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Elijah Wood in Come to Daddy (2019)

More twisted weirdness from New Zealand filmmaker Ant Timpson, best known for his work as a producer on gory horror films like the 2012 horror anthology The ABCs of Death. Timpson makes his feature directorial debut with this irreverent, nasty and darkly comic thriller about a young man who tries to reconnect with his estranged father after a thirty year absence. Norval Greenwood (Elijah Wood, from the epic The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, etc), a hipster musician with a terrible haircut, arrives at the remote lakeside house of his estranged father following a cryptic letter asking him to come and visit. On arrival at the uniquely designed house that looks like a UFO from the 60s, Norval is subjected to a torrent of verbal abuse from his father. Soon he is quickly thrust into a dangerous situation as a group of vicious men have come looking for revenge against his father. Co-written with Toby Harvard (The Greasy Strangler, etc), the film constantly subverts expectations. There is some gore and gonzo sleaze, delivered with relish by Timpson. He also ramps up the claustrophobic tension. Wood, best known for playing Frodo, is perfectly cast here as Norval, and again taps into that dark and creepy side of his screen persona he explored so effectively in 2012’s Maniac remake. Here he adds to his gallery of oddball characters and displays an awkwardness that is uncomfortable and somewhat endearing. The supporting cast includes Stephen McHattie in full on weirdness mode, and Martin Donovan. There is some great production design from Zosia Mackenzie, making the house almost a character in its own right. The film has been atmospherically shot by cinematographer Daniel Katz (I Am Legend, etc), who works in close-up to heighten the effect.


Matthew McConaughey and Snoop Dogg in The Beach Bum (2019)

The sixth film from Harmony Korine (Gummo, Spring Breakers, etc) is another anarchic and shambolic mess that explores another rebellious character and their hedonistic lifestyle. It is certainly not a film for everybody. Indeed, it prompted a number of walkouts during a screening at MIFF. The titular Beach Bum is Moondog (a role that Matthew McConaughey was born to play), a once famous poet who has fallen from grace and is now a dissolute stoner and alcoholic with an insatiable appetite for partying and mischief in the glittering neon lit playground of Miami. He plays by his own set of rules. His life is briefly changed when he attends the wedding of his neglected daughter Heather (Stefania Lavie Owen). The film explores Korine’s usual themes of decadence, drug abuse and addiction, and dysfunctional characters living on the edge. He again fashions the film with his usually loose, non-linear structure and episodic nature. The film has been gorgeously shot by French cinematographer Benoit Debie (a regular collaborator of Gaspar Noe) who captures the sundrenched vibe of the film’s setting. McConaughey makes Moondog Florida’s version of Jeff Bridges’ iconic “the Dude”, and he injects plenty of swagger, charm and gusto into the role of the lovable rogue. Korine has assembled a strong ensemble supporting cast that includes Isla Fisher as Minnie, Moondog’s wealthy and sexually voracious wife; Martin Lawrence as the aptly named Captain Wack, who operates a low rent dolphin spotting tourist experience that ends badly; rapper Snoop Dogg as Lingerie, Moondog’s best friend who is also having a torrid sexual relationship with Miinie; and Zac Efron is surprising as Flicker, a fellow addict he meets in rehab and the pair make an impromptu escape from the facility. The soundtrack features Jimmy Buffett, Gerry Rafferty, The Cure and Bertie Higgins’ hit Key Largo.


Bill Murray, Chloë Sevigny, and Adam Driver in The Dead Don't Die (2019)

Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive was an unconventional take on the vampire genre. Similarly, his latest film The Dead Don’t Die is a quirky, typically droll and offbeat take on the zombie genre. While not quite in the same league as the fabulous Shaun Of The Dead, this quirky dead pan comedy/drama is still quite entertaining. Most of the clichés of the genre are played for laughs here. The film is set in the sleepy small town of Centreville, “a real nice place”, which is about to experience an upheaval with a full-on zombie apocalypse. When the dead start rising from their graves and attacking the townsfolk, it falls to sheriff Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and his two deputies Ronald Peterson (Adam Driver) and Mindy Morrison (Chloe Sevigny) to try and protect the town. They receive some help from Zelda Winston (Jarmusch regular Tilda Swinton), the samurai sword wielding undertaker with a strange accent. Jarmusch takes a slightly unorthodox approach to the genre with some irreverent dialogue that includes lots of metareferences to films like the classic zombie movie Night Of The Living Dead as well as Jarmusch’s own body of work. Murray, who has previously worked with Jarmusch is a good fit for his dry style, and is at his drollest as Robertson, the world-weary and cynical sheriff who is out of his depth when dealing with the undead. There is a good rapport and comic chemistry between Murray and Driver, who knows his zombie lore and keeps muttering: “This is not going to end well.” The film features a great ensemble cast that includes Carol Kane, Iggy Pop, rapper RZA, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez as a television news reporter, Jarmusch regular Steve Buscemi. Tom Waits plays hermit Bob, whose perspective on events offers a critique of our modern consumer driven society. The Dead Don’t Die has been atmospherically shot by Jarmusch’s regular collaborator Frederick Elmes. Country singer Sturgill Simpson provides the catchy theme song.  


Xavier Dolan and Gabriel D'Almeida Freitas in Matthias et Maxime (2019)

After the disappointing reception that greeted his most recent films, French-Canadian gay auteur Xavier Dolan returns to more familiar territory with his latest effort. This is the story of Max (played by Dolan himself, his first starring role since 2013’s Tom At The Farm) and Matthias (Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas in his feature film debut), two twenty somethings who been best friends since childhood. Max, who works as a bartender, has a skin pigmentation disorder that has left him with a prominent wine-coloured mark on his face. He is also trying to look after his abrasive and shrewish mother (Dolan regular Anne Dorval), a chain smoking recovering alcoholic. Matt works as a lawyer for a corporate firm. The two hang around with a group of close friends. But on the eve of Max’s departure for a two-year working holiday in Australia, the two are forced to confront their unspoken deep feelings for one another and address the simmering sexual tension between them. The ninth feature from Dolan Matthias Et Maxime is a more personal film for the filmmaker and explores familiar themes from his body of work – gay identity, relationships, friendship, love, dysfunctional mother/son relationships, vulnerability. It is full of angst, longing and pain, but the drama is interspersed with tender moments and touches of humour. The film also contains many of his stylistic flourishes, an eclectic soundtrack and lots of closeups. There are good performances from the main cast that flesh out the characters and capture their inner emotional torment.


Aisling Franciosi in The Nightingale (2018)

The sophomore feature from Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), The Nightingale offers up horrors of a different kind. Set in Tasmania in 1825, the film is a bloody, brutal and unflinching tale of revenge that also addresses the savage history of colonial Australia, the systemic abuse and mistreatment of women and the indigenous population. It makes a powerful statement about a history bathed in blood. The central character here is Clara (Aisling Franciosi, from tv series The Fall, etc), a former convict waiting to gain her ticket of leave and become a free woman. But arrogant and ambitious and abusive Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin, cast against type) delays his decision so he can bed her. But her husband is killed by Hawkins and his crude sergeant Ruse (Damon Herriman), she is raped, and her baby murdered. Hawkins leaves and is making his way to his new posting in Launceston. Clara sets out for revenge. She engages the aid of a local tracker Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) to help guide her through the wilderness to exact her revenge. Billy himself is bitter and distrustful of the white folk because of his experiences – he was taken from his family and he has watched aboriginals being slaughtered and their land taken away. The film has been shot on location in Tasmania’s forests, and looks stunning thanks to the lensing of cinematographer Radek Ladczuk (The Babadook). Franciosi is good in a physically demanding role and she conveys Clara’s pain, anguish and physical distress. Claflin is suitably cold and nasty as the villain of the piece. In his first acting role, Ganambarr delivers a natural performance. This is a hard-hitting drama, and the violence here is quite raw, bloody and graphic and disturbing. The tough rape sequence apparently caused a number of walkouts when the film screened at the Sydney Film Festival. Although an important film, The Nightingale will not appeal widely mainly because of its handling of some controversial subject matter.

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