Maya Stange

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Killing Ground Review

Good

From Australia, this dark and edgy thriller is skilfully made by writer-director Damien Power to drag the audience right into the middle of the horror. It may be a bit simplistic thematically, with an ultimate message that's feels almost bullying, but while it lasts it's a properly intense freak-out, merging two timelines to keep us chilled to the bone.

It's set in a dense forest somewhere in the Outback, where Ian and Sam (Ian Meadows and Harriet Dyer) have gone for a weekend camping trip to celebrate Ian's new job as a doctor. Pitching their tent alongside a picturesque lake, they notice a campsite at the other end of the shoreline that seems to be eerily empty. Meanwhile, we watch the residents of that other tent earlier in the day: Rob and Margaret (Julian Garner and Maya Stange) with a cheeky young toddler and sullen teen daughter Em (Tiarnie Coupland). Each of these groups of campers has an encounter with two local thugs, German and Chook (Aaron Pedersen and Aaron Glenane), who are in the area hunting wild pigs and are just a bit trigger-happy.

Filmmaker Power crosscuts between these two timelines in clever ways that keep the tension high while quietly filling in details to make the overall story come into focus. This allows him to gently build the suspense, deepening the characters just enough so that we care what happens to them, and adding some complexities that make everyone easy to identify with. Even the aggressors aren't as simplistic as they could have been. Pedersen makes German intriguingly reticent, annoyed by Chook's sadistic tendencies but aware that he has the same urges. Oddly, the dynamic between Ian and Sam is a bit more troubling, as the script simplistically ridicules Ian's innate fear without trying to understand it.

Continue reading: Killing Ground Review

Garage Days Review


Very Good
To borrow a phrase from Tolstoy, all pop music success stories are the same; every pop music failure is different. That's the genius behind VH1's Behind the Music (Why spend time listening to a good album when you can spend an hour learning about Styx's hubris?), and it also explains why most movies about the glamour of hitting it big in rock and roll are usually so disappointing. Stuck with an obvious story, the results are either campy (Help!), earnestly boilerplate (Almost Famous), or pretentiously awful (The Doors). But director Alex Proyas has the right idea with Garage Days, his likeable comedy about a hopelessly mediocre Australian rock band that can't get a decent gig.

Still, every rock movie good or bad needs a young kid with good looks and ambition, which here takes the form of Freddy (Kick Gurry), a sandy-haired singer with a vendetta against gambling machines and tendency to lose to his girlfriend's vibrator in the sexual sweepstakes. Worse, the girlfriend happens to be Tanya (Pia Miranda), the bassist in his go-nowhere Sydney band, which is filled with neurotic lead guitarist Joe (Brett Stiller) and drummer Lucy (Chris Sadrinna), an amateur pharmacist whose concoctions tend to produce more vomit than highs. Add to this Bruno (Russell Dykstra), a manager with no schmoozing skills to speak of, and Proyas winds up having great fun bouncing his characters against one another, revealing both their ineptitude and their charms.

Continue reading: Garage Days Review

XX/XY Review


OK
Coles Burroughs, the selfish protagonist played by Mark Ruffalo in Austin Chick's unexceptional debut XX/XY, proclaims early on to his girlfriend Sam (Maya Stange) "I'm never growing up," and then proceeds for the film's hour and a half to prove himself right. A spineless rascal guided by his sexual urges and fear of commitment, Coles is an aspiring filmmaker who meets Sam and her freewheeling roommate Thea (Kathleen Robertson) at a party in 1993, and winds up having a ménage à trois with the alluring strangers. The ensuing fallout finds Sam and Coles in a relationship and Thea on the outside as a full-time friend/part-time lover, and this uncomfortable setup leads to a pervasive fear of infidelity - as Coles later states, "There's no room for honesty in a healthy relationship." An untrustworthy lothario, Coles is all too happy to confirm such a statement, and the three soon discover that they cannot deal with the jealousy, deceit, and anger created by their current circumstance. The trio disbands, and the film jumps ahead ten years to find the former lovers reconnecting through a chance encounter. Yet while their situations (and hairstyles) are noticeably different, very little about Coles has changed for the better, and it's not long before the sparks are once again flying between him and Sam.

The problem is, Coles is now living with the devoted Claire (Petra Wright) - who proves both her love for Coles as well as her great cinematic taste in one fell swoop by getting her beau a box set of Claire Denis films for their anniversary. Her introduction, in a refreshing twist, allows writer/director Chick to deviate from his heretofore typical romantic comedy setup. Rather than cast Claire as the icy bitch Coles has, in the wake of losing Sam, been forced to settle for, Chick wisely pulls the rug out from under us, portraying Claire as almost frighteningly ideal. After Coles and Claire get together with Sam (who has shunned an engagement proposal in London and recently returned home) and Thea (who is now married to a restaurant owner) for dinner, Claire confronts Coles about the possibility that he might still harbor feelings for his one-time love; the forthrightness, respect, and clear-headed compassion and understanding she conveys while openly discussing the issue with Coles is, in its sincerity and equanimity, shocking. With Coles once again feeling magnetically drawn to Sam, Claire's goodness is the film's most delightful surprise, and winds up complicating what initially seemed to be a rote tale of lost love rediscovered.

Continue reading: XX/XY Review

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Maya Stange Movies

Killing Ground Movie Review

Killing Ground Movie Review

From Australia, this dark and edgy thriller is skilfully made by writer-director Damien Power to...

Garage Days Movie Review

Garage Days Movie Review

To borrow a phrase from Tolstoy, all pop music success stories are the same; every...

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