Grim Pickings for Cinema & Home Entertainment this week…

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GRIM PICKINGS this week includes key dates to dismember for this year’s MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL along with the release of an Ozploitation classic on Blu-ray. Here’s what’s releasing locally this week…

In Cinemas

Thursday July 28th
This year’s festival opens with the world premiere of THE DEATH AND LIFE OF OTTO BLOOM, touted as a “a magnificently brain-twisting, deeply moving and wildly inventive tale of love in the time of retrochronology”. When neuropsychologist Dr Ada Fitzgerald was called in to examine Otto Bloom, a young man with amnesia and an uncanny ability to predict upcoming events, little did she know the experience would change her life – and upend humanity’s understanding of time itself. Bloom claimed he experienced time in reverse, with our future his past. He also seemed to know more about Ada than she knew herself. 

Friday July 29th
While both the July 29th & August 12th screenings have sold out, you can try your luck online at 5pm the night prior for a final release ticket, otherwise you can join a standby queue at the venue thirty minutes before the commencement of the session. Adapting the first in a series of novels by Dan Wells, filmmaker Billy O’Brien cunningly turns the familiar ordinariness of America’s small-town heartland into a dangerous and wintry other world. Shot on grainy 16mm stock, this is the story of John (Max Records, Where the Wild Things Are). While no stranger to death – having spent much of his time at a funeral home where his mother works – John’s homicidal tendencies are anything but mere teen angst. He uses self-imposed rules to keep them at bay but when a real monster turns up in town, harvesting the organs of its victims, John’s demons prove too strong to ignore. Also starring Christopher Lloyd in an inspired performance as one of John’s cantankerous neighbours, I Am Not a Serial Killer goes where no one suspects, even those who have read the book (although the film finale comes with Wells’ approval).

Do horror movies know us better than we know ourselves? Filmmaker and critic Charlie Lyne ruminates on this question in this “collage feature” – a film form he perfected in Beyond Clueless, his debut about the mores of teen movies – constructed entirely from the visuals of horror films. In taking us on a journey through cinematic fear, Lyne not only scrutinises sensation but also effectively conjures it. He uses the ‘character’ of the narrator (Amy E Watson) to function as a guiding hand leading us through a feature-length roll call of frightening moments that goes beyond the usual suspects: from Frankenstein (1931), Night of the Demon(1957) and The Tenderness of Wolves (1973) to Suspiria (1977), Raat (1992) and It Follows (MIFF 2014) to name just a handful. Our narrator even has her own story that gets fleshed out aurally amid the visceral visual onslaught. Unassumingly impressive, Fear Itself has the primordial power to make us succumb to fear even when we are attempting to analyse the horror genre in a scholarly context.

Backed by Borderline Films (the stable behind MIFF 2016’s Christine, MIFF 2015’s James White and MIFF 2011’sMartha Marcy May Marlene), music video prodigy Nicolas Pesce carves his name indelibly into the psyche of audiences with one of the most memorable horror films in a very long time. Pesce and cinematographer Zack Kuperstein chart the stunning descent of a young woman into violence (a breakout performance by Kika Magalhaes) after she witnesses the murder of her mother. A film told in mesmeric black and white, The Eyes of My Mother bucks horror tropes to create what could be considered a new style of American Gothic, the spiritual lovechild of Charles Laughton and The Night of the Hunter. The surprises don’t come in story twists but through the prodding of imagination and jagged, sometimes brutal, editing. Magnificently horrific, The Eyes of My Mother proves there is immense beauty to be found in ugliness. The mellifluous wails of Portuguese fado singer Amalia Rodrigues are the sensory balm in what is a deliciously gorgeous nightmare that simultaneously seduces and abhors in the space of one shot.

Following in the acclaim of Farsi-language hit A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – and drawing from the DNA of The Babadook – this standout debut feature from Babak Anvari offers a novel take on time-honoured horror scares, wrapped in a subversively feminist critique of Iranian sexism. It is post-revolution Tehran in the late 1980s. Shideh is blacklisted from medical school due to her past political activities. As the calamities of war close in around her, she finds herself isolated with her daughter, Dorsa, whose behaviour becomes increasingly strange after an unexploded missile hits their apartment block. Shideh believes the bomb has brought djinn – Middle Eastern spirits that travel on the wind – into their home, and now she must fight these supernatural forces to save herself and her daughter.

Palme d’Or-winning filmmaker Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, MIFF 2007; Beyond the Hills, MIFF 2012) returns with his latest engrossing drama, a richly crafted slice of social realism that earned the Romanian auteur the Best Director prize (ex æquo with Olivier Assayas) at this year’s Cannes film festival. Diving into the moral quagmire of Romanian society, Graduation centres on Romeo (Adrian Titieni, MIFF 2013’s Child’s Pose), a middle-aged doctor, and his teenage daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus, MIFF 2009’s The White Ribbon), a gifted high-schooler on her way to Oxford once she passes final exams. But when Eliza is sexually assaulted, her academic chances are put in sudden jeopardy, and Romeo – a proud idealist – is forced to consider taking things into his own hands in order to ensure his daughter’s future.

Saturday July 30th
Co-scripted by playwrights Mary Laws and Polly Stenham, the latest provocation from Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, MIFF 2011) is his first film told from a female point of view. It centres on ravishing young Jesse, a waif-like aspiring model fresh to the meat factory of the LA fashion world – which she immediately sets ablaze, leaving breathless desire and snarling jealousy in her wake. Elle Fanning is luminous as Jesse, with Australians Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote, as well as Jena Malone (Lovesong, MIFF 2016), Christina Hendricks and Keanu Reeves all compelling in support. An intoxicating eyegasm to behold, the film draws inspiration from sources as varied as the legends of Narcissus and the Countess Báthory, Italian giallo and Alejandro Jodorowsky, Black Swan and Suspiria, and it absolutely revels in its psychedelic, psychotic excess. Darkly comic at times but always surreally scathing, this is sure to be one of the festival’s most spectacular conversation starters.

Nicolas lives with his mother on a remote island inhabited only by women and young boys. Here, in a hospital overlooking the ocean, the women administer mysterious medical treatments to their sons. But when Nicolas spies the rotting corpse of another young boy, he begins to question his situation and surroundings. Similar to her husband and collaborator, Gaspar Noé – she contributed to the screenplay for Enter the Void (MIFF 2015) – Lucile Hadžihalilović (Innocence, MIFF 2005) demonstrates an uncanny ability for conceptualising new worlds and evoking an eerily surreal grotesquerie that will come back to haunt you. Her ultra slow-burn take on body-horror contrasted against magnificent underwater imagery is at once disgusting and sensual, sinister and sublime.

American auteur Jim Jarmusch (Paterson, MIFF 2016) is likely the only director who could deliver a documentary this playful and touching about primal proto-punks The Stooges. His kinship with icon Iggy Pop (who cameoed in Jarmusch’s Dead Man as well as his MIFF 2004 film Coffee and Cigarettes) means Gimme Danger gets as close to the enigmatic band as any film ever will. The Stooges bottled lightning in the late 60s and early 70s, retching out three classic albums of sinister blues squall. Pop and co. were confounding and alien, with a stage presence and sound not seen before or since.

An adaptation of JG Ballard’s brutally subversive 1975 classic, High-Rise finds acclaimed British director and MIFF favourite Ben Wheatley (A Field in England, MIFF 2013; Sightseers, MIFF 2012) unshackled from the low-budget restraints of his past and let loose on the Titanic of skyscrapers. Tom Hiddleston is suavely sanguine as protagonist Dr Robert Laing, a physiologist who moves into a sleek apartment block designed, by Jeremy Irons’ architect Anthony Royal, to cater to its residents’ every physical need. But as the building’s physical services fail – the electricity goes out; the lifts stop working; food shortages abound – its social structures melt and the world within the high-rise nosedives into a free-for-all class war. Faithfully bringing Ballard’s grown-up Lord of the Flies to the screen in a visual spectacular – regular Wheatley cinematographer Laurie Rose has outdone herself – Wheatley and his regular screenwriter Amy Jump revel in the mayhem unleashed as the tower’s inhabitants (also including Elisabeth Moss, Luke Evans and Sienna Miller) succumb to a Pandora’s box of human debauchery. With Clint Mansell’s score magnifying the destruction, High-Rise is a gloriously unhinged work of blackly comic dystopian surrealism.

Upon learning that their recently deceased dad wasn’t their biological father, socially awkward half-brothers Gabriel (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo‘s David Dencik) and Elias (a delightfully against-type Mads Mikkelsen) go in search of their real shared parent, a scientist named Evelio Thanatos. They track him to a sprawling, derelict sanatorium on the remote island of Ork, but instead of meeting the reclusive patriarch they discover three other half-brothers – Søren Malling (also in this year’s A War), Nicolas Bro and Nikolaj Lee Kaas – each with a harelip and a penchant for madcap violence. Brought together by accident, the five unwilling siblings soon uncover a family secret that will bind them together by choice. Former Oscar winner and regular Susanne Bier screenwriter (After the Wedding, MIFF 2007) Anders Thomas Jensen returns with his first directorial effort in 10 years (his last film at MIFF was The Green Butchers in 2004): a wildly unhinged black comedy that mines deep veins of absurdist slapstick and philosophical profundity. Winning Jensen the Best Director award at Fantastic Fest, it’s a hysterically bizarre, unclassifiable oddity.

New York in the 70s and 80s was not kid-friendly: in a city of violence and crime, there were few places that children could safely gather. The Chinatown Fair was a haven for lost souls, an arcade where kids could play video games alongside kindred spirits. But by 2011, home entertainment systems were all the rage and people began to stay home. In the dying days of the Chinatown Fair, an uncertain future faces both the arcade as well as the people who call it a second home. Filmmakers Kurt Vincent and Irene Chin chanced upon the Chinatown Fair one night, and were struck by its energy. When they discovered it was threatened with closure, they immediately began filming, capturing the arcade’s rich history as well as a tightly bound community threatened by cultural gentrification. Their resulting documentary is a story brimming with nostalgia, heart and hope.

Inverting the traditional gaze of exploitation cinema via the lens of playful feminism, writer, filmmaker and art director Anna Biller (Viva, MIFF 2007) crafts a fantastic 35mm valentine to Technicolor, 60s soft porn and camp period horror that’s as joyously entertaining as it is subversive. In her quest for a real man, voluptuous Wiccan Elaine entices her hapless suitors to sip of her mysterious supernatural potion, whereby they fall head over heels in love with her at the expense of their machismo. Though addicted to love, Elaine’s disappointment at romance soon turns to murder, and Biller, revelling in the baroque sets, costumes and even an Ennio Morricone score of the genre, sets about taking her audience on a wild ride into the feminine psyche.

Mermaids Golden and Silver enjoy swimming, and seducing and hunting men, but the sisters decide to give it all up so they can become headline cabaret stars at a seedy men’s club. Their incredible voices draw big crowds, however their popularity is threatened when Silver falls in love with a musician, and Golden starts eating the male townsfolk.

Home Entertainment

Wednesday July 27th
ROAD GAMES (Blu-ray)
Umbrella Entertainment unleash the 1981 Richard Franklin Ozploitation classic ROAD GAMES on Blu-ray with an all-new 4K telecine and digital restoration along with hours of previously unreleased additional content. Stacy Keach is Pat Quid, a loan trucker who always plays games to keep his sanity on long hauls through the desolate Australian outback. Jamie Lee Curtis is a free – spirited hitchiker looking for excitement with a game of her own. And somewhere up ahead, on the lonliest highway in the world, is a psychopathic killer – a latter day Jack the Ripper, whose game is picking up young female hitchhikers, raping, killing and dismembering them before burying their remains on the desolate Nullabor Plains. But when Quid’s innocent curiosity turns into amateur sleuthing, the killer decides to raise the stakes… and the rules of this road take some very deadly turns.

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