Monday, 11 June 2018

SFF '18: UPGRADE




UPGRADE may not be the new sci-fi masterpiece that you're looking for, but it is a fun and violent cyberpunk gem well worth your time. The film's shoestring budget is plainly evident in its cheap looking sets and some less than impressive CG, but that micro-budget aesthetic works well in its favour.

This is a film that genuinely feels like the kind of awesome low-budget genre pic that was a staple of video store shelves throughout the '80s and '90s. Where a lot of filmmakers blow it by trying too hard to ape that aesthetic, SAW's Leigh Whannell has nailed the vibe (whether intentional or not) by simple virtue of working hard to get every cent of his sub-6 million budget up on the screen, as slickly and with the highest production values that his meager funds will allow. As demonstrated by almost every movie to follow in the footsteps of Tarantino and Rodriguez's faux-grindhouse trend, it's not about faking it, but trying as hard as you can to make it that does the trick.




UPGRADE's premise is simple: during a brutal attack that leaves him a quadriplegic, Grey Trace's wife is murdered in front of him. Some month's later a reclusive tech genius rescues him from the brink of suicide by offering to give him the use of his body back via the implantation of a revolutionary bioware chip. This sets in motion a spree of mayhem and carnage as Grey uses his new body - and its unexpected "improvements" - to seek out his wife's killers and avenge her death.

Despite its hackneyed storyline, this little splatter actioner that could joins the ranks of noteworthy cyberpunk by virtue of a philosophical question that lingers in the mind after the credits roll. It really makes you ponder the separation  between mind and body, and how our bodies are little more than robotic automatons that allow our minds to engage with the physical world. An alien jellyfish that resides in our cranium and drives our bodies, like a pilot operating a mech suit. UPGRADE asks: to what degree is your body truly yours, and what happens when the mind/body connection is severed and a new operating system is installed? The truth seems to be that your mind is what makes you "you", but your body is just borrowed, disposable hardware that can be replaced, repaired and reused.   

The film is anchored by three terrific performances. Logan Marshall-Green's physical performance as Trace is excellent. He really sells the idea that he is simply a puppet being driven by a separate internal force. The disembodied AI that drives him - STEM - is also brilliantly realised by Simon Maiden. In a performance that recall's Scarlett Johansson's in HER, his AI is by turns very funny and disturbingly sinister. Finally, and coolest of all, Benedict Hardie's super enhanced military cyborg is an action villain for the sci-fi annals. He's an absolute badass, and steals the show the whole way.




But philosophical questions and good performances aren't the real reason to buy a ticket to UPGRADE: if we're being honest, we're all here for the cyberpunk tech and the damage that it inflicts on inferior, fragile human tissue, and in that Whannell's little future-gore flick truly excels. Bodies are broken, sliced, ventilated and pulverised by lethal nano-tech, Cronenbergian body-guns and general machine strength, all lovingly realised with (mostly) practical fx. It's good meaty stuff.

Add to this a killer droning synth score by Jed Palmer, and a very original and clever title treatment that starts things off on a high, and you've got yourself a very nice little package indeed. Along with the likes of BLADE RUNNER 2049, DREDD, SPLICE, GHOST IN THE SHELL and ALTERED CARBON, the last decade has been a good one to be a fan of tough-as-nails, violent cyberpunk.

Finally, Whannell (who surprised everyone by showing up at Friday's screening, coming across as a very modest and likable dude during his brief but funny intro), is insistent and very proud of the fact that, despite US financial backing, UPGRADE is an overwhelmingly  Australian production, shot in Melbourne with a mostly Aussie cast and crew. I'm proud of it too, another feather in the cap of our increasingly diverse and awesome genre cinema canon.





Tuesday, 5 June 2018

SUSPIRIA trailer and poster




Great logo! Hope any posters that are to follow are more visually interesting than this, but in terms of colour scheme and typography, this is an intriguing design choice for a horror film.

The trailer is fantastic. Sinister and full of grim portent. For the most part they're keeping things mysterious, revealing just a handful of visual clues, and wrapping the teaser up with a few tantalising glimpses of evil witchiness. Love the poster for the Markos Tanzgruppe! As I predicted last year, the beautiful Art Nouveau staircase of the Grand Hotel Campo dei Fiori (one of the films primary locations) features prominently. No sign of Jessica Harper's cameo yet.

Perhaps the most interesting clues in this trailer are the unlikely references to terrorism: the Red Army Faction's AK-47 and star logo scrawled in the diary, and in the police station, an anti-terrorism flyer next to the missing poster for Chloe Grace Moretz's character. The flyer depicts an ominous and seemingly appropriate image and the headline "Mord beginnt beim bösen Wort" - murder begins with a bad word.






Saturday, 2 June 2018

Terror has no Shape.




This new design for Chuck Russell's THE BLOB (AKA the best blob movie) by Steven Luros Holliday is rad, and a quick search unearthed the cool poster below, by none other than Gary Pullin. The Blob rules, and that's all you need to know!







Saturday, 26 May 2018

Chaos Reigns (again)




This year Lars von Trier returns to the horror well for the first time since 2009's celebrated and in equal measure reviled ANTICHRIST. One review for THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT out of its premier at Cannes, from a source that I trust (was it ScreenAnarchy? sorry I can't remember), hints at a more reserved film than ANTICHRIST, but that certainly doesn't jibe with all the other well publisised reactions (“disgusting,” “torturous,” “repulsive”) and reports of a mass walkout of more than 100 attendees. Is it really that nasty, or do people at Cannes just love to hate von Trier?





Whatever, today I just want to point out this cool poster for the film that dropped last week. Recreating Eugène Delacroix's famous painting "The Barque of Dante" as a dramatic freeze featuring the film's cast feels like such a calculatedly cynical move on von Trier's part. Having already gone on record as saying that the film's main theme is "the idea that life is evil and soulless", it's obvious that one of his main motives for making JACK is to provoke maximum disgust and hate. A work of pure nihilistic cinematic bile.

So what better way to make the film press loath him even more than they already do than by releasing a poster that blatantly compares his film to great art? Ah, Lars, gotta love him!


Sunday, 20 May 2018

DENIM & LEATHER - Sacred Autism




The punk scene at large isn't wanting for intelligent, forward thinking people. So why, from a social standpoint, is it so frequently guilty of the kind of elitism and exclusionism that it purportedly rails against? And how, from an artistic standpoint, has a once electrically creative movement become so fucking trite? Yes, I'm looking at you pal, your face-melting d-beat, PV or '80s USHC clone is fucking trite.

I get that playing and listening to the rock'n'roll that you like is comfortable. It's nice to be comfortable isn't it? But this is punk, so why not bust out of your little bubble and try something, ya know, different?

I'm not saying that Manchester's DENIM & LEATHER have reinvented the genre. When all's said and done, they're just playing hardcore too. What I am saying is that they're one of an increasingly small group of bands who are doing it without slotting neatly into a rigid category (or a mishmash of said categories). These misfits-among-misfits write unpredictable songs and make mutant sounds that feel personal, stand out from the pack, and above all, are seething with their own identity. Oh, and they shred. They shred really fucking hard.




Sunday, 13 May 2018

SORCERER




Finally got around to watching William Friedkin's forgotten jungle-adventure SORCERER last night, and holy shit, what a film! THE FRENCH CONNECTION and THE EXORCIST got all the accolades, but this is the maverick auteur's true masterpiece.

Shot in five countries over the course of two grueling years, SORCERER is a heart-of-darkness film every bit as amazing as APOCALYPSE NOW or Herzog's AGUIRRE. Like those films, SORCERER's shoot was unimaginably arduous and difficult, pushing its director, cast and crew (not to mention its budget) to breaking point and beyond. The film's big show-stopper of a set piece - in which a pair of vintage trucks cross a perilously rotten wooden suspension bridge in monsoon like conditions - was shot in two countries, over the course of three months, costing a whopping 3 million bucks (crazy money at the time).

After all was said and done, SORCERER had the terrible misfortune to be released in 1977, a month after STAR WARS. In the wake of George Lucas' sci-fi juggernaut it was completely ignored at the box office, a disastrous flop. For a movie-going public freshly infatuated with light sabers and space battles, Friedkin's jungle opus was just too old-fashioned. Thank goodness that a recent restoration and critical reappraisal has finally given this incredible film the exposure and appreciation that it so rightfully deserves. Highly recommended viewing.






















































Saturday, 12 May 2018

SFF 2018




As has become a tradition around these parts, here are the seven films that will be entering my eyeballs and ear holes at this year's Sydney Film Fest! Not a bad selection at this year's fest. Most excited for UPGRADE and GHOST STORIES.
























Saturday, 28 April 2018

The Night HE Came Home.




Long rumoured, confirmed yesterday: John Carpenter is returning to score this year's HALLOWEEN, directed by David Gordon Green. A HALLOWEEN film, from the director of the magnificent JOE, starring Jamie Lee Curtis, and scored by the master himself? Time to get hyped people. Footage screened for press and industry types this week was allegedly impressive.

The questions on my mind: what form will Carpenter's new score take? Will it be nearly identical to the original, or will he expand and/or alter it significantly? Will he write something entirely new? Will it have a harder, more rock edge, like his recent reworking of the ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK theme?

We'll see in October. Or perhaps sooner in a trailer?


Sunday, 11 March 2018

RIXE




This newish three song promo tape is Rixe's best stuff yet. Addictive, infectiously hooky Oi! from this crew of left-wing Parisian skins. I'm gutted that I missed getting a ticket to their Melbourne show with Total Control (sold out in minutes), but I'll definitely be venturing out on a Wednesday night to see them here in early May.




Sunday, 18 February 2018

TENEBRAPHOBIA




Finally unleashed today, this five song EP is a project that Bowie (my incredibly multi-talented partner / love of my life) and I have been working on for many months. At times, its creation has been a process as frustrating as it's been fun, but we're both really stoked with the end result.

TENEBRAPHOBIA is a tribute to the throbbing synth scores that are the defining signature of so many '70s and '80s Italian and North American horror films. Scores by the likes of Goblin, John Carpenter and Fabio Frizzi.

Bowie's take on the genre is gnarly. Horror synth as filtered through a punk attitude. These tunes rock.

All tracks/recording/mixing by Ms. Raffan. Concept/titles, logo/design, and grumpy muse: your's truly.

Enjoy, share, but whatever you do, turn it the fuck UP!








Wednesday, 14 February 2018

FEB 14


Maybe I'll just post this every Valentine's Day, because why the fuck not?







Sunday, 4 February 2018

Decade of Decay: MARTYRS / INSIDE




Has it really been 10 and 11 years respectively since MARTYRS and INSIDE turned the world of horror cinema, kicking and screaming, on its head? And 9 years since I was gushing and ranting about both films on this blog? Unbelievably, the answer to both questions is yes.

In that time we've seen the watered-down, sanitised US remakes come and go (into much deserved obscurity), as the careers of Pascal Laugier and Maury/Bustillo have sadly failed to live up to the promise of their early masterpieces (but I'm still rooting for Laugier's new one, GHOSTLAND).

Regardless of those negative observations, the impact of these two modern classics hasn't diminished a bit. In the decade since they were unleashed on the world, have we even seen another truly comparable film? Their blend of feminism and arthouse sensibilities, colliding head on with pitch black, extreme gore was, and still is, pretty unique.

To celebrate the occasion, here's a pulpy Spanish one-sheet for INSIDE that I don't think I've ever seen (above), and some nice MARTYRS tributes from Gary Pullin (top), Nathan Thomas Milliner (middle) and Trevor Henderson (bottom).












Sunday, 28 January 2018

THE ENDLESS poster




This week saw the reveal of this fittingly beautiful and trippy poster for THE ENDLESS, Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson's impressive followup to their cult hits RESOLUTION and SPRING. All three films (which can loosely be referred to as the Shitty Carl trilogy) are essential viewing for fans of Lovecraft, the arcane and the eldritch. THE ENDLESS will hopefully hit local cinemas later this year.

Feel free to help yourself to my slightly unhinged reviews for SPRING and THE ENDLESS. But, you know, do what thou wilt.


Friday, 26 January 2018

Morricone Youth: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD




Last night I pushed through a haze of post-work fatigue to attend a screening of Romero's NOTLD (first time on the big screen for me!), with live accompaniment by New York's Morricone Youth. The band are here in Sydney to perform their re-score of the Pittsburgh lensed zombie classic, as well as Miller's MAD MAX. Having done zero research on the band beforehand, I went into the screening unsure of what to expect. Rock? Synth? Chamber orchestra? Taking my seat, third row from front, it became immediately obvious from the setup (bass, guitar, drums, two keyboard/synth rigs, vocals) that my secret hopes were to be rewarded: I was in for some proggy goodness, ala Goblin.

Morricone Youth delivered on that promise in spades, at points almost outplaying the Italian masters at their own game. What they've essentially done here is to give NIGHT a sister score to Goblin's iconic cues for DAWN OF THE DEAD. Mounting waves of pounding rock, throbbing synth and spooky glockenspiel, elevated to euphoric levels by some fantastic, operatic vocals (performed by a woman who I can't find a mention of anywhere, what gives?). Some research this morning reveals that they recently toured with Goblin in the States, and have previously re-scored a number of other cult films.

It's a shame that last night's haunting, powerful vocals are barely represented on the vinyl release of NOTLD, because their impact, live in front of the film, was immeasurable. The word transcendent comes to mind, making this my favourite viewing of Romero's seminal classic to date. The experience gave me a new and deeper appreciation of the film: the radicalism of its civil rights theme, its gorgeously lit black and white cinematography and wonderful editing, both courtesy of a young and hungry Romero. It throws into sharp focus just how talented and utterly electric the young Pittsburgh artist was. This film was dangerous, and exactly half a century later is still vitally important.

If you get a chance to see this show (especially with vocal accompaniment), don't sleep on it!




Saturday, 30 December 2017

The Crawler in the Tower




Spoilers follow for both Jeff VanderMeer's novel, ANNIHILATION, and its soon-to-be-released film adaptation, directed by Alex Garland.

The above screenshot, taken from the recently released second trailer for ANNIHILATION, appears to be a very spoilery look at The Biologist's climactic confrontation with the tower crawler. A couple of other, less explicit, images from this scene are scattered throughout the trailer. That Paramount/Skydance are so willing to spoil the film's ending, just so they can shoehorn some of its most powerful imagery into the trailer, speaks volumes about their lack of confidence in what Garland has delivered. Indeed, they're so utterly freaked out about ANNIHILATION's lack of commercial appeal (based on an allegedly disastrous test screening a couple of months back), they completely choked, cancelling its worldwide theatrical release, and dumping it onto Netflix instead. Unless you live in the United States, you'll more than likely be watching this film on your TV or laptop at home.

This is classic studio suit behaviour of course, but in the end it's probably the most positive outcome for the film, and for fans of intelligent, weird sci-fi horror. I'd rather watch Garland's film, as it was intended to be seen, on a small screen at home, than a butchered test-screening travesty in a theatre. 

What we're seeing here is the marketing machine struggling to assemble trailers with mainstream appeal, but I think in February we're going to get something much more akin to UNDER THE SKIN. A moody, visually stunning arthouse sci-fi, which leaves the viewer with a number of unanswered questions.

I couldn't be happier.


Tuesday, 26 December 2017

AUTOPSY: 2017




This has been a crowded year for cinema in general, but an unusually prolific one for good cinema. It would appear that the creative spark, the desire for escape, and the need to find meaning in this world through our art, are qualities that really do flourish in more trying times. Film-wise, 2017 was so densely packed that despite making an effort to see more movies than ever, I still feel like I've only scratched the surface.

Here then, my friends, is my Top 10 for the year, ranked. Following that you'll find a dirty dozen of Honourable Mentions (unranked), each one excellent enough in its own right to be included on any number of other Top 10 lists. As ever, I'll see you on the other side!



THE BEST

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10. 


THE REST