OUT NOW: Killing Ground, Berlin Syndrome, Cage Dive, Wentworth S5


Whether a weekend in the bush, a backpacking jaunt in Berlin, or diving with sharks off the coast, travel seems especially fraught with danger in a string of recent UK releases. Best follow the gals at Australia’s most infamous prison and have a quiet night in, as a trio of Australian features, and the latest run of a beloved TV series arrive on home viewing formats in the UK.


Thrills, Spills & Virtuosos: New DVD/Blu/VOD releases

Production still from Felony

Back in early October, the British book trade celebrated a phenomenon known as Super Thursday, their busiest release day of the year, which sees all the big stocking-filler titles – everything from celebrity memoirs to blockbuster novels and sports annuals – hit shops in the lead-up to Christmas. Well, Australian cinema had its own super day (of sorts) this past week, with four excellent titles released for consumption in the comfort of your own home – Felony, Mystery Road, All This Mayhem and The Last Impresario.


Wake in Fright set for UK release

Still from Wake in Fright

It’s a dark, disturbing, grueling exploration of the dark side of the Australian psyche. It also happens to be one of the finest films to ever emerge from that sunburnt country, and following revivals in Australia and the United States, it’s finally about to earn its due in Britain.


Aussie FrightFest on the big and small screen

Australian films at Film4 FrightFest 2013

Britain’s biggest and best festival of horror, cult and genre cinema, Film4 FrightFest returns later this month to Empire Cinemas (Leicester Square, London) for five days and nights of blood and thunder. Australian cinema’s contribution to the latest FrightFest instalment may not be numerically significant, but its outback blend of ‘something old, something new, something bloody, and something blue’ still packs a mean punch!


BLAME: DVD release and LAFS screening

Production still from BLAME

A tough-going but intelligent revenge thriller shot in the Perth hills, Blame stars a fistful of up-and-coming Australian talent (including Sophie Lowe and Kestie Morassi) and is the impressive feature debut of writer/director Michael John Henry. The set-up is relatively familiar – a group of friends intent on vengeance travel to a secluded home to carry out ‘the perfect murder’ – but when their seemingly straightforward plan is botched, the group are forced to confront both the victim and their own web of deceit. Made on a shoestring budget, the film is as economical on-screen as it is off.

UK DVD cover for BLAMEFollowing an Australian theatrical release in mid-2011 and festival screenings around the globe, Blame is finally reaching British audiences next week thanks to a DVD release from High Fliers.

In conjunction with this release, the London Australian Film Society present a screening of the film at the Shortwave Cinema in Bermondsey on May 17. For further information, join the LAFS Facebook group or email lafsociety@hotmail.com to reserve a seat at the screening. But be quick, seats are filling fast!

In the meantime, visit the official Blame website or check out the trailer below.

Blame is released on DVD through High Fliers on May 14.

Griff the Invisible and Blessed out now on DVD/Blu-Ray

Having previously brought Beautiful Kate and Bitter & Twisted to UK audiences, Matchbox Films -those fine purveyours of Antipodean (and other) delights – have just released two more Australian titles in the UK.

Appearing shortly after the much-lauded Kick-Ass, Griff the Invisible (2010) no doubt suffered a similar fate to fellow super(anti)hero black comedy Super – with endless comparisons between these tales of ordinary guys turned (not particularly) super. In this iteration, Griff is a highly disfunctional office worker who spends his days being relentlessly harassed by his co-workers. At night, however, he dons a cape and roams the streets, protecting the neighbourhood from thugs and lowlifes until he finally meets his match – a girl called Melody who shares his aptitude for daydreaming.

Despite being faintly damned as ‘twee’, ‘shaggy’ and ‘uneven’, many critics praised this Aussie superhero rom-com for being ‘cheefully offbeat’ with ‘moments of pure magic’. Produced by Jan Chapman and providing the feature directorial debut for Aussie actor Leon Ford, the film features True Blood star Ryan Kwanten in the lead role alongside Maeve Dermody (Black Water, Beautiful Kate).

Griff The Invisible is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray.

UK artwork for Blessed (2009)Also out now on Matchbox is Blessed (2009), the latest feature from Ana Kokkinos, the talent behind the brilliantly unrelenting features Head On (1998) and The Book of Revelation (2005). Relating the interweaving tales of a handful of kids living on the streets of Melbourne, the film is adapted from Who’s Afraid of the Working Class?, a tough theatrical portmanteau borne from a collaboration between a quintet of Australia’s finest writers – Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves, Christos Tsiolkas and Irine Vela.

Featuring an ensemble cast that includes Frances O’Connor, Miranda Otto, Deborra-Lee Furness, William McInnes and Sophie Lowe, Blessed plays out on the meaner streets of Melbourne over a 24 hour period, and builds upon a moody (some might say ‘gloomy’) atmosphere to provide a lingering portrait of the difficulties faced by children and parents alike as they struggle to cope on the fringes of society.

Blessed is out now on DVD.

Review: Mad Dog Morgan (1976)

Production still from 'Mad Dog Morgan' (1976)

New region 2 DVD release for Mad Dog MorganPhilippe Mora’s bonkers bushranger flick Mad Dog Morgan has gained a new lease on life in recent years, thanks to a restoration by the National Film and Sound Archive’s Kodak/Atlab partnership. That restoration led to a region 4 release by Umbrella Entertainment, a region 1 Tromasterpiece version (possibly using a different transfer source) and, released on September 5, a new region 2 version courtesy of Digital4 Media.

To celebrate the return of Mad Dog Morgan to home cinemas across the UK, here is an updated version of a review previously published on my Screen Addict blog.

Mad Dog Morgan (aka Mad Dog)
d. Philippe Mora / 1976 / Australia / 102 mins
Viewed on: Avenue One (Region 0 – Australian release) DVD

Philippe Mora is a rather intriguing fellow. Born in Paris in 1949 with Marcel Marceau for a Godfather, his family moved to Melbourne (via New York) when he was just a tot, and he grew up in the heart of that city’s fertile artistic community during the 1960s. Whilst his parents – Georges (a German-born art dealer, entrepreneur and all-round renaissance man) and Mirka (a French-born painter, sculptor and mosaicist) – played host to some of the leading lights of Australian art, from the Antipodeans to the Angry Penguins, Mora set out on the path to becoming a fearless artist and exploitation filmmaker from an early age, directing his first film when he was just fifteen.

He left Melbourne in the late ’60s to join the swathes of creative young Australians relocating to London, where he moved into the Pheasantry artists’ colony in Chelsea, engrossed himself in the underground art world, contributed cartoons to Oz magazine and The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics, and generally went about making friends and influencing people. Before long, he’d corralled a bunch of these newfound compadres, expatriates and natives, to aid in the creation of his first feature film, a freewheeling musical called Trouble in Molopolis (1969).

Continuing his life as a visual artist, Mora eventually moved into documentaries, directing two seminal features, Swastika (1973) and Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? (1975), both of which made extensive use of archive and newsreel footage and examined two extremes of mid-century western society, the rule of Nazi Germany and the entertainment of Depression-era USA. By the mid-70s, the magnitude of the Australian film renaissance had began to dawn on the rest of the world, and Mora promptly returned to Australia, establishing the Cinema Papers journal with Peter Beilby and starting work on Mad Dog Morgan.

The tale of Dan ‘Mad Dog’ Morgan had long been a popular element of Australian folklore and he was often considered the ‘bushrangers bushranger’, supposedly inspiring the later exploits of a certain Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly. In many respects, Mora’s film fits neatly within the popular perception of Australian bushrangers, a kind of semi-mythic, Robin Hood brand of folk anti-hero, and yet he doesn’t shy away from showing Morgan up as a rather vile, irrational and contemptible individual who revels in his own nasty reputation. The ‘Mad Dog’ of Mora’s film is, of course, rather infamously portrayed by Dennis Hopper, who sports a genuine ‘Oirish’ accent and method acts his way through ten or so years of Morgan’s life.

The film itself is not bad, per se, but it certainly is patchy. I got the distinct impression that, during writing and pre-production, Mora was torn between throwing caution to the wind and simply capturing the essence of Morgan’s life, and an innate desire to draw extensively upon the skills he had picked up making documentary films in London. As a result, with no archival footage to utilize or newsreels to reference, Mora simply filled in the gaps between what material he did have. Police reports and court proceedings seem to appear verbatim, with Jack Thompson and Frank Thring’s characters delivering their reports direct to camera (which, aside from the surreal genius of the backwards flaming man, is perhaps the most interesting stylistic device in Mora’s relatively limited arsenal). Combine all this with an odd parallel narrative of a French photographer – whose images were clearly used as a key primary source, both visually and thematically – and you get the distinct impression that Mora simply found a bunch of archival materials and went about filling in the gaps. To be fair, it was also partly based on a book by Margaret Carnegie, but I wouldn’t like to vouch for a book that Mora himself has called ‘fact-based’!

It’s not as bad as all that, of course. Mad Dog Morgan hasn’t aged well, sure, but it’s still a nice little piece of historical genre filmmaking and features some delightfully odd minor characters, particularly Frank Thring’s beguilingly evil Superintendent Cobham, who delivers perhaps the film’s best one-liner, shortly after Morgan’s death at the hands of the police: “By all means, off with his head, and don’t forget the scrotum!”

Finally, a parting comment about the DVD which, as people who own the Avenue One region-free Australian version of Mad Dog Morgan will know full well, suffers badly from an appallingly horrible transfer. Although it purports to be ‘digitally remastered from the original negative’, it most certainly aint. It’s almost as if the transfer was taken from a print that had played every fleapit in country NSW before sitting in someone’s attic for a few years. Oh, and either the cinematographer was as drunk as Hopper during the production, or the transfer lab has cut off about 15% of the left hand side of the frame, plus the sound sucks a big one too.

Happily though, there was a restored version released by Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive as part of the Kodak/Atlab Cinema Collection a few years back and was the basis for Umbrella’s Region 4 re-release of Mad Dog Morgan on DVD, which also features a bunch of other extras, old and new. I’m also assuming it’s the basis for the Region 1 Tromasterpiece version in North America, and also, undoubtedly, for a brand new Region 2 edition by 4Digital which was released earlier this month.