Bio: Travis grew up on the west coast of South Australia and has been interested in film since seeing Jurassic Park and Predator for the first time in the mid-nineties. Particularly fond of the action and thriller genres, he met his long-time idol, Jean Claude Van Damme, in 2016, talking with 'the muscles from Brussels' about his upcoming films and the hurdles he has faced in the entertainment industry. Some of his favourite films include Jurassic Park, The Salton Sea, Apt Pupil and Any Given Sunday. Travis loves the way a film can make people feel such a diverse range of emotions, from excitement and happiness to fear and sadness. He believes that creativity is what helps the world evolve and that the arts, is the centre of creativity.
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A letter to the President is a film that follows the story of Soraya (Leena Alam) whom is the head of the Kabul Crime Division. She is called to an incident where she is forced to protect a young woman by arresting her. Others are unhappy with Soraya’s decision and it begins to adversely affect her personal life in which she already suffers abuse from her violent husband (Mahmoud Aryoubi). Then,following an incident caused by colleague Behzad (Aziz Deldar), her husband attack sher and she accidentally kills her while defending herself, she is then herself arrested and sentenced to death. Soraya then writes a letter to the president(Mamnoun Maqsoudi) to contest her penalty and claim her innocence.
Leena Alam portrays Soraya perfectly. In her performance she displays passion and intensity but also vulnerability. It is easy to see the pressure that her work puts on her. Her want to do the right thing but the frustration of the fact that she is in a male dominated space where women’s opinions and expertise are not valued. Socially, she experiences the same things, a lack of respect from her husband, her father in law and his business partners, and her distaste for this shows.
Aziz Deldar, whom also wrote the film, performs his role admirably, his actions which ultimately resulted in the arrest of Soraya are something that clearly bothers him. He is able to show regret, while also trying to help Soraya once she has been detained. Sorayas father in law, played by Asad-Ullah Tajzai is also worth noting. He is an evil man with connections to corrupt politicians and law men. He is partly the reason Soraya was sentenced to death in the first place. He gives a chilling performance and is very scary.
The president, played by Mamnoun Maqsoudi is also a great performance. The film transpires as he reads the letter, well, more of a novel,flicking back to the presidential office from time to time. He struggles to come to terms with what he is reading and ordering a stay of execution becomes of the decision he must make. Luckily his wife is there to help him through it –Zareen Nory is the first lady and she plays the role brilliantly. Her demeanour and advice also keep the president calm and helps him with his decision. It was a pivotal role and Zareen played it well.
A Letter to the President is well directed by Roya Sadat. The film is a testament to her ability to make a story resonate with social issues and also keep an audience entertained. The film is classified as a drama, but could also count as a thriller due to the intense nature and theme of it. What helps it along is the structure of the film, cutting back to the president’s office as he reads the letter helps split the film up, if it weren’t for those scenes, the film would have dragged on a bit. It also helped raise the tension, with a decision on whether to stay Soraya’s execution the stress levels in the office are evident.The film is Afghanistan’s official submission for the ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ at the academy awards in 2018. I have not watched too many other foreign films – but I think this one has a shot.
Director: Roya Sadit
Cast: Mamoun Maqsoudi, Zareen Nory, Leena Alam
Every now and then a film comes along that, for you, will never become irrelevant. The themes that it carries, the messages it sends, the honesty and compassion it expresses just align with what you feel and who you are.
For me, Samson and Delilah is one of those films. I’ve only seen it the one time, ten years after its release and it is now one of the most important films that I have ever seen.
The film revolves around two Aboriginal youths, following them from their tiny outback community to their travel to the closest regional hub and then back out bush. The trials in tribulations that the pair face on their travels are not uncommon and I have read about them myself, I have seen them myself and I have even been victim to them myself.
I have been followed around stores; I remember one occasion in K-Mart in which a young man followed me everywhere I went to the point I asked him if he needed a hand. He panicked and walked away silently. It’s an embarrassing feeling that messes with your self-esteem and ironically enough I was actually a department manager at the Coles next door at the time. I have experienced racism, at work – from customers and co-workers, at school, in social settings and more. Samson and Delilah brought all of that up for me. I connected to the film on so many levels.
The community in which Samson and Delilah reside is such a brutally honest place. It reminds me of spending time in Yalata with my father, a remote place. It had one tiny store. I met an older Aboriginal man, a friend of my father, he lived in an old caravan and it was nearly about ready to collapse. 30 degrees must have felt like 50 for him on a hot day. It also brought up a few years ago when the Tony Abbott and the government started to force the closure of Aboriginal communities. The same once they forced them onto decades earlier and then have the nerve to say it’s a “lifestyle choice” – I wonder if Abbott would say the same thing to farmers affected by drought.
In the film, Delilah is taken from the street – kidnapped – most likely sexually abused and beaten. It reminds me of Tiahleigh Palmer, who was sexually abused by her foster brother and killed by her foster father. Her foster father, Rick Thorburn, was a man with a criminal record that spanned across two decades and he was still allowed to become the foster carer of Tiahleigh, a 14 year old Aboriginal girl. The film brings to mind the killing of Kwementyaye Ryder in Alice Springs. In this incident, a car load of five young white males drove around an area were Aboriginal people were camped, they drove right up to them, nearly hitting them. When Kwementyaye threw a bottle at the car that was driving straight at him at a high speed, the car stopped, the men jumped out of the car and beat him to death.
Delilah is also hit by a car in the film and while the circumstances are not the same it brings back memories of hearing about the death of young Elijah Doughty after he was run over by a land cruiser and killed. The driver of the vehicle was purposefully chasing Elijah because he thought he was riding his stolen motorcycle, instead of letting the police do their jobs, the man took the law into his own hands. The incident resulted in a riot in the main street of Kalgoorlie. This issue struck home for me because my mob are from that area. I lived there when I was 18 to work with my father whom had returned to country and still have two brothers among other family still living there.
Samson and Delilah have barely any dialogue in the film. Director Warwick Thornton said during the Q and A that this was intentional. Because we as Aboriginal people don’t have a voice. This action by Warwick Thornton could not be more relevant as it is today. The Uluru Statement from the Heart called for a First Nation Voice to be established in the constitution as well as a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement making and truth telling between the government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This request has been completely ignored and instead we have been handed a “special envoy for Indigenous affairs” in the form of Tony Abbott – of all people. Another example is the absence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices on TV – in particular breakfast television, and to be even more specific – Sunrise. The Channel 7 morning breakfast show that ignored facts and reality to tell blatant lies about Indigenous children and the processes regarding them when being taken from family.
There are more examples in the film such as the extortion of Aboriginal art work and the lack of services available in the community and homelessness. These themes and issues are still as big of a problem in 2018 as they were back in 2008 when the film was released. It was relevant in 1998, 1988, 1978 and will be relevant in 2028 – such is the political climate in Australia. The themes in the film, and the film itself are sadly timeless.
During the screening I heard gasps and crying and I just wonder if the people that the film upset so much realise how brutally honest the film is. The film truly is heart breaking, I went in thinking it was purely a love story, but I was so wrong. While yes, it is a love story it is also a story of struggle, commitment and survival.
The relationship that slowly develops between Samson, played by Rowan McNamara and Delilah, played by Marissa Gibson blossoms perfectly. They are just two kids who learn the be there for each other, but there not perfect. Their performances are though. They are both amazing in their roles. As is Scott Thornton as Gonzo, a homeless Aboriginal man that they befriend for a short time.
Writer, Director and Cinematographer Warwick Thornton has done a truly amazing job with this film. He has really put a lot of thought into it and produced a perfectly structured social commentary that is going to reflect Aboriginal lives for a long time to come.
Cast: Rowan McNamara, MarissaGibson, Scott Thornton
Writer: Warwick Thornton
In 2014 Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook was released. The ultra-creepy Australian film was her first feature and it was the highest of quality. The film won a host of awards as did the director. It’s a hard film for any director to follow up. Bring on October 2018 and Jennifer’s second feature film The Nightingale has just had its Australian Premiere at the Adelaide Film Festival.
Set in the early 1800’s the film centres on Clare, a young Irish convict whom is waiting on her freedom from a British officer, Hawkins, so her and her husband Aidan and their son can finally put the past behind them and move on with their lives. The British officer that can grant Clare her freedom is obsessed with her beauty. This causes tension between the young Irish family, and after an extremely violent confrontation Clare is left for dead. Upon coming to terms with the events, a recovered Clare hires a young Aboriginal tracker, Billy, whom has a tragic past of his own, to help her track down those that harmed her.
Clare is portrayed by Aisling Franciosi and she is great in the role. Her character transforms from confident, independent convict on the way to freedom to a completely broken, yet determined woman and Aisling displays this perfectly. Whether it’s confidently standing up for herself against a group of drunk soldiers or breaking down in tears on the forest floor, Aisling does it all. She displays anger, compassion, and empathy and really makes the performance her own.
Aiden is played by Michael Sheasby who is stellar. He is absolutely determined to free his wife from the clutches of the British officer Hawkins and his frustration and torture shows. At the same time he is able to believably show his love for his family.
Baykali Ganambarr is Billy. He is a force. His performance is great, and it earned him the Marcello Mastroianni Award for best young actor/actress at the Venice Film Festival. Billy is also broken, he was stolen from his family to be treated like a dog. His distrust for Clare shows but his commitment to his word is also prevalent to him. Clare and Billy share a very complicated relationship. Two people that, essentially, hate each other are forced to work together but it is not always like this. As Clare and Billy venture further into the wilderness to get their targets their relationship deepens. A trust begins to form, and the pair are able to bond over their tragic experiences. It is a joy to watch the characters develop together, to begin to care for one another when caring for nothing in the beginning.
Sam Claflin plays British officer Hawkins and he is a great villain. He is a complete menace, not only to Clare but to his own regiment. Determined to be promoted he will stop at almost nothing to get what he wants. Long time character actor Damon Herriman is also a part of the fray as British officer Ruse. He is also a tormentor of Clare’s and he also make for a great villain. He is a complete psychopath and yet, also a complete coward when it comes to Hawkins.
The violence in the film is a is something that will leave viewers stunned. During the premiere many people were in complete shock over what they saw, me included at times. But realistically, the only real reason it is an issue is because it is an Australian film – we are not used to seeing such shocking scenes thrust upon us in Australian movies. The film is not shy on bringing in historically accurate content either – Aboriginal people chained, massacred and decapitated is displayed on screen and while people were again shocked at these scenes, if they read a bit more about Australia’s shocking treatment of Aboriginal people during colonial times (not that it’s all better now), they would be even more so. No stone is left unturned though, every demographic is affected by violence here – take that as a warning if you have a weak stomach.
It really is an exciting time for Australian cinema – with more and more risky films being made. Not long ago you would be hard pressed to find a film that demonstrates what colonisation did to Aboriginal people, but in the last few years several have been released.
The cinematography is also beautiful. Shot in Tasmania you couldn’t ask for more beautiful scenery. Radek Ladczuk, who also did the cinematography on The Babadook has done an absolutely phenomenal job here. Writer/director Jennifer Kent has put together an amazing film. A tale of not only revenge, but also healing and it is absolutely beautiful to watch. With her ability to be completely uncompromising in what she wants to portray I really look forward to her next entry. May it be bigger and bolder.
Director: Jennifer Kent
Cast: Aisling Franciosi, Baykali Ganambarr, Sam Claflin
Writer: Jennifer Kent
In Like Flynn, the latest offering from iconic Australian director Russel Mulcahy is a bumpy ride. Mulcahy, whose credits include Razorback, Highlander, Resident Evil: Extinction, the underrated Give ‘em Hell Malone among a host of music videos and other feature films gives it his best, but never really gets the film off the ground.
Based on his adventures before his rise to superstardom, Flynn (Thomas Cocquerel) starts off in Papua New Guinea as a fearless guide for two American film producers (Dan Fogler and B-grade movie icon Lachlan Munro) who are looking to film some stock footage of an indigenous tribe. The opening sequence is very Indiana Jones like and is a lot of fun, although quite violent. It was surprising to say the least. From there Flynn, heads back to the mainland and finds himself on the run from two groups of gangsters. He escapes with friends Dook (William Mosely) and Rex (Corey Large – also the films co-screenwriter) along with new acquaintance Charlie (Clive Standon). The group navigate the eastern coast of Australia in a yacht that may or may not be stolen on the way back to Papua New Guinea – and hopefully gold.
Cocquerel is absolutely fantastic as Flynn, he is charismatic, bold, tough and has a bright future. His efforts in the opening scene in Papua New Guinea reminded me of Indiana Jones, and it had me excited for the rest of the film. William Mosely is also in top form as Dook, a crack shot with the pistol and a level head. Corey Large also puts in a competent performance as a seasoned boxer. Unfortunately, Clive Standon, playing an unenthused drunk, puts in about as much effort as one. His performance is boring, and at times he is a dead ringer for Dominic Purcell.
In Like Flynn also stars a host of home grown talent including David Wenham (Three Dollars), Nathalie Kelley (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift), Isabel Lucas (Daybreakers), Nathan Jones (Troy), Callan Mulvey (The Hunter), Costas Mandylor (Virtuosity) and Andy McPhee (The Condemned). As you can see, the casting agency certainly went all out with its casting and tries to do the same with its production.
While the film is quite exciting in the beginning – bar fights, brawls, poker and adventure – it sadly fizzles out about half way through when the crew gets out to sea. The pacing changes, the dialogue changes, and it becomes quite the bore. A quick stop in at Townsville brings a bit of fun back into it, but David Wenham’s slimy character puts an abrupt end to it. From there the seafaring continues until its tragic and sudden ending.
In Like Flynn starts, promising a good time and a grand adventure, however with the off pacing it almost feels like a large scale TV show or mini-series. To be honest I think the biopic should have been a mini-series as it tries to fit in too much, more than it can handle. It also should have expanded on the time in Papua New Guinea and Townsville, where it let a lot of fun and interesting characters come and go without enough attention, choosing to spend too much time on the ocean with only the four main characters. While they’re all interesting in their own right, aside from Errol, they do not have enough presence to warrant the amount of screen time they get, which is where I found it got overly boring.
In Like Flynn is not a terrible film but it’s also not a good film, it is one of those stuck in between ones where you watch it and keep on moving without really thinking too much about it.
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Cast: Thomas Cocquerel, William Mosley, Corey Large
Writer: Corey Large, Marc Furmie, Steve M. Albert, based on the life of Errol Flynn
I don’t like Coen brothers’ films. I did not like Fargo, I hated The Big Lebowski (yea that’s right, I said it, dude), I was not a fan of O Brother, Where art Thou? The Ladykillers was a complete bore. No Country for Old Men bucked the trend until the very end, where…there was no end, Tommy Lee rocks up to a dead Llewelyn and a whole lot of questions. But then I saw the trailer for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, I saw the amazing actors involved, most of all being Tim Blake Nelson, whom never fails to impress, and I thought, this time, this time will be different. Without looking into it any further, I made sure I got to see it – and like a pokies addict who always thinks the next spin will be the jackpot, I was let down again.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is the Coen Brothers 18th film and is a Western anthology film, with six chapters exploring different perspectives of the American frontier.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is the first segment, it is a fantastic short film. It is completely sidesplitting – the whole theatre was laughing almost the whole way through. The set pieces were great, the supporting cast was eccentric, and Tim Blake Nelson was absolutely fantastic. It follows Buster on his journey through out the old west, singing and gun slinging until his own demise may come along.
The next segment was Near Algondones. James Franco stars as a bank robber intent on getting away with the cash. Standing in his way is an odd bank teller. The teller is played to perfection by Stephen Root, he is completely and utterly hilarious – it is a performance that will probably not garner as much recognition as it should. Franco also gives a decent performance but Root is the real shining light of the segment and once his screen time is over there simply isn’t too much too like about the segment – aside from a hungry horse.
Near Algondones is followed by Meal Ticket. This is by far the worst of the segments and sitting through it – keep in mind it was only 15-20 minutes – was agony. Liam Neeson plays a nomadic showman whose only exhibit comes in the form of an armless/legless artist played by Harry Melling. Neeson character sets up the show, Melling’s character sits on a chair and recites versus of Shakespeare and the bible (I think). It is a truly depressing and boring story and by the end of it, I was ready to walk out of the cinema. Again though, the performances are great.
Then All Gold Canyon comes on and is a delightful change of pace. It stars Tom Waits as a gold prospector who happens upon an absolutely stunning location. After scaring all of the animals away he finds a few shards of gold in the creek and knows, just knows that there is a gold vein somewhere. The beautiful canyon is the real star of this segment but Tom Waits is a very close runner up. He puts in a great performance amid the great scenery, and while he is one of only two characters in the segment, that is enough.
The Gal Who Got Rattled stars Zoe Kazan as Alice, whom is travelling to Oregan with her brother, who may be planning on having her married. He passes away during the trip and she is subsequently wooed by Mr. Knapp, played by Bill Heck. Both give great performances and make this short story pleasant to watch. While not much happens, the story could easily be expanded into a feature film.
The last chapter is The Mortal Remains. It is a very gruelling experience and is filmed almost entirely inside of a carriage. With a number of different characters travelling together – two bounty hunters, a woman travelling to reunite with her husband and a Frenchman. Brendan Gleeson is great as always as one of the bounty hunters, Tyne Daly, as the woman is also great, and Saul Rubinek as the Frenchman is enigmatic. Aside from the performances, there are no positives. It is a short film that feels like it goes for far longer than it should. There is a whole lot of talking, and arguing with nothing really being said or solved. If you make it past The Gal Who Got Rattled when you watch when it releases on Netflix, skip to the end.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is not your average movie, but no Coen brothers’ movie is your average movie though is it? If you are determined to watch it, do so knowing that is it is a bunch of chapters, because thinking that it is just one film is a major let down. I was not prepared in the slightest which also brought my experience watching this film down. Maybe had I been a little more aware of what I was walking into, I would have enjoyed it a bit more. I enjoyed the segments The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and All Gold Canyon and was not unimpressed with The Gal Who Got Rattled. I got through Near Algondones unscathed, but Meal Ticket and The Mortal Remains were two of the worst things I’ve watched in the cinema. If it weren’t for the all-round great performances the Coen’s managed to get from all of their stars I would probably give this effort a 2 out of 5 for the amount of segments I really enjoyed, but because of their skilled leadership The Ballad of Buster Scruggs garners a 3.5 out of 5.
Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson
In November of 2008, four terrorists entered the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, India. They began to massacre everyone they came across. Without going into too much detail, the siege lasted over 60 hours leaving many dead and injured. First time feature filmmaker Anthony Maras brings this story to life in Hotel Mumbai.
Hotel Mumbai stars Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Nazanin Boniadi, Jason Isaacs and Anupam Kher. Dev is Arjun, a waiter at the hotel. His performance is absolutely. The emotion he is able to bring to this role is perfect. One scene in particular has Arjun trying to comfort an older guest, a really beautiful moment. He is easily one of the best actors under 30 working today, and will no doubt be an Oscar winner in the future.
Armie Hammer is almost equally as good as American tourist David, with his desperation to get to his baby son Nathan particularly telling. He leaves the tough man act at home too, which is great, his acting chops are on display and he does not disappoint anywhere. Nazanin plays Zahra, David’s wife and the mother of their son. She is amazing in the role, managing to display the desperation she has to get to her son and husband amidst the tragedy, once he leaves her side to find the boy. Cobham-Hervey plays Sally, an Australian nanny who is charged with looking after baby Nathan in their hotel room while David and Zahra are downstairs at dinner. Tilda shines in this role, and I would expect that it will bring her further success in the film industry. Her ability to show fear and courage at the same time was beautiful to watch.
Jason Isaacs is also great as a Russian, ex-military man. While there are no heroics for his experienced character his relaxed persona releases a bit of tension for the audience. While Anupam Kher does not have a large role, it is a mightily important one. I thought his role as Hemant Oberoi, the head chef of the Taj Hotel really deserves a mention, not just because of a great performance but because of the actions the man (in the film and real life) takes to ensure the safety of the guests. The real Chef Oberoi attended the films premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival to which he received a standing ovation once pointed out by director Anthony Maras.
The film not only follows the lives of the hostages, but it also gives an appropriate amount of screen time and attention to the terrorists. While all four actors are great in their roles, the unusual amount of humanization that is given to them is pivotal. They share jokes, tears and worries together. While none of what they have done is acceptable, understanding why they are doing it gives the film a real sense of honesty and almost appreciation for what desperation can make someone do. Whether it be a heroic action, or a far more sinister one.
The film’s screen writers (John Collee and Anthony Maras) went to extreme lengths researching the attack – from reviewing all news footage and reading not only court transcripts but transcripts between phone calls made between the terrorists and their boss. One scene in particular, in which a woman is praying in the face of death is absolutely mesmerizing, but also completely true. The script is damn near perfect. Maras, also directs the film with such tension that I literally could not take my eyes off the screen but also at times, could not bear to watch. Maras made me feel for and care for the characters, I wanted them all to survive. To see such a random group of characters care and support each other really is a beautiful thing and Maras gets the actors to portray there courage and resilience perfectly.
Hotel Mumbai engages you from the very beginning and keeps your attention until the very end. Hotel Mumbai is an easy 5 star film.
Director: Anthony Maras
Cast: Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Tilda Cobham-Hervey
Writers: John Collee, Anthony Maras
The Australian film industry is one that produces some extremely fine films. The Castle, Rabbit Proof Fence, The Babadook, and more recently, Sweet Country. They’re all fine films. We make low-key dramas, comedies, the odd frontier western, and the occasional thriller. But when it comes to the action genre, Australia’s film is found lacking. American blockbusters escalatete the genre further each year. How many more bullets? How many more explosions? Can we go bigger and more bad ass? More, More, More. And more. Australia houses some of the best post-production facilities in the world. They have worked on massive American films – The Matrix, Tomb Raider (2018), Thor: Ragnarok, Prometheus, The Last Samurai, and Blood Diamond – the list goes on and on. So why, (with the exception of Mad Max), do Australian action films pale in comparison to American films? Is it the locations? – Definitely not; Australia is a beautiful and diverse place. Is it the quality of actors? No way; we have exported loads of talent, won many awards, and even home grown films have garnered international attention (Lion, The Great Gatsby). I think that the only issue that Australian cinema has with action films, is the desire or support is not there, which is a shame.
Enter Luke Sparke.
Luke has held various jobs in the film industry – from military advisor to props assistant, to screenwriter/director. In 2016 Luke released the film Red Billabong. It was not a great film, but it challenged almost everything I knew about Australian cinema. It had CGI, explosions and machine guns. The issue with the film was that it really was not paced that well – it went from comedy, to action, to horror and back again, never fully blending genres coherently. But it was a start. It was an attempt at something different – and it’s about bloody time.
In 2018, Luke released alien invasion film – Occupation – and is a mix of 2008 film Defiance and Tomorrow, When the War Began. Sparke wrote the questionable script and teamed up again with Red Billabong lead Dan Ewing. This was a mistake. Dan Ewing is no action hero. Ewing plays Matt, a rebel leader, and puts on the best Christian-Bale-Terminator-Salvation-Deep-Voice he can. His performance though is extremely ordinary, which is not entirely his fault given the badly written character he’s playing. In turn, this makes his line delivery absolutely cringe worthy.
Charles Terrier plays Jackson, an opposing rebel leader. Between Matt and Jackson, there is not one ounce of leadership ability. No qualities that would suggest anybody would follow them into battle and think ‘I will do what this guy says in a crisis’. Temuera Morrison is along for the ride as Peter, but he does not put in a lot of effort in this film – his character again, is poorly written and lacks any kind of leadership (not that his character actually wants to lead). The only two decent and likeable characters in the film are Vanessa, played by Rhiannon Fish and Amelia, played by Stephany Jacobson. These two characters are the only ones that display any sort of quality, but they are sadly given a back seat to the male ‘heroes’ – that is, until the end when Amelia makes her way to the front lines. Here she is able to assist the military in their plans to “save the world” by taking on an alien commander (Bruce Spence).
Similar to Red Billabong, Occupation is all over the place. At the beginning, during the initial attack, the Air Force respond with only a few planes, then nothing. There’s no more military at all until the very end of the film. Then, when the military launches one final attack, the aliens find their ‘secret location’ and stage a counterattack. An officer says “they’ve found us” like it is a complete surprise – despite at over fifty helicopters taking off from the location! And please don’t ask me how the location was kept secret in the first place.
Some of the characters show common sense, but again, Sparke’s script is lacking in character development. One of the main issues is that Occupation tries to focus on far too many characters. A film like Oscar winner Crash, can afford to do this. It’s so perfectly written and the characters are all so perfectly linked that it works sublimely. Plus, it’s a drama, no hectic action sequences to take screen time away from character development. In Occupation, aside from Amelia and Vanessa, Sparke never gives us a reason to care for the characters, never allowing enough time to develop the characters outside of the action. However, the massive positive of the film was the set design and the costume design. The aliens looked great in their armour, their faces were a little stiff and unrealistic but still pretty good. The CGI was good, better than in Red Billabong and the cinematography was decent. Either way, it’s fantastic to see some Australian action films. Occupation is an A-grade attempt at an action sci-fi film, unfortunately only reaching a B-grade result. It must have been successful overseas though because (and oddly considering the ending of the first one) a sequel is in the works starring Community and The Hangover’s Ken Jeong. Much like an occupying Alien force, Luke Sparke is occupying the Australian film industry and looks set to stay. With some more experience and a better script, he could do great things. I strangely look forward to Occupation 2: Rainfall.
Director: Luke Sparke
Cast: Dan Ewing, Temeura Morrison, Stephany Jacobson
Writer: Luke Sparke, (additional dialogue from) Felix Williamson
Pickup Occupation via Amazon here.
The Predator, written and directed by (the usually unbelievably talented) Shane Black (Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, The Nice Guys) is a complete shambles. In fact, so much so that I sat in the cinema until the credits finished rolling wondering what the hell I had just watched. Another group of lads also stayed and were still in their seats when I left. I can only assume they were in mourning.
The film is based around a Predator that has gone rogue from his species. The opening scene consists of his spaceship dodging laser bullets from another, larger spaceship before jumping into hyper drive and getting out of there as quickly as possible. Upon arriving in Earth’s atmosphere, the ship collides with a satellite before crashing. The Predator is then taken captive, only to escape later and go on the look out for some of his tech that was stolen by a soldier named McKenna.
Boyd Holbrook stars as Quinn McKenna, an army ranger sniper who is on mission when the alien space ship coincidentally crash lands almost right on top of him. He has a quick encounter with The Predator before pinching some of the alien’s tech for proof of his encounter. He mails the tech to his wife’s (Yvonne Strahovski) house, but his young autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), whom is home alone, receives the package and opens it up immediately. Rory’s autism coincidentally allows him to instantly understand the alien technology.
Sterling K. Brown is along for the ride as Traeger, the leader of a military unit dedicated to studying the Predator species. Traeger is a ruthless man and kills pretty much everyone who gets in his way. Olivia Munn also gets involved as Casey Bracket – a scientist that Traeger brings in to study the extra-terrestrial. Coincidentally, when things get sticky, Casey is also a weapons expert and endurance athlete. Trevante Rhodes, Thomas Jane, Keegan-Michael Key, Alfie Allen and Augusto Aguilera all star as the ‘loonies’. A group of combat vets that McKenna ends up with.
To start with the good – the loonies, Thomas Jane especially, are the only reason to go and watch this film, they are absolutely hilarious. Holbrook does what he can with the b-grade script but given the loonies were given all the juicy humour, there is nothing for him to really sink his teeth into.
Munn, whom is normally great, is a bore – her character is also poorly written and completely unbelievable. It makes no sense that she is a scientist that, as soon as the proverbial shit hits the fan, knows how to use any and every weapon that falls in front of her – alien tech included. In another sequence, she is left behind as a craft flies at least 5km or more away but as soon as the craft crashes back to the forest floor – she has somehow kept up and is waiting below. Sterling K. Brown is also a bore, his character just laughs his way through every incident with McKenna and encounter with the Predator – he’s confident if nothing else though.
The film has plenty of action, there is no denying that. Sadly the bad of it is that most of it is McKenna and his guys fighting amongst themselves or against Traeger and his guys. The Predator is almost an afterthought in the film with very little use of heat vision and almost no use of the invisibility cloak, and almost no hunting. McKenna, Traeger and an ultimate Predator spend more time tracking the Predator than the Predator does doing any hunting. It was quite dissatisfying.
The ugly mutha of it is that any hunting by a Predator is done in the last 15 minutes of the film – where he uses a translator to speak English and tell McKenna and Traeger that they have a 7 minute “time advantage” before he will begin to hunt them. It was still rather boring, as almost every death was predictable – even if they were gory.
Another terrible scene was the sequence featuring the Predator dogs. One is killed instantly and the other is injured straight away also. Once injured it seems to drop all of its aggression and fighting instincts and starts to play fetch on command like it had been doing it for years. It was completely ridiculous.
Major Spoiler ahead…
We later find out that the reason the Predator went rogue and risked his life to get to earth was to – give us technology that will save us from future Predator attacks. He spent his first 5 minutes on Earth slaying humans and another 10 minutes killing scientists and soldiers in a laboratory to then give us tech that can save us from Predators. It is actually as stupid as it sounds.
A while back, after the first trailer for The Predator was released, I tweeted director Shane Black to say I wasn’t too impressed, but I trusted the impressive Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang director to kill it – and indeed he did. He killed it. He killed the franchise so badly that I will probably not waste another bit of my well-earned salary on another Predator movie ever again.
Director: Shane Black
Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown
Writer: Fred Dekker, Shane Black (Based on characters by John Thomas and Jim Thomas)
In the mid 1990’s I spent the weekend at my dad’s house. I can’t remember the exact year, I can’t remember my exact age – probably a little too young – but one thing I do remember is Bill Duke’s head getting splattered all over the screen. Carl Weathers arm getting blown off. Jesse Ventura speaking but not understanding a word – what the hell is an Alabama tick? Arnie backing up to the roots covered in mud. And the Predator! I surely remember that ugly mutha. My dad wasn’t the strictest guy around. He’d let me wander over to the supermarket by myself and book up whatever I wanted. I went to the pub to play two-up (thanks for the radio, bartender), and he even once paid me $20 an hour to be quiet while he was having some drinks with mates – I was pretty happy to walk away over $100 dollars richer – and he let me watch all the movies I wanted.
Or didn’t want. I really wasn’t too keen on Candyman back then. Actually, the one movie he didn’t let me watch, was Jurassic Park. I’d seen it at least 5 times by then and he was really sick of it. But then I started crying in the middle of the video shop – so he got it for me. It’s where I get my love of movies. Action in particular – I always watched action movies with my old man, he’s gone now, and sitting down and watching and old school action movie reminds me of him. Predator is the first action movie I remember watching – so in anticipation of “Shane Black’s The Predator” – I have decided to revisit the film that started it all – and its current sequels.
Directed by John McTiernan (Die Hard), Predator was released in 1987 starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as Dutch, Carl Weathers as Dillon, Bill Duke as Mac, Jesse Ventura as Blain and ironically Shane Black as Hawkins. Kevin Peter Hall, after taking over from Jean Claude Van Damme, stars as the Predator.
The film is about a team of Commandos – led by Dutch – that are given a mission by CIA agent Dillon to retrieve hostages from the Central American jungle, but instead find themselves hunted by an extra-terrestrial warrior. The premise for the film is simple. So simple. Nowadays there’s so many complicated twists and turns in action movies you can’t keep up and by the time you find out who the bad guy is you really don’t care any way. Gone are the days where Commandos just blow shit up and maybe think about asking questions later. Movies like the 1999 Cuba Gooding Jr. and Skeet Ulrich starrer Chill Factor and the 1998 Morgan Freeman and Christian Slater vehicle Hard Rain marked the end of such films – for me at least. I’m not saying at all that I don’t like The Bourne Identity – but after that film, action movies were changed forever. Just like super hero films after Batman Begins.
The performances in Predator were great. Arnold, as always, is on point and got the best one liners – from “stick around” right after nailing a guy to a timber post with a huge knife to the extremely famous line “if it bleeds, we can kill it”. There’s also a great moment when Dutch first see’s old friend Dillon and they shake hands for the first time. The old who-can-grip-who-tighter-and-for-how-long game reveals two massive biceps, of course Arnie’s is bigger and wins the contest. From that moment on the testosterone levels run high, fuelling the non-stop action. Carl Weathers as Dillon is also great. Given the shape Weathers is in it is almost hard to imagine that not even ten years after Predator, Weathers plays and old man in Happy Gilmore. Overall, this is a perfectly cast film.
Director John McTiernan outdoes himself here. Predator is the pinnacle of late 80’s/early 90’s action. It didn’t become the pinnacle by accident though, McTiernan’s skilled direction helped make it happen. The scene where Arnie falls down the waterfall, surfaces and then covers himself with mud is as amazing as it is iconic. As is the moment where Arnie is silently lying in the trees, waiting for the predator fall into his trap, only to have the alien crawl right over top of him is equally great. McTiernan manages to build up tension almost from beginning to end, with the moment the team discovers Hopper and his teams bodies creating a mood that sets the characters on edge.
The next part of the film that is amazing is the location. The jungle is the perfect location for this film. It looks hot, miserable, thick, and horrid. Trekking through the jungle in intense heat, holding big guns, and lugging heavy back packs around is bad enough. But when you then have to defend yourself against an invisible enemy in a thick jungle – things can get really bad.
The Predator does not let up, not once. This is a perfect example of fast paced science fiction action. If you like action movies, you’ll love Predator. It’s as simple as that.
Director: John McTiernan
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke
Writers: Jim Thomas, John Thomas
Predator 2, however, takes a different path. Directed by Stephen Hopkins (The Ghost and the Darkness, The Reaping and Lost in Space) and starring Danny Glover (we all know who he is) Predator 2 was released in 1990, and oddly set in 1997 in gang war-torn Los Angeles.
Danny Glover plays Lt. Mike Harrigan, a cop in one of the roughest parts of Los Angeles. His team is made up of three others – Leona (Maria Conchito Alonso), Danny (Ruben Blades), and fast-talking young gun Jerry (an entertaining Bill Paxton). Harrigan and his team are out every day fighting the gangs, but they start to notice that the gang members are beginning to wind up dead in some extremely uncivilized ways. While at first appearing to be a new rival gang, Harrigan quickly realises that something else is on the loose after his team starts to get picked off. Rather than sit back and wait for his entire team to fall, Harrigan picks himself up and takes the fight to what he soon finds out to be an extra-terrestrial. A Predator. Enter F.B.I. Agent Peter Keyes (Gary Busey) and a huge showdown gets underway.
Danny Glover manages the role quite well, he’s clearly not too old for this shit – whoops, wrong franchise. He plays Harrigan with ease. As we all know, hot weather can bring out a bit of craziness and this is surely true, as 1997 Los Angeles is very hot. Harrigan is in a craze to find out who is hunting his team as well as annihilating gang members left, right and dead centre. Glover portrays this intent and rage well, nothing is going to stand in his way. Not even a Predator. Alonso and Blades provide some great backup but neither have real stand out moments. The real scene stealer is Bill Paxton with his loud, quirky accent, quick wit and dirty humour. I was rather upset when his character had his spine ripped out of his body. Gary Busey as Keyes is well…Gary Busey – I feel that sort of explains it enough.
Jamaican born and Australian raised Stephen Hopkins clearly has a rough time directing the film. To begin with, the film seems very low budget, although according to IMDb it had a budget of $35 million, which I would assume is pretty big for when it was filmed. The sets are very basic – old buildings, alley ways and subways are about the gist of it. The editing and continuity is often poor, for example in one scene, the Predator throws his spear at Harrigan and it flies past him into the building. Harrigan then runs to get the spear which is in a different spot to where it was thrown.
In saying that, Predator 2 was not a terrible film, but it was only half as good as its predecessor. The pacing of the film was quite good, there was action throughout the entire film, there were plenty of guns and a lot of violence. It was actually quite relentless. The subway scene was easily the best scene in the film though, unfortunately it resulted in the death of the best character.
It also made no sense to set the film seven years into the future. Nothing about LA looked futuristic, the weapons weren’t any different. The cars, the buildings – nothing. Maybe the film was just predicting climate change by setting it so hot in the future. The urban setting also let it down. One of the major drawer cards, in my opinion, for the first Predator, was the jungle setting. Having to use the terrain and the surroundings to defeat the alien really brought the location into the movie. A decaying, urban jungle, Los Angeles really had nothing to offer.
After all is said and done though, Predator 2 is an ok movie. The best thing about the simplistic action movies of yesteryear is that you can have all of these little continuity issues, budgetary constraints and acting flaws and it really doesn’t take that much away from the movie. Because all anyone cared about was blood, guts, guns and explosions.
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Cast: Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Bill Paxton
Writers: Jim Thomas, John Thomas
2010’s Predators takes it back to the jungle setting. Just on an entirely different planet. It’s directed by Nimrod Antal who brought us the 2007 unflinching escape room thriller Vacancy, which starred Kate Beckinsale. Predators is a completely different kettle of fish though. In it, a group of Predators have abducted an entirely diverse group of eight human killing machines to hunt on a planet referred to as a “game preserve” by an extremely, and I know how unlikely this sounds, buffed up Adrian Brody.
Brody plays Royce, an ex-military man and current mercenary. He is joined by Isabelle (Alice Braga), Sniper and likely CIA agent, Medical Dr. Edwin (Topher Grace), death row inmate Stans (Walton Goggins), and a few other random soldiers from different parts of Earth.
I loved Brody as Royce, I thought his casting was absolutely perfect. He was able to bring a bit of coldness to the role, a bit of swagger and again, as unlikely as it sounds, after putting on 11.33 kg of muscle, a bit of toughness. While he didn’t get any great comedic one liners, his delivery of “I’m not, but I’m fast” was amazing – you wont get what I mean by reading this, but if you watch the scene, it was cool. Braga was also great in her role, she is tough and smart, but as is so often with female characters, not heartless. While Royce is willing to leave everything and everyone to survive, Isabelle would much rather save lives – I would have preferred that she was just as ruthless. She did remind me in parts of Ripley from Alien though – perhaps because of her characters fearlessness.
Topher Grace’s character is a little less appealing – in fact, he’s down right annoying. I really don’t believe his character made any sense whatsoever. While he is, I’m assuming, a serial killer on earth, he clearly isn’t the type that goes around with guns etc, how would the predators know to take him? His character was a waste of time and space and was only put in to add a little twist at the end, which almost any other, better written character could have done. Another standout cast member though is Walton Goggins, he is a fantastic actor, as witnessed by his Boyd Crowder character in Justified which was amazing. I’ve never seen him turn in a bad performance. My only issue was (and I’m assuming he didn’t plan these lines) the jokes about rape that his character made. I am not a big fan of making light about that subject. Laurence Fishburne also makes an appearance as Noland, a survivor of previous hunts. He’s adapted to his surroundings and is able to provide a temporary shelter to the group. His performance is pretty good, especially as he’s a bit loopy after spending two years as an alien on an unfamiliar planet, making the conversations that he has with himself great.
I really liked that the film was set on another planet, we get to see different examples of the Predators technology and different tactics that they use although throughout the film they seemingly mimic tactics from Earth, which was a bit uninventive. The Predators in the film looked really good too. They’ve looked good in all of the films, thanks to Stan Winston’s great creature design, but with evolving technology, skills, and experiences, 20 years after Predator 2, they look even more amazing. We were also introduced to another two species, another alien species that was being hunted – which is designed similar to the original suit that Jean-Claude Van Damme wore before exiting the first Predator film in 1987. And a type of hunting dog that the Predators used to split up the humans and bag their first prey. They were really cool, although underused.
Predators is well paced, but a touch slower than the previous two films. Even with a little less action, it was still quite good. Not as good as Predator but definitely a step up from Predator 2. Royce’s showdown with the final Predator at the end was a great, so it ended on a high. It was great to see such a diverse cast used as well. Predators is a well paced action film which fits well with the franchise and certainly leaves it open for many more other world adventures.
Director: Nimród Antal
Cast: Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga
Writers: Alex Litvak, Nimród Antal
Stunts, Stunts and – Stunts. The only way to begin a review about this film, in my opinion, is with those three simple words.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the latest insertion in the Mission: Impossible series and is directed by Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Jack Reacher, and the brilliant The Way of the Gun) – the first return director for the series – and stars the never-slowing-down-no-matter-how-old-he-is Tom Cruise as series hero Ethan Hunt. Fallout follows Hunt and the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) team and some other allies as they attempt to track down a mysterious villain known only as John Lark.
Fallout is an action movie fans wet dream – jam packed with guns – and not just any guns: small guns, big guns and huge guns. It has fights – with even IMF director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) getting in on the action. It has chases – in fact the single best motorcycle/car chase ever put to film in my opinion.
And it has stunts. Tom Cruise is notorious for performing his own stunts and here is no exception. In the previously mentioned motorcycle/car chase he rode against traffic in Paris without the safety of a helmet. He spent an entire year practising a HALO (High Altitude, Low Opening) skydive. He jumped across buildings (and broke an ankle in the process), as well as piloting a helicopter during another chase. If that is not dedication I don’t know what is. Cruise may get the short end of the stick when it comes to the media, but he really knows how to entertain. Not only is Cruise a great entertainer, he is a brilliant actor – you only need to look at his early films such as Risky Business, Born on the Fourth of July and Rain Man to see his versatility as an actor.
Along for the ride is Ving Rhames – the only other actor to appear in all 6 films – as Luthor Stickell. Rhames is a great actor and does not drop the ball here. He brings emotion to the film, while also displaying the urgency the action and his character require. He is fantastic. As is Simon Pegg as Benji Dunn –the second-best performance behind Cruise himself. He not only has the ability to deliver some serious work, but he has some of the best comic timing in the business. Pegg was so invested in the film that he even hit the gym to great effect – his on set nickname was Eight-pack Peggles. Rebecca Ferguson makes an appearance as Ilsa Faust and her performance to begin with is, generally speaking, a bit weak. But as the film goes and her characters motivations seem to evolve she gets stronger in her performance.
Henry Cavill is the newcomer here as CIA agent August Walker. Walker’s involvement is due to a dispute between the CIA and the as to who gets John Lark when he is captured. Unfortunately, Cavill is the (performance wise) weak link in the film. His DC role as Superman does not require for him to provide much other than a sculpted physique and the end result of those films have seen a bland and expressionless performance. The same can be said here. He is more tank than man, but that isn’t everything. Granted there wasn’t too many scenes where he needed to show anything other than a stone-cold stare but a bit more sentiment and tone would have been great. Cruise is always able to display emotion through the simplest or the grandest of gestures. His experience is telling. Hopefully, with time, Cavill will grow as an actor and be able to match his on-screen counterpart.
In my notes for the film I wrote “action at is finest, plot at its worst”. The story, as it unfolds is completely ridiculous. The Impossible Mission Force is one of the unluckiest (or luckiest) organizations ever conceived – depending on how you look at it. Ethan and the team have experienced so many things go wrong since the first film to this film that it is amazing that Ethan Hunt hasn’t kicked the bucket…oh wait, he did that in number 3 and number before being revived but somehow, they always seem to get the chicken dinner.
In Fallout one thing after another goes wrong. The worst occurring right at the outset – Hunt and Dunn are trading money for plutonium, but things go against plan. They find themselves pinned down outside a tunnel entrance by an unseen enemy and are told “you’ve got nowhere to go, leave the plutonium and walk away”. Things get worse as Luthor is taken hostage. After some tech mastery from Benji, Ethan drops the plutonium and Dunn and Hunt go in to save Luthor. The enemy has mysteriously disappeared and the plutonium (which they left just behind them) is also nowhere to be found. The absolute worst part of the scene is that the entire IMF team is ripe for the taking and the enemy (an utterly ruthless terrorist group) just leave. Why would this unseen foe simply not just kill them? It makes zero narrative sense at all and is completely frustrating. The scene was terribly written, as it was obviously going to go wrong. Things not going Hunt’s way have become a little tired at this stage, but let’s not forget what this film series is – it’s Mission Impossible. It’s getting in a tough spot and pulling off the impossible. If it went well, then, it wouldn’t be impossible.
Christopher McQuarrie, who also wrote the film, does a great job with the direction. He has produced a fast paced, high octane action film that doesn’t let up until the end credits. The stunt team (Tom Cruise included) should also stand up and take a bow, they will surely be acknowledged at whatever stunt awards there are out there, as well as add to the conversation that stunt teams should have their own category at the Oscars.
Aside from the opening sequence, Mission: Impossible – Fallout is one of the best action films to have ever been put together. Do like Tom Cruise – run to see this .
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Cast: Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie