Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Alright.  That’s it.  I give up.  Look in my hand, what am I holding?  That’s right, a white flag.  I surrender.  After three attempts I will finally conclude that I am just not on the same wavelength as director Ben Wheatley, no matter how hard I try.  While the whole world went ga-ga for his “Kill List”, I just did not see what all the fuss was about.  While the world enjoyed “Sightseers”, I found it to be a bore.  I suspected that Ben Wheatley and I were never destined to be cinematic soul mates, but I thought I would give him one last chance, so I went to see his latest film “A Field In England”………and I HATED IT!!!!!

For the entirety of the film I had absolutely no idea what was going on.  There was a field (probably the field of the title), four guys wondering through this field for what seemed like forever, until suddenly they decided to pull on a giant rope for some reason.  Than another man appeared (from nowhere) and demanded that the others find some treasure for him that was buried somewhere in this field.  Also every now and then, the group would stop to eat some mushrooms or attempt to defecate.  Look I am sure Ben Wheatley is possibly a very talented filmmaker and quite intelligent too (this is the “it’s not you, it’s me” part of the review), but the entire point of this film was lost on me entirely and thus I found it extremely tedious and a massive chore to sit through.

For those of you that may be interested in “A Field In England”, here is a serious synopsis that I have stolen from the MIFF guide: “In 17th century England, a group of deserters flee a raging battle through the English countryside.  They are soon caught by a man who insists they help him uncover a treasure buried in the middle of a field.  As they feast on wild mushrooms, the group descends into paranoia and arguments, and they discover that the treasure may be more than mere gold”.  Um…..okay, sure…..guess my version wasn’t too far off really.

I do not think that I can accurately get across just how much I despised this film, and what made it worse was the fact that my screening of “A Field In England” was an 11:30pm screening, making the waste of time even more pronounced.  The only positive I have for the film was that there were a couple of funny lines in it, but that is it.  The digital black and white photography also looked so cheap, that I hated it.  Long gone is that gorgeous black and white look you got from films shot on celluloid (may it rest in peace) like “Raging Bull” with its deep blacks and stunning contrast.  Today films are shot in colour and then drained of that colour digitally in post, to create a black and white look but it will never be the same.  Here the images were a murky, smeary mess with a limited grey scale and again, I despised it.

While I understand that this is not the most mature or professional review I have ever written, “A Field In England” is a film that I disliked so much that I would rather not waste another minute discussing it.  It was a complete waste of time and wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.  Sadly I saw this film with both my wife and brother and the opinion was unanimous: IT SUCKED!!! (and my brother is a massive fan of “Sightseers”).  Hopefully this is the worst film I see at this year’s MIFF as I do not want to go through a screening like this again.  Avoid at all costs.

½  Star.


For mine, director Richard Franklin and writer Everett De Roche are the two most important names when it comes to the lasting legacy of the “Ozploitation” films that enjoyed success in Australia in the 1970’s and 80’s.  These men gave a legitimacy to the genre films that they were making by infusing them with top notch writing and expert direction and by looking to get more out of the exploitation film than most.  One of Franklin and De Roche’s best films was the 1978 chiller “Patrick”, about a comatose patient who falls in love with a caring nurse and goes about destroying everything she cares about (in jealousy and the hope it will lead her to him) via his telekinetic powers.  This is one of the high points in Australia’s exploitation cinema past and yet when I heard that the film was to be updated in a remake, I wasn’t opposed to the idea at all.  The time seemed right to revisit “Patrick” and it felt like the perfect candidate for a remake and once I heard that director Mark Hartley was the man behind the remake, I relaxed completely.  Hartley is the man responsible for giving all of these “Ozploitation” films a second lease on life, when he made his excellent documentary “Not Quite Hollywood”  back in 2008, which focused on the genre films made in this country during the 70’s and 80’s.  It was obvious that he would understand the legacy of the original “Patrick” and importantly would respect it, so he seemed the perfect choice to make the film (even if “Patrick” was to be his first dramatic feature). 

Despite a number of changes to the story, the core of this remake of “Patrick” stays relatively true to that of the original with most of the main story beats being duplicated here.  However, in my opinion, this remake isn’t a patch on the original; in fact Mark Hartley’s “Patrick” turned out to be an utter disappointment.  For someone who I thought would be so in tune to the genre and its conventions, I was staggered by how many times Hartley resorted to a cheap jump scare to shake the audience.  This was especially prevalent in the opening hour of the film which just seemed to go from jump scare to jump scare without investing in any real suspense or atmosphere.  To make matters worse, each time one of these “scares” took place, it was accompanied with a very loud noise to make sure the audience felt a jolt.

In his Q&A after the film, Hartley explained that he felt that the original film lacked an atmosphere to it (something I disagree with) and to improve upon this he designed the hospital to be like some old gothic building that apparently needed to be forever in darkness.  Again, this was another decision that I did not like.  One thing that makes the original “Patrick” work so well is the fact that it feels like it takes place in a real hospital.  The place seems to be occupied with actual working nurses and the hospital was always well lit.  That’s what makes the film so chilling; the horrors happening within feel like they are happening at a real place, and you then buy into the believability of the supernatural events that happen within the story.  With the new film, although the constant darkness and creep factor of the building may be good to set up a horrific atmosphere, it conversely takes away any feeling of reality because you never once believe that this hospital is real.  This is a shame too because I believe the set designers have done a lot of fantastic work here, it is just that they shouldn’t have been made for this film.

Speaking of the visual style, I hate to say it but this was another aspect of the film that I wasn’t impressed with.  Hartley mentioned that he wanted to model the look of the film on the thrillers that Brian De Palma made in the early 1980’s and while I applaud that decision, I am afraid he just wasn’t able to pull it off successfully.  While there were a couple of nice shots here and there (particularly the overhead shots), it actually felt like more like someone ripping off De Palma rather than being inspired by him.  The director of photography on “Patrick” was Garry Richards and this is actually his feature debut and personally I felt that for the majority of the film he lit it far too darkly, making it hard at times to work out exactly what was going on.  I also had a problem with a lot of the CGI that was used in the film (particularly of establishing shots like the overhead shot of the road next to the cliff); it just seemed of a very poor quality, especially the CGI matte extensions.  I am actually a big fan of matte extensions when used correctly; Hitchcock was a master at using them, but there was one in “Patrick” that I swear was all out of perspective, making it look very odd.  If the matte was done properly, it would have been a stunning shot.

It sounds like I am being very hard on this “Patrick” remake, and I am, because the film had so much potential, but was there anything at all I liked about it?  Of course there was.  I thought some of the performances were fun in a cheesy horror way, and while I definitely think Rachel Griffiths is slumming it here, she was at least a good sport in her role of the bitchy head nurse, Matron Cassidy.  Sharni Vinson makes a very appealing lead, giving her character Kathy a big heart and making her someone who obviously cares for the patients (you never question why Patrick falls for her), and I was quite surprised by the quite revealing performance from former “Hey Dad” star Simone Buchanan who plays Patrick’s mother in an extensive flashback.  I must say that I also thought the film picked up considerably in the final twenty minutes when Patrick starts to really use his powers. 

The biggest coup that the remake has over the original film, though, is its magnificent Pino Donaggio score.  Mark Hartley must feel like the luckiest guy on the planet securing the legendary composer for his first film, and Donaggio doesn’t let him down either.  This is yet another brilliant horror score from Donaggio that at times is reminiscent of the great Bernard Herrmann’s work.  You could have easily excused Donaggio for just throwing together a quickie score (let’s face it, the film is a remake of an Australian film made by a first time director), but instead he goes all out and delivers a full score and boy, is it beautiful.

Overall, I found Mark Hartley’s remake of “Patrick” to be such a disappointment, mainly due to his over-reliance on jump scares.  This is sledgehammer cinema; there is nothing subtle at all in “Patrick”, we are regularly told when we are meant to be scared during the film.  While the majority of the story beats remain the same from the 1978 original, this version sees Patrick transported (not literally) into the digital age.  Personally I think the story works better in the analogue world; watching Patrick accessing iPhones and Facebook with the power of his mind was a little weird, but his is one instance where I do not blame Hartley for the changes.  While I was not a fan of this 2013 version of “Patrick”, I still hope that the film is a success when it opens in cinemas in October, just in the hope that we may see a renaissance in genre filmmaking in this country like we saw back in the 1970’s and 80’s.

2 Stars.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” turned out to be a completely different film than what I thought I was seeing.  I was expecting a criminals in love and on the run type story reminiscent of Terrence Malick’s “Badlands” or Robert Altman’s “Thieves Like Us”, however where those films end is the exact point “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” begins.

Outlaws Bob Muldoon and Ruth Guthrie find themselves surrounded by local police officially announcing the end of their crime spree.  A short gunfight ensues which sees a police officer wounded from a shot from Ruth’s gun.  However due to the fact that Ruth is pregnant with their first child, Bob takes full responsibility for the shooting thus sealing his fate and saving Ruth from her own.  The couple’s love is so strong that Ruth promises Bob that she will wait for him forever, while Bob in return guarantees that he will be back one day to come get her and their child.  Five years goes by before Bob finally manages to escape from prison in an attempt to keep his promise to Ruth, but along his journey home he finds his past catching up with him.

“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” is an impeccably acted film with stellar performances from its three main stars; Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck and Ben Foster, as well as an absolute scene stealing performance from Keith Carradine (who incidentally was the star of Altman’s “Thieves Like Us”) as Bob’s adoptive father.  He just elevates every scene that he is in; his work here is that powerful and striking.  Rooney Mara is once again great in a role far away from her star making performance as Lisbeth Salander.  Here she gets to show a much softer side of herself; a maternal side, as we see her struggling with the intense love she has for Bob, and the want to just up and leave with him, against her parental love and knowing that the right thing for her child may be to give up on the love that has kept her going for so long.  She is also a woman struggling with the guilt of knowing that it was her action that sent Bob to prison in the first place, and to the cop she shot, who has since become a positive influence in her and her daughter’s life.

Casey Affleck always brings a weight to his characters and he does so once again with his portrayal of Bob.  He plays him as a man with a singular purpose in life, a man with only one goal, but as a man who isn’t willing to work the hard yards to get it.  He wants what he wants and now.  A lot of Affleck’s performance is done in voice over via the letters that he writes to Ruth, which is all well and good and lends the film a sense of poetry to it, but Affleck really has to become aware of his annunciation because it seems with each role he takes, the more he mumbles making it at times very hard to understand what he is saying.

One thing that I really liked about “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” is that writer / director David Lowery has really captured Texas in the 1970’s.  He gives you a real sense of place and of time also.  This is a time in the world when everything seemed to move slower, so each action is more pronounced.  The widescreen cinematography really captures the space of Texas, with the gorgeous sundrenched autumn coloured images looking sublime, although I will admit that there were times when I felt parts of the movie where shot with light levels a little low making it hard to see exactly what was going on.  Helping in capturing the authenticity of the period is the drab costume design and brilliant art direction (particularly in regards to the sets). 

Overall, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” turned out to be a much more intimate film than I was expecting and as such I felt that the film had quite a “small” feel to it.  That is not to say that the film is not an achievement for its director David Lowery, because it is a really well put together film, it is just that the drama within is much more subdued and insular than I was expecting.  I guess at the end of the day all the film ends up saying is that your past sins will always catch up to you, and that in a battle of love, paternal love will always beat out romantic love.  Still it is obvious that David Lowery has a lot of talent and I am certainly interested in what he decides to do next.

3.5 Stars.

Monday, July 29, 2013


After a young indigenous girl is found murdered by the side of a busy highway, Aboriginal detective Jay Swan must head an investigation to find out just what happened.  The further he digs into the case, the more mysterious it gets, as Jay starts to discover that the murder is just a small piece of a bigger jigsaw that involves drugs, underage prostitution and perhaps most disturbing of all, the fact that the police may be helping in covering it all up.  What makes the case suddenly so personal for Jay is the fact that his own teenage daughter may be mixed up in it all too.

“Mystery Road” is a very good Australian film that plays like a mixture of a western and thriller.  The best part of the film is the use of the location and landscapes of the town.  Director Ivan Sen does a great job of setting up the town, as well as the socio-economic problems that it faces, making the town itself as much of a character as the colourful people that inhabit it.  Like “Bends” (the film I saw previous to this), these societal problems are not shoved down our throats but they are very deliberately there in the background.  It is obvious that the kids growing up in the community, either indigenous or white, may not have much of a future with drugs, crime, violence and a general lack of respect for life being the norm here.  This appears to be less about the kind of people they are, but rather due to the economic conditions and lack of employment opportunities available to them.  I also particularly liked the way Sen focused on the way teenagers constantly play on their phones or facebook, even when being interrogated by a police officer.  This is damning of today’s youth and sadly rings very true.

Ivan Sen is basically a one-man show here, as not only is he the director of “Mystery Road”, he also is its writer, director of photography, editor and composer.  To say that the man has talent is an understatement, but where he really impressed me was with his cinematography.  Sen uses the widescreen brilliantly, adept in using space and letting characters fill that space without overwhelming it.  You get a sense of just how alone a person could feel in this vast landscape.  I particularly liked his use of silhouette during scenes that took place around dusk and I thought that (for once) the aerial shots in the film were outstanding and served a real purpose.

“Mystery Road” is blessed with a fantastic central performance from Aaron Pedersen as Jay Swan.  Pedersen plays the detective in a calm, low key manner and as a man who appears to take everything in his stride.  He is a local man who has actually made something of his life (although he had to leave to do so).  Upon his return to town, you can feel his loneliness and almost a sense of no longer fitting in, but Pedersen never portrays Jay as someone who has forgotten his roots.  He doesn’t think he is better than anyone else and continues to respect both the elders and juniors of the community.

Besides Pedersen, “Mystery Road” is littered with a wealth of Australian acting talent particularly with the male characters.  People like Jack Thompson, Ryan Kwanten, Hugo Weaving and David Field fill out the cast and they are all spectacular.  Weaving in particular is especially good, as once again it appears that the local industry really knows how to get the best out of this talented actor.

As good as “Mystery Road” is, it does have a few problems.  As the mystery of the film deepens, more and more questions arise and personally I felt not all of these questions were answered properly or sufficiently enough and some of these plot strands seemed to disappear altogether.  My other gripe with the film was that after all that had come before it, I was disappointed that it ended in an indiscriminate gunfight.  I was expecting more from the end of the film, so to descend into cliché for the finale was disappointing, and the fact that Jay’s gun seemed to rarely need to reload also frustrated me.

Overall though, this is a well made Australian mystery that excels in creating a sense of place and community.  It is incredibly well acted and shot and is definitely worth a watch.

3.5 Stars.