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Savage Sinema From Down Under (DVD)

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Savage Sinema From Down Under (click to see it bigger!)Starring Susanne Hausschmid, Bethany Fisher (Defenceless), Paul Harrington, Colin Savage (Marauders), Paul Molder, Kevin Hopkins (Sensitive New Age Killer)

Directed by Mark Savage

Released by Subversive Cinema


I know, a collection of bizarre, never-heard-of indie films from Australia may not seem like the kind of box set the world is demanding, but give Savage Sinema From Down Under a chance. Or at least read this whole review before you write it off; you might be surprised.

The three films in this box set (the final product also includes a fourth disc, a TV show Savage created, but mine was a review copy and didn’t include it) represent years of underground filmmaking in the wilds of Australia, documenting a career that is both varied and thematic; Savage’s plots are never repeated, but there is a common theme of excessive violence in all of them which, if nothing else, makes his name very appropriate. Though I’m sure he’s been called many things throughout his career, from sicko to genius, one thing you can never say about that man is that he’s afraid to take chances. From ultra-violence at a young age to a completely silent revenge film, this is a box set unlike any you’ll find from anyone here in the States.

To make it easy on you guys, I’ll give you a quick rundown of each film, in chronological order, then an overview of the extras included; please keep in mind this box set has a lot of stuff; to review it all in detail would bore the both of us.

First up is Marauders, Mark’s first full-length film from 1986… and my God can you ever tell when it was made; the clothes, the hair, the attitudes; all of it is about as 80’s as you could ask for. The attitude especially, which overwhelmingly is that this film is more badass than you, so you’d better watch your mouth.

The film is basically about two sociopaths on a killing spree, mowing down anyone who gets in their way. The violence gets going on a great note when one of them shoots his “old lady” in the head because she won’t tell him where the keys to his car are, only to find them in his shirt pocket after her brains have repainted the side of the house, and off he goes with an “aw shucks” grin, while the other kills his mom because she wants to call the cops on him.

While this conscious-less psycho and his friend cut a swath of destruction across the Outback, hot on the trail of another duo of wannabe badasses who accidentally ran over one of our heroes, another story unfolds about a guy trying to get a girl to do whatever he wants just because they’re alone in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, the same cabin our group of miscreants are on their way to, as well as an entire crew of those they’ve done damage to during their trek.

Though it’s hard to get past the horrible acting and clothing, Marauders is actually a pretty damn fun film, filled with tons and tons of violence, the level of which is rarely seen by today’s indies. It actually reminded me a lot of Leif Jonker’s Darkness in terms of bloodshed, just minus the vampires.

Chronologically, the next film in the series is the best looking one of the group: 2000’s Sensitive New Age Killer. What a difference 14 years makes! SNAK, as it was referred to during its highly successful festival run, is the story of a family man named Paul (Morris) who’s made a good living for himself as a contract killer. He’s got a loving wife and a beautiful daughter, but behind the scenes everything is supremely fucked-up. A female cop insists on regular sex or she will send him to jail, his best friend and partner (Hopkins) is a truly disturbed individual who obsessed Paul’s wife, and his lifelong killing hero, The Snake, turns out to be the worst kind of scum.

Though there are some ridiculously long gunfights that take place with what are obviously six-shooters, though they never run out of bullets, and at incredibly close range with zero damage to either combatant, the twists and turns of SNAK’s plots harken to works of directors like Guy Ritchie, though with a more linear storyline sensibility and not as much flair. For me the standout performance of the group was by Kevin Hopkins as George; he is a genuinely messed up human being who somehow manages to come across as normal to Paul for the large part of his life, and Hopkins pulls off the part beautifully. He’s very, very disturbing and deserves more attention.

Finally, we have Defenceless from 2004, a major step down in terms of cinematic quality (filmed, seemingly, on nothing but DV as opposed to 35mm) as well as a very ballsy chance taken with a story. The entire film is silent, featuring only an orchestrated score, without even the benefit of title cards to explain the action. Though to be fair it’s all pretty cut and dry.

A woman refuses to sign a contract that will allow for a new hotel to be developed on an untouched region of Australia’s coast, and the three men she pisses of by her refusal decide to force her to sign by making her life hell. They kill everyone she loves, but she still won’t sign the damn contract. Seriously, there’s a time when you just have to accept that someone’s not going to sign something, but these three idiots have no concept of when to move on. When they finally kill her, they think their troubles are over, but boy are they wrong; she comes back with an all new hunger for revenge, literally.

Shot on the cheap and with an incredibly small crew, Defenceless is enjoyable as a piece of ultra-violent cinema that’s made even more interesting because it’s silent, but I’m not sure if those quirks are enough to carry the entire film; the plot is a bit contrived and barely strong enough to carry the entire film. Despite some interesting themes of rebirth and retribution, it ultimately got a bit dull for me. Still, gotta respect the testicular fortitude of a director who’s willing to make a modern-day I Spit on Your Grave without including a single line of dialogue. It makes the subtitle for the film, A Blood Symphony, wildly appropriate.

As far as features go, each DVD in the set comes with a commentary with Mark Savage and cast members, making-of featurettes, which in the case of Marauders is especially poignant because you get to see what all those bad-haired kids look like nowadays, and production booklets that detail the making of the films as they were being created. Seems Savage is a pro when it comes to keeping track of how his productions were going, leading to some great stories of exactly what happened during filming that he’d likely have forgotten had he needed to recall it all during the commentary tracks.

The full set will also feature Savage’s Aussie cable feature, Stained, as well as a collection of some of his early Super 8 films, which I’m sure you’re going to want to check out after you hear Mark and crew mention them so many times during the featurettes and commentaries on here. Seems like he’s been working with the same group for many years now, which is never a bad thing for indie directors.

Subversive has put together a tight little package here to celebrate one of Australia’s true maverick filmmakers, and likely U.S. fans will dig the sheer variety of the director’s oeuvre. Though none of the features really stand out as anything must-see, it’s nice to have some background information on a particular film if it sticks with you like, I’m sure, all three will on one level or another.

Special Features
Audio commentary tracks with cast and crew
Featurettes with cast and crew
Talent bios
Still galleries
Trailers
Production diary booklets

Marauders

3 out of 5

Sensitive New Age Killer

3 1/2 out of 5

Defenceless

3 out of 5

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Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions

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Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa

Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa


During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.

Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).

What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.

While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.

Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.

While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.

With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.

  • Before We Vanish
4.0

Summary

Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.

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Delirium Review – Bros, Cameras And A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On

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Starring Mike C. Manning, Griffin Freeman, Ryan Pinkston

Directed by Johnny Martin


When will these testosterone-overloaded frat bros with cameras ever learn that pissing off the evil souls of the departed all in the name of amusement won’t get you anywhere but wrecked? Same goes for filmmakers: when will they learn that found-footage exploits set in a house of pure sadism are something of a wrung-out affectation? Oh well, as long as people keep renting them, they’ll continue to get manufactured…which might or might not be to the benefit of the horror film-watching populous.

Delirium opens with a poor lad, strapped with a GoPro, running for his life through a labyrinth of haunted territory, praying for an escape…and it’s a foregone conclusion as to what happens to this trespassing individual. We then relocate our focus towards a collection of (ahem), “gentlemen” self-titled as The Hell Gang, and their escapades are about as profound as their grasp on the English language and its verbiage. The words “dude”, creepy”, and the term “what the fuck” are thrown about so much in this movie it’ll make your head spin to the point of regurgitation. Anyway, their interest in the home of the Brandt clan is more piqued now than ever, especially considering one of their own has gone missing, and they’ve apparently got the gonads to load up the cameras, and traverse the property after-hours, and against the warnings of the local law-enforcement, who surprisingly are just inadequate enough to ignore a dangerous situation. The cursed family and the residence has quite the illustrious and bleak history, and it’s ripe for these pseudo-snoopers to poke around in.

Usually I’m curb-stomping these first person POV movies until there’s nothing left but a mash of blood, snot and hair left on the cement, but Martin’s direction takes the “footage” a little bit outside of the box, with steadier shots (sometimes) and a bit more focus on the characters as they go about their business. Also, there are a few genuinely spooky scenes to speak of involving the possession of bodies, but there really isn’t much more to crow about, as the plot’s basically a retread of many films before it, and with this collection of borderline-douches manning the recording equipment, it’s a sad state of affairs we’re in that something such as this has crept its way towards us all again. I’m always down for jumping into a cold grave, especially when there could be a sweet prize to be dug up in all that dirt, but Delirium was one of those movies that never let you find your footing, even after you’ve clawed your way through all of the funereal sediment – take a hard pass on this one.

 

  • Film
2.0

Summary

Got about a half-dozen bros with cameras and a wanton will to get slaughtered on camera, all the while repetitively uttering the same phrases all damn day long? Then my friends, you’ve got yourself a horror movie!

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Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility

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Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita

Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita


The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.

The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.

The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.

From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.

The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.

Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.

The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.

  • Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters
2.0

Summary

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.

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