Movie Review – Hearts and Bones

Nothing ruins a feature debut premiere quite like a global pandemic. Fortunately, you can stream Ben Lawrence’s AACTA-nominated drama on digital right now.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

Dan (Hugo Weaving) is a photojournalist whose work is not for the faint of heart. His pictures capture some of the most harrowing and confronting visuals of war zones around the world. As he prepares an exhibition showcasing his life’s work, he meets Sebastian (Andrew Luri), a Sudanese taxi driver who has learned that Dan possesses photos of the massacre that took place in his home village years beforehand. The two men and their families become friends, but dark secrets of the past are unearthed and threaten to unravel their lives when Sebastian asks Dan to keep the photos in question away from the eyes of the public.

Given its exploration of the life and impact of a photojournalist’s work, it’s no surprise to learn that director Ben Lawrence worked as a photographer and documentary filmmaker before his feature debut Hearts and Bones. Lawrence has reused the themes of long-gestating grief and trauma explored in his doco Ghosthunter for dramatic effect to create an impressive original story for his first fictional film.

For Weaving, Dan is a rich role that shakes the stern stoicism he’s made so much of his career perfecting. Professional on the outside, he’s in fact a deeply unstable human being, battling an increasingly all-consuming PTSD from the horrors he’s witnessed, his declining health, and the fears of his wife’s (Hayley McElhinney, also great) new pregnancy – given he’s still grieving over the premature death of their last baby.

Matching the veteran actor – incredibly, for his first time acting – is Luri, whose Sebastian is just as emotionally fractured, despite his happy demeanour. He’s reformed, as Dan sees, through his comfortable family life and joyous African community choir, but the pictures Dan plans to show the world could reveal a past Sebastian worked hard to bury. Tensions boil and violence looms between the pair, with both actors playing off each other and their respective wives to draw a great deal of depth and complexity out of a relatively small and contemplative drama.

It’s great that its layered characters are so strong because the potentially ripe subject matter remains pretty surface level. The opening moments – in which Dan hurriedly scopes out the scene of a brutal car wreckage to take death shots before the police arrive – promise a Nightcrawler-style exposure of the dark extremes journalism can go to, that is never delivered upon. It’s also a little surprising that visually, it’s a little bland, given Lawrence’s background behind the camera.

But for a narrative debut, Hearts and Bones is well-executed, and as an acting showcase and character thought-piece, it’s largely applaudable.

Hearts and Bones is available on iTunes, YouTube, GooglePlay and the Microsoft Store in Australia from 6 May 2020

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment

Short Film Review – Judas Collar

A little West Aussie film on the road to the Oscars.

Elle Cahill

There’s a very well-known maxim in the film industry – never work with children or animals. Well, Perth filmmaker Alison James has proven there are some maxims that should be ignored, with her new short film Judas Collar featuring a cast that is almost entirely comprised of camels.

After being tranquilised, fitted with a tracking collar and released back into the wild, feral camel Judas unknowingly leads a group of hunters right to her herd. With a lack of dialogue and next to no human presence, the film relies on the power of sound to drive its story. Backed by a realistic soundscape, the score gently evokes the right emotions in all the right places.

James and cinematographer Michael McDermott do a fantastic job of capturing the vastness of Western Australia’s mid-west region and the real-life brutality that comes with reducing the feral camel population. James doesn’t shy away from the graphic nature of the subject matter, but with tight framing at appropriate moments, it does not come across as a gruesome or excessive depiction of violence.

Judas Collar is an incredible achievement. It’s now available to be viewed online for a limited time as James and producer Brooke Silcox start their campaign to get into the 2020 Academy Awards.

View here. Link expires November 14 2019. 

Images courtesy of No Thing Productions

Movie Review – The Nightingale

Jennifer Kent ups the ante to the extreme for her second feature, establishing herself as a masterful force to be reckoned with.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

In Tasmania, 1825, a 21-year-old Irish convict Clare (Aisling Franciosi) is kept prisoner by British Officer Hawkins (Sam Claflin). She is forced to be his ‘nightingale’ and sing as entertainment for his military outfit. The solace she finds in her husband and newborn baby is completely shattered when Hawkins and his cronies brutally rape Clare and murder her family in front of her. A broken woman with nothing left but rage in her blood, she acquires the help of Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), an Aboriginal tracker, to hunt down the soldiers through the unforgiving wilderness and exact her bloody revenge.

As Jennifer Kent’s long-awaited follow-up to the chilling and brilliant The Babadook, her sophomore feature The Nightingale is a whole different breed of horror film. This isn’t about the horrors that go bump in the night or manifest in the mind. These are the horrors of what humans are capable of doing to each other, and more specifically, what they actually did in our own country’s history. It’s with this graphic depiction of the atrocities committed that Kent’s second film could be considered an important and possibly culturally significant one, even if its content means it probably won’t be screened in high school history classes.

Make no mistake, The Nightingale is a massively confronting and at times genuinely very upsetting watch. A number of people walked out of my screening alone in the first half hour, which has nothing on the thirty or so who caused an uproar at its Sydney premiere. While it’s easy enough to advocate toughing through the brutality for an enriching experience (which this is), there is a limit that this pushes even for hardened viewers. Sometimes it’s better to accept that this level of savagery is not for everyone, even if it is ‘honest’ and ‘necessary’.

That’s how the Tasmanian Aboriginal elders who collaborated with Kent on the story describe what is depicted. Anger and misery were no doubt their intended emotions to ignite within the audience.

They’re helped infinitely by a trio of brilliant performances, most impressively from Aisling Franciosi. Most recognisable from The Fall and a minor role on Game of Thrones, she carries all the cruelty and fury of Clare’s journey in one hell of a breakout performance.

Sam Claflin’s loathe-inducing rapist will make you forget all about the hunky goodwill he formed in the likes of The Hunger Games and Me Before You, and previously non-acting Baykali Ganambarr ensures he’ll probably land every indigenous role in Australian cinema’s near-future.

Some of the most beautiful shots of the Aussie outback ever captured are here through Kent’s lens, creating a contrast against the ugly events and helping to distract from a few flaws. There are a few unnecessary lags in momentum along the way that could have been trimmed.

This is very much your basic rape-revenge story. But it’s a rape-revenge story full to the brim with things to say about history and humanity. Kent’s second feature achieves its aim of appreciation, confrontation and division through lavish craft and stunning performances – and is that not what anything artful should do?

The Nightingale is available in Australian cinemas from August 29th

Image courtesy of Transmission Films

Movie Review – Acute Misfortune

A must-see Australian film about a troubled artist and an inexperienced journalist. 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill 

In this haunting adaptation, young Australian journalist Erik Jensen (Toby Wallace) is invited to write a biography of controversial artist Adam Cullen (Daniel Henshall). In Cullen’s last years, Jensen gathers material for the biography and the pair develop a volatile and dependent relationship. Directed by Thomas M. Wright in his feature film debut, Acute Misfortune is wildly compelling as the relationship between journalist and artist gradually becomes more complicated and more dangerous.   

Acute Misfortune is a stellar, well-rounded film that is as beautifully shot as it is told. Wright plays with pace, allowing the film to slowly uncoil like a snake before striking strong and fast, capturing the violent mood swings of Cullen. It has the air of a sophisticated thriller with the heart of a family drama, making it not only heavy to watch, but nail-biting as the lines between these two genres are blurred.  

Henshall plays Cullen with both fragility and vicious brutality, making the character all the more unnerving. Wright keeps a steady distance from Cullen, never getting too close to him, showing the loneliness that Cullen lived in, choosing to only fill his life with people who wanted something from him 

Wallace’s turn as Jensen captures the essence of Jensen’s journalistic pursuit. His quiet observance of Cullen is also slightly creepy, as he carefully tries to toe the line between observing and being involved in Cullen’s life. Wallace carefully captures Jensen’s growth, first as he grapples with a darker world than he has been given access to before, and then his eventual realisation that Cullen needs help that he can’t provide.  

The film is told solely through Jensen’s perspective, posing him as the reliable narrator. However, Wright’s directorial choice to play with time in scenes, suggest that Jensen may not be as reliable as once though. It’s a strange story to watch unfold, and completely captivating.  

Wright takes a brutal and cruel story, and turns it into something that is visually stunning. Despite its confronting exploration of drug abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse, Acute Misfortune is a journey worth taking.  One of the best Australian films I’ve seen in a long time, this is one not to be missed.

Acute Misfortune is available in Australian cinemas from May 16 

Image courtesy of CinemaPlus Pty Ltd

 

Movie Review – Undermined – Tales from the Kimberley

Politically charged and environmentally focussed. 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill  

Undermined – Tales from the Kimberley is a documentary that takes an in-depth look at the environmental issues that threaten the northern part of Western Australia and Aboriginal culture. Featuring Aboriginal people who work and live in the Kimberley, along with activists and government officials, the documentary examines the short and long-term effects of mining, pastoralism and irrigated agriculture.

Nicholas D. Wrathall’s latest documentary is beautifully shot; it perfectly captures the Western Australian landscape, from the deep red dirt set against the bright blue horizon, to the pastoral lands, mine sites and bushland. As expected, Undermined is politically charged, and much like Wrathall’s previous documentary Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, it’s isn’t the most balanced documentary, with a heaving siding toward the Aboriginal communities.

Undermined fails to express how we can prevent loss of land and doesn’t attempt to understand why corporations need it.  Many would argue that these corporations are greedy and just want to make more money, but this is simplifying a much more complicated issue. Undermined and other documentaries tend to overlook the issue of over-consumption and call upon the younger generations to fix global problems without acknowledging how the world got to this point, which is not acceptable.

Politics aside, there are many poignant moments in Undermined. Wrathall’s interviewees succinctly tell emotive, personal stories and Indigenous ranger and co-producer Albert Wiggan is a standout. He’s particularly captivating in scenes where he’s showing his son the traditional ways of capturing food, bringing some much-needed comic relief to an otherwise serious documentary.

Undermined is a modern Australian documentary that looks past issues that have plagued this country since its settlement. Instead it chooses to focus on our current state and what this means moving forward for generations to come. It reminds us of the value of our environment and the need to preserve Aboriginal culture.

Undermined – Tales From The Kimberley is available in Australian cinemas from February 21st

Image courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment

NEXT GEN Short Film Festival 2019

Each year, NEXT GEN Short Film Festival marks the start of the Perth Fringe Festival and sets the tone for the calibre of local content to be released over the coming months. Designed to support local emerging WA filmmakers, NEXT GEN gives filmmakers a platform to screen their work to new audiences at boutique cinema The Backlot. This year Hooked on Film was lucky enough to attend and view the finalists. Here’s some of the award-winners and our personal favourites.

By Elle Cahill

Spiral
Drama
Director: Steven Kerr
Starring: Shannon Ryan, Jarryd Dobson, Kian Pitman & Michael Muntz
Runtime: 10:54

Winner of Best Director, Best Production Design and Best Actor awards, Spiral is about a young woman (WAAPA student, Shannon Ryan) working at an Australian outpost who intercepts a message from a Russian astronaut (WAAPA student, Jarryd Dobson). Despite the prejudice of her boss, she decides to help the astronaut land in Australia, choosing humanity over politics.

Spiral is brave and daring in many ways for up and coming filmmaker and WA Screen Academy student Steven Kerr. The spaceship that the astronaut is travelling in is an amazing feat of production design, as are the special effects that have been used to create the space environment. The inclusion of Russian dialect makes the astronaut authentic, rather than a corny Bond villain with a thick accent, and the use of the harsh Australian landscape adds a natural apocalyptic feel to the film. The story is simple and quintessentially Australian, and it’s all brought together beautifully to tell a captivating story.

See Spiral’s Pozible campaign video here or check them out on Facebook:

Raw
Drama
Director: Adrienne Cobbs
Starring: Lily Stewart, Luke Smith, Kian Pitman, Jessie Lancaster & Shannon Ryan

Runtime: 10:15

Winner of the People’s Choice Award and my personal favourite, Raw looks at the effect PTSD has on soldiers coming back from countries in conflict. Casey (Lily Stewart) is one such soldier who struggles to fit back into normal life, haunted by the death of her best friend.

Directed by WA Screen Academy student Adrienne Cobb, Raw has an intimate feel to it. It sticks close to Casey as she succumbs to her PTSD, brought on by the simplest things such as a helicopter overhead or a shadow. It’s carried by a strong performance from WAAPA student Stewart, who was unsurprisingly awarded Best Actress for her tormented and emotional performance. The battle scenes are equally impressive, making use of the iconic Quarry Amphitheatre to transport audiences to a war-stricken country. It’s a dramatic, but also very poignant film.

See Raw’s Pozible campaign video here or check them out on Facebook:

The Wallpaper
Horror
Director: Susie Conte & Jenny Crabb
Starring: Kylie Maree & Nathan Langworthy
Runtime: 6:59

Awarded Best Screenplay and Best Film, The Wallpaper is about a woman descending into madness. Based on a short story and shot in a single room, co-directors Susie Conte and Jenny Crabb create a frenetic energy as leading lady Rose (Kylie Maree) is overcome by hysteria.

The set design with its old wallpaper peeling away from the walls creates a sense of terror and plays a key role in Rose’s decline. Wallpaper is simple, but very effective as it shines a light on our historical misunderstanding of mental illness.

Image from The Wallpaper’s Facebook page, check them out here:

the wallpaper next gen january 2019

NEXT GEN Short Film Festival Image courtesy of the festival’s Facebook page.

Movie Review – Storm Boy

The tale of a boy and his pelicans is back for a new generation and looks set to be mandatory Australian school viewing for years to come.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Amidst a socio-political board decision that has split his family down the middle, retired businessman Mike Kingley (Geoffrey Rush) finds himself distracted by images from his past. To subdue his granddaughter’s outrage at her father’s conflicting political influence that looks set to bring harm to the Pilbara environment, he recounts to her his long-forgotten childhood growing up on an uninhabited South Australian coastline with his father (Jai Courtney). Back then, he was Storm Boy (Finn Little), given the title by indigenous local Fingerbone Bill (Trevor Jamieson) for rescuing and raising three orphaned baby pelicans.

You probably remember Storm Boy as the old novel and 70’s movie that were mandatory reading and/or viewing in every Australian classroom. Director Shawn Seet (UnderbellyLove Child) makes it as clear as possible from the get-go that his version is the MODERN and UPDATED take on a classic.

The lack of subtlety is forgivable, at least as this remains a story that all young Australians should experience. Given the dated nature of the original, Seet’s version is giving a new generation access to a tale that still resonates, even if a lack of substance is exposed this time around.

If there’s anything outstanding about Storm Boy 2k19, it’s the pelicans. Little behind-the-scenes information on how the cast and crew worked with these birds was available at the time of writing, but it seems highly believable that they could genuinely have been raised in this situation and environment. We see them actually growing from tiny, featherless babies to big-beaked beasts on screen and the bond they share with fresh-faced Finn Little (undoubtedly the next Levi Miller) is close, touching and quite astonishing.

Thankfully, these birds are kept largely grounded in reality – save for one or two instances of dodgy CGI in a stormy sea rescue that unfortunately couldn’t be avoided. These birds, along with a strong cast are what keep Storm Boy afloat. Recent controversy aside, Geoffrey Rush remains as watchable as ever and an inviting narrator to the tale. Jai Courtney feels much more at home here than he does in his usual Hollywood action-guy typecast, and Trevor Jamieson does the great David Gulpilil proud as Storm Boy’s Aboriginal guardian.

Elsewhere, there’s not much to grab onto. The present-day Pilbara mining conflict doesn’t go anywhere, given that the theme of Mike’s childhood story doesn’t mirror its contemporary quite as well as it should. There’s little depth, character development or emotional draw outside of Storm Boy’s main arc with his pelicans. Thankfully, that’s strong enough to make for an enjoyable time, and ensure that a classic Australian tale lives on for a new generation to watch.

Storm Boy is available in Australian cinemas from January 17

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Movie Review – BackTrack Boys

Australian filmmaker Catherine Scott makes a heartfelt documentary that looks into how troubled kids can be taken in and taught responsibility by caring for and training dogs.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill 

BackTrack Boys is about a rehabilitation program for troubled youths in New South Wales run by straight-talking Bernie Shakeshaft. The documentary follows three troubled kids, Zak, Tyrson, and Rusty who are all part of the Backtrack program, and their journey in and out of trouble as they struggle to take the lessons they learn through the program and apply them to their dysfunctional home life.

Similar to documentaries focused on groups of people like Jesus Camp and Dying to Live, what really makes BackTrack Boys a documentary worth watching are the characters featured. Director Catherine Scott does a brilliant job at drawing out the personalities of the three featured children and the harsh environments they have grown up in, which would have more than likely led them to a life in jail. Whether it be good-natured Zak who has worked his way through the Backtrack program to become a leader; Tyrson who regressed after leaving the program and wound up in jail for a couple of years; and the youngest of the group, Rusty whose foul-mouthed, tall tales are tolerated by the others as they realise he’s just a young kid who hasn’t had the easiest start to life.

The program itself is interesting in that Shakeshaft pairs the kids with a dog that they are expected to train, feed and prepare for local shows in events like high jump wall. The idea is that the dogs don’t judge the kids but instead give them a sense of responsibility. Intermingled in this are campfire heart-to-hearts, where the boys share stories, their feelings and fears when they’re ready to. It’s group theory done in a trusting environment and it’s Shakeshaft straight-talking both around the campfire and in private with the boys that helps them take responsibility for their actions, and more importantly, their lives.

The documentary is beautifully shot and Scott manages to get access to a lot of areas to really capture the kids’ realities (including the juvenile prison). Ultimately the documentary is about second chances and showing that there are alternatives for troubled kids, and that whilst these alternatives might be a bit left of field, they may just be the best circumstances for these kids to learn and grow into responsible adults.

BackTrack Boys  is available in Australian cinemas from October 25 (Western Australia limited release 27th -29th Oct)

Image courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment

Movie Review – 1%

While 1% boasts some strong performances, its unremarkable story fails to live up to its high-octane setting.

⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic 

Shot right here in Perth, 1% is a crime drama set in the underworld of Australian motorcycle club gangs. It follows Vice President of the ‘Copperheads’ Paddo (Ryan Corr) who has been leading the group while President Knuck (Matt Nable) has been behind bars. As Knuck nears release from prison, Paddo’s younger brother Skink (Josh McConville) puts him in a compromising position that threatens his loyalty to both Knuck and the Copperheads. Paddo must decide how to solve his dilemma before he loses everything he’s worked for.

Corr does well in expressing the conflicting emotions of a man constantly having to weigh up his loyalties and juggle his relationships. The film continuously puts Paddo between a rock and a hard place, and Corr did a good job of earning my sympathy towards his character’s situation.

Another standout is Aaron Pedersen (Goldstone) as Sugar, the President of a rival gang. His screen presence is like a breath of fresh air and it’s disappointing that his role was reduced to just a few scenes. Pedersen has a natural charisma and I love seeing his career expanding.  I’ve only known him to play good guys, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how well he could take on a more villainous role.

What brings it all down is the story. One of the major flaws of the film is that all the conflicts are caused by one character: Paddo’s brother. Literally everything he does is a mistake that ends up causing more grief for Paddo. His role is essentially the only driving force moving the story along. Every scene he’s in made me roll my eyes because I knew he was going to do something wrong and then the film would try to resolve it. It became repetitive and boring.

There’s also some really questionable events. Without giving too much away, there’s a subplot with Knuck’s character that makes absolutely no difference to the story. And the final act has one of the strangest standoffs I’ve seen in a long time.

1% tries its hand at being a gritty Australian crime drama, but it’s let down by its thin narrative. The film is entirely carried by its performances, which are the only real reason you should go and see the film.

1% is available in Australian cinemas from October 12 

Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution

Movie Review – Ladies In Black

Imagine a beautiful, simple world filled with 1950’s Hollywood glamour and natural Australian charm… well, that’s exactly the experience you’ll get from Bruce Beresford’s latest entry.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Cherie Wheeler 

Adapted from the novel by Madeleine St John, the titular ladies in black run the women’s clothing section at a high-end department store. From the young and naïve, yet sharply intelligent Lisa (Angourie Rice) who anxiously awaits her exam results, to the hopelessly romantic Fay (Rachael Taylor) who can’t catch a break in her dating life, each woman faces her own set of hurdles. While all so different – none more so than Slovenian socialite and style aficionado Magda (Julia Ormond) – they each make an impact on one another and form unexpected bonds.

Set in the late 50’s in Sydney, Ladies In Black is a reminder of a time when people were more appreciative of what they had. Even when what they had was so little. With no mobile phones or modern world pressures intruding upon them, the characters in Ladies In Black are free to fully enjoy their city, food, wine and each other at a leisurely pace.

In this sense, Bruce Beresford’s film is a breath of fresh air. But its simple ways can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Although each core character has some form of dilemma to tackle, there’s no real stakes at play. All the conflict is fairly superficial, and when darker themes do start to emerge, they’re mostly glossed over and forgotten.

Perhaps that’s OK, though. Maybe we need to have more films that don’t get bogged down in the real drudgeries of life. Especially Australian films. Until the last couple of years, many of our films tended to fall into 1 of 2 categories – outstanding gritty dramas that only a handful of people would go to see, or average comedies and B-grade fluff pieces. Recent times have certainly shown a shift, with talented filmmakers producing high quality, thought-provoking stuff that’s appealing to broader audiences. It may not be ground-breaking, but Ladies In Black is definitely a solid addition to our stream of newer films.

Its cast is essentially a ‘who’s hot right now’ showcase of Australian performers of all levels. There’s the legendary Noni Hazlehurst as the leader of the ladies in black, young up-and-comer Angourie Rice (Jasper Jones, The Nice Guys) and late bloomer Rachael Taylor (Jessica Jones), who’s only now starting to land decent roles roughly a decade into her career. After starring alongside his real life brother in Brother’s Nest earlier this year, here Shane Jacobson features as Lisa’s simple-minded father, and Ryan Corr, who’s managed to get himself into every Australian film from Ali’s Wedding to Holding The Man, here presents as a key love interest.

Corr steals the show from the moment he struts in sprouting an oddly spot-on Hungarian accent. He’s the source of a lot of comedy and fits the role of a charming and cultured European immigrant like a glove. Julia Ormond, one of the very few non-Australian cast members, follows closely behind him as the posh and judgemental, yet well-meaning Magda, and she is truly a joy to watch.

Ladies In Black is like a fizzy glass of lemonade on a warm summer’s day – it’s sweet and refreshing, easy to enjoy and free of any bitter aftertaste. If that’s the type of movie you’re in the mood for, then you can’t do much better than this one.

Ladies In Black is available in Australian cinemas from September 20

Also screening as part of  the RoofTop Movies Program 1 on Nov 14.

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures