Thursday, 25 August 2011


Hanna Heller (Saoirse Ronan) was brought up in the Arctic wilderness of Finland by her father, Erik Heller (Eric Bana), who taught her to kill or be killed, to “adapt…or die”. Hanna has never been exposed to the modern world and her knowledge of humanity extends to that of Grimm Brothers fairy tales and the knowledge taught to her by her father from the pages of a dusty old encyclopedia. Yet, although Hanna is only a teenager, her time has come to leave her cabin in the forest and kill the woman she has been trained to assassinate, the big bad “witch” of the CIA, Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett).

We eventually learn that Hanna’s fighting skills are not only due to her fathers handed down CIA training, but also to the assistance of DNA manipulation, opening the story up to controversial conspiracies of human farming and genetic engineering. We learn that this project did not go as planned for the CIA and Erik chose to flee with the evidence, much to the alarm of Marissa Wiegler, who was trying to cover up the mess.

Cate Blanchett plays the unforgiving corrupt character of Marissa, with such ease that we almost sympathise for the plight of her character. Or at least begin to question her underlying motives. She has perfected the evil villain role so well in the past, with characters such as KGB agent Col. Dr. Irina Spalko in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Grey Skull. Proving that for some reason we like to see Cate in the anti-hero seat.

During Hanna’s quest, she meets a young family travelling across Morocco. The most notable character of which is a young girl named Sophie (Jessica Barden), Hanna's first real friend who shows her what teenage girls get up to, with some hilarious consequences. It’s a shame that their friendship dynamic wasn’t explored more, as the close interpersonal experiences of being a teenage girl would surely be one of the things that her character would struggle with the most. Instead the storyline chooses to focus on a ruthless Hanna running for her survival, with some well-choreographed fight scenes scattered throughout. The fight scenes were well supplemented by an exceptional surrealist score by The Chemical Brothers. The soundtrack combines modern synth, progressive beats and haunting vocals, to make for an effectively thrilling modern action-sci-fi score that truly works well within the context of the film and also independently as a provocative and complete album.

I’m undecided as to whether the clean violence in Hanna serves it well, especially with a PG 13 rating. The violence is real and the themes are dark, however, it seems as though they have been tamed unnecessarily for the benefit of a younger audience. Apparently Alfonso Cuaron and Danny Boyle were both considered to direct Hanna until Ronan recommended that Joe Wright do the honours. I can only imagine the very different tone that the film could have had with Boyle or Cuaron in the driver’s seat. For starters, they may have exercised more fantasy and science fiction elements to the film as opposed to the resulting predominantly thriller based structure. Also, the potential fantasy moments that are hinted throughout Hanna could have been explored further. For example, she has to leave her secluded cabin in the woods and get to Grimm’s house before the evil witch captures her. The fantasy themes are there, but they just aren’t pushed far enough to make a lasting impression of awe on the audience.

Some of the most striking sequences were shot in the abandoned amusement park in Berlin. This added a touch of fantasy and a surreal eerie quality to the film that made it all the more memorable to view. One particular shot of Marissa emerging out of a tunnel will remain imprinted in the back of the mind for some time, perhaps to consider the hidden meanings behind the imagery of the big bad wolf and the wicked witch. The scenes with Eric Bana and Saoirse Ronan in Finland are also quite exquisite and serve well in demonstrating the painfully harsh conditions that Hanna was trained in. If she could handle the blistering cold of the Arctic, then she can handle her fate in the civilised world.
There are many similarities in genre and story style to that of revenge thrillers such as the Kill Bill films, The Bourne Identity and Run Lola Run. However, Hanna really tries to experiment with genre limitations. Hanna isn’t a fantasy/art-house film, per see, but an action flick, with a touch of sci-fi, but not much more. The obvious targeting of the “art-house” fantasy-action fusion genre fails its fickle audiences scruple tastes by inevitably being too self-aware. Audiences know the supposed “art-house” formula when they see it, and it just comes off as fraudulent.

I would have liked to see the film decide on a theme and take it further, whether that theme is the influence of the Brothers Grimm Fairy tales or the reasons behind the genetic engineering. Either way, interesting concepts were flirted with but not wholly explored. Topics like genetic engineering would have been much more compelling if they were explained in more than a fleeting two minute conversation. Instead we just get hints to DNA abnormalities and a passing conspiracy based explanation. Perhaps some flashbacks to the testing stages of the project would have given the audience a little bit more than just hints as to what was happening, and we really do want to know. Instead the audience leaves the film with not that much at all, but the feeling that it was an equally good-looking and thrilling fun ride.

This review originally appeared in Machete Girl, Issue 5, "Dessert Punk", pp. 29-31.

Sunday, 3 July 2011


Excerpt: "Beck Cole's debut film, Here I am, tells the story of a woman named Karen (Shai Pittman) coming to terms with her addictions and her efforts to reclaim her daughter and her life after time in prison. Beck Cole's history is as a documentarian, and it shows. The film exposes some of the social issues in the contemporary urban Australian environment, including drug and alcohol dependency, domestic violence, indigenous health and the welfare of our children and community. For this reason, this is a challenging film, given that not everyone will have a full understanding of the responsibilities of government agencies or the individual struggles that Karen faces.  

Here I am is a film that forces us to side with the protagonist, only to find ourselves conflicted with her characters motivations as the story unfolds. I miss this sort of challenge in films, particularly films that highlight the anguish women face in their everyday lives..."

Read the full review at Carnival Askew.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

FILM REVIEW: Source Code

American Soldier Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a train in Chicago, miles away from Afghanistan, to discover that he is in the body of another man. He eventually learns from Captain Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) that his reality is being simulated by a thing called "Source Code" and that he is living the last eight minutes of another mans life in order to figure out who planted a bomb on the train. At first it feels as though we are in a Groundhog Day or Run Lola Run-type scenario in which the protagonist must relive the same moment in order to move on within the same reality, however that’s not how the source code works.

It is difficult to talk specifically about what the source code does, without giving away spoilers. Besides, it makes for a weightier discussion after viewing if you have to debate about what actually happened. So those of you, who expected to read this and make sense of the source code, would have more luck in a philosophy or physics lecture than in reading this review; as the writer of Source Code, Ben Ripley has quite clearly given us a challenging ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’-style quest. A quest which leads you to the forever convoluted discussion of frozen memories versus parallel universes. Whichever way you consider the Source Code, I don’t believe that you could rule out the possibility of the multiverse perspective, which also explains the lack of a time travel paradox each time they reset the eight minutes and explains a particular moment which I cannot divulge without spoiling the twist.

The concept of a multiverse as explored in Source Code is also becoming easier to identify with in real life, as our own worlds become more and more hyper-real. That is, we are building reproductions and representations of reality in our everyday lives. Consider the replicas of fashion, retail products, architecture and lifestyle. You can go to a McDonalds in Sydney or Budapest and the ‘M’ symbol would remain the same and the food too, to a certain extent. This hyper-reality becomes such that we begin to question what a copy of what is. Are we creating other realities within our reality? Some theorists believe that it is possible we are actually currently living in a simulation of a simulation of a simulation (etcetera) but we could never know, because our information processes would then just be mere simulations.

Another theme that was quite obvious in Source Code was the means in which an agency can ethically take control over a body and a mind. This theme in particular was quite frightening and is addressed quite early in the film, but I wanted to see how this came to be within the societal context, up until the introduction of the source code. Which human rights bills were passed and why? This is really my only issue with Source Code, that it wasn’t nearly long enough to explore the depth of its subject matter. It felt more like it was a pilot episode of a new science fiction series in which the premise has been well and truly set, but open for exploration.

I also couldn’t warm to the love story as much as I would have liked to. Quite possibly due to a lack of character development of the female protagonist, Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), who for all intents and purposes was brilliant in this role, but didn’t get the chance to connect with Gyllenhaal as much as it was insinuated that they were falling in love. Their first few scenes together were full of chemistry and longing, and then as the action picked up, it kind of dampened somewhat, resulting in a few unclear moments. I guess this love story is open to interpretation as well, but it just wasn’t convincing enough to make me care. Sure I wanted Gyllenhaals character to thrive, as we are given hints about his life and relationships. If anything, the entire emotional subject manner was expressed through his character, forgetting everyone else. This wouldn’t have been a problem for me, except I couldn’t really understand why screen time was given to their characters connecting with each other, when it could have been spent dissecting the theory behind the source code.

Another issue that I had was with the marketing for the film, which placed emphasis on the action sequences, which are surprisingly limited in the film. This was especially confusing, because it seemed quite clear that director, Duncan Jones wanted us to focus on the captain's emotional and psychological processes, rather than just watch him blow stuff up. Duncan Jones made a similar choice with his first feature film, Moon, in which the protagonist only leaves the space ship once or twice, and without unnecessary blasts and explosions as filler. We were held to our chairs instead by the intrigue and mystery of Moon, that seemed to unfold beautifully as the plot progressed.

Moon was just that bit more successful than Source Code in pulling me into the story. In part I believe this was because of the lighthearted humour of the lead character and the fact that it took its time. Source Code also feels like a studio film, unlike Moon. From the tight ninety minute running time, to the unnecessary romance, it is quite obvious that there was more consideration for mass audience reception than required. I would have been happier for another half an hour to explore the characters and the principles of the source code technology. Instead the technology is introduced to us quite swiftly and leaves gaps in the story; gaps that I am sure were not in Ben Ripleys original draft, but decisions that had to be made in order to get picked up by a studio.

All things considered, Source Code certainly is a mind bending science fiction thrill ride that makes you question reality and leaves you wanting more. Perhaps when Duncan Jones is finished plotting to make the rumoured Blade Runner-inspired flick, Mute, then he can get to work with Ben Ripley on the rest of a Source Code series, because I for one am hooked. Source Code is an intelligent film that plays as 12 Monkeys meets Groundhog Day and Phone Booth, mixed with a mild dose of postmodern philosophy and science.

This review originally appeared in Machete Girl Magazine - Issue 4, "Crash and Burn", pp 15-16.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

FILM REVIEW - El Monstro Del Mar!

Excerpt - "Ass-kicking babes, reminiscent of Russ-Meyer femme revenge flick, Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! together with an amped up killer alt-country, rockabilly soundtrack..." Yasmin Vought, Sydney Underground Film Festival

Read the full review at the Sydney Underground Film Festival blog.


Excerpt - "The Taint certainly is one of the most horrendously grotesque films of this year." - Yasmin Vought, Sydney Underground Film Festival

Read the full review at the Sydney Underground Film Festival blog.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

FILM REVIEW: Inception

Excerpt: "If there was a glimmer of hope for me with Inception, it would have to be Hans Zimmers impressive work with the score and soundtrack... I felt transported at times by the music, to a place that the images just couldn't take me to, a place that would have been all the more appealing to me, had it been matched with more unique imagery." - Yasmin Vought, Machete Girl.

Read the full review in Machete Girl - Issue 2, "Transhumanist Edition", p 45.

FILM REVIEW: Sword of Desperation

Excerpt - "Aside from its popularity as a sub-genre, Samurai films rarely make for broad distribution, unless of course you throw in some Hollywood flair, as was the case with the tediously long Tom Cruise film, The Last Samurai. It is a shame really, because the cautious mix of action, adventure and history inherent in Sword of Desperation draws you into the complicated and committed world of the samurai that’s charm would impress most commercial viewers..." - Yasmin Vought, Carnival Askew.

Read the full review at Carnival Askew.

FILM REVIEW: Shodo Girls

Excerpt - "Borrowing some elements of plot style from American teen comedies, it’s easy to lump this film into just another imitation of a teen flick. However, there’s a certain emotive spark to the unique motivations of the characters that will hold your attention where the tired plot fails..." - Yasmin Vought, Carnival Askew

View the full review at Carnival Askew.

FILM REVIEW - Swan Lake (Ballet l’Opera de national de Paris)

Excerpt - "The camera angles in which this Ballet is filmed add intensity to the story. A glimpse of fear in Odette’s eye, or a sinister glare by Von Rothbart would be near impossible to see from the back of a concert hall. Consequently, this films use of extreme close-ups coupled with high-definition technology makes for a much more emotive interpretation of the story than can be appreciated at a distance in an audience..." - Yasmin Vought, Carnival Askew.

Read the full review at Carnival Askew.

Score: 9/10

FILM REVIEW - Potiche (Trophy Wife)

Excerpt -  "I could not help but long to watch Cathering Deneuve in her breakthrough role in Demys musical film, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg), I still thoroughly enjoyed this films unbridled sense of humour and found it to be quite a pleasant and refreshing romantic comedy..." - Yasmin Vought, Carnival Askew.

Read the full review at Carnival Askew.

Score: 7/10

ROTTEN TOMATOES - Total Recall: Childrens Book Adaptations

Excerpt: As anyone who bore witness to The Cat in the Hat can testify, children’s book adaptations can be, putting it mildly, quite hit or miss. But sometimes, with the right mix of talent, visual effects and strong storytelling, a great film is born of a beloved story. This week’s animated adaptation of Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs has surprised critics to do just that, turning a kids’ favourite into a smart, energetic confection that bursts off the screen. And with Spike Jonze’s much-awaited adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are beginning its rumpus in cinemas next week, we decided to revisit 10 of our favourite children’s book adaptations.

View the full article here

ROTTEN TOMATOES - Total Recall: Offbeat Romantic Comedies

We’ve gathered together what we think are 10 of the most original films to challenge the conventions of the genre. Some have happy endings, some end in tears or confusion — yet all work an unfamiliar, offbeat magic on the romantic comedy template. There’s no Hallmark rubbish to be found here…

View the full article here.

ROTTEN TOMATOES - Top Ten Most Outrageous Movie Characters

To celebrate the arrival of über-flamboyant Austrian fashionista Brüno, we’ve hoisted the freak flag high and gathered together 10 of the kookiest, most outlandish characters from film’s far-out fringe.
So dust off those diamante platform boots and your favourite Jean Paul Gautier corset and get silly with our list of the Top 10 most outrageous film characters.

View the full article here...

The Last Lovecraft: The Relic of Cthulhu


Excerpt: "Unlike the twitchy, socially awkward, over-done computer nerd stereotype that we have come to identify with in the comedy genre, I did not feel alienated from any of the characters in this film. The amount of Lovecraft references alone indicates that this film is more of a fun homage to a cult legend, rather than a satire of nerds versus sea creatures."

Read the full review at Filmbiotic.