Eleven years ago in an unnamed, impoverished city in Eastern Europe, Gregori (Vincent Cassel) built a hidden commune within a secluded, abandoned housing estate. On the day Alexander was born, Gregori convinced unwed mother Susanna (Florence Mazzara) to join him. In the decade since, other 'wives' have joined, and today their numbers have bolstered to quite the ‘family’, living in apparent pacifist harmony. But beneath the hippie façade there’s rigid structure in place, where some bizarre values are being taught and others are being avoided altogether. As Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel) begins to grow up and become curious about the much frowned-upon outside world, he begins to question Gregori’s authority and perspective, which have been drilled into him with rewards of gold stars and karaoke.

PARTISAN is the debut feature from Australian director Ariel Kleiman, co-written by himself and partner Sarah Cyngler (who also worked on the film’s excellent production design). Their script initially throws up a solid array of interesting ideas, and Kleiman’s ‘show don’t tell’ direction starts off impressively enough, steadily revealing fascinating details in the first half. Unfortunately it's not sustained, and in later scenes - despite impressive performances from Cassel and Chabriel - too many loose threads and unanswered questions eventually leave PARTISAN feeling at once frustratingly under-explored and drawn out, like a 50 minute short stretched to feature length. There are enough positives to make this worthwhile for the curious though, and certainly enough to mark its creative team as one to watch.

PARTISAN is released May 28 in Australia.


You’ve doubtless heard by now of the idiotic he-man women-hater’s club life members who have called for a boycott of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD on the grounds that it might just be a Trojan horse of a movie that (INCEPTION horn blast)… promoted feminism! – gasp! Without having seen the movie, they called for fellow idiots to stay away, as - gulp! – Max was not in fact the driving (no pun intended) protagonist in his own film! – double gasp! hurrumph! etc.!

But it turns out the idiots’ information was correct - not about woman-hating – that just makes them wankers. Literally. No, this time out Max (a near monosyllabic, beefy Tom Hardy replacing the lithe Mel Gibson) does share the lead with the equally angry and resourceful Furiosa (Charlize Theron), and the film itself is indeed a feminist powerhouse - perfectly so. It’s also, in terms of pure action cinema, the best of movie 2015, the best we’ve had since THE RAID movies, and in terms of sheer volume of practical car stunts the best since, well, MAD MAX 2.

You really don’t need to know any of what happens ahead of time – half the fun is catching up to a story that literally takes off without you. FURY ROAD operates on a drip feed plot that emerges from within a continuous, tightly-wound cable of action set pieces – yet we never feel as though one is happening at the expense of the other. That is great cinema. Miller is channelling Buster Keaton, and it’s an absolute joy in an era of stock standard, stop-the-plot-for-another-action-sequence pacing (or worse, feeling like the plot has been weakly drawn in to link the action); they suddenly feel very lazy by comparison.

Don’t get too caught up in trying to place this story within Max’s chronology – that’s not really possible. FURY ROAD isn’t a sequel as such, more a fever-dream mash-up of the previous films, cherry picking bits and pieces – Max’s Interceptor here, the tortured memory of his dead child there. But these are, like the 150 odd vehicles used in production, cannibalised into something bigger and, well, madder. Just strap in and try to keep up with the frenetic pace and two solid hours of majestic bombast. Let the seemingly never-ending array of delirium-inducing stunts amaze you, the crazed scope exhilarate you, the sheer deranged creativity envelope you.

When the euphoria eventually subsides, one question remains: how the hell did George Miller – a man who turned 70 this year, who hasn’t directed a live action film in nearly 20 years and who hasn’t returned to Max’s world for a clear 30 (BEYOND THUNDERDOME was 1985), pull this off? Well, I have a theory.

There’s a thing some screenwriters keep separate from their screenplay (and a director keeps separate from the storyboards), often referred to as a ‘bible’. It contains all of the details of the world in which the story of the screenplay takes place. After watching FURY ROAD, you get the feeling that its bible might just be bigger and more detailed than The Bible. The reason? Miller, who’s never been a slouch in the creativity department, had an additional ten years to tweak FURY ROAD’s story and expand on its bible, thanks to a blessing very much in disguise – going back to the intended start date of 2003 or so, every time he and his crew set out to shoot the film, they were delayed time and again, by everything from civil war to desert-killing rain. He had something not afforded to most huge Hollywood productions: the time to perfectly realise every little detail of its world (which I’ll not spoil here, suffice to say that it’s impossibly detailed) that wraps around the story. It’s crucial to FURY ROAD’s success, and what enables that elegant, minimalist plotting. There are those who describe it as one long chase; to be pedantic, it’s two – but don’t let either description fool you into presuming the film to be one-paced. Rather, while FURY ROAD is constantly in motion, it is frequently, expertly shifting gears to keep us entertained.

If there are any criticisms to be made, the first is perhaps that Miller has in places cut FURY ROAD past the bone. We could easily have seen the motivations of big bad Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, again some kind of hybrid of his own Toecutter from the first film, Humungus from 2 and Tina Turner’s Aunty Entity from BEYOND THUNDERDOME) strengthened. Word has it there were 480 hours of takes to draw from, so a juicy director’s cut might not be out of the question. Also, while quality of CG shots (used only in the most impossible of circumstances) is by and large very good, there are some moments of jarringly ordinary background compositing in some of the car interiors (obviously filmed on a studio set) for the few dialogue-heavy scenes. It’s a pity to even have to mention these though, when so much of the rest of the film delivers so voluminously, so outlandishly, and is so purely and perfectly entertaining on every level.

With any luck, FURY ROAD will be the long-overdue firecracker up the arse for financiers of Australian-made genre cinema; a reminder that not only can we do this sort of thing (and always could), but do it as well - if not better - than anyone else.

If you have any love for action, you must see FURY ROAD on the biggest, loudest screen you can find. Then point and laugh at someone who boycotted it.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is released worldwide from May 14

UPDATE: I’ve now also seen the film in 3D, but I can’t honestly say that it adds much to the experience. 2D was the winner for me.


There’s a wave of sci-fi movies about artificial intelligence recently. In the last 12 months we’ve had HER, TRANSCENDENCE, CHAPPIE, AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, and even a small but integral element of INTERSTELLAR hinged on computer powered brains. It’s nothing new, of course – BLADE RUNNER (1981), 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), METROPOLIS (1927), the list goes on, but as we teeter on advanced A.I. becoming a reality – and with it keeping the likes of Stephen Hawking up at night – expect more storytellers to reap the subject’s juicy potential.

EX MACHINA is the stab of screenwriter, and in his debut as director, Alex Garland (he wrote 28 DAYS LATER, the novel and screenplay of THE BEACH, SUNSHINE, and recently adapted NEVER LET ME GO for the screen). Actually ‘stab’ doesn’t it justice – think more along the lines of ‘surgical incision’. This is a highly accomplished, beautifully thought through piece of work. Though the subject as a whole invites comparisons to Shelley’s Frankenstein (what does it mean to be human?), the core influence of Garland’s tale – the skeleton on which he hangs his futurist ponderings – is the folktale Bluebeard. Don’t worry, you won’t miss the constant stream of references.

The story begins with Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) winning a workplace lottery to hang out for a week with his boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a genius billionaire recluse and founder of by far the world’s most dominant search engine, Bluebook (ding!). Nathan lives on an estate the size of a small country in an at once beautifully pristine and creepily bunker-like home that is also his high security research facility. But of course Caleb’s 'random selection' is anything but. In reality, Caleb has, among other things, significant technological prowess. Nathan wants Caleb to apply the Turing test to his top secret project – a new artificially intelligent robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander); Nathan needs to know if it can pass for human, and Caleb is to interview it over several sessions. So begins a tense, paranoid, claustrophobic journey that soon starts raising some wide-ranging questions.

Garland has learned a great deal from shadowing Danny Boyle for a couple of movies, and he brings EX MACHINA to life with an amazingly steady hand, keeping it small and never over-reaching, but drawing top notch results from every filmmaking department at his disposal. It’s gorgeously and precisely photographed, Ava's CG design is flawless and beautiful, and the three central performances: Gleeson as the envious, toyed-with everyman, Isaac as the magnetic alpha genius egomaniac, and most of all ex-ballerina Vikander as the curious, exact android, are never less than wholly engaging. And let’s not forget Garland’s own screenplay, which represents his best work.

In keeping it to essentially a three-hander, we can better process the bigger philosophical questions Garland lobs at us (your brain will be bouncing around your skull like a Superball), while letting us keep pace with his tight thriller structure. It deftly walks the line between funny and sinister – when Nathan jokes that he killed his builders, we're with Caleb - unsure whether to laugh. Oh, and it features possibly the most highbrow MacGuffin we’re likely to see for some time.

EX MACHINA is a glorious achievement, and frankly it’s baffling that - in Queensland at least - it's being released on just one solitary screen (ironically, even a Met Opera recorded performance of Bluebeard is showing on two in the same week of release). Unless Universal will take the almost unheard of approach of copying the US release pattern, where the film has flourished into a full-blown sleeper hit and has just been expanded to 2000 screens, this is utter foolishness on their part. As it stands, I must recommend that Queenslanders head to Palace Centro to see it on the big screen it deserves. Thoughtful and supremely entertaining, EX MACHINA is a great work of science fiction for our time.

EX MACHINA is released May 7 in Australia.


As pitches go, the normally choosy Sean Penn teaming with TAKEN director Pierre Morel certainly sounded a notch in sophistication above the average action thriller – positively BOURNE-esque, right? Wrong, sadly. THE GUNMAN follows Penn as a ‘retired’ mercenary soldier with memory problems – the result of one brain injury too many - who suddenly finds himself hunted down years after the completion of mission a particularly shady client.

Though full of good intentions and fine supporting performances from the likes of Javier Bardem, Mark Rylance, Ray Winstone and Idris Elba, the story starts with a foundation of too far-fetched silliness before spiralling outwards into idiocy. There are some strong individual scenes and sequences along the way, but nowhere near enough to leave you satisfied by the rather stupid conclusion.

Take-away lesson? Next time call Paul Greengrass.

THE GUNMAN is released April 16 in Australia, April 30 in New Zealand.


For all I'll proclaim to be a raving fan of Aardman Studios, I must confess I’ve never actually seen even one episode of Shaun The Sheep on TV. Not because I don't like it, but simply due to due to a combination of circumstance and neither being nor associating much with the target audience. But none of that really matters. What we have in the SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE really is several cuts above your average made-for-littluns school holiday filler. This is a highly accomplished silent (well, nearly silent) film.

The story – Shaun gets bored by life on the farm and looks for adventure in the big city, but gets more than he bargained for - isn’t too convoluted for the youngest viewers, but neither is it patronising for older kids. Overall it may run just a fraction long, but the jokes keep landing thick and fast, and they’re delivered with Aardman’s typical crack timing (adults pay attention to the background at all times – there’s a mountain of great stuff back there). Most importantly of all, the characters are masterfully expressed; we understand them, and we care for them completely. Meanwhile, someone had the excellent sense to have Rizzlekicks do the theme song, and the exquisite taste to place the Foo Fighters seamlessly into the soundtrack.

Oh, and stick around to the very end. Like, the proper end. Don’t leave until the lights come up.

Review: FURIOUS 7

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS series is a very rare beast – one that managed to become dramatically more enjoyable on its fifth installment, just when everyone was preparing to write the films off for good. FAST 5 was the point where the storytellers whole-heartedly embraced their long-running tale’s ridiculousness, and turbo boosted not only the action but also the melodramatic story beats and plot twists to the point of genre subversion; In a stroke of genius, it became the most action-packed, expensive and successful soap opera the world has ever seen.

Like all soap operas, if you’re expecting to walk into FURIOUS 7 and know everything that’s going on, think again. Go and do some research on the highly convoluted plot (or better yet – watch the previous 6, but don’t expect too much from 1-4, least of all part 3 – the disjointed ‘Tokyo Drift’). Suffice to say that this time out we learn that the big bad from the previous film, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) has a bigger, badder brother, Deckard (Jason Statham), who wants revenge on Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew for putting Shaw the younger in a coma when they foiled his evil scheme. Defying death at Deckard’s hand will involve US government agents including and beyond Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs, run-ins with international terrorists, exotic world travel, and of course a string of incredible action, mostly involving cars.

In fact, there’s so much action in FURIOUS 7 that even the most ardent of fans may find it fatiguing. Though the spectacle is frequently breathtaking and the action is superbly shot – and in the case of car stunts, edited (the hand to hand combat sequences have that same old Hollywood problem of too many cuts) - the sequences leading up to the money shot often run just a too long. If you wanted to boil it all one single factor of enjoyment, FURIOUS 7 ranks second in the series overall, behind 5 and in front of 6.

Of course, the tragic and untimely death during production of star Paul Walker was always going to cast something of a shadow over FURIOUS 7 – particularly as the series has always played the importance of family as its emotional trump card - but theirs and our loss is handled with elegance and grace, and the film serves as a fitting tribute.

FURIOUS 7 is in cinemas worldwide from April 3


On high school graduation day in Silverton, Oklahoma, as the weather becomes more inclement, a team of down on their luck storm chasers (led by VEEP’s Matt Walsh) roll into town. The school's vice principal (THE HOBBIT’s Richard Armitage) has charged his film geek sons Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress) with filming the ceremony. We see a number of perspectives when unpredictable and unprecedented tornadoes begin tear the town apart.

You couldn’t categorically call INTO THE STORM a 'found footage' movie, as some of the owners of the footage survive to the end of the story. Technically it’s a mockumentary, but let’s be honest and call it what it really is – an excuse; a device. Think TWISTER told ala CHRONICLE, and you’re there. It's not a bad premise, but as is so often the case, while it works brilliantly for the big/loud action sequences, it's pretty useless and clunky for any other part of the storytelling. Or at least it is in the hands of screenwriter John Swetnam (STEP UP: ALL IN) and director Steven Quayle (FINAL DESTINATION 5).

There’s a reason INTO THE STORM is releasing over school holidays in Australia and New Zealand – this is a disaster movie aimed squarely to the tastes of teenage boys, so you can forget about anything like a new, or even a nuanced character. Apparently we’ll get what we’re given - which is a selection of stock cut-outs from the disaster movie cupboard, dusted off one more time (only to have dust thrown at them again, at 500km/h); just shut up and wait for something loud to happen. Same goes for exposition (cue: people saying “I’ve never seen anything like this!” a lot).

Get past what feels like about half and hour of that (plus characters conveniently holding cameras at other people when they speak - or worse, walking into their own frame to have a conversation), and you will be treated to some solidly mounted, fun set pieces (keep an eye out for the nod to Jan DeBont’s TWISTER). Just don’t expect to care much - and pay no attention at the moments where Quayle has to briefly abandon his central conceit.

Perhaps the most curious thing about INTO THE STORM is what it’s not. Quayle’s FINAL DESTINATION 5 often gets mentioned by way of its impressive 3D element – and yet INTO THE STORM isn’t stereoscopic. The decision was apparently Quayle’s, who was more interested in the ‘first person’ storytelling style. That’s made for something of a double disappointment – reverting to traditional third person would have necessitated a sorely needed script rewrite and polish.

INTO THE STORM is released September 4 in Australia and New Zealand


First up, full disclosure: I’ve been friends with Australian filmmakers Peter and Michael Spierig for several years, which means that moments like this could be tough if their movie had been rubbish. As it is, I’m only in danger of looking like a kiss-ass because their third feature, time travel sci-fi thriller PREDESTINATION is so bloody good... well go and see it if you don't believe me! Go on! Prove me wrong!

First of all, let’s dispel any reservations you may have developed from watching what was frankly a pretty ordinary trailer: this is not the INCEPTION/MINORITY REPORT-lite that [presumably Australian distributors Pinnacle - do please correct me if I'm mistaken] are selling it as. This is smart, tightly–wound, complex and above all originally-styled storytelling with plenty of groovy ideas, making PREDESTINATION very much its own beast. (Side note for time travel geeks: it adheres perfectly to the theoretical science of the subject, placing it in the rarified company of TWELVE MONKEYS, TIMECRIMES and very few others... LOOPER, I'm looking in your direction...)

The writer/director Spierig brothers have adapted Robert A. Heinlen’s short story All You Zombies*, and reteamed with Ethan Hawke (following DAYBREAKERS), casting him as a US government ‘Temporal Agent’ on the hunt for a particularly cunning domestic terrorist, dubbed the Fizzle Bomber. After a close but disfiguring call, he’s back on the trail in 1970s, undercover as a bartender. He meets a stranger with a hell of a story to tell, but that’s literally not the half of it, and as the plot zooms in and out like a fractal illusion, the less you know going in the better.

Hawke remains one cinema's great quiet achievers, and here he's as dependable as ever. He has fine support in Noah Taylor (GAME OF THRONES) as the ever-mysterious head of the Temporal Agency, but they're both matched by relative newcomer Sarah Snook (already the best thing about NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN and recognisable from her recent brief, firebrand turn in THESE FINAL HOURS), who delivers a star-making performance as the exceptional, multi-layered Jane.

The abundance of hard work and risk that’s been invested behind the camera is obvious, and it’s paid huge dividends. Ben Nott’s noir-infused cinematography, Matthew Putland’s period-hopping production design, and some superb make-up from Steve Boyle and his team all elevate what could have been a disaster into a triumph.

The beauty of PREDESTINATION is that it has enough pieces in its puzzle to keep you interested all the way to the end, at once doubling-down on its impeccable internal logic, but also requiring just enough suspension of disbelief to keep it fun. It has the sense and temperance not to treat every twist and reveal like it’s ‘the big one’ and, like the cinematic equivalent of looking at a chicken wire fence for too long, it’ll knot the left and right sides of your brain as you try to figure it all out ahead of time. Of course, you just might - but in the tradition of the best pulp fiction, the whys and wherefores are expertly saved for the final moments. This is career-risking cinema from the Spierigs, requiring steady nerves and steadier heads, but they’ve succeeded admirably. They should be proud - I certainly am.

*does not contain zombies in any traditional sense.

PREDESTINATION is released August 28 in Australia, September 11 in New Zealand. Other territories TBC.

Review: FELONY

After being shot in the Kevlar while on duty, police officer Mal Toohey (Joel Edgerton) and his team celebrate that evening with beers at the pub. Whilst driving home mildly drunk, he knocks a boy off of his bike. At the scene of the accident, Detective Carl Summer (Tom Wilkinson) arranges to cover up the truth of the incident, which arouses the suspicion of Summer’s new junior partner Jim Melic (Jai Courtney).

FELONY is the second feature from Australian director Matthew Saville, who made 2007's NOISE. It apparently began life as a short film, and it shows. Written by Edgerton, the low-key approach (accented by Mark Wareham’s sleek, economical cinematography) initially serves the story well, but then - a couple meaty scenes from Wilkinson aside - it never really builds to much, before resolving itself too neatly.

Despite strong performances throughout and that solid, functional, professional look, there’s a niggling lack of audacity behind the camera that leaves FELONY feeling ever so slightly underwhelming - not bad at all, just underwhelming; had Saville and Edgerton been that bit bolder and more ambitious dramatically, FELONY could have struck greatness. As it is, it feels like a good telemovie that lucked into theatrical distribution.

FELONY is released August 28 in Australia, and October 17 in the US.


There’s something quite comforting in the fact that amongst all the Swedish movies and TV shows of knitware-clad detectives catching a seemingly endless array of ever-more demented serial killers, THE HUNDRED YEAR-OLD MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT THE WINDOW AND DISAPPEARED is the highest-grossing Swedish film of all time.

Okay, granted – no matter which way you cut it, no-one involved with the creation of that title has done themselves any favours. But… contrary to whatever preconceptions it may conjure up (at best it sounds like some sort of satire on a national health system, like a Scandinavian THE DEATH OF MR LAZARESCU), it turns out THE HUNDRED YEAR-OLD MAN… is a hoot: think equal parts THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (or if you've seen it, I SERVED THE KING OF ENGLAND) and SNATCH. A sort of LOCK, STOCK AND ONE EXPLODING SENIOR CITIZEN, if you like. I say exploding because the geezer in question just looooooves blowing stuff up.

We're talking about Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson) who despite committing the titular act on the day of his centenary, will prove difficult to keep up with. He's bored with the nursing home he’s been placed in, and is happy to go literally anywhere else, so heads for nowhere in particular. He explains that he's never needed a plan, and begins his long, strange ‘shaggy dog’ life story, involving the Spanish revolution, the Manhattan project, the Cold War, several dictators and a shitload of dynamite - a bit like a less dim Forrest Gump with high explosives instead of rubbish platitudes. Life at 100 is no less chaotic: Allan’s latest adventure brings him into the orbit of a new and unlikely group of friends as well as a British gangster (Alan Ford playing to type), some white supremacists, fifty million Krona and a large, recently liberated circus elephant.

Madcap is certainly the word, but director Felix Herngren keeps the plates spinning nicely, keeping the pitch just whimsical and strange enough without getting too zany or sentimental (some of the humour is joyously dark). He also manages to reconcile all the pieces of a very well-cut puzzle (the hard yards pre-nutted out by Jonas Jonasson’s novel, I should think), with barely a hiccup. It's a light, surprisingly high-energy trip with a lot of laughs and just the right amount of poignancy.

THE HUNDRED YEAR-OLD MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT THE WINDOW AND DISAPPEARED is released July 4 in the UK and August 21 in Australia.