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Family abuse, nude modelling, chainsaw art, twins, tattoos, murder, and more…when it comes to ticking outré buttons, Innuendo is edgy independent cinema personified. And indie this Australian-Finnish mash-up is, being crafted well outside the auspices of traditional local funding via crowdfunding and other modes of finance. The work of an impressive multitasker in the form of Finnish-born, Australian-based writer/director/producer star Saara Lamberg, Innuendo wears its influences (David Lynch, Yorgos Lanthimos, and, most clearly, Roman Polanski) proudly and with reckless abandon, but always functions as an engagingly original film in its own right.

Defying easy genre categorisation, Innuendo tracks the dour, disconnected Tuuli (Lamberg) from Finland to Australia, where she hurls herself into the world of nude art class modelling. Haunted by memories of a painful childhood defined by her complex relationship with her angelic twin sister and domineering parents, Tuuli appears to drift aimlessly before lolling into the staid orbit of sensitive uni student, Thomas (Andy Hazel). Unimpressed, Tuuli quickly moves onto the rough, charismatic chainsaw sculptor, Ben (Brendan Bacon), who leads a far more marginalised life. Mixing with his circle of friends, the singular Tuuli begins to act out in strange and confronting ways, eventually becoming a threatening and malignant anti-life force.

Though the low budget occasionally hurts, Innuendo is a stylish exercise into dark psychological territory, with a finely tuned pay-off electrifying the final act. The performances are strong, with Brendan Bacon a particular stand-out. Boasting the kind of idiosyncratic physicality and presence that would mark him for top-tier character actor gigs if he was American, he provides the film with much needed earthiness in the face of its often elliptical stylisation. Dreamy, strange, and daring in its willingness to challenge and distance the audience with its remote, icy anti-heroine, Innuendo is a brave effort from the keenly talented Saara Lamberg.

The kind of experimental trip rarely taken in this country, this true original manages to draw you in while keeping you at arm’s length at the same time, and that’s no mean feat.

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The Snowman

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Everything interesting about The Snowman happens around the main thrust of the plot. Alcoholic detective Harry Hole’s (Michael Fassbender) search for the titular serial killer is pretty old hat in Nordic Noir subgenre. Much more interesting is Harry himself, a willfully old school genius-level investigator who eschews newfangled devices like cars and phones and drinks to dull the incredible surfeit of empathy that lets him operate as Norway’s top murder cop. The film lives when we’re seeing how Harry relates to the people around him, be it his ex-girlfriend Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her teenage son, to whom he still feels paternal affection; his freshly-minted partner, Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson); his long-suffering boss (Ronan Vibert); or anyone else in the quite impressive cast (JK Simmons, Toby Jones, Chloe Sevigny and Val Kilmer all crop up).

Unfortunately, this is a murder mystery, culled from the lengthy series of novels by Jo Nesbo (The Snowman is #7 of 11), and plot is paramount, and that’s where Tomas Alfredson’s film falls down. The script, which involved the  normally reliable Hossein Amini (Drive, The Wings of the Dove) and Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) manages the neat trick of being simultaneously unoriginal and murky, obfuscating familiar narrative and thematic elements in an overly complicated, structurally messy storyline.

It all centres, more or less, on the titular serial killer, who targets single mothers throughout Norway, striking only when the snow is falling and leaving a crude snowman as his calling card. It might have something to do with a similar series of murders that took place years ago, the investigation of which apparently drove investigator Gert Rafto (Kilmer in a fun cameo) to suicide. It might have something to do with predatory industrialist Arve Stop (Simmons), the public face of Norway’s bid for the Winter Games, who harbours private sexual obsessions.

It might be all manner of things, but what it really is, is an excuse to have soulful, damaged Fassbender stalk the wintry environs (rather beautifully shot by Dion Beebe) in search of his prey – someone whose identity, by the way, can be can be augured by simple subtraction rather than investigation, once you get a handle on who’s a name character and who’s just ambulatory set dressing. To be fair, that’s a pretty good time; Fassbender is as watchable as ever, even if The Snowman does little for his obvious franchise ambitions (with this and Assassin’s Creed under his belt, he’s two-for-two when it comes to unfulfilled sequels).

It’s almost impossible not to wonder what might have been if The Snowman had come out much earlier in the Nordic Noir period, when all this snow and blood and hidden horror was a much less familiar set of signifiers. This late in the game, there’s not much novelty to be found, especially if you know your Dragon Tattoos from your Midnight Suns. Alfredson, actually in a much more playful mood here than either his back catalogue or the material might suggest, does what he can, but the problems run deeper than anything on-camera execution (or, indeed, executions) can address. If you’re a tragic for the genre, The Snowman will scratch your itch, but don’t expect anything spectacular – and don’t expect to be seeing the further adventures of Harry Hole any time soon.

Click here for nationwide movie time for The Snowman

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Home Again

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

In romantic comedy land, anything can happen. Two complete strangers from opposite sides of the world decide to swap houses for two weeks? Sure, that’s normal. A selfish businessman and hooker with a heart of gold fall in love? Happens all the time. Rival bookstore owners fall in love on an online chatroom? That’s just par for the course.

So, when in Home Again, the directorial debut of Hallie Meyers-Shyer (yes, the daughter of rom-com queen Nancy Meyers), a woman lets three young, strange men move into her house after a wild night out, don’t be surprised.

Reese Witherspoon is Alice, a 40 year-old, recently separated mother of two who, after a romantic evening with younger man Harry (Pico Alexander), lets he and his two filmmaker friends (Jon Rudnitsky and Nat Wolff) live at her house as they try to make a name for themselves in Hollywood. So, it’s just as crazy as every other romantic comedy.

But once you get past how ridiculous the premise is (this woman is willing to let strange young men live with her daughters? And basically, inducts them into her family after one night? Um, what?), Home Again throws so much charm and wit at you that you get lost in its relationships and utterly lovable characters.

Witherspoon is as watchable as ever as she forges new relationships with Harry, George and Teddy, and the chemistry between the four of them is light and sweet as they figure out their changing lives together, all the while parenting Alice’s precocious daughters Isabel and Rosie (Lola Flanery and Eden Grace Redfield). And then, of course, we’ve got to have a bad guy, and Michael Sheen’s estranged ex-husband Austen is the perfect fit, devilishly charming yet definitely bad news.

Though not much happens throughout the film after the boys move in, not much really needs to: while Alice struggles to get her new interior design business off the ground, and Harry, George and Teddy attempt to get their acclaimed short film adapted in the Hollywood system, the more interesting part of this film is its interactions, the kinds of unlikely friendships that the Meyers women are so good at creating.

It’s a small slice of life, no matter how unlikely, that reminds you that movies don’t have to be an epic, fast-paced fight-fest to be a delightful afternoon at the movies.

Click here for nationwide movie time for Home Again

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I Can Speak

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At first, director Kim Hyun-seok, sensitively leads viewers into a typical light-hearted Korean situation comedy, where daily routines of certain characters are enacted in a way that manages to put a smile (or even laughter) on our faces. Viewers are introduced to a working-class marketplace in the middle of Seoul. Facing a redevelopment crisis that threatens the life of the local people, the market is brought to life by the necessary existence of Ok-boon, an elderly woman (nicknamed Goblin Granny) who has filed more than 8.000 complaints to the local authority. Ok-boon herself has been a nightmare, until she meets Min-jae, a newbie civil servant who is tolerant enough to handle her cases. They gradually form a friendship, with Ok-boon asking Min-jae to be her English tutor. Why does she want to learn English at her age, we may ask ourselves? As the story progresses, this seemingly Korean comedy turns out to be a persuasive drama with underlying political issues, as viewers dig deeper into Ok-boon’s true motivation behind her willingness to speak English fluently.

I Can speak is neorealistic and romantic in its portrayal of Seoul life. Viewers observe the energy of the market neighborhood and how each individual struggles to earn a living. Through this, social issues are addressed, such as the gerascophobia (the fear of aging) of Korean society, famous for its industry of cosmetic surgery and its own standard of beauty. Ok-boon becomes a seemingly annoying lady, intruding the lives of others, which reflects her loneliness as she grows older each day. Her friend, Jung-sim, suffering from dementia, also supports this lingering fear of social isolation among the elderly. On the other hand, loneliness manifests itself not just with the aging characters but also the younger individuals. Min-jea possesses a typical Seoul lifestyle, working from morning until late evening and always has to eat out or buy takeaway food whereas his younger brother eats uncooked ramen for snacks. Then, at one point, the narrative erases all these fears of isolation when Ok-boon treats the two brothers with her homemade dinner in a much cozier and touching scene, turning Ok-boon into a motherly figure.

I Can Speak is an Asian cinematic experience that balances many styles – comedy, tragedy, social and political issues, all weaved into one film. Conventional melodramatic techniques may be overused and plot convenience too often drives the motivation of the characters forward, but Na Mun-hee (Harmony) as the bittersweet elderly woman enthusiastic about learning English at the heart of this politically themed film will certainly leave an impression.

Click here for nationwide movie times for I Can Speak

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Bad Blood

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Crime novelist Vincent’s (Xavier Samuel) first book was a smash hit – and was based in part on the murder, as yet unsolved, of his wife two years previously. Perhaps that’s why he’s having so much trouble making progress on his follow-up book. Worse, he’s being harassed by a private detective (Rob Macpherson), who thinks that he had something to do with his wife’s death, and stalked by a mysterious hooded figure. It’s possible that a retreat to a remote country house with his new girlfriend, Carrie (Morgan Griffin) in tow, might be just the tonic he needs. Then again, this being a fairly rote example of Australian Gothic cinema, that might be just the place for everything to come to a head, complete with ghosts from the past, dark family secrets, and the odd bit of grim murder.

As a thriller, David Pulbrook’s (Last Dance) latest offering is pretty perfunctory. It’s competently directed and realised on what is evidently a fairly limited budget, which accounts for the low number of both characters and locations, but the script isn’t dexterous enough to overcome those handicaps. Bad Blood is heavily predicated on a surprise reveal that we won’t be callous enough to expose here. In the context of the film, it works a treat; the problem is, outside of that surprise, there’s not a lot left, narratively speaking, to keep the viewer engaged. Surprises only work once – there’s not a lot of re-watch value here.

Which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not worth looking at once. Samuel and Griffin, last seen together in the B&S Ball rom-com Spin Out, both give good performances, with Samuel in particular stretching himself to play the frustrated writer who may or may not be a murderer – and who may or may not be cracking up. For her part, Griffin makes for a good Final Girl – even though, in this scenario, she’s almost the Only Girl – in the film’s last act.

Indeed, putting Griffin at the centre of things might have made Bad Blood a lot more effective as a thriller. Instead, we drift from Vincent’s perspective to Carrie’s as the film progresses and the plot demands, which feels like undisciplined writing. It’s easy to imagine a tighter version of the film with Carrie as our sole POV character, and Vincent by default a more suspect and menacing figure.

Ultimately, your enjoyment of Bad Blood will depend on your generosity as a viewer. It’s solid but unspectacular fare that will be all too familiar for genre regulars, but still provides a thrill or two.

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Better Watch Out

Australian, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

This new horror, or perhaps horror-comedy [originally titled Safe Neighborhood] from director Chris Peckover definitely has its moments and should please those that seek it out. It was shot in a studio in Sydney and uses rising Aussie talent among its cast. However, the film is nominally set in some generic American suburb where solid white-windowed houses hide their terrible events behind well-tended gardens. It is also set at Christmas time which is by now a well-worn horror trope so that the filmmakers can use the contrast between sweetness and false jollity and the gory mayhem.

A suburban couple, parents Deandra and Robert (Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton) leave their precocious young teen son Luke (Levi Miller) and his friend Garrett (Ed Oxenbould) for the night. Luke has designs on the comely babysitter Ashley (Olivia DeJonge), and he persuades the more reluctant Garrett that he has a chance of seducing her. This being a horror film, they get in the essential self-referential element by making them watch a horror film on the sofa. Luke hopes this will scare Ashley into his arms. However, Luke hasn’t planned on Ashley inviting her current boyfriend Ricky over for nookie while the ‘kids’ are asleep.

The film played to delighted squeals at the Sydney Film Festival earlier in the year and the curator of the season described it as Home Alone meets Funny Games. Without veering towards spoiler territory, this is a fairly neat encapsulation, although the film is not in the same league as either reference point. It’s good to see Ed Oxenbould (Paper Planes, The Visit) progressing on the tricky passage from cute blond child actor to more meaty roles but one wouldn’t want him to stray too far into horror and get trapped there. Miller as Luke is rather good too. He looks like a younger version of Dane Dehaan, and he handles the character switch that the film requires (but which horror fans will decry) with aplomb.

Horror watchers can be nerdy and they are a notoriously picky bunch who will savage the slightest false step in their beloved canon of genre rules. However, if you don’t go there so much as a purist but rather as someone who enjoys a good jolt and moderate comedy-gore, this is well worth catching.

Click here for nationwide movie times for Better Watch Out

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The Midwife

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Catherine Deneuve is a French national treasure, an iconic star from the Sixties onwards, she has been in more than 120 films, and shows no sign of slowing down, appearing in 5 films in 2017 alone. In The Midwife, a bittersweet two hander, she plays opposite the wonderful Catherine Frot (The Page Turner, Marguerite); so it is battle of the Catherines.

Frot plays Clare, a pleasant woman in midlife who is devoted to her work as a midwife (which in French means literally wisewoman). When she is not plucking healthy babies from beneath the sheets of labouring mums, she is trying to be a good mother to her grown up son Simon (Quentin Dolmaire) who also wants to go into medicine. She lives in the outer burbs of Paris and spends time on her allotment growing veggies. She seems content with her life in a sightly settled kind of way. The only possible point of interest is a slow flirtation with a too-good-to-be-true lorry driver called Paul (Olivier Gourmet) who shares her love of gardening.

Into all of this bustles Beatrice (Deneuve), the long-term mistress of Claire’s swimming champion deceased father, but not Claire’s birth mother. In fact, Beatrice feels she has something to make up to the adult Claire for having diverted the father’s life and affections even though it was all a long time ago. The rest of the film explores the complex relationship between the two once-estranged women.

Writer/director Martin Provost obviously knows he has significant talent to work with and he treats his two stars respectfully. Indeed, there are great little scenes between them with Frot radiating her believable long-suffering goodness and Deneuve (who has much the more interesting role of course) effortlessly getting us to feel Claire’s frustration whilst also engaging our sympathies. It is a difficult balancing act and a tribute to the great actor’s skill. That said, the film does have its longueurs. It takes ages to set up the very basic backstory and, at nearly two hours, it is about half an hour too long. Claire’s romance with Paul shows some promise but is too pat in another way and her relationship with her grown up son is just underdeveloped. Still, the focus is rightly on the two leads and fans of theirs won’t want to miss the chance to see them one more time.

Click here for nationwide movie times for The Midwife

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Filmmakers of Finland

Director Dome Karukoski and cast Pekka Strang, Seumas F. Sargent and Jessica Grabowsky discuss uncovering the man behind the infamy in the biopic Tom of Finland.
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The Pink House

Australian, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Carmel Galvin is extremely houseproud. Every morning, she diligently dusts all the fixtures of her abode in anticipation of guests arriving. The fact that her home is a brothel, her fixtures are sex toys and her guests are johns looking for a good time may sound surreal, but it’s all in a day’s work for Carmel in The Pink House, a documentary from Sascha Ettinger-Epstein.

Prostitution is technically illegal in the state of WA, but that hasn’t stopped Madame Carmel’s brothel, Questa Casa, from being an integral part of Kalgoorlie for 100 years.

Working alongside her is BJ, the brothel’s longest serving sex worker. When we first meet the pair, as they potter through their nights patiently waiting for customers, there’s an air of Grey Gardens about the set up. (BJ even appears to be dressed as Little Edie at one point.)

What makes The Pink House so fascinating to watch is that it doesn’t try to sugar-coat their existence with attempts at titillation, instead it revels in the normality of their existence.

The Pink House touches upon the outside influences that are impacting business for Questa Casa, from the internet to sex trafficking, but, like Ettinger-Epstein’s previous film Destination Arnold that followed two indigenous bodybuilders, it’s the relationship between these two women that engages the most.

Carmel’s surprising amount of prudishness brings about a lot of the documentary’s humour, but the heart of the of the piece belongs to BJ, who regularly drops out of employment with Carmel due to a long-standing drug habit. Things become exceedingly darker when she becomes involved in a horrific murder. Throughout it all, Ettinger-Epstein wisely never judges her and when BJ eventually opens up about her family, it pierces through the frivolity.

The Pink House is a celebration not just of stoicism in the face of adversity, but also a portrait of the familial bonds that can form between two strangers in less than average circumstances.

Screening as follows:

NSW Leichhardt- Wednesday November 1st

QLD Brisbane- Wednesday November 8th

ACT Manuka- Wednesday November 8th

TAS Hobart- Wednesday November 8th

VIC Melbourne- Wednesday November 8th

WA Churchlands- Wednesday November 8th

SA North Adelaide- Thursday November 9th: