Movie: 7500

Review from: Empire

If ever there were a film for these lockdown days, it is 7500. Contained almost entirely within the confines of the cockpit of a German Airbus airliner on its way to Paris from Berlin, Patrick Vollrath’s debut feature — his tense short Everything Will Be Okay was nominated for an Academy Award in 2016 — is a tight, sweaty, claustrophobic affair that takes the notion of a co-pilot trying to deal with terrorists wresting control of the plane and plays it lean and mean — no cutting away to concerned air traffic control, rescue operations or worried families. Anchored by a dialled-down, naturalistic performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 7500, in many ways, is the anti United 93 — whereas Paul Greengrass mines complexities from its broad overview of a hostage situation, Vollrath keeps the focus small and tight. It falters slightly in its third act, but for the most part ratchets up the tension and excitement with skill and credibility.

Following eerie silent images of the attackers idling at the airport as seen through CCTV, going through security, buying booze at Duty Free (the glass will come in handy) and waiting separately at the gate, DP Sebastian Thaler’s camera enters the cockpit and doesn’t leave. There’s low-key pilot-y business — discussion of the weight of the plane, bemoaning late passengers — as we meet the German captain Michael (Carlo Kitzlinger, a real-life pilot-turned-actor) and First Officer Tobias Ellis (Gordon-Levitt), an American involved with half German-half Turkish flight attendant Gökce (Aylin Tezel), who is also on the flight (they keep their relationship on the lowdown). For 20 minutes or so, it is convincing if unremarkable stuff, until the terrorists attempt to rush the cockpit as the pilots have food delivered (the title, while it might sound like it relates to an impossibly high altitude, actually refers to pilot code for terrorist takeover).

What makes 7500 compelling is the thrill of What Happens Next. Vollrath makes effective use of the single-angled video camera stationed above the cockpit door that gives the pilots (and us) a narrow view of what is going on outside. Equally nerve-shredding is the repetitive banging on the cockpit door that, in lieu of no music in the entire film, provides a weird rhythmic back beat. As the battle of wills continues, major deaths, hostage revolts (heard but not seen) and lack of fuel concerns all play a part, as the filmmaker expertly mines the limited means for all they are worth. The sparse but naturalistic lighting enhances the drama, turning the cockpit into a crucible of claustrophobia.

Yet, in the final third, as the film develops into a two-hander, Vollrath slightly falters, as the intensity slackens and the flight veers into more melodramatic air space. More interested in plot machinations and piling on the pressure, the film’s screenplay doesn’t work hard to round out its terrorists — unhinged Daniel (Paul Wollin), muscular Kenan (Murathan Muslu) and sensitive teenager Vedat (Omid Memar) — giving them the simplest of motivations but little in the way of depth and nuance. The film opens with Gandhi’s maxim, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind,” and, in its portrayal of terrorists’ motivations and mindsets, 7500 doesn’t have much more to say than that.

Still, alongside Vollrath’s technical ingenuity (expect him to be hired for a Liam Neeson thriller some time soon), the film’s other great asset is Gordon-Levitt. Striking a neat balance between professional stoicism and human vulnerability, he manages to underplay both characteristics while still delivering on movie-star charisma. He keeps the movie grounded in reality, whatever the turbulence.

It’s a potentially mid-’90s B-movie premise, but director Patrick Vollrath and star Joseph Gordon-Levitt keep it taut, tense and classy. Just a shame it doesn’t stick the landing.

Album: Women in Music Pt. III (Haim)

Review from: Rolling Stone

Haim’s third album, the cheekily titled Women in Music Pt. III, begins like an uncapped fire hydrant spraying water on a scorching summer day. A sax solo from Henry Solomon leads into Danielle Haim begging for a miracle from their hometown on album opener “Los Angeles.” While they love L.A., it’s bringing them down and they’re mulling what to make of their disappointment and disillusionment.

“Hometown of mine/Just got back from the boulevard can’t stop crying,” she sings on the first verse. “The guy at the corner shop gave me a line and a smile/I know he was trying/But a lie is a lie.”

“Los Angeles,” like all the best moments on WIMPIII (out June 26), is packed from line to line with vivid scenes and razor sharp emotional precision. The album is an immediate gem in their still-expanding catalog; it’s a resonant reflection on pain, depression, love and home that forsakes some of their big, drum-heavy pop leanings for a smoother, more inward experience.

Made in partnership with frequent collaborators Ariel Rechtshaid and Rostam Batmanglij, Haim’s latest feels like a fresh and tender ode to Seventies FM pop and rock, with the sisters giving nods to Laurel Canyon’s greatest hits along the way. Of those references, Joni Mitchell pops up the most: she’s referenced explicitly on the most synth-heavy track “I Know Alone” (“Screaming every word of ‘Both Sides Now’”) and implicitly on album highlight “Man from the Magazine,” a folky reflection on sexist interview questions that simmers with that familiar, Mitchellian armored softness.

The moments when Haim swerve from the guitar-forward FM pop that shape the majority of the record, however, are even more satisfying. “I Know Alone” moves like a moody, dark electro pop could-be-hit in its exploration of almost impenetrable loneliness while “3am” is a “Redbone”-inspired R&B trip about a better-forgotten booty call. “Don’t Wanna” feels like classic Haim, drum-driven with their chorus harmonies placed on a pedestal.

The album ends as it began, with Los Angeles on Danielle’s mind but New York at her fingertips with references to Lou Reed “Walk on the Wild Side” on closer “Summer Girl.” Solomon’s saxophone gives a beatnik, free jazz edge as she describes herself as both “lightning in your eyes” and “relief.” And what a relief these ladies of the Valley are on their most provocative album yet: they may just save summer yet.

Game: The Last of Us Pt. II

Review from: Gaming Age

The Last of Us Part II for the PS4 is a truly incredible — and incredibly exhausting — videogame experience that could probably only be created by fine folks at Naughty Dog. The game feels, looks, sounds and plays like the culmination of everything that the studio has produced before it, and is easily one of the most detailed, balanced and mature story-driven adventure titles of the generation. But phew, it sure is ex-haust-ing.

The Last of Us Part II takes place 5 years after the events of the original game, with Ellie, Joel and a number of survivors settling down to a relatively peaceful existence in Jackson, Wyoming. The infected are still out there… and there is still no cure or vaccine, nor is there much information regarding the possibility of one. The endgame sequence of the original The Last of Us sort of made sure of that — for those who maybe didn’t play through Part I. There are of course factions and settlements of other humans spread about the area which have a bit of history with each other. The Fireflies, the “antagonists” of The Last of Us are nowhere to be found in the current hierarchy, though in their place are the organized and well-equipped Washington Liberation Front (WLF), and the cult-like Seraphites (known as SCARS).

There are alliances and agreements, and also plenty of simmering tensions between the groups and individuals due to previous actions and relationships. Without wanting to potentially spoil any important plot points (and there’s a lot to spoil) — the peace is broken when Ellie and Joel’s group are involved in an event which kicks off the need for Ellie to gear up and head out to do some important things. (is that vague enough?)

Naughty Dog has taken every gameplay technique, visual flourish, environmental and system design, and clever audio cue from the Uncharted franchise and the original The Last of Us (along with the extra Left Behind DLC) and have curated them perfectly for The Last of Us Part II. As someone who hates to spend a lot of time managing inventory or crafting items in the games I play, the streamlined inventory, skill tree and crafting system is just damn near perfect. Other than the weapon upgrade system which require access to (also very straightforward) crafting tables, nearly everything can be done on the fly with minimal effort fumbling around in menus. To say that this feature made a huge impact in my experience while playing through the game would be an understatement. And that’s just one well-tuned facet of the game, but it was important enough that I felt the need to lead with it.

Like it’s predecessor, Part II is all about survival, and while the world and the gameplay environments feel significantly larger than in Part I, it is in no way an open world game. The experience is story driven, taken day-by-day, and there’s no real backtracking or revisiting of areas later on unless it’s specifically part of the narrative. There are plenty of stupidly-detailed derelict houses and structures, insanely lush forest environments and rain soaked camps to sneak around in and scrounge up supplies, all the while clearing out infected or enemy factions (if required). The game features a number of clever puzzles and minor traversal challenges utilizing environmental and inventory objects — a few ideas of which we’ve seen in later Uncharted titles, and more than a handful of new ones. There’s no shortage of “a-ha!” moments throughout, especially when it comes to tracking down a useful cache of supplies.

Speaking of special moments, visually, The Last of Us Part II is absolutely something else. I played through the game mostly on a PS4 Pro and seriously, with the kind of graphics that Naughty Dog has coerced the console into rendering at the tail end of the hardware life-span will likely rival the first wave of PS5 titles. Even in larger, complex environments the game feels significantly smoother than 30fps, which is in no doubt thanks to the subtle, fine-tuned motion blur built into the engine. The 4K assets and HDR-enabled lighting are top notch, and the interactive foliage, a pet peeve of mine if not implemented appropriately, is among the best seen this generation. The amount of man hours spent building, designing and decorating the interiors of dwellings, houses, aquariums, theaters, restaurants, office buildings, from whole residential blocks to little camps, must have been off the charts. The varied environments are also extremely interactive, which factors into the gameplay quite a bit, from exploring to sneaking to fighting.

As gorgeous as the world is the character models in The Last of Us Part II are the real star of the show. I’m still not convinced that they are rendered in real-time on current gen hardware as they are most certainly some of the highest quality — from animation to texturing — that I’ve seen on a console thus far. The enemy factions and infected are similarly well designed, and in the case of the runners, clickers, bloaters and other mutated entities, horrifying up close and afar. There’s no doubt that the inevitable PS5 patch for the game will be bonkers, visually speaking.

The Last of Us Part II is a stressful, relentless experience almost all the way through, and while there are some much-needed breaks in the action and a bit of levity here and there, those interludes don’t last very long. Keeping Ellie and friends alive takes its toll, and the game conditions players to pace themselves and keep aware of their surroundings at nearly all times. The human elements in Part II are frequently more dangerous, malicious and numerous than the infected, and I seem to remember it being the other way around in the original game. The offensive options, from quiet stealth kills and close range weapon fights, to pipe-bombs and Molotov cocktails, to incendiary double-barrel shotgun blasts and long range semi-auto rifles (to name a few) have brutal visual and aural results (when you’re on the receiving end too). And like the first game, sometimes a well-placed brick or bottle is the best strategy for avoiding skirmishes altogether.

The “listening” skill, which provides a bit of enemy scanning/x-ray vision within your local area, is once again available in Part II. To spite not needing it much in Part I after a partial playthrough, I found myself using it much more here due to the environment being larger and hiding places less obvious and movements and patrols more organic and unpredictable. The deliberate pacing, overall feeling of dread, and the need to constantly sit at the edge of my seat and/or grit my teeth was probably part of the decision to utilize the skill more regularly as well.

It’s super difficult to get into the story without some serious spoilerage, so I’ve tried to dance around it the best I can. Needless to say, the events of The Last of Us Part II spiral out of control, there are emotional twists and unexpected curve-balls galore, and most of it is fairly dark and violent. The game is also long, clocking in at least 25 hours on Normal mode with moderate exploration. On the positive side, the studio handles diversity and inclusivity in a mature and non-pandering fashion and never beats gamers over the head with any of the messaging, which is a testament to the writing team and the medium. The voice work all across the board is fantastic, which is not unexpected for a Naughty Dog title. The soundtrack doesn’t kick in much, and in its place are ambient effects and background loops which progressively build in intensity depending on the situation. You can just feel when something bad is coming — and most of the time you’d be right.

With an enthralling story, complex characters, interesting gameplay and gorgeous visuals and audio, The Last of Us Part II is probably one of the most polished videogame experiences out there and it’s pretty easy to give it a great score and call it a day. But honestly, thanks to the intense pace, mature subject matter and stressful situations, it may not be for everyone. I definitely could not marathon through it for more than a couple hours without breaks and/or switching it up with lighter fare, which along with the unexpected length, delayed this review a bit. Most may see that as a net positive, although after 20+ hours I started to wonder when some sort of resolution was finally coming. Of course, in the end, it was indeed all worth it. Being a strictly single player experience, beyond cleaning up some Trophies, taking photos, seeking out collectibles and re-visiting chapters at more difficult settings, there’s not a ton to do after the credits roll. That’s more of an observation than a criticism though.

So do we recommend The Last of Us Part II? Most definitely! It’s yet another top tier, must-have release from Naughty Dog and Sony Interactive Entertainment that PS4 owners should add to their library.

TV: Snowpiercer

Review from: The Guardian

A train circles a frozen Earth carrying the elite – and, crammed at the back, the proles, plotting rebellion – in this highly-watchable new series inspired by Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 film.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again – finding good trash in the age of quality television is HARD. It has to sit firmly in the Goldilocks zone: not too good, not too bad, holding together but never threatening greatness. It’s a small target to hit, and of course, every viewer’s tolerance varies slightly. For the avoidance of doubt – I mean drama series trash, not daytime TV or fun evening ephemera such as Queer Eye. I mean something with a story that you can still follow while you’re mostly staring at your phone, and characters just above cipher-level in whom you can become marginally invested while you put your phone down, eat your dinner and drink your wine.

But good news! Cometh the Covid hour of comfort-watching need, cometh the trash – this time on a giant armoured train, 1,001 self-sustaining carriages long, unstoppably circling an Earth “frozen to the core” by attempts to reverse global warming! I know. You’re hooked already, right? And that’s even before you know that this funicular ark was meant to carry only the elite, but was stormed by proles at the last minute before it began its endless journey, who live in dire conditions at the back, reluctantly fed on nutritional jelly slabs by guards and planning rebellion, while the billionaires, beauties and businessmen live upfront in sybaritic luxury. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen – let me just check your tickets – to Snowpiercer (Netflix). It should hit the spot for just about everybody.

The TV series is based on the original series of graphic novels by Jacque Lob, Jean-Marc Rochette and Benjamin Legrand, and Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 film, which took the novels and stripped them down into a rigorous yet somehow absolutely demented fable about life under capitalism. If you have not already had the pleasure, go and watch it now. We will Zoom-rave about Tilda Swinton’s off-the-chain performance as the train’s nutso overseer – Margaret Thatcher-as-Jane-Horrocks-by-way-of-Victoria-Wood-and-Maggie-Smith in furs and a set of buck-tooth prosthetics – when you get back.

Snowpiercer the series manages, gloriously, to bypass all that is great and almost all that is good about both of its sources of material, and turn it instead into a police procedural that just happens to be set on the aforementioned giant armoured train. Think of it as steampunk Law & Order. CSI: Wastelands. NYPD Brrr, It’s Cold. Send me a postcard if you want more of these. I’m self-isolating again. I got time.

Andre Layton (Daveed Diggs) is one of the stowaways. They are called Tailers because they live in the far end of the train called the Tail and they do that because the budget went on creating the exterior shots of the train plunging through icy wastelands and not on the script, as is trash-right and proper. The Tailers are plotting revolution. Layton is urging caution when he is suddenly summoned Up Front by “voice of the train” Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly) who is in charge of executing the directives of the revered Mr Wilford – the godlike, unseen inventor of the train. Layton used to be a homicide cop, and there is a serial killer preying on third-class passengers and threatening the fragile, well, Law & Order, you might say, of the train. Mr Wilford needs him to solve the crime.

OK.

Layton is the only former homicide cop on the train. The train that has a miniature ocean to supply fresh sea urchins to its paying passengers and full-sized hydroponic cherry trees in one of its 300 agricultural carriages did not install any kind of police presence.

OK.

Layton’s ex, who chose to leave the Tail five years ago to work in the Night Car – OK – is one of the suspects.

OK.

Layton is now perfectly placed to case the entire train and plan a proper revolution while he solves the murder.

OK?

OK. I think that’s all you need. There’s a gory fight scene, a near-love interest, a sweet child, some half-hearted gesturing towards class loyalty, trust and treachery, and a twist at the end of the first episode that you probably saw coming before the opening credits. Exposition barrels along faster than the train itself (“Just making a quick stop at Gun on the Mantelpiece Station!”). In short, it’s perfect. Sit back, relax and take in the trash.

Theatre: Rattling the Keys

  Review from: The Barefoot Review

The Adelaide Repertory Theatre. Online Production via YouTube .

You can’t keep a good theatre company down. The dear old Rep may have a long way to go in terms of new-era online technology, but it has bitten the bullet and had a jolly good go.

And, to add gloss to the kudos, it has done so in the name of youth and our upcoming talent. Rounds of applause.

Geoff Brittain directed this new online production which had a very well promoted “opening night” at 7PM on Saturday June, 27th. Well, 7:10PM, to be precise. Who knows why the upload was delayed. But there it was with its youthful cast and its disturbing story of drug-addled teens and country kids feeling hopeless and out of the loop.

Rattling the Keys has been written by young local playwright Zoe Muller and is set in Coober Pedy. It depicts a group of friends who are at a turning point in life, riven by family loyalties and a quest for education and a future in Adelaide. A neighbour has died. Did one of these meth-heads do it and not recall? It does not make a pretty picture of life in Coober Pedy. Indeed, not only does it depict angry young men ravaged by meth and heroin but also, and rather graphically, a town plagued by heat and aggressive mosquitos.

This is a debut play by Zoe Muller and it won the 2018 Young Playwright of the Year Award from State Theatre and Flinders University. It was presented on stage earlier in the year at The Mill under auspices of Deadset Theatre.

Critics noted that The Mill’s claustrophobic stage space enhanced the mood of the play and it must be said that the social distancing expanses on the big stage in this Rep production does quite the opposite. It takes some time to identify who is where as the camera sweeps across couches and through a door to somewhere. One understands that the performance was filmed in two sessions and edited together. One wonders why the company did not realise in the process that it is not working and that the sound is so far out of kilter it is often offensively deafening or muffled, with extraneous onstage sounds intrusive.

The camerawork has not followed the examples of the many stage companies whose filmed archive productions have been streaming online during the pandemic. Some of these have been simply spellbinding, deflating the old argument that stage plays cannot be translated to film. We have had for example: Griffin Theatre’s Emerald City; Sydney Theatre Company/Malthouse with Michael Gow’s Away; and the many offerings of theshowmustgoon line YouTube channel. Digitised versions of live theatre have come to the fore, along with iso-special theatre productions on Zoom. A new skillset is evolving.

Meanwhile, as the narrative of Rattling the Keys evolves and the histrionics lessen, some acceptable performances emerge, most particularly that of the playwright herself. Muller is really quite engaging in the role of Arcadia, the stoic sister of troubled addict Teddy. He, on the other hand, comes across in an assault of shouting as performed by Henry Solomon. Matilda Butler charms as the nice girl, Billy, a character devised to inject hope into the grim world of isolated adolescence. Albert Ngo also achieves some balance as Kai and Alex Whitrow shows the needed glimmer of decency as Ashton. But much of the performance seems to be pushing against the odds and one wishes the director could have reined the actors in.

This play speaks well for the passions of aspiring playwrights. It is a passionate, youthful achievement in this hardest of arts. It will be interesting to see where Muller goes from here.

While the Rep has made a brave attempt at the evolving genre, it is clearly a learning curve. Future productions are promised on its YouTube channel and one waits with growing expectations. Every month, a new show.

Bookmark the channel and make sure to subscribe.

Samela Harris

When: Online for one month from 27 Jun
Where: YouTube Link
Bookings: Free; donations welcomed – Link