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

Interview: Douglas Watkin on Ella

Charlie Lewis

Douglas Watkin’s documentary Ella is the hypnotic story of Ella Havelka, following her journey from her rural upbringing, via Bangarra, an Indigenous contemporary dance company, to being the first Indigenous member of the Australian Ballet Company. It’s a stirring look at dedication, culture, identity and sacrifice. To call it inspiring would do a disservice to its nuanced and complex take on its subject. I had the chance to chat to Watkin and explore the behind the scenes of Ella.

CL: Tell me – how did the project come about? 

DW: My producers actually approached me regarding the project, about 2 or 3 years ago, because Ella was on their radar. Actually – going back a bit – at the time I had already established a relationship with Bangarra dance company, and I was filming some of their shows. So because of my background in the arts, filming dance in particular, I guess I was an obvious candidate to push the project forward. So then I approached the Australian Ballet, just saying, “Hi, I’m Douglas, these are some of the things I’ve done, and I’m interested in one of your dancers.” So we set up a meeting and it sort of went from there.

CL: What was it that initially drew you to Ella as a subject? Were you already familiar with her work?

DW: Yes and no. She was always on my radar; when you have Indigenous people succeeding in their craft, they’re your people, you know? We’re few and far between, so you’re always aware of them. There’s always someone who knows someone who knows someone. So she had also been involved in Bangarra, and we both knew the artistic director there, Steve Page. So we kind of already felt connected in a strange way, we had the same peers.

CL: I noticed that often the film will just let performance footage run without giving the audience a great deal of context – was it a conscious decision to let Ella’s dance tell her story as much as her words do?

DW: Yeah, very much so. It’s sometimes a bit of risk, because with a lot of documentaries, you’ll have voice over, or text, to really direct the audience, and sometimes the director will put themselves into the work, to really reinforce the focus. But for me, I really just like to let things play, let people draw their own conclusions, their own interpretations. So in that way, it becomes more of a docu-drama, almost a theatre piece, rather than a straight documentary, as such.

CL: Another theme I sensed in the film was that of being torn between two worlds – do you think that’s a risk for any Indigenous person pursuing a career in a traditionally European medium like Ballet?

DW: The thing is with indigenous people is – we can adapt to any culture, but can other cultures adapt to ours, you know? I mean, as a filmmaker, people ask me, “Are you an Indigenous filmmaker?” and it’s like, “No, I’m just a good filmmaker who has Indigenous people in his films”. So for me, it does feel like your walking in two worlds. Actually, it’s three worlds, because you have the mainstream world, your cultural world, and then the ballet world is something else entirely – it’s not exactly normal!

CL: Your background is largely in documentaries and creative non-fiction – are there any plans to pursue drama in the future?

DW: For filmmakers to survive, especially in this country, you kind of have to do everything. I’m actually working on a drama feature as we speak, which has development through Screen Australia and I’m also working on a VR project. The thing for me is, and maybe this sounds a little full of myself, but if you give me any visual medium, I’ll do it. For me it’s all about storytelling. When people ask what’s the difference between documentary and drama – it’s kind of a fine line. Which is what I wanted to do with Ella, there is that drama, tension, the same peaks and troughs you find in drama. So for me the same principles of storytelling can be applied to anything, whether it’s a drama or a documentary.

What I hope people will take away from Ella are the different levels of meaning from the story. There are a lot of different things people can take from the story. You could see it as a success story, a story of achievement. But some people look at it and think “well, maybe she’s better than the ballet”. Or some people say she doesn’t get the same family warmth from Bangarra that she’d get from the Ballet. So it’s interesting, the whole point of the documentary is give people perspectives. So there is definitely that sense of achievement, but there’s a difference between achievement goals, and achievement dreams. So I think in many ways, her journey is just starting and who knows how it will unfold. But I really hope people take those layers away from the film – whether the decision to stay with the Ballet is a good one, or if she should perhaps do her own thing? So an interesting point – she says that that Bangarra do a lot of low floor work, and she prefers being high and on point with the Ballet. But then you see the last dance she does, and where does she end up? On the ground. So people will take different things away from Ella and I think that’s the good thing about documentaries. They can really evoke those feelings.

Image courtesy of Wildbear Entertainment 

Movie Review – American Honey

Possibly the most poignant American road movie since Easy Rider.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Teenager Star (Sasha Lane) seems to have very little in her impoverished life, as evident when we meet her scrounging around for food in dumpsters to feed the kids of the white trash family she squats with. So when she happens upon a group of energetic and similarly proletarian teens, and is propositioned by their flirtatious leader Jake (Shia LaBeouf) to join them as they travel across Midwest America, there’s nothing to lose. She enters a world of homeless but happy kids doing everything they can to survive while still partying as hard as possible along the way. An explosion of highs and lows, mixed with the emotions and impulses of growing up await Star on the open road.

It’s difficult to pinpoint what kind of a film Andrea Arnold’s (Fish Tank, Wuthering Heights) American Honey is, since it’s really more of an experience; a kinetic painting of youth enthusiastically splashed against a canvas of economic disparity. Though the odd bit of traditional storytelling peeks around the corner here and there, with a sort-of romance between its two somewhat star crossed leads, most sense of a narrative structure is completely AWOL. This is a montage of raw moments, a haze of hormonal feelings pulsating in and out to the throbbing rhythm of its pop and rap soundtrack. Coming of age may be nothing new, but Arnold’s vision of it is unique, vibrant, hypnotic and infectiously optimistic.

Working in her standard 4:3 aspect ratio combined with guerrilla handheld cameras, Arnold keeps things at an incredibly intimate and private scope, really giving the illusion that we’re with the kids in their impetuous travels. We’re granted a contrasting look at the opposing ends of America’s class scale, which speaks wonders but never passes judgement; both the rich and the poor are shown to be capable of equal virtue and malice. Most refreshing is its portrayal of a generation too often partnered with cynicism; these are simply young people making the most out of life that they can with an inspiring amount of ambition and idealism.

Andrea Arnold supposedly stumbled upon Sasha Lane at a beach while on spring break, and her idea to have her film led by someone unfamiliar with acting is a hugely effective one. It doesn’t feel like acting really – Lane just is Star, going with the flow and simply being a teenage girl as life washes over her. On the other hand, we’ve all been aware of Shia LaBeouf for quite some time, which is where he defies all expectations, giving what is likely his best performance. He’s unlike he’s ever been before here – a shaggy, complex bundle of messy energy tied up in a rat tail – and it’s abundantly clear that he’s having much more fun here than he did in any studio film.

An intensely visceral and gleeful juncture of growing up in poverty, American Honey is possibly the most poignant American road movie since Easy Rider.

American Honey is available in Australian cinemas from November 3

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

Movie Review – The Neon Demon

Nicolas Winding Refn returns with another exercise in style over substance – and I kinda loved it.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Drenched in glitter, gold body paint and big cat fetishism, Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon is destined to divide audiences directly down the middle. You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it for exactly the same reasons. Which side you fall on depends on your tolerance for abstract plotting, garish cinematography and on the nose messaging that screams, “this is symbolism!”

Elle Fanning plays Jesse, a 16-year-old small town girl with dreams of being a model, who moves to LA and finds herself swamped by an industry instantly captivated by her sharp doll-like visage and flawless porcelain skin. Living out of a seedy motel run by Hank (Keanu Reeves) and with the help of friendly make-up artist Ruby (Jena Malone), Jesse’s arrival doesn’t go unnoticed by her peers; envious glances from Gigi (Australia’s Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (another Aussie Abbey Lee) signal their fears that their expiration date has already been and gone.

About halfway into the film, Alessandro Nivola’s fashion designer comments that “beauty isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” If that doesn’t spell out Refn’s intentions then and there, get out while you still can because this film isn’t for you. Like Refn’s 2013 effort Only God Forgives, The Neon Demon is all about style over substance.

It’s unashamedly artsy as fuck and doesn’t even attempt to disguise it. You’ll be entranced, repulsed and slightly aroused, sometimes all at the same time – an odd sensation that Refn would no doubt be delighted to discover his film was eliciting.

The pace is achingly slow, but the film itself is never boring. Every frame is lit, staged and composed with such meticulous purpose and lavish detail that the final product resembles a glossy fashion magazine sprung to life. Even when there isn’t much happening in terms of plot, Refn holds you in a hypnotic trance of colour and noise.

If nothing else, you can always marvel at Natasha Braier’s arresting cinematography or let Cliff Martinez’s pulsating cocktail of dark disco and honeyed synth invade your ears. Psychedelic kaleidoscopes and shimmering, dreamlike vistas compliment a plot that is purposely ambiguous and slight at first. Refn holds a lot in reserve before unleashing a batshit insane third act that strikes like a coiled snake waiting to lash out and sink its teeth.

Truth is, I could sit here all day and wax lyrical about this film until I’m blue in the face, but it wouldn’t make a lick of difference to roughly half of everyone who sees it. The simple fact is that a lot of people will be turned off The Neon Demon just as they have been in the past with Refn’s prior work. And whilst it isn’t quite an all-timer like Drive, it certainly outstrips whatever the hell was going on in Only God Forgives.

The Neon Demon is available in Australian cinemas from October 20

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment

Movie Review – Cafe Society

There’s a lot to love in Woody Allen’s rose-tinted love letter to Hollywood’s Golden Era.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) is the youngest son of a Jewish family living in New York City. Overshadowed by his older siblings, Bobby decides to pack his bags and fly west to work at the movie studio where his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell) calls the shots.

It isn’t long until Bobby is smitten with Phil’s secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), an unpretentious young woman who doesn’t care for the glamour of Hollywood. After a crush turns into romance, Bobby and Vonnie’s lives begin to pull them in different directions and they’re forced to confront the idea that this relationship might become ‘the one that got away’.

 A frivolous and effervescent affair that fizzes merrily like a crystal flute of fine champagne, Café Society is a potent mixer of wry irreverence and wistful poignancy that views the good old days and the gorgeous paraphernalia that comes with it through thick rose-tinted lenses. Allen’s screenplay and work behind the camera reveals him to be someone who dreamily reminisces about the past, even if that means sacrificing accuracy for agreeability and predictability. He envisions 1930’s Hollywood as an idyllic and unending cocktail party in a narrative so slight that it might’ve been scribbled onto a napkin.

That being said, I found a lot to love in Café Society; sure, it doesn’t broach any of its adult themes (adultery, murder) with anything sharper than misty-eyed whimsy, but the likeable cast do a fantastic job of balancing this with jovial charm and the occasional shred of sincerity.

Eisenberg slots back into his gawky indie niche with ease; away from the suffocating clutches of blockbusters like Batman v Superman, he excels as the young upstart who falls head over heels for Stewart’s ‘too cool for school’ attitude. Now in their third collaboration together, Eisenberg and Stewart’s chemistry is what gives this film life, even when they’re not sharing a scene – you feel the connection between their characters because the two actors just click so well.

Blake Lively, Corey Stoll, Anna Camp and Parker Posey flesh out a supporting cast that doesn’t have a weak link. Lively is particularly arresting as Veronica, a sultry siren who glides into Bobby’s life whilst Stoll’s slimy gangster is pitched as the comic relief – not that the movie really needed another joker in the pack.

When considering its place in Allen’s erratic late-period filmography, Café Society definitely sits closer to gems like Blue Jasmine and Midnight in Paris than misfires like Magic in the Moonlight. Carefree during most of the weirdly paced middle third, it all comes good in the end with a heartening crescendo that feels moving without being maudlin. Noteworthy for delivering another excellent performance from Stewart, this is one easy, breezy time at the movies that is worth checking out.

Cafe Society is available in Australian cinemas from October 13

Image courtesy of eOne Films

Movie Review – Girl Asleep

Blend Napoleon Dynamite, Where the Wild Things Are and Moonrise Kingdom, and dial the quirk factor up to 11 and you’ll have something almost as strange as Girl Asleep.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Awkward fourteen-year-old Greta (Bethany Whitmore) has just moved to a new school, where she forms a bond with geeky boy Elliot (Harrison Feldman) and unintentionally breaks the olive branch extended to her by the popular girls. To her horror, she discovers that her parents (Matthew Whittet and Amber McMahon) have planned a fifteenth birthday party for her, and sent invitations out to everyone in her year group. At the party she’s humiliated to the point of lashing out at her loved ones, so she seeks refuge inside a dream world within her mind; a bizarre parallel universe where she can only hope to find herself.

Welcome to hipster heaven. Writer Matthew Whittet and director Rosemary Myers convert Whittet’s theatre production Girl Asleep into a big-screen adaptation, and the result is probably the weirdest thing you’re likely to see at a cinema in 2016. It’s a film that bleeds quirkiness from its every orifice, so much so that it almost forgets to be much more than a cinematic embodiment of peculiarity. Myers very blatantly channels the style and humour of Wes Anderson and Jared Hess, but ramps the eccentricity up to extreme levels; which does give it its own unique branding, but dilutes the levels of emotional investment that those auteurs often strike a balance with.

Filmed in the increasingly popular 4:3 aspect ratio for perfect square framing, every single shot is a showcase for a different technical trick, be it camouflaged people materialising out of the walls to reveal titles or the camera spinning on a food platter as each character grabs their dinner. It’s particularly impressive once Greta enters her dreambox and Myers allows her imagination to run wild with creativity, turning the woods next to the family’s house into a stupendous and spooky acid trip realm where anything seems possible.

Visually and aesthetically, it’s a triumph, especially remarkable for Australian cinema, but ultimately this feels more like a showreel than a fleshed-out film. The 70’s setting – realised with excellent sets and costumes – heightens the campiness to its absolute breaking point, with an overtly ironic tone that screams “hey look at us, we’re being self-aware!” It’s the kind of film that’s a wet dream for the alternative crowd, and drolly entertaining for the average movie-goer (should they happen to see something so indie), but has the potential to be enormously off-putting to anyone even slightly cynical or adverse to gimmicky filmmaking.

Casting is pretty much spot-on. Matthew Whittet gives himself some of the funniest lines as Greta’s father, dropping some shocking dad jokes, but also showing an overprotective side as he tries to keep his daughter from coming out of her shell. Harrison Feldman’s Elliot is a loveable loser, though his character pushes the overbearing envelope a little too much to sympathise with at times. Young Bethany Whitmore gives the star-making turn as Greta; having worked from a very young age in Australian media, she mirrors her nervous character and comes of age herself, confirming what is sure to be a bright future for the teen actress.

Girl Asleep has zilch in the way of depth, but at an incredibly brisk 77 minutes it is relatively quick and painless, so it’s hard to complain too much. In the end, it’s a little film that isn’t likely to float around in your mind for long, yet it remains a neat fable about growing up, with enough sensory delights to form a pleasing oddity.

Girl Asleep is available in Australian cinemas from September 1st 

Image courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment/Kojo Group 

Revelation Film Festival -Get Your Shorts On!

Revelation Film Festival crowd-pleaser Get Your Shorts On! came to town last week. Here’s the lowdown on the best of the best in short filmmaking in WA right now.

Josip Knezevic

Get Your Shorts On! encompasses the very best of what Perth has to offer in short films, and this year eight spectacular productions screened at Luna Leederville to showcase the creativity and skill of our local filmmakers. Of these, there were three standouts that I’d like to single out for Perth’s most promising talent.

3. Normal People
Producer:
Jenna Dimitrijevic
Director:
James Pontifex

Contrary to its title, this RAW Nerve funded short is anything but normal. An unfortunate party goer misreads an invitation and rocks up dressed as a panda only to discovers she is the only one in a costume. That is until she meets a man in a penguin suit…

Normal People is certainly an original piece of filmmaking, with some nice moments of quirky humour. My only disappointment is that it only runs for 7 minutes. Given more time on screen, I think these two loveable characters could have been fleshed out even more. Additionally, the concept is loaded with comedic opportunity that could have been further explored in a longer version… So the only question is, when do we get to see the feature film, guys?

2. Outline
Producer: Jess Parker
Director: Cody Cameron-Brown

Successfully funded by Pozible, Outline tells the story of a grieving young artist who seeks redemption in an unlikely place. She uses her craft to recreate her fallen friend in remembrance of her spirit and by the end of the film, you truly get the sense that this was an incredibly personal film for its creators. A simple idea that works marvelously on screen, I thoroughly enjoyed this 6-minute short with its beautiful artistry and emotional touches. Clearly others are being won over as well; the short was selected to appear in the Short Film Corner at Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.

1. The Shapes: Cool Rock Video and I’m A Genius
Producer: Lauren Elliott
Director: Matt Lovkis & Henry Inglis

Hot damn, this was awesome! The Shapes: Cool Rock Video and I’m A Genius is my favourite from this year’s Get Your Shorts On! selection. Yes, on a technical level, this 3-minute animation is fantastically well crafted, but what puts this project in first place is it’s success as a musical. Its catchy beats are filled with ridiculously self-aware, funny lyrics; on my way out of the screening I could still hear the addictive songs in my head. With a joyous colour palette and eye-catching transitions, this short and sweet animation is a must watch!