Wiener-Dog – Revelation Perth International Film Festival

An impressive cast doesn’t save Todd Solondz from drowning along with his wiener-dog.


Zachary Cruz-Tan

I don’t know Todd Solondz nor am I acquainted with his body of work, but after seeing Wiener-Dog, his latest black comedy about a wandering dachshund, I believe a successful career is still far ahead of him. This is an awkward, at times frustrating film in which no one utters a single line of credible dialogue and every performance – except Danny DeVito’s – is tuned to the frequency of a shock therapy patient.

DeVito plays Dave Schmerz, a failed screenwriter working for a prestigious film school. His story is one of numerous, vaguely interconnected tales about different bunches of people and, of course, a wiener-dog that somehow finds its way into their care. “A dachshund passes from oddball owner to oddball owner, whose radically dysfunctional lives are all impacted by the pooch”, states the film’s IMDb synopsis, and yet I don’t recall the dog doing a single thing of value except providing the film with an excruciatingly overdrawn shot of faeces. Its owners could’ve been lugging around an old toilet and it wouldn’t have made a difference.

Sad, then, that the movie is called Wiener-Dog. Solondz, who wrote and directed, must feel affection for canines, but it is lost in his screenplay, which frowns upon them ambivalently with a truly disturbing conclusion, and Julie Delpy having to constantly remind her son that “Dogs are not humans!”. Everyone’s so stunted by the strange dialogue and bizarre staging that the entire picture becomes a distraction of itself. It might also be the only movie under 90 minutes to have an intermission. Gives us the perfect opportunity to walk out, I suppose.

Wiener-Dog is screening at Revelation Film Festival (6-19 July) 

Image courtesy of Transmission Films & Revelation Film Festival

Top Knot Detective – Revelation Perth International Film Festival

Riotously funny, Top Knot Detective is what happens when you watch too much late-night SBS.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Michael Philp 

It’s hard to describe Top Knot Detective to the uninitiated. Its list of influences includes Power Rangers, midnight SBS insanity and legendarily bad films like The Room. Imagine a mockumentary retrospective on Kung Fury, and you’ll have some grasp of what you’re in for. If those things don’t float your boat, the exit is to your right. For everyone else, Top Knot Detective is brilliant and it deserves to be on your must-see list.

Top Knot details the rise and fall of fictional 90’s Japanese TV show Ronin Suiri Tentai (Deductive Reasoning Ronin), zeroing in on the show’s creator/director/star/writer Takashi Tawagoto (Toshi Okuzaki), who is described as “Errol Flynn without the STD’s or the talent”. Through interviews with his co-stars and the show’s crew, the film builds a fascinating and hilarious portrait of a young man swept up in the creative process.

There are so many things to love about Top Knot. The number of jokes per minute is phenomenal, and just about each one lands perfectly. On top of that, the level of care on display is remarkable. From the acting to the background details, everything around the show is on-point. Even the tie-in advertisements and archive photos feel beautifully real, and you’ll often forget that everything you’re seeing has come directly from the minds of directors Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce. Top Knot Detective isn’t just a send-up of cheap, over the top Japanese cinema, it’s McCann and Pearce’s love letter to the genre. Theirs is a world of giant penis monsters, talk shows with cats, and gloriously ridiculous (and ridiculously gory) action scenes. If that sentence interests you, Top Knot Detective cannot be recommended enough.

Top Knot Detective is screening at Revelation Film Festival (6-19 July)

Image courtesy of Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) and Revelation Film Festival 

Descent into the Maelstrom – Revelation Perth International Film Festival

Descent into the Malestrom is a high energy journey into the success, and failings, of 70’s Aussie rock’n’roll band Radio Birdman.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill 

In 1974 in Sydney, a young American man named Deniz Tek formed the band Radio Birdman with Rob Younger. Following the recruitment of four other members, Radio Birdman went on to cause a stir in the Australian music scene, with their unconventional take on rock’n’roll and their determination to stay true to their original brand of music. Whilst the band had a short run of success, with the members of the band choosing to part ways in 1978, they became the influence for many mainstream Australian bands.

The genius of Descent into the Maelstrom lies in director Jonathan Sequeira’s complete understanding of the band. There are so many elements at play that are carefully hidden behind the guise of a historical documentary as Sequeira explores the band’s rise to fame. But this documentary offers so much more, and much like the music of Radio Birdman, it refuses to stick to traditional documentary conventions.

The first half of the documentary is littered with wild tales as retold by the band members, now well into their 60’s, and discusses their struggle to be taken seriously in the music scene. There is an incredible archive of footage and photos from Radio Birdman’s performances, which makes up the majority of the visual content for the documentary, but it’s the clever use of storyboard animations that help to fill the gaps in the footage that adds a little extra something, and makes the documentary slightly unusual.

The second half of the documentary takes on a quiet, reflective state as the band are picked up by a label and begin touring internationally in 1977. The more they tour, the more the cracks in the group become irreparable, and this is supported with a definite change in mood in the present-day interviews as the band members become more solemn and disgruntled about how Radio Birdman ended.

Descent into the Maelstrom does well in immersing the audience into this world of rock’n’roll, but there’s also a certain amount of assumed knowledge that is expected of the audience. Knowledge of the state of the Australian music scene at this time is helpful, as well as knowing a bit about the punk scene, both on an international scale, and on a more local, Australian scale. There’s a lot of reminiscing about forgotten bands and pubs that no longer exist, which can leave you missing the significance of these details if you’re just that bit too young.

Descent into the Maelstrom, much like Radio Birdman’s music and band ethos, is raw, gritty and unorthodox, but it’s the honest portrayal of the highs and lows of Radio Birdman’s short rise to fame, and subsequent conflict within the band, that makes this documentary so interesting.

Descent into the Maelstrom is screening at Revelation Film Festival (6-19 July)

Image courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment & Revelation Film Festival

Watch The Sunset – Revelation Perth International Film Festival

Watch the Sunset is a remarkable achievement that maintains a gripping momentum… almost until the end.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Michael Philp

The one-take genre of drama is small; its most oft-cited works being Victoria and Russian Ark. It’s a format that lends itself to intense realism, but is also hampered by logistical constraints. Watch the Sunset, filmed over the course of an afternoon in Kerang, Victoria, delivers the former in spades, but fails to overcome the trappings of its genre.

The film opens with a brief montage of documentary footage on the drug ice, giving context to the film’s first scene: a man, Danny (Tristan Barr), driving a devastated young woman, Charis (Zia Zantis-Vinycomb) to a motel and locking her in a room. From here, Danny abandons her to attempt to reconnect with his ex-wife and daughter. For good reasons, the former doesn’t want a bar of him, and her reservations are proven legitimate when things take a turn for the worst.

For the vast majority of the film, the camera sticks to Danny like a small child, allowing the audience a stomach-churning view of the proceedings. There is a remarkable level of authenticity on display: every actor nails the realism and depth necessary to breathe life into the single take, and the camera is there at every step to unflinchingly capture their performances. Better still, it manages to pull off the impressionistic angle just as well, with several clever uses of reflection elevating Damien E. Lipp’s cinematography.

Sadly, the film goes off the rails near the end. A brief monologue on “what separates us from the animals” comes off as egregiously empty philosophising, and the film never recovers enough to deliver the rousing finale you want. If this were a normal film, the editing bay might have caught that and cut the scene down, but the single-take genre allows no such leeway.

Watch the Sunset is a powerful film: its performances are devastatingly real, and its achievements are awe-inspiring. Every member of the crew deserves commendation; they have pulled off one of cinema’s most daring feats with aplomb, producing a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat almost until the very end.

Watch the Sunset is screening at Revelation Film Festival (6-19 July) 

Image courtesy of BarrLipp Productions and Revelation Film Festival 

Movie Review – It Comes At Night

A24 – the production company behind The Witch, Green Room and Tusk – continues to rescue the horror genre with the brooding and brain-befuddling It Comes at Night.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

The world has been plagued by an extremely contagious disease, forcing a surviving family – Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) to live isolated in a house deep within the woods. When another survivor, Will (Christopher Abbott), breaks into their home claiming to be seeking supplies for his own wife and son, Paul is initially untrustworthy and intends to kill him. After some convincing he agrees to let Will’s family live with them temporarily, but suspicion, allegations, assumptions and the visions that haunt Travis at night soon create a great deal of tension between the families.

It would seem apt to recommend going into It Comes at Night with as little knowledge about it as possible, but the truth is you’re just as likely to come out the other side with as few scraps of information as what you went in with. Writer/director Trey Edward Shults’ (Krisha) second feature is ambiguous in every sense of the word, straight up avoiding anything resembling exposition, convention, backstory or explanation.

What Shults does make clear is his masterwork in atmosphere. Here’s a man with a deep understanding of what it takes to stage a successfully terrifying ambience, fully capable of suspense-building restraint and an awareness that the unknown is often far scarier than what we’re given. Things as simple as a dog barking at something we can’t see in the distant woods, or the red door that lurks at the end of a darkened corridor are dripping with dread, more often than not because we don’t know what lies beyond.

Subtle technical ticks are used to great effect, particularly the shift to a tighter aspect ratio whenever Travis experiences one of his horrifying visions. It’s such a tiny thing, but the mere sight of night coming and those black bars sliding slowly into place is enough to induce fear that something nasty is about to happen.

Shults is helped by a very game cast, especially Joel Edgerton in another apprehensive, dialled-back performance, and Kelvin Harrison, Jr., who will soon no doubt owe his breakout success to this. But Shults’ film is ultimately defined by two things – its unsettling feel and imagery, and the endless barrage of questions you’re left with afterwards.

For better or worse, it’s down to our own personal interpretation and what we choose to make of it. In this sense, It Comes at Night can’t quite manage the satisfaction of say, The Witch, but it is a breathlessly tense 90-minute terror ride.

It Comes At Night is available in Australian cinemas from July 6

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

 

Movie Review – 20th Century Women

Like looking at a polaroid that captured a treasured memory, 20th Century Women is a dizzyingly beautiful snapshot of life and the moments that make it.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

It’s a time of huge cultural change, rebellion and liberation in 1979 as determined single mother Dorothea (Annette Bening) faces the challenge of raising her easily influenced teenage son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) alone. Concerned she’s unable to connect with him, and with no father figure in sight, she enlists the help of two other women in Jamie’s life (Elle Fanning and Greta Gerwig respectively) to help raise him.

Writer/director Mike Mills successfully explored his father’s coming out (and subsequent death) in his excellent film Beginners, and now with 20th Century Women he takes a semi-autobiographical look at his childhood and his relationship with his mother. At surface level, it’s standard indie fare, equal parts comedic and dramatic, but Mills digs deeper than many of his peers, getting under the skin of his characters.

With a golden, sunbathed tint to everything, there’s the feeling that we’re warmly reliving an old memory. Scenes are intercut with clips of bands playing and Jimmy Carter delivering speeches, rooting a strong sense of nostalgia in place. There’s an infectious and joyous optimism that buzzes around these open-minded people, even as they all seem pretty damn confused and directionless a lot of the time.

Elle Fanning and Greta Gerwig are both on typically fine form, showing more of why they’re currently owning the indie scene. Lucas Jade Zumann is granted his breakout role after a few smaller ones, gleefully promising a bright acting future. The star of the show though is Annette Bening. Having intensely studied recreating what Mills claims is a highly accurate rendering of his own mother, Bening breathes life into a terrific woman, and gives one of the best performances of her career.

20th Century Women is, in simple terms, a wonderful time. It’s a deeply personal, rose-tinted love letter to the people of a period that bleeds into our own, and a breath of fresh air and optimism where cynicism feels far too commonplace. Beautifully shot, insightful and witty, Mills’ childhood makes for a deep and delightful piece of cinema.

20th Century Women is available in Australian cinemas from June 1st 

Image courtesy of EntertainmentOne Films

Movie Review – Raw

Possibly the strangest film that you will see this year.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic

Raw is an eviscerating debut for director Julia Ducournau that is bound to polarise audiences with its profound subject matter and unrelenting presentation, but if you don’t mind, I think I’ll only stomach it once!

At first glance, the premise for French film Raw could be mistaken for a comedy: “when a young vegetarian undergoes a carnivorous hazing ritual at vet school, an unbidden taste for meat begins to grow in her”. What an opportunity for a hilarious exploration of a vegetarian going commando on her carnivorous compadres! But perhaps it’s only me thinking this could turn into a gory comedy about vegetarians taking back society one piece of meat at a time… it would be the ultimate message to never judge those who lead different lifestyles to you!

While not exactly the comedy I was hoping for, Raw is still one hell of an experience. It’s hard to know exactly where to begin when describing such a movie. Without giving too much away, Raw works quickly to establish a dramatically uncomfortable tone. Even if you’ve seen the trailer, the film weaves in more surprises than anticipated, and by surprises, I don’t mean excessively gory scenes. In fact, there isn’t that much gore to begin with, so if you’re worried that you’ve entered into a foreign remake of Saw III, fear no more. What I shall say is that the plot takes a seemingly superficial concept and turns into something far deeper by the end…

From the opening shot, the cinematography truly shines, and every scene after that follows in the same vein. On a technical level, the film is brilliant, but what lets it down is its overall impact. If it’s intention is to make the audience uncomfortable, then yes, it has accomplished what it set out to do, but other than that, I can’t really take much else away from it, as it doesn’t really have a key message or theme.

Raw is worthwhile seeing purely for its immersive and lurid atmosphere that’s so far removed from any other movie available in cinemas right now. It’s sure to get your stomach turning and mouth talking about what you’ve witnessed!

Raw is available in Australian cinemas from April 20

Image courtesy of Monster Pictures Distribution

Movie Review – Table 19

You know it’s bad when your biggest laugh is literally a character falling off a log.

⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Wedding movies are a cute little subgenre that pops up every so often; from Bridesmaids to Wedding Crashers, it’s an arena that has served up several genuine gems over the years. Directed by Jeffrey Blitz (The Office) and written by Jay and Mark Duplass, Table 19 has aspirations of joining these esteemed ranks – but falls woefully short.

The film concerns itself with Eloise (Anna Kendrick), the scorned maid of honour who passes on her duties after being dumped by Teddy (Wyatt Russell), the best man and brother of the bride. Determined to turn up to the wedding and show Teddy what he’s missing, Eloise finds herself unceremoniously dumped at table 19 with the rest of the losers, rejects and hangers-on.

Table 19 is a disjointed tangle of misshapen plot strands and half-baked characters that feel thrown together hastily, as if the finishing touches to the script were still being drawn up as the film entered the final stretch of shooting. Filled with a jealous rage and harbouring a secret, Eloise is supposed to find herself bonding with the rest of her tablemates over their comparable tales of hopelessness – except none of them are satisfactorily explored or explained all that well, save for Eloise.

Kendrick is right at home in the indie surrounds of Table 19; after all, her whole career is built on a solid bedrock of quaint indie comedies like The Hollars, Mr Right, The Last Five Years, Drinking Buddies and The Voices.

And whilst it’s good that Kendrick keeps herself busy, maybe she needs to learn that quality is always preferable to quantity. Table 19 doesn’t give her the platform to put on a show or flex her acting chops. It doesn’t offer room to be comedic or tragic. It doesn’t even provide a coherent emotional arc for her character. Again, like many of the films listed above, her infectious cheer and smiley nature feels like the only thing keeping the film afloat at times.

Serving up the most painful wedding this side of Westeros, Table 19 succeeds in replicating the sheer boredom and chair-shifting awkwardness that comes with attending a function in which you really have no investment. Only a handful of jokes land, the pacing is all over the place and the soundtrack is so cutesy it’s like an elongated Mumford and Sons banjo solo.

However, unlike most wedding receptions, at least Table 19 can claim to be only 87 minutes long. Still, save yourself the trouble of forking out for the gift registry and politely decline this invitation – your time is better spent washing the car, cleaning out the gutters, mowing the lawn or literally doing anything else.

Table 19 is available in Australian cinemas from April 20 

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

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 – Their Finest

Their Finest is a charming film about filmmaking. Pity it has to take place during the war.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Just as Nazis make for reliable movie villains, World War II movies seem to be all the rage now among independent filmmakers. As I attended the screening for Their Finest, the cinema ran the trailer for The Zookeeper’s Wife, a film in which Jessica Chastain tries on a Polish accent and Daniel Brühl is once again in his Nazi pyjamas. It’s a sign o’ the times that now, when The States are firing missiles across borders and ISIS is essentially an invisible enemy, we should find solace in movies about war.

That’s the awkward position Their Finest finds itself in. It’s a picture set against the second World War, but aims to assuage our concerns that a bomb might go off while you’re watching it. It’s surprisingly light-hearted, considering the body count it dials up as the minutes tick by. It’s also thoroughly unfocused, flitting between genres like a starving dog suddenly given three bowls of grub to choose from.

Gemma Arterton plays Catrin Cole, a Welsh lady living in London with her artist husband Ellis (Jack Huston). She gets a job as an assistant screenwriter for the film division of the Ministry of Information, where she meets Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), a passionate writer commissioned to pen the next propaganda film in an attempt to spur the Brits on to victory.

That’s not the confusing bit. It would’ve been simpler if that’s all Their Finest had been about. Instead it cobbles itself together so it becomes part comedy, part war movie, part romance story and part satire on American film consumerism, the self-righteousness of actors and the film industry in general. Oh, and it’s set in 1940, so of course it’s also a feminism piece, with both Ellis and Tom throwing masculine superlatives around like misogynistic Frisbees. The many parts actually work quite well on their own, but as they come together they manufacture what is otherwise a slightly disjointed whole.

Plots about issues as dark as war have to be handled with care, especially if it’s going to be a comedy. I, for one, don’t think there’s much to laugh about when a bomb explodes and we’re left with horrifying images of mangled corpses, but Their Finest somehow manages to slip in wry one-liners even as characters are brought in to identify the bodies of their fallen friends. Yes, the line may have been funny, and I might have laughed a bit, but I felt guilty for doing so.

At the end of the day, Their Finest’s heart is probably in the right place, and there are wonderful performances all round; Miss Arterton is particularly buoyant. It just needs more focus, more reverence for its grim subject matter. It’s a sweet, harmless ride, but in the grand scale of the World War, it all ends up seeming just a little bit silly.

Their Finest is available in Australian cinemas from April 20 

Image courtesy of Transmission Films