Film Review: Wolf Creek 2

This film review was originally published on The Orange Post on 5th March 2014.

Back in 2005, I wandered into a screening of Greg Mclean’s Wolf Creek to discover that I was the only person in the cinema. What followed was a visceral horror experience that I loved and hated at the same time. Nine years later, John Jarratt’s iconic serial killer Mick Taylor is back and unfortunately, the shock value has gone and for horror fans it’s more of the same.

Wolf Creek 2 opens with everyone’s favourite ocker pig hunting psycho encountering a pair of highway patrol police. With Mick in the interesting position of the bully being bullied, I was hopeful for a change of direction in the franchise with the killer switched into the protagonist role, or at least being portrayed as the underdog.

An exploding head or two later, it became clear that this was not to be, as the audience was instead taken back to familiar territory, both figuratively and literally.

Remember that point in the Elm Street series where Freddy Kruger jumped the shark and transformed from a mysterious killer into a wisecracking comedy character? I would place it somewhere between the third and fourth instalments. With Wolf Creek 2, Taylor has already become a walking and talking cliche. Swear a bit then stab someone in the spine. Decapitate a backpacker and give us your catchphrase. Repeat ad nauseum for 106 minutes and you have yourself a box office hit.

As our doomed tourists, Shannon Ashlyn, Phillipe Klaus and Ryan Corr are perfectly fine, although a lack of introduction time meant that I cared very little when the stabby stabby stuff began. The charismatic Jarratt once again disappears completely into his most famous character to date. With his unnerving laugh and hatred for all things carrying a backpack, Mick Taylor deserves a better second outing.

For the majority of the film, there is simply no tension. The claret flows freely but besides a few wincing moments of gore, there is little to make you want to watch through your fingers, unlike the original. A road chase scene harking back to Steven Spielberg’s Duel and the final twenty minutes which involves a pub quiz with the highest stakes ever are suggestive of a much more terrifying experience that I would have preferred to see.

Published in: on April 6, 2014 at 22:52  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Film Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

This review was originally published on The Orange Post on Sunday 17th March 2013.

What happens when you take a well known filmmaker with a distinct visual style and a back catalogue of cult and popular hits, and run them through the Disney corporate movie machine? There are two answers to this question: Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and now Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful.

Burton’s 2010 blockbuster was a bland CGI heavy 3D mess that dispensed with character in favour of spectacle. Unfortunately, Oz suffers the same fate. Responsible for three of my favourite films of all time, the Evil Dead trilogy, Raimi’s trademark fast paced style and wry humour is crushed by the Disney steamroller leaving behind a pretty screensaver and little else.

With the rights to The Wizard of Oz, including all of the elements introduced in the 1939 MGM film which did not originate in L. Frank Baum’s book, held by Warner Bros., art director Robert Stromberg was forced to redesign the Land of Oz for this unofficial prequel. Thus, there are no ruby slippers, the yellow brick road in Munchkinland has a different swirl and even the Wicked Witch’s green skin tone is slightly (but legally) different.

These limitations, coupled with a reliance on CGI, results in landscapes which appear to have been lifted straight from last year’s Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, another ho-hum green screen adventure.

As the titular Oz, James Franco is out of his depth. Smiling is not the same as emoting and I wonder what the earlier casting choices of Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jnr. would have brought to the film. Oz is a complex character who treats people badly at the beginning of the film, but then begins to see the value of friendship and love. Unfortunately, all of this character development is undermined by the audience’s knowledge that he will bugger off in the balloon at the first opportunity in the next film.

Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis are serviceable as witchy sisters Evanora and Theodora. Michelle Williams fares better as Glinda, a role that requires her to do little else but look pretty and speak in a breathy style. Zach Braff appears in the beginning as Oz’s offsider Frank and then voices the CGI monkey bellhop Finley. A little Zach Braff goes a long way so don’t be surprised if you feel like reaching out and trying to strangle the 3D monkey by the end of the film.

The theme of duality which worked well in the MGM original makes little to no sense in this prequel. Beginning in black and white and a 4:3 aspect ratio, Raimi’s film then transitions to colour, 2:35:1 widescreen and stereo sound upon arrival in Oz. Several actors make cameos in the black and white segment, and then reappear as different characters in Oz. There seems to be no explanation for this. No-one is clicking their heels and going back to Kansas at the end of the film.

Remarkably, Raimi cannibalises from his own work, with a graveyard sequence and mechanical line of soldiers distracting the enemy ripped directly from Army of Darkness.

In 2009’s Drag Me to Hell, Raimi showed he was capable of finding his mojo again after a creative disappointment with Spider-Man 3. Let’s just hope he does something truly great and powerful after the disappointment that is Oz the Great and Powerful.

Jucy: Alternate means of distributing and promoting independent films

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 8th November 2011.

Fans and supporters of Australian cinema were given a treat on Friday night as Orange hosted a gala screening of the new film, Jucy. Although promotional tours are common in the film industry, Orange is rarely on the itinerary.  Brisbane based director Louise Alston, writer Stephen Vagg and stars Francesca Gasteen and Cindy Nelson are on a road trip to promote their low budget independent feature. With successful screenings in Canberra and Wagga Wagga under their belts so far, they were keen to interact with audience members during a Q & A session following the screening.

I was particularly intrigued by this grassroots approach to film distribution and promotion that is so far removed from the marketing of your typical robots fighting robots mainstream blockbuster, and had the pleasure of chatting to the filmmakers and actors before the screening.

Director Louise Alston says she was buoyed by the success of Bob Connolly’s independent film, Mrs Carey’s Concert, which utilised a similar marketing plan, and as a filmmaker, these screenings really brought her in touch with her potential audience. “We have more love (for Jucy) than somebody selling a whole lot of films. This is our baby so we put a lot of effort in.”

Writer Stephen Vagg explained that this was the second stage in the film’s promotional life and that Jucy had already been well received on the international film festival circuit, with successful screenings at festivals in Toronto, Seattle, London, Seoul and Tel Aviv. “For non-Hollywood films, festivals are very important and they have been for us, but now we’re doing a domestic release and we really want to push it as much as we can by doing personal appearances. We don’t want it (Jucy) to sit on the shelf. We want as many people to see it as possible.”

Vagg also revealed that Wagga Wagga was chosen for a screening because it is director Alston’s home town, and that some of her aunts and uncles hail from Orange.

Described as a “womantic” comedy (think “womance” instead of “bromance”), Jucy is loosely based on the lives of stars Gasteen and Nelson, best friends in real life and both stalwarts of the Brisbane theatre scene. Jackie (Nelson) and Lucy (Gasteen) are best friends, collectively known as Jucy, who do everything together, including amateur theatre. As outsiders, their attempts to fit into the cool crowd by becoming more mainstream create unforeseen pressures which may tear their friendship apart.

The cinematic success of Red Dog this year proves that there is a market for Australian fare that doesn’t involve horror, crime or depressing drug stories. It was great to see posters for a low budget home grown flick like Jucy sitting alongside promotional standees for box office behemoths such as Real Steel and The Smurfs.

The nature of cinema in general does not really allow for a personal connection between the filmmakers and the audience. I am sure that the audience on Friday enjoyed meeting the stars and creative team behind Jucy. Let’s hope this marketing approach is successful and more independent films (and filmmakers) can come to Orange.

Funeral Insurance in Hi-Death

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 20th April 2010.

If you’ve been watching the idiot box lately, you may have noticed an increase in the frequency of a particular advertising campaign which is of the upmost importance to everyone.  And no, I’m not writing about those annoying funeral insurance commercials. Oh dear, I feel a rant coming on…

I really can’t understand why that old couple in the ad are so super duper happy to have their funeral insurance. Personally, I think I’m much better off using that $2.50 a week to buy something that makes me happy, such as an ice cream, satisfied in the knowledge that someone else is going to have to pay for my funeral. And if I wanted to pre-pay for my burial or cremation, I’d save up the money, put it aside in a high interest account and keep the change, rather than pay the funeral insurance company for the rest of my life. I don’t care if I have to watch ShamWow infomercials for eternity, just stop trying to sell me funeral insurance!

Ah, that’s better…

What I am actually referring to is the regular reminders to start preparing for digital television. According to the Australian Government Digital TV website, Orange will have its analogue television signal switched off sometime between January and June 2012. Although there is still plenty of time to take action, there is an increasing array of extra channels with new programming that makes the decision (and financial outlay) to upgrade a little less painful. The ability to watch free to air channels in high definition is also attractive.

For most, the easiest but most expensive way to upgrade is to simply purchase a new TV. Whether it’s plasma, LCD or LED, all new televisions are capable of receiving the digital signal, in either standard or high definition.  If you have an older television that works perfectly well, the addition of a set top box will also allow you to receive the digital signal. This is probably the most environmentally friendly choice too.

Despite having a nicely elevated mountain to broadcast from, Orange in particular seems to have patchy digital signal coverage. Even within the CBD, many digital TV viewers are having problems getting satisfactory reception. If this is a problem for your home, I would suggest that you investigate an external aerial upgrade with a signal amplifier. The general rule is that if your analogue reception is poor, your digital reception will be substandard too.

Older style outside aerials may not be capable of receiving the new frequency band that digital broadcasting occupies. In the case of digital signals, the bigger the aerial is not necessarily the better. Although there is not a specific digital aerial, the latest models are much smaller than what you would see on the majority of homes in Orange. And one last piece of advice, don’t bother buying rabbit ear style inside aerials. For digital TV, you are wasting your time and money with them.

Digital television will soon be your only choice when it comes to free to air broadcasting. An ever expanding array of new channels is finally allowing the ABC, SBS and commercial networks to compete with pay TV. Unfortunately, having to endure the tortuous Zumba and funeral insurance abominations will be no less painful in digital high definition.

Published in: on April 20, 2010 at 13:51  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Raising Interest in the Blood Bank

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 22nd September 2009.

This past Tuesday evening, I was invited to attend the Red Cross Blood Service Milestone Ceremony. Held annually, the ceremony acknowledges blood donors who have reached 50 donations or a subsequent milestone, and somehow, I had managed to get to my half century over a period of 18 years. Held at the gorgeous Highland Heritage Estate, we were greeted by the smiling faces of the familiar Blood Bank staff. After a drink and some mingling, the event started with a thank you speech from a representative from the Red Cross head office, followed by a presentation on behalf of a mother whose sick son has benefitted from receiving donated blood. When you attend the blood bank, your actual donation just gets whisked off somewhere at the end, so it was really interesting to see the human side of the recipient end of the donation process. Another gentleman also spoke who travels from Lithgow to Orange every fortnight at his own cost, to donate plasma. I apologise for not remembering your name, but we all admired your dedication (over 600 donations and counting) to help other people. I was very pleased to be called up to receive my donor badge and will certainly wear it with pride, most likely for another 18 years or so before I get a new one. The ceremony got me thinking about why people submit themselves to a big needle in their arm every twelve weeks or so. As someone who hated needles, what made me willingly sit in the chair in the first place? Perhaps the attraction is the delicious milkshake that awaits all donors? A fine reward for sure, but for me, being lactose intolerant, a bad case of stomach ache is hardly a prize. The chocolates, juices and cheese and crackers are all nice but I can get them anytime at a shop. Lying back in the comfy chair is great too, but then again, similar chairs can be found at the dentist and that is not fun at all. Maybe people like to participate in the regular challenges that are made between different organisations to make the most donations? I believe that I went to the blood bank for the first time all those years ago (I even needed my mum’s signature being sixteen) because I would like to think that if I needed blood urgently someone would do the same for me. And what keeps hundreds of others and myself going back? I think it is the warm, welcoming atmosphere that is created by the dedicated staff and volunteers. From the moment you walk through the door, you are made to feel important and special. Do yourself (and someone else) a favour and give blood today.

Peter Young is type O positive and no longer afraid of needles.

Published in: on December 16, 2009 at 10:14  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,