Tag Archives: australia

Snowtown – Review

5 Jun

You know that feeling you get when a movie just completely obliterates you? The credits are rolling and you’re just sitting there, numb to the world, with the film acting as a sort of pressure prohibiting you from doing anything at all? That’s how I recently felt after my viewing of Justin Kurzel’s 2011 film Snowtown, also called The Snowtown Murders in some parts of the world. This piece of unequivocal horror is based on the brutally true story of Australia’s worst serial killer, and the people he drew into his web of torture and murder. This is not an easy film to watch, and I’m sure there are some that may call it unwatchable, but I firmly believe that this may be one of the most horrifying films I’ve seen in a long time.

Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) is a teenager growing up in a poor suburban area of Adelaide. He has a couple of brothers and a loving mother, Elizabeth (Louise Harris), who despite the love has a hard time making ends meet. After the short lived relationship she’s in with her neighbor ends with her sons becoming in danger, Elizabeth doesn’t know where to turn. That is until she meets John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), a charismatic man who has a sort of team of vigilantes who keeps a harsh eye on certain people in the neighborhood. Jamie takes and especially strong liking to John, and it doesn’t take long for John to become Jamie’s mentor and father figure. As Jamie spends more and more time with John, he begins to notice certain behavioral patterns that don’t seem quite right, and when more and more neighbors begin to disappear the pieces really begin to fall into place.

Snowtown is a ten ton punch in the gut, and I really wouldn’t have it any other way. Kurzel does not mess around with what he’s willing to show and it makes the movie all the more horrifying. There’s terror to be seen everywhere from the people living around this family to the actual members of the family and finally from John, who is a presence that’s hard to describe. It was also a smart choice to have this film shot mostly in a hand held style with the surroundings often times being close to colorless. This is a very down to earth movie in the way it’s presented, but the lack of color brings in a layer of hopelessness and the living situations make it seem impossible for these people to escape the horror that is plaguing their lives. This is how you do it, ladies and gentlemen. This is top tier horror film making.

It’s kind of hard to find really serious problems with Snowtown because they really feel very few and far between. There’s some unnecessary padding to the plot in a couple of scenes. A few bits go on a bit too long, but it’s really nothing that noticeable unless you’re really trying to nit pick, which I’m certainly not. The plot moves at a very certain pace, which boarders between being a slow burn and an edge of your seat thriller. The only thing that really sticks out to me that I can complain about is the way the passage of time is shown. There are a few cues to show that time is passing, but I feel like a lot happens in this movie without any sort of clue as to how much time has passed from one scene to another. This movie could happen over the course of years, months, or weeks. I’m really not too sure. This does add a layer of disorientation, which is kind of cool, but it still would have been nice to have seen progress shown in a more clearer fashion.

With this movie being told in the way that it is, the actors would really have to sell that they aren’t actors playing characters, but are the actual people they are playing. It’s clear Kurzel wanted the audience to completely lose themselves in this movie and not just switch off and watch it. That being said, he casted a lot of people who aren’t actors, but were rather people who lived in the area. Lucas Pittaway, who was never in any kind of film before this, is excellent as Jamie, who gets completely entangled in John’s plans. His mother, played by Louise Harris, was also virtually unknown before this and she does a great job at bringing this character to life in a realistic way. Finally, Daniel Henshall, who plays John Bunting, was only known for some performances in television, but he gives a horrifying performance as the murderous mentor of Jamie. It’s something I won’t soon forget.

Snowtown is a prime example of true, excruciating horror. Justin Kurzel and his team do not hold back with this movie. Some truly terrible acts that really happened are depicted in this movie, which may turn some people off. It’s definitely not an easy movie to sit through, but it does tell a story that will guarantee to send shivers down anyone’s spine. I can’t emphasize enough that this is the way horror films should be made, even though this particular one is also filled with a lot of drama and true crime elements. If you ever get a chance and think you can stomach the content, I would highly recommend checking this film out.

Final Grade: A

The Rover – Review

28 Dec

Back in 2014, a movie called The Rover was released and I was determined to see it. The trailers for this movie were all incredible and promised a really tense and artistic ride through a post-apocalyptic world. As with a lot of movies I am determined to see, I never actually went to the theaters to see it and disappointed myself greatly. It wasn’t until just recently that I finally saw it, and after two years of build up I can tell you that I had really high expectations for this movie. What I got was pretty much everything I thought it would be and everything the trailers promised, but there were a few surprises along the way. The Rover is a very subtle and nonconventional film about a future that hopefully will never exist, but doesn’t seem all that far away.

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It’s been a decade since the collapse of Western civilization and people are doing whatever it takes to stay alive. One of these people is a mysterious loner named Eric, whose only possession he has left is his car. One day three thieves, led by Henry (Scoot McNairy), crash their truck and steal Eric’s car when he is in a bar. Eric watches them drive away and his initial search turns out to be completely hopeless. He soon runs into Rey (Robert Pattinson), Henry’s brother who was left for dead by the other thieves. Rey lets on that he knows where Henry and his cohorts are heading, which forces Eric to keep Rey around in order to find them and his car. As the search continues, Eric and Rey encounter many different people that inhabit the wasteland with their own secrets and dangers.

There are two things that become very clear to me after watching the first five minutes of The Rover. From the very first shot, I had a grasp on what the rhythm and the pacing of this movie was going to be, and it filled me with that all too familiar film geek glee. Writer/director David Michôd is someone who understands pacing, suspense, and maybe more importantly stillness. The film opens right away with Guy Pierce’s character sitting in his car for close to half a minute without moving. After that, there’s very little dialogue for the first 20 minutes of the movie. At least, there’s way less than what is expected in a movie. The rest of the movie moves at that pace and it’s exactly how a movie with a story and setting like this should go. Another thing that becomes clear is how pristine and beautiful the cinematography is. Michôd and director of photography Natasha Brair work so well together to create a look that is equal amounts gorgeous and dreadful. There are so many unique scenes in this film, especially one involving a car crash in the beginning of the film, that becomes seared into your brain.

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So while The Rover is noticeably a beautifully shot movie there’s still something about it that remains very un-cinematic, and I mean that in a very positive way. I wouldn’t call this an action movie and there isn’t all that much violence in it, but when there is it’s startling and sometimes unexpected. People die in ways that aren’t cinematic or grand in any way. This film shows exactly what life would look like in a post apocalyptic Australian wasteland. There’s tragedy and humor, but by the end of the movie you see that all of that can be inconsequential depending on who the subject is. The cynicism of this movie is so strong I could almost feel it radiating from the screen. What else could be expected from this kind of future, though? The Rover isn’t a movie to make you feel good or have an uplifting time at the movies. It exists to show the lengths a person will go to protect themselves and their humanity in a time where these ideas are becoming extinct.

The characters of Eric and Rey are the only two characters that get any sort of attention or development, which means the whole movie and dramatic tension is riding on their shoulders and how well they play these parts. Guy Pierce has proven himself to be a very unique actor that is easily recognizable. It was no surprise that he took the weight of this post-apocalyptic world and turned it into a character that’s been so beaten down he will do anything to protect himself from any more suffering. This means he’ll kill or hurt anyone who is in his way, and Pierce helps make this character into an anti-hero of the everyman trying to live in the world of this movie. The real surprise was Robert Pattinson, who I’ve always tried to defend as an actor but never got any real proof of what I was defending. Cosmopolis was a giant disappointment, but The Rover shows that he can really do great work.

The Rover is a one of a kind movie that has stuck with me since the days that I watched it. The pacing and cinematography worked wonders at putting me in the world the movie took place in and the performances kept me focused on what would happen next. This is a great example of a post apocalyptic nightmare that also succeeds at being a unique and artistic vision. It is unconventional compared to a lot of other films in this genre, but that’s what makes The Rover such a memorable movie.

Final Grade: B+

The Protector (2005) & The Protector 2 (2013)

28 Nov

Tony Jaa is one of the best martial artists working today. His work in Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior put him on the international radar, but it wasn’t until The Protector that he really got to show the world how advanced he was in his martial arts. Today, I’ll be looking at the original Protector from 2005 and The Protector 2 that came years later in 2013. Both of these films have their strengths and weaknesses, but it’s not worth arguing over Jaa’s level of skill. In my opinion, he’s at the head of the game, but can his movies always live up to that level of skill?

Let’s dive right in to the 2005 original.

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As a child, Kham learned about the honor and importance of looking after and protecting the King of Thailand’s war elephant. Now, as an adult, Kham (Tony Jaa) has a young elephant of his own to look after along with the one he and his father have been protecting for years. When a group of gangsters and poachers steal Kham’s two elephants and attack his father, Kham goes on a mission to Sydney, Australia to avenge his father and return to Thailand with his elephants. What he finds in Sydney is a lot more resistance than he thought. With the aid of a bumbling police officer, Sgt. Mark (Petchtai Wongkamlao), Kham fights his way through the criminal underworld and finds a line of betrayal that all leads back to the sinister Madame Rose (Xing Jin).

There’s a lot that can be said about The Protector or Tom-Yum-Goong, as it was originally called in Thailand. Let’s look at the story first. At it’s core it tells an honorable tale of the culture of Thailand and the atrocious things that humans can do to others and to other creatures that inhabit this planet with us. The themes run deep and the aspects of betrayal that Madame Rose executes are all really cool too. What isn’t great is how the story is told. There are quite a few characters and scenes that only serve to deviate the plot from its main course and add some complexity to it that isn’t really needed. The idea of Kham facing off against a criminal organization is cool enough. One character in particular hides Kham for a scene and comes back to sort of act as a deus ex machina. Some of the scenes also feel like they are out of order at times and some of the editing is just downright confusing. If you find yourself scratching your head trying to follow the plot, don’t worry. I was doing the same thing myself.

If you watch the scene right above this, you’ll see why the convoluted plot of this movie isn’t enough to completely bring it down. The action and stunt work in this movie is absolutely out of this world. Like Jaa’s previous film, Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, a lot of the draw this movie had was to see Jaa perform gravity defying stunts and action without any use of CGI or wires. Add Prachya Pinkaew’s style that is sure to include every bit of action in a scene, and you have a match made in martial arts heave. This movie can get down right brutal and Tony Jaa is at the center of it all, having choreographed the stunts and action set pieces himself. The main reason people want to watch a martial arts film is for the martial arts and this one delivers in spades. It’s just often not for the faint of heart.

In the end, The Protector is disappointing in the area of story and narrative structure, but more than makes up for it with the bone crunching action and fight sequences. These scenes are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before and is some of the best martial arts you can find. It’s worth it to plow through the editing however you can to enjoy the movie’s themes and action.

Final Grade: B

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but after spending some years in a Buddhist monastery, Tony Jaa returned to acting to film the 2013 film The Protector 2. Unfortunately, it may not have been the come back that was anticipated.

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After the events of the first film, Kham has returned to Thailand and continues to raise and protect his elephant. He thinks nothing of it when a mysterious buyer comes to purchase the elephant, and he respectfully declines his offer. Soon after that, Kham returns home from the market to find his elephant once again missing and begins a one man war against the criminal underworld in Thailand. Along the way, he is reunited with Sgt. Mark, now working for Interpol. As Kham searches for his elephant and takes down one henchman after another and Mark begins investigating a possible political assassination, it becomes clear that the kidnapping of Kham’s elephant and the assassination are somehow linked by a criminal mastermind known as L.C. (RZA).

What made the original Protector really stand out was how organic and real the action was while also being filmed surprisingly beautifully at certain moments. All of that, for the most part, is replaced by a much more synthetic kind of film making. There’s lots of green screen and CGI whereas the first film didn’t rely on that at all. This made The Protector 2 feel like a real disappointment. Prachya Pinkaew returns to the director’s chair so there’s a lot of well filmed action sequences, but in his attempt to make it even bigger than the first movie, he also makes it look less exciting. One scene in particular which is a fight scene on a rooftop featuring motorcycles should have been awesome. Instead it looked like one CGI stunt after another. There’s a lot of moments in this movie that feel like that and I know both Pinkaew and Jaa are much better than that. The action sequences could have been enhanced without making the whole thing often look absurd.

This isn’t to say that Tony Jaa slacks off at all and doesn’t deliver some really impressive fight sequences, and some of the CGI does work to the movie’s favor. It’s just not at all what I wanted from the movie. I will also say that the story is told a lot better than the first film. There’s no sloppy edits that make you wonder what the film makers were thinking, and there’s really only a few scenes that could have been cut out instead of a whole slew of them. There’s also a good supporting cast backing up Jaa. RZA is obviously having the time of his life playing the villainous L.C. and Marrese Crump and Rhatha Phongam bring a lot of energy to their roles as well. Petchtai Wongkamlao is also a welcome return as Sgt. Mark.

All in all, The Protector 2 isn’t necessarily a bad movie but it shies away from what made the original film so memorable. Gone are the completely organic, wireless fights. The are instead replaced by CGI heavy set pieces that could have seriously been tweaked or toned down. While it doesn’t live up to the talents on display, it’s worthy of a simple distraction that can kill some time.

Final Grade: C

So there’s my review of the Protector movies. The first one is a fantastic example of how to  make a beautifully shot martial arts film. It would have been perfect had the story been cleaned up. While the second film is completely acceptable, you’d be best off sticking with the first to really see what Tony Jaa is capable of.

The Proposition – Review

22 Aug

Normally when I think of westerns, I think of the old west towns of America where cowboys and Indians are forever locked in a feud over land and food. Not once have I seen a western film take place in the outback of Australia, where British settlers are at war with Aboriginals. The Proposition offers a brutal glimpse of early life on the outback which can be compared to the lawless American wilderness.

 

Charlie (Guy Pearce) and Mikey Burns (Richard Wilson) have had a good run as outlaws until one day the law catches up to them. Now in custody, Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) offers Charlie a proposition: either he finds and kills his older brother, Arthur (Danny Huston), who is considered a monster, or Mikey will hang until dead on Christmas day. While Charlie is hunting for his maniacal older brother, Captain Stanley faces the growing challenge of protecting his wife, Martha (Emily Watson) from the violence that he faces everyday.

First of all, this was the best looking western I have ever seen. While Dead Man looks beautiful with its black and white scheme, The Proposition has breathtaking scenes of the outback at sunset, featuring stunning silhouette shots and a sky that ranges from orange to a purple tint. It is absolutely stunning. On the flip side, the morning scenes are barren and filled with flies, which almost become a character themselves. It’s a perfect combination of beauty and disgust.

 

Other than how beautiful this movie looks, the relentless brutality is jarring, but never excessive or overbearing. There are scenes of incredible violence that is going to stay with the viewer long after it is over. I mean it when I say that this isn’t a movie for the feint of heart or the weak of stomach.

The real scene stealer is the soundtrack. Singer/songwriter and author of this fine movie, Nick Cave, did the music along with Warren Ellis. What they created is a haunting and almost spiritual score that accentuates the horror of the lawless outback and the challenge of survival. The movie starts with a beautiful song sung by a little girl with actual images of death and destruction from the time period. From there, the music gets darker and sadder along with the story.

 

Finally, the screenplay itself. While it is full of hate and anger, there are moments where all violence and death are forgotten with quiet moments between brothers or husband and wife. These moments are perfect capos to the intensity. With strange editing techniques, the viewer can be sent from a scene of violence to silence in a jarring millisecond. This is storytelling at its best.

If you haven’t already guessed, I loved The Proposition. The brutality, the silence, and the way beauty and ugly became one. This is a western that packs a strong punch to the jugular that will likely bruise and swell with appreciation. This isn’t just a great western, it just might be my favorite western.