter a familial storm for the ages. Stone rewards patience, with a brooding unease hanging overhead throughout the film’s slow build as a man (Paul Schnieder) returns to his rural Australian home to witness his father (Geoffrey Rush) remarry to a younger woman, culminating in explosive showdowns and a bleak finale as he unearths some deep, dark secrets. The cast is to die for too, also including Sam Neill, Miranda Otto and breakout star Odessa Young.

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2. Down Under

08 August - Down Under review
Divisive is certainly one way to put Abe Forsythe’s pitch-black comedy Down Under. To some critics and audiences, it was making light of a taboo event (the 2005 Cronulla riots), and many found it difficult to follow an ensemble of such violent, hate-filled characters fuelled by xenophobic impulses. But they missed the point – Forsythe wants us to step back and deduce these characters and their actions, and deconstruct the abhorrent beliefs that are stilled ingrained in Australian culture; boldly, he shows that both sides of the coin are both equally capable of brutality. On top of its strong messages, it’s suspenseful, shocking and incredibly compelling – and it’s bloody funny. A biting and timely satire.

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1. Goldstone

07 July - Goldstone
Indigenous writer/director/editor/composer/cinematographer Ivan Sen must be some kind of filmmaking miracle worker. Pulling off all of the above simultaneously on his sequel to Mystery Road, Goldstone is a rip-roaring blend of neo-Western, mystery thriller and balls-out action, all under the guise of an art film. Australia has a new icon in the form of Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pederson), whose investigation of a missing woman in a desolate town far removed from reality stirs up massive repercussions. David Wenham and Jacki Weaver have an absolute ball as the sinister inhabitants of Goldstone, as does Alex Russell as Pederson’s buddy cop. Darkly comical, beautifully shot, and packing more punch than most major Hollywood releases of last year, it’s a true crime that Sen was so largely ignored at the last AACTAs – but then again, how often do awards shows really get it right?

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Images courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment/Kojo Group, Roadshow Films, StudioCanal and Transmission Films