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 

2017 Alliance Francaise French Film Festival

Bonjour Perth! The 28th annual French Film Festival is in town for the next few weeks screening at Cinema Paradiso, Luna on SX and The Windsor. We sampled a few of the films on offer.

Tomorrow

Riding on a crest of environmental documentaries comes Tomorrow: a passionate, yet humble look at the positivity global contamination can bring.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

03 March - AFF Tomorrow
You know how the Western genre has become so saturated that, to stand out, it has to come with unique selling points? Like, look – it’s cowboys and aliens! The Environmental Documentary has more or less reached a similar crisis, with each new film threatening to re-tread what the other has said. It’s no longer enough to complain about fossil fuel emissions and global warming – a new angle is required.

Tomorrow provides that angle. Helmed by Mélanie Laurent and her filmmaking comrades, this immensely informative documentary shifts our attention from a dying Earth to a world that can be rightfully repaired and re-energised through solidarity, networking, and positive thinking. It’s great that more households are converting to solar power, but is that enough? Tomorrow posits broader change, change that is already happening in towns and cities throughout the globe. Urban families are micro-farming. Counties have introduced self-contained currencies to benefit small businesses. Schools in Finland place education ahead of status, and their children are better for it.

All this is meant to be encouraging instead of disheartening, and it is. Tomorrow makes me want to convert my backyard into a vegetable garden. It makes the microcosm I live in seem unclean and harmful, and that I should do something to purify it. Leo DiCaprio’s Before the Flood told us what the billionaires are doing. Tomorrow is a bit different – it’s about you and me, and the good we can do from the ground up.


Planetarium

Rebecca Zlotowski’s supernatural period drama offers a wonderful respite for insomniacs.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

03 March - AFF Planetarium
Planetarium follows two American sisters who are believed to possess the supernatural ability to communicate with ghosts. Laura (Natalie Portman) and Kate (Lily-Rose Depp) Barlow, cross paths with André Korben (Emmanuel Salinger), an eccentric French filmmaker, while performing their travelling séance roadshow in pre-WWII Paris. Captivated by their ethereal connections, Korben invites the girls to live with him while they produce a movie centred on their show, but his interest soon transforms into something a little stranger and disconcerting.

Much like the séances it depicts, Planetarium is a vague and obscure dreamlike ritual that disentangles itself from the anchor of time, stretching two hours into what feels like a bottomless eternity. Maybe this elongated, formless structure is intentional; it could mirror Laura and Kate’s ambling and directionless lives or – at a stretch – the lingering limbo of European geopolitics on the eve of war.

Whatever director Rebecca Zlotowski was aiming for with Planetarium, I don’t feel like much of it congealed into a cohesive whole. There is a collection of interesting ideas here; the middle act transforms into a strange pseudo-sexual experience with Korben supposedly navigating beyond the veil to meet with his deceased wife while using Kate as a vessel.

But a lot of these ideas hang in isolation, disconnected from other ideas that waft gently in and out of the film. It certainly doesn’t help that both Portman and Depp are so reserved in their performances; distanced from genuine warmth or deep emotion. We could have had something special on our hands, if only the rest of the film was as captivating as the production and costume design.


In Bed with Victoria

A quirky concept tackled in a completely mundane way.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Cody Fullbrook

03 March - AFF Victoria
Struggling to raise two daughters while being embroiled in two court cases, one of which involves exposing her own personal life, Victoria Spick (Virginie Efira) is attempting to juggle her personal and professional life.

What could have been a humorous and completely original film about an attempted murder case with the only witnesses being a dog and monkey – which actually does happen – In Bed With Victoria wastes too much time on romantic storylines, tarot readings and other things I’ve now instantly forgotten.

Like all films focusing on lawyers, the most interesting and intense moments are the court scenes, and although rarer than I would have liked, they show the same clinical function and form that I’ve come to appreciate.  Even when it’s just a friend of Victoria’s defending her in court against allegations of colluding with a witness, the delivery is passionate yet sensible. An appropriately slow scene with Victoria enduring the end of her case after overdosing on drugs shows exactly what In Bed With Victoria should have simply been about. A stressed woman handling a peculiar court case.  Nothing more.

Though tolerable with a few funny lines, In Bed With Victoria’s characters and storylines are far too basic and plodding for me to think about recommending it to anyone.


Images courtesy of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 

In Perth from March 15 to April 5: https://www.affrenchfilmfestival.org 

Interview: Chloe Hurst – A Few Less Men

Corey Hogan

It’s probably the oldest cliché in the book; chasing your dream in the city of stars itself, Los Angeles, and leaving your life behind to make it big on the silver screen. But it’s another thing entirely if you’re actually achieving that dream, like 26-year-old Perth girl Chloe Hurst is currently. Skipping the humble beginnings most up-and-comers are forced to endure, Chloe’s been on a consistent roll since relocating; kicking off in New York with Broadway smash hits, then landing film roles opposite massive stars like Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe and Stephen Baldwin. In between her Hollywood acting, she’s taken a trip back home to appear in the sequel to the 2011 Aussie/British comedy A Few Best Men – now A Few Less Men. It’s safe to say Chloe’s blown that cliché out of the water.

I talked to Chloe about everyday life amongst the biggest names in film, the different experience of working at home on A Few Less Men (her very first Australian film) and her continuing dream run.

HOF: For starters, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what got you onto the performance and filmmaking scene?

CH: Sure! I’ve been in performing arts since I was a kid, but mainly doing theatre, musical theatre and stage stuff actually until about two years ago, when I went on a trip to L.A. to visit for two weeks from New York; I’ve done I think nine films back to back ever since. It’s definitely been a journey, and I guess the transition from stage to screen is sort of what I’m going through at the moment, and I’m loving every second of it.

HOF: You’ve had an impressive run in theatre with massive productions like Into the Woods and A Chorus Line, how have you found the transition from acting for the stage to acting in film?

CH: The actual process for me – I’ve been working with a lot of incredible coaches who’ve helped along the way, but the biggest difference I’ve found is the transition from New York to L.A., not necessarily the work aspect of it. That shift was huge in terms of lifestyle, but in terms of the work… I’m just surrounded by incredible people that are doing incredible things, and I think when you’re in good hands it makes that transition so much easier because you’re sharing the experience with these pros who have done it for years. In that respect I just find that I’ve been really lucky that I’ve been thrown into the hands of incredible professionals that have ten times the amount of experience I do, and I’m just learning every day from them.

HOF: There’s obviously a huge difference between performance work in Australia and work in L.A., what makes it that way? How does the process differ?

CH: For me, my only experience of working in Australia is A Few Less Men; most of my work has been in America! So this is actually my first real, professional experience with Australian film, and I loved every second of it. Being in my home town and shooting the film was a dream come true, and obviously I’d love to do more and more and more of that. And just seeing how passionate the Aussies are about what they’re doing, their work ethic is incredible. I think often with these big Hollywood sets… they do this all the time; they follow a protocol, they have routine and rules to stick to, whereas I feel like in Australia the energy on set and the excitement to be doing what they’re doing every day is just contagious. Like I said I haven’t had much experience in Australia, so this was such an incredible first introduction to how Aussies work and the comradery that’s created on set is totally different; it’s much more of a family aspect rather than a business. I think we’re all super supportive of each other creating these awesome things and just getting the best out of people from a personal, artistic point of view.

HOF: How did you become involved in A Few Less Men? What latched you on to a production back in Australia?

CH: So I auditioned from L.A., I caught wind that there was this film shooting in my home town called A Few Less Men, and I’d heard about the first one but I hadn’t actually seen it before auditioning. I sort of knew the cast that was attached, and even just being given the scenes that I auditioned with, I could see the comedic aspects of it, and I just thought it was written so incredibly well that I was actually laughing when reading the script – I always think that’s a great sign for a comedy. So I actually put myself on tape out here, and funnily enough one of my best friends Saskia (Hampele) was also taping herself for it from out here, so she came into my audition to read with me, and it turned out the two of us actually booked Lisa and Angie, the two best friends that are travelling in the film together. I think a part of the audition process, having her in the room and reading with me and bantering off each other like that; I feel like sending that across is probably what got us both the roles, so we were both in it together from the very beginning.

HOF: You play Lisa, who is (sort of) a love interest for Tom (Kris Marshall). Tell us a bit about the character.

CH: She’s a fling. She’s not far from me in real life I’d like to think, except perhaps a little more forward and sexual [laughs]. I basically intercept the boys; I’m on this big road trip with Saskia’s Angie in the film and we come across the boys stuck in the middle of the desert, and we take them to this party that I think ultimately resembles a Burning Man type festival. It leads to… I guess you could call it love at first sight with Kris Marshall? I try to get involved with him and proposition him for a threesome and divert their journey; they’re on a mission and we prevent that from happening, we’re giving them an ulterior motive.

HOF: How did you find working opposite all these funny actors like Kris Marshall and Kevin Bishop? Is comedy your thing?

CH: My cheeks were sore every single day; I could not stop laughing with these boys. I can’t even explain to you… they are, I think, the funniest people I’ve ever been in a room with at the same time. And when you get to develop that while shooting seriously, it only gets funnier. They are the kindest, most genuine men, and they are just a scream… what you see in the film is just so similar to what you see on set. Comedy is not my strength at all; I’m working on it at the moment actually, I’m doing an intensive class out here in L.A. just to be as good as these boys at comedy.

I was certainly intimidated to begin with working with Kris; we met, and five seconds after saying “Hi I’m Chloe, nice to meet you,” we filmed the scene where we were making out and doing… you know… [laughs] all of a sudden our tongues were doing each other’s throats. So that was certainly my first experience of being thrown in the deep end, but if anything we got the awkwardness out of the way first, so that was great.

HOF: You were in Shane Black’s The Nice Guys last year, how was it acting with such a prolific director and huge stars like Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe?

CH: I’m still speechless to this day. I think Shane’s casting and directing… he’s a genius, as a writer, as a director, as a mentor, he’s just so incredible. And to get to work with people like Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe… that’s what I mean when I say I’m learning from the best of the best, they take you under their wing and guide you and it’s the reason they are so successful. They’re just the most humble people.

HOF: You had the starring role in the indie film Scarlett, could you tell us a bit about that?

CH: Yeah! Scarlett is a film with Stephen Baldwin and myself from last year which came out… I think it’s doing a state by state release in America at the moment, so it’s come out in Texas, and Colorado I believe so far. That was my first feature film ever, and to play the title role in a film with so little experience was certainly a big responsibility on my part. Of the one hundred page script I think I had about ninety of dialogue, so it was a big responsibility on my part, but I absolutely loved every second of it and would greet the challenge again with open arms. And obviously to work with Stephen Baldwin on your first film… so I was picking his brain for advice, and I got to take away so much from that that led to things like The Nice Guys and now A Few Less Men.

HOF: You’re a bit of a fashion icon too on top of your acting. What do you enjoy the most, or does it all sort of play off each other?

CH: You know, it does play off each other; I’m certainly much more of an actor than a model, I’ve been so blessed to be able to model as my side job all these years. I joke about how modelling is my waitressing, which most actors end up having to do at some point, and I’ve been very blessed that modelling has been that for me. In terms of being a fashion icon… wow. That’s like… that’s a big call. I was flown back last year to be the ambassador of the Perth Fashion Festival, and that was an incredible experience. I basically got to meet a lot of local Perth designers that I’m still in discussion with now, because obviously I want to support where I’m from and the fashion people that are coming up in the world from Perth. I just think there’s nothing better than being supportive of the people who are trying to do their best with what they’ve got or where they’re from; I will always be so supportive of Australian fashion.

HOF: You’re based in L.A. now of course, but would you take the opportunity if more roles in Australia presented themselves?

CH: Yup. Yup, hands down. I struggle everyday living so far away from the people I love the most, so any opportunity to be brought closer to them and still be able to do what I love is a dream for me. I also love what Australians are doing with scripts and films and companies like StudioCanal are obviously being really supportive of the film industry over there, and I want to be a part of that. Like I said A Few Less Men is my only experience so far in Australian film, and I would love to grow that over the next few years, and after that as well. Fingers crossed!

HOF: I guess that brings us to what’s next for you. Are you working on anything at the moment; are there any projects on the table?

CH: So this is actually a really interesting year for me, I got my green card for the US so that in itself has opened a lot of doors over here. It’s pilot season, so I’m currently on the hustle and grind auditioning back to back for TV shows; because I’ve never worked in TV that’s something that my team and I are working on together to try to achieve this year.

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

The Marriage Between Video And Stage

Cody Fullbrook 

For you fellow Australians who call Perth home, you may have attended some shows at this year’s Fringe Festival in which numerous venues across the city annually host performers from all over Australia and beyond. What surprised me above all else, excluding the price of the food, were how many shows used advertising videos that cycled through social media, with shows themselves implementing video into their acts.

Over the last few years there has been a noticeable increase in pairing video and stage.  But, why?  Or should I be asking, why not? It’s an important question to ask.

With our ever-growing technology, it would be unwise not to tap into its potential to improve a show’s entertainment quality, but also to reach a larger audience. Comedians like Louis C.K. and Australia’s own Tom Gleeson have sold their stand-up specials online, where customers may download the video recording for a surprisingly cheap cost, compared to seeing them live.

Netflix has a sizeable selection of stand-up comedy, and even musicals like Oklahoma and Shrek The Musical can be bought on YouTube. Most interesting of all were the recent productions of Peter Pan and Grease which were performed as stage musicals, but filmed live and immediately sent to broadcast television.

Everyone is on YouTube now. Audiences and even other artists seem to look down on performers with virtually no social media presence, and for those that do have one, the rapid style of online marketing can gradually bleed into their act’s presentation. Why shouldn’t the viewers want to see video cutaways during a live stand up show?  It’s not only what they’ve grown up to expect, but it’s how they learned the show existed at all.

The Perth Fringe festival had key examples of shows that utilised projectors, such as John Robertson: The Dark Room, Sonny Yang VS Fringe and Chase. Even larger artists like Bill Bailey and Wayne Brady have used screens to add to their performances.

There isn’t a marriage between stage and video so much as a shotgun wedding.  Many artists seem obligated to use video, not because it’s a necessary and desired addition, but because they know that watching someone on stage doesn’t draw as many people nowadays. Everyone is on their phone, constantly barraged with fast advertisements and cutaways. All art must adapt or perish.

In a few years, we may look at implementing video into stage shows the same way we currently view lighting designs. Expected and essential. A simple static shot of a specific terrain can instantly set the scene for a play. Comedians can use visual aids to assist their jokes. Even circuses can project episodes of The Simpsons if we get bored of watching someone twirl fire for 20 minutes.

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 

Another One Bites The Dust – The End of Presto

Hey Presto! The Australian online streaming service has vanished into thin air as if a magician snapped his (or her) fingers… except sadly, its disappearance is no illusion.

Cherie Wheeler 

Presto has officially bitten the dust and it ain’t coming back from the dead any time soon. For reasons that haven’t been made overly clear, Seven West Media sold its stake in the service in October last year, giving old mate Foxtel full control of the company. And what did Foxtel do next? What Foxtel does best. Like a very hungry caterpillar, Foxtel devoured Presto – wiping its existence clean from the earth at the start of this month. Then, in hopes of turning itself into a beautiful, money-making butterfly, it tried to convince all of Presto’s subscribers to join Foxtel Play instead…

As a former Presto member this makes me mad as hell. And you know what? I’m not going to take it anymore.

Well… OK, that’s a little dramatic, because let’s be honest – there’s very little that I or anyone else can do besides jump up and down and spew a few passionate words on the Internet, but I’ll take what I can get.

The truth is, Presto was far from perfect. The app was buggy and often experienced errors. It was also a little pricey at $15 per month to stream both films and TV shows. On top of that, it lacked original content, with some of its programming being available on other platforms. Considering all of this, it’s really no surprise to learn that Presto held the smallest share of Australia’s online streaming community with 142,000 subscribers (according to figures released by Roy Morgan last year). So what makes me so mad, I hear you ask? Two words: squandered potential.

For starters, it absolutely baffles me that two incredibly powerful conglomerates couldn’t manage to get their shit together to create a user-friendly app. I appreciate that ad-free streaming is a tough business to run, with massive outlay required to gain content and only one source of income in the form of subscription fees, but the fact is, people expect top-notch viewing for minimal spend. If you want to play with the big boys, you’ve got to do what they can do.

At first, Presto had a point of difference in its support of the Australian film and television industry. It sponsored the AACTAs one year. It streamed 2016’s Tropfest finalists. It offered a whole range of Australian content. But now Stan does that too, and not only is Stan cheaper at $10 per month, it also has a much better marketing team and around double the number of subscribers.

But there was a way for Presto to compete in the field of content… only trouble is, it would have involved Foxtel letting go of its insatiable greed. Through providers like HBO and Showtime, Foxtel has access to some of the greatest television shows ever created, but instead of openly sharing its gifts with the world, Foxtel likes to keep its claws tightly hooked into any programming worthy of solid ratings. Yes, Presto did give you access to old favourites like The Sopranos and Sex and the City, which was fantastic, but it could have also given people fresher shows, like… oh, I don’t know… perhaps, Game of Thrones?

Now THAT would’ve shaken things up. THAT could’ve made Presto a market leader. But the sad reality is that Foxtel never would’ve done it. It’s far too busy coddling its Play and Go platforms, and while these are certainly an improvement on its traditional products in terms of pricing and the introduction of no lock-in contracts, neither are any match for the Netflix format.

To my understanding, there’s limitations on how long content is available on Foxtel Play, with episodes often only accessible for a few weeks, and Foxtel Go is really just catch-up TV. Foxtel had the opportunity to fill Presto with outstanding content. It didn’t have to be the latest and greatest stuff still airing on its television network – even Netflix falls a bit behind in providing subscribers with the most recent seasons, plus that would’ve made Foxtel Play redundant. However, it could’ve made every past episode of GoT available (for example), with no restrictions. Instead, it chose to lose $27 million in the process of shutting Presto down… now where’s the logic in that?

While one Australian company goes down the gurgler, another is being resurrected from the ashes. Remember good ol’ Quickflix? Well, US company Karma Media Holdings bought it out in October last year. The new owners seem to understand the nature of the cutthroat environment they live in, and are determined to create a unique product that has the ability to compete, which is all well and good… but this previously Australian/New Zealand company is now under American ownership, and this along with the death of Presto doesn’t sit too well with me. I just only hope that one day we will be more supportive of our own, rather than always looking to everything that comes out of the US and treating it as superior.

Image courtesy of The Sopranos / HBO

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