Saturday, 24 January 2015

THE GUEST




Some filmmakers hit the ground running, blowing minds with their debut features. Others take a little while to hit their stride. Adam Wingard is one such director. 

Wingard showed real promise with his first two features, Home Sick and Pop Skull, both penned by E.L. Katz, who would go on to direct the brilliant Cheap Thrills. However, it wasn't until he teamed up with writer Simon Barrett (who also showed early promise with his screenplay for the underrated Civil War haunter Dead Birds) that it became apparent that Wingard was an emerging talent not to be ignored.

You're Next took everyone by surprise, with its sharp script, overturning of genre conventions and overtly feminist tone. That said, I didn't totally connect with it in the way that a lot of other people seemed to. Don't get me wrong, I liked it a lot and it was obviously a huge step forward for both Wingard and Barrett, but there was still something lacking, something not-quite developed about it that prevented it from being truly great. Would these two obviously talented and spirited filmmakers ever realise their potential, or was You're Next to be their apex?

With The Guest, Wingard and Barrett have demolished any lingering doubts that I may have had, delivering on all that hitherto hinted-at promise in spectacular fashion. The Guest is an electrically tense, spring-loaded grenade of a movie that hit my senses like napalm, utterly transfixing me from first frame to last. It's a masterpiece.




Dan Stevens' tour de force performance as David, a returned Iraq war vet who politely imposes himself on the grieving family of a fallen comrade, has to be seen to be believed. There's a highly regimented precision to his every action and line delivery that's fascinating to watch. Complimenting this is an alpha-male physicality that's at once menacingly dangerous and powerfully sexual. Think Robert Patrick in Terminator 2, but with piercing blue eyes and a completely magnetic charm. Stevens' performance and screen presence here is nothing short of riveting.

The tone and atmosphere of this film is extremely cool too. The production design feels simultaneously retro and yet somehow ultra modern, alternating between colour drenched neon, everyday suburban settings and a slickly futuristic corporate/military aesthetic. The camera work reflects the hyper-controlled, chilly nature of the titular character in the way it coldly frames its subjects and slowly prowls around the film's settings. The soundtrack (which is frequently and loudly at the fore of the sound design) is also a hybrid of retro and futurism, featuring a winning mix of new and old electronic and goth tracks from the likes of Sisters of Mercy, Gatekeeper, D.A.F. and an original score by Zombi's Steve Moore.




As with You're Next, one of The Guest's greatest assets is its sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant subversion of genre conventions. On the surface its story is very simple, and I kept thinking I knew exactly where it was going, only to be surprised at the direction it took instead. Not in the sense of big twists or surprises, but just in the small details of how the story unfolds. That same care and attention to writing and direction is evident in the way that the plot builds, clearly calculated to ratchet the tension up slowly, scene by scene, so that the climax makes for an absolutely killer payoff.

If you're like me, The Guest is a movie that you've wanted for years. Without giving too much away, Wingard's film is a fist pumping homage to The Terminator in the same unconventional way that 28 Days Later was to Dawn of the Dead (the difference being that The Guest sticks the landing where 28 Days Later fumbled its climax). Both movies smartly build on their influences to create something new and exciting, not just nostalgic fan service. I can't recommend this one highly enough.

Friday, 23 January 2015

G.L.O.S.S.




Having produced a number of sickeningly good bands in recent years, Olympia, Washington seems to be a real hotbed of righteously pissed-off punk degeneracy. If you need convincing then you must not have heard White Wards, Vexx or Gag yet. As of today you can add another band to that list: G.L.O.S.S.

This demo is a banger from start to finish. Crushing queer/feminist hardcore with fist pumping lyrics, stomping beats and moshable riffs for days.




Thursday, 22 January 2015

Mondo Cronenberg




I really like this artwork for the recently released Mondo/Death Waltz double album of Howard Shore's scores for The Brood and Scanners.

I rewatched Scanners a couple of nights ago for the first time in a few years. Still love it. Michael Ironside is just so good in it. Very few characters exude madness, barely controlled rage and sheer, seething menace in the way that Darryl Revok does. The laughable primitiveness of the computer tech (that comes into play near the climax) may be a turn-off for young viewers, but there's still more than enough meat on Scanners' bones to keep it relevant and interesting for newcomers who are willing to look past that. That said, I think Cronenberg's most commercially successful movie up until The Fly is now ripe for a good R-rated remake*, probably more so than any of his other films (and I'd like to see Videodrome left well alone thanks!).




*Directed by Rian Johnson maybe? Looper had the right tone, and I like the way he handled the telekinesis aspects of the story.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

DIY HARDER



If you're in Sydney this long weekend, come along to the DIY HARDER punk fest that's being held here in my home suburb of Marrickville. Three days of total mayhem, with over thirty bands coming from as far away as Tasmania and Adelaide. Two of my faves will be there melting faces and ruining earholes, ExtinctExist and Kromosom, both from Melbourne. Full disclosure: the band this spudboy is most looking forward to is a DEVO cover band! This promises to be a banger of a weekend, and with all proceeds going to the Redfern Aboriginal tent embassy, you can feel all warm and fuzzy about yourself while having a good time! Info HERE.


Monday, 19 January 2015

DARK STAR




I like the tone and atmosphere of this trailer for Belinda Sallin's Giger documentary, Dark Star: H.R. Gigers Welt. It's appropriately mysterious, dreamlike and unearthly. 

Apparently it's come under fire from some critics due to the age and frailty of the artist during filming, but that seems odd to me. How could it be considered disrespectful or exploitative if it was done in collaboration with Giger and his wife Carmen, and with their full blessing? Surely his frail condition would only be an issue if the film were overly critical of its subject, or manipulative in some way, and I doubt that's the case here.

If anything, the melancholy one might feel at seeing the man in his final days feels right for an artist who revelled in showing us the beauty that could be found in the darkest and scariest recesses of our imaginations. Western culture has a bad habit of shunning the old and frail. Simply put, we're terrified of death, and would rather sweep it under the rug where it can't be seen. 

Anyway, regardless of the quality of Dark Star's interviews, it looks like it offers an unprecedented glimpse into the man's home and personal life. There's an extensive gallery on the film's site featuring a number of beautiful images of Giger's house and ramshackle dreamscape of a garden. Some of my favourites are below, but check out the whole gallery and website here.






























Lastly, I've updated my first ever Giger-related post (from way back in 2010), about the Japanese Pioneer ad that featured some of his unused designs for Jodorowsky's Dune. The original video of the ad was taken down for copyright infringement, and in finding a replacement I also found a cool little vid with some nice behind the scenes shots from the ad's production. Check that out here.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

CANINE




Sydney's raddest hardcore band, Canine, have just dropped some new tunes for your consumption and edification. These three gals and two guys play fast hardcore, punctuated with infectious mid-tempo riffing and with some cool stony grooves thrown into the mix. On stage they're a force to be reckoned with, and I think these new tracks are a better representation of that blistering live energy than their 2013 demo. The four new tracks are from their split with Melbourne's Diploid, and can be found here. You can order the 7'' from One Brick Today.



Friday, 16 January 2015

John Carpenter's Lost Themes




To offset this week's (almost certainly) bad news that the Escape from New York remake is still a thing that's happening*, here's something really cool for Carpenter fans to look forward to.

Intriguing Brooklyn based label Sacred Bones Records is just about to drop Lost Themes, Carpenter's first ever LP of non-film score music (If you don't count the Coupe de Villes). It will feature an album's worth of unused material from his past, reworked in collaboration with Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies. I've never heard of the latter, but I know Cody as the spawn of Carpenter and Adrienne Barbeau (loved for her roles in The Fog, EFNY and Romero's Creepshow). He's previously collaborated with his father on Ghosts of Mars, as well as scoring both Cigarette Burns and Pro-Life for the Masters of Horror series.

I say that Sacred Bones is an intriguing label because I think their output is really interesting and eclectic. They release a diverse range of music that spans punk/post-punk, new wave, psychedelia, film music etc. At the punk end of the spectrum you've got bands like Austin's Institute (whose Giddy Boys 7'' on Katorga Works is fucking great by the way), New York goth punx Anasazi and Arizonan heavy psych/noise freaks Destruction Unit. They also distribute some stuff by Brooklyn artist Alexander Heir, whose work makes me drool and whose shop makes me lament the lack of cash in my wallet. 

As far as film related music, David Lynch seems to have found himself a comfortable home at the label, with a number of releases of original material as well as OSTs for Eraserhead and Twin Peaks in their catalogue. There's also a Jim Jarmusch collaborative project that appears to be tangentially connected to Only Lovers Left Alive.




Back to Carpenter, who had this to say about the upcoming LP:

Lost Themes was all about having fun. It can be both great and bad to score over images, which is what I’m used to. Here there were no pressures. No actors asking me what they’re supposed to do. No crew waiting. No cutting room to go to. No release pending. It’s just fun. And I couldn't have a better set-up at my house, where I depended on Cody and Daniel to bring me ideas as we began improvising. The plan was to make my music more complete and fuller, because we had unlimited tracks. I wasn't dealing with just analogue anymore. It’s a brand new world. And there was nothing in any of our heads when we started other than to make it moody.”

It's interesting to note here that once again he's being less than subtle in voicing his distaste for the filmmaking process. I don't think I can think of another director who's been so brutally honest about becoming burnt out by the system. I get the sense that he's extremely cynical about the industry now, to the point that he seems to loath it. Some people disparage his attitude, but as far as I'm concerned they're entitled little whiners who should consider shutting the fuck up. If Carps wants to spend the rest of his days sitting on the couch playing video games and watching basketball, than good for him. He's damn well earned it.

That said, I'm grateful that he's still got enough creative energy left in him to bring us this new album.

You can stream a track from Lost Themes called "Vortex" here. The album hits in a couple of weeks in a gatefold edition. The coloured wax editions have already sold out, but don't worry, you'll be able to buy one from some collector scum on ebay for hundreds of dollars soon.  

To wrap up by looking back thirty years, here's my favourite Coupe de Villes track, "1967". I love this song for the smoothness of Carpenter's vocals as well as the sombreness of his lyrics. His pain is palpable as he mourns the wasted promise of the optimistic '60s, and bemoans the empty, soulless avarice of the Reagan era. By his own admission here, the '80s left him feeling like a stranger in a strange land, and you can see that theme of alienation running through both The Thing and Starman. That this was also his most dynamically creative period is no coincidence, as great work is usually born of anger, not apathy. I've always seen this song as an odd little companion piece to They Live.




*I might change my tune if they hired Gareth Huw Evans or the Dredd directing duo of Pete Travis & Alex Garland to helm it.

Monday, 5 January 2015

TOTAL CONTROL




Between blast beats and breakdowns Total Control's Typical System LP has been the real soundtrack to my spring and summer, and all told, it's probably my favourite album of 2014.

Sadly, I may never get to see them live, because although this enigmatic Melbourne band seems to have found popularity all over the world, they hardly ever play shows. Apparently they'd rather perfect their sound in the studio, and with Typical System they've done just that, creating as faultless an album as I've ever heard. Like NoMeansNo's Wrong or Out Cold's Goodbye Cruel World, this album is just sheer fucking perfection from first note to last. If I had to pick favourite tracks I'd probably go with "Flesh War", "Expensive Dog" and "Safety Net".




Photos: Marianne Spellman


Typical System is full of sounds that are wistfully nostalgic for me, bringing to mind everything from Devo to Brian Eno without ever feeling too derivative or pandering. A slightly unhealthy indulgence in nostalgia is definitely part of Total Control's appeal, but a healthy dose of sincerity, intelligence and real talent is what keeps them from being just another superficial exercise in aping the past. 

Over the last few years there's been no lack of amazing bands riding the current revival of post-punk and new wave etc (mostly oozing out of the DIY punk scene), but I doubt that many of them will leave a mark in the way that this band seems destined to do. Fashion and trends are always a festering cancer in punk, and bands like Total Control are the cure.

Typical System is available again on vinyl from Iron Lung records. If you just want to stream the album on bandcamp, do so here as the Iron Lung bandcamp page is missing a track ("2 Less Jacks"). You can also grab their previous 7"s and split with Thee Oh Sees there.




Sunday, 28 December 2014

AUTOPSY: 2014

This has been a really great year at the movies. It was a year filled with little indies that could, as well as blockbusters that had brains & heart to match their spectacle. It was such an impressive year in fact, that I couldn't possibly whittle my list down to just ten films. 

In a year bursting at the seams with quality cinema, the list of films I didn't get around to seeing far exceeds the list of films I did. I suspect that a number of these yet unseen gems would have landed on the list below, so you'll have to excuse the absence of Birdman, The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears, The Congress, Child of God, Calvary, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Boyhood, Nothing Bad Can Happen, Witching and Bitching, Locke, A Field in England, The Raid 2, Under the Skin, Only Lovers Left Alive, The Babadook, Inherent Vice, Predestination, Open Windows and What We Do in the Shadows.

So, without further ado, here's my top fifteen flicks of 2014...


"There’s no room for good cops."



"You know what's awful?
Just 'cause my dad loved your mom... we all end up dead."



"Cut your pinky off. It's your pinky. You use it for, like, nothing."



"You know when a dog bites you... 
you can either chain him up... or shoot him."



"Let them fight."



"I'm going to die surrounded by the biggest idiots in the galaxy."



"The heart is not like a box that gets filled up.
It expands in size the more you love."



"Do not go gentle into that good night."



"Joe's a good man. Good man to me, anyways."



"What if my problem wasn't that I don't understand people,
but that I don't like them?"



"I've met my demons and they are many. 
I've seen the devil, and he is me."



"We were doing something great down here. 
We were gonna change the world."



"You should never stop thinking about a life you've taken.
That's the price you pay for taking it."



"You know what I hate about myself? 
I know what people taste like. 
I know that babies taste best."



"Not my tempo."


Thursday, 2 October 2014

I warned you not to go out tonight




In 2006 Alex Aja knocked one out of the park with his English language debut, a re-imagining of Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes. Equal parts atomic cautionary tale, haunting creepshow and ultra-violent gorefest, it remains for me one of the great modern horror remakes.

Six years later, this time as producer and co-writer of 2012's Maniac, Aja once again reminded us that remakes can sometimes be very worthwhile endeavours. Directed by longtime Aja collaborator Franck Khalfoun (seen here being slaughtered in spectacular fashion in High Tension), Maniac 2012 is a compelling update on William Lustig's thirty-four year old shocker.

However, Elijah Wood's take on Frank Zito is different enough to Joe Spinell's that it serves to make this new film more than just another update for a new generation. The two films stand apart as distinctly different character studies of a very sad, sick man. Wood's performance, as well as some really interesting stylistic changes, elevate Khalfoun's Maniac above many of it's remake brethren, making this a truly worthy companion piece to the original.




I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that Khalfoun's Maniac is for me a near perfect horror movie. Wood's portrayal of Frank is excellent, bringing sympathy to a character who is as vile and repellent as they come. Without that pathos, both versions of Maniac would be little more than exercises in graphic sadism, having no more emotional impact on the viewer than Fulci's New York Ripper (which is a great flick, but for different reasons). Maxime Alexandre's cinematography (he also shot Aja's gorgeous looking early movies) is drenched in grimy, neon-lit atmosphere, thanks to good use of late night cityscapes to create an urban setting that is both alienating and desolate. The central conceit of the movie, that everything is seen from Frank's point of view, is skillfully handled as well, making the whole sordid experience that much more visceral. And speaking of viscera, the gore is absolutely top notch, easily trumping Savini's celebrated work on the original.

Finally, Robin Coudert's throbbing, menacing score is a nostalgic throwback that struck a chord with me on a deeper level than most other '80s tribute scores, especially this collaboration with Chloë Alper that I couldn't get out of my head for weeks after seeing it. I still listen to this track all the time.




Don’t wanna fall apart again. 
Count to three.
We're gonna jump after three, 
you mean that much to me.

Can’t you see? 
Nobody likes you but me. 
Finally, someone who understands. 
Now you want to stay
I won't be a fool again.
I'm not made that way

Can't you see? 
Nobody out here but me. 
The other side of town 
And now you want to stay, 
I won't be a fool again. 
We're all made this way.

I can see,
your head is stuck in the tree 
and sure you'll never leave in times of emergency 
When you walked away, 
You took all I had left to me 
All of everything 

Falling apart again 
Falling apart again 
Don't wanna fall apart again. 

Don't make me fall apart again
Don't make me fall apart again
Don't make me fall apart again
Don't make me fall apart again.


Friday, 26 September 2014

WARMOUTH




Under Tony Abbott's far-right government Islamophobia in Australia seems to be ramping up to unprecedented levels of hysteria, thanks to its racist policies and an ongoing campaign of fear-mongering propaganda. On September 18 a massive "anti-terror" raid, involving no less than 800 heavily armed cops, was mounted across two states. The entire operation resulted in a single man being charged. It mirrors recent events in the US that highlight a disturbing heavy-handedness and over-militarisation of our police forces.

To clarify my position, I'm an atheist but I respect the right to peaceful religious belief and practice. However, as with most reasonable people, I hold all forms of religious zealotry in an equal measure of disdain. But with the kind of xenophobia that Australia is becoming known for, criticism is never restricted to being directed at religious fanaticism alone. It always seems to bleed over into rabid hatred based on little more than cultural and racial differences.

So in the spirit of saying FUCK YOU to white Australian bigotry, and showing some solidarity with our closest neighbours, here's another banging demo from Indonesia, this time from Yogyakarta's Warmouth.

Two tracks of gnarly, neck-snapping, grinding hardcore. Rad vocals with a heavy as fuck and totally damaging guitar tone. Get pissed. Bandcamp link below.




Wednesday, 24 September 2014

BLUE RUIN




Jeremy Saulnier's debut feature Murder Party made an impression on me when I saw it a few years ago. I've still only seen it once, but I remember it as an oddball little indie horror flick with a sharp script, interesting characters and a mischievous anarchic streak. It's exactly the kind of rough around the edges, no-budget first effort that makes you sit up and take notice of a new director as being one to watch. 

Cut to seven years later and Saulnier's sophomore feature Blue Ruin. The leap in maturity and quality between the two movies is staggering. It's not just a case of an increase in production values due to a bigger budget, it's obvious that Saulnier has grown as a filmmaker in leaps and bounds. Honestly it feels like there should be a whole filmography dividing these two films (and in a way there is, as he served as DOP on no less than seven features in the interim).

Blue Ruin is my latest foray into a sub-genre that I love, albeit one that I don't really have a name for. Southern thrillers? It's a sub-genre that I can trace back to the Coen's Blood Simple, although I'm sure that movie has its antecedents that I'm not aware of. This year has been a notable one for movies in this vein with Jim Mickle's excellent Cold in July (the first of Mickle's movies that I've really connected with) and David Gordon Green's masterpiece Joe (seriously if you haven't seen Joe, drop what you're doing, and go watch it NOW). Both of those films deserve their own write-ups and I hope to get to that at some point.




The way that Blue Ruin's story unfolds in the first act relies heavily on visual storytelling to introduce you to its central character, Dwight. When we first meet him he's a homeless loner living out of his car, and it takes a while to understand how and why he arrived at this low point. One thing is obvious - his life has stalled, and he seems to be living in a kind of self imposed limbo. Then, out of the blue, something happens that wakes him out of this stupor and gives him purpose again. Something that propels him forward with such powerful determination that he seems unable to stop his forward momentum, even as things begin to spin out of control.

Honestly, that's as far as I want to go with a synopsis, because one of this film's pleasures is in the way that the story is gradually revealed. It's no spoiler to say that Blue Ruin is a revenge flick, as that's touted pretty heavily in the film's marketing, but one of the things that makes it stand out in the genre is that Dwight is no archetypal revenge protagonist/antihero. There's no macho posturing, no ninja-level weapons and martial arts skills, no quipping swagger to this character. This man is damaged, unconfident, introverted and constantly terrified. As such, you can't help but fall in love with and root for the character, especially given the terrible adversity he faces in the course of the story.

Right across the board there's so much to love in Blue Ruin. The actors are all excellent, feeding off of Saulnier's killer script, the standout being Macon Blair whose understated performance as Dwight brings so much to a character who is a man of few words. The film is beautifully shot in rural locations throughout Virginia and just drips with backwoods atmosphere. And finally, the sometimes languid pacing is often punctuated by some really fist-pumping violence, a couple of times resulting in some perfectly executed gore that, in the service of such a genuinely emotional story, has a powerful impact. Highly recommended.