dir: Rob Sitch
I really wanted to like it. I went in hoping it would be good. Support the local team and all that. My love for The Castle, The Dish, Front Line, The Late Show, The D-Gen before that knows no bounds. The Working Dog chaps are all kinds of all right in my book.
I never allowed for the possibility that this could be so… so very painful.
Any Questions For Ben? might have worked with anyone else as the lead. It might have worked with Idi Amin or Madonna or Yasser Arafat playing the main character. Anyone else possibly could have carried off the role. Probably not me, but then again, shy, awkward, pasty, chubby, cross-eyed me would probably have done a more convincing job than this guy. The Ben of the title (Josh Lawson) is completely unconvincing as a charismatic high achiever with the world on his plate, and he’s even more unconvincing when he starts to question the point of it all.
It seemed fairly obvious in the first few minutes that this was a yuppie redemption story, but, forgive me for focussing more on the form or style of the genre, but aren’t yuppie redemption stories meant to redeem the yuppies in question? So the usual character arc involves a) a smug arsehole who’s on top of the world until b) something happens which makes them realise what an arsehole they’ve been, and then they c) set about making amends for their past, so that they can move forward as a better person. And this flick basically supplies us with nothing beyond a).
Ben is a strategic brand manager or logo integrity specialist or some other collection of newspeak buzzwords. He bangs women whose names he can’t remember and has a great collection of friends (three), only two of whom seem like sentient beings. He changes girlfriends, jobs and apartments with disturbing regularity because he doesn’t like feeling bound down. He travels the world with his best mate Andy (Christian Clark) who is so fucking dumb they can never hold a conversation together.
dir: Jonathan Teplitzky
This Australian film from last year has nothing to do with the week-long Burning Man festival in the States which happens every year (which coincidentally starts today, Aug 27th) and is capped off with a massive effigy of a burning man. It is, however, about a man who is burning.
He is burning with desire, with the clap and probably a few other factors are making him blaze, but as the film opens, what he’s burning with is actual fire.
Tom (Matthew Goode) is a chef, and like all chefs depicted in film, is a hard-charging hyper-caffeinated arsehole. Well, maybe it’s not fair to say all of them on film are Type A personality arrogant arseholes. I think there was one who wasn’t. It might have been Remy the rat from Ratatouille. But all of the rest of them tend to be shown as alcoholics and drug abusers who shag anyone at any time.
Anyone who has spent time with people like this in real life knows how false a picture of the food services industry this truly is. I mean, I’ve known stacks of people working like this in high pressure kitchens, and they NEVER drank on the job or smoked dope during a break or shagged co-workers in the alley behind the restaurant. Also, they never get trashed after work every other night, nor is Monday the night when they tend to go completely crazy, since they’ve usually worked all weekend.
It’s a tough environment to work in. Margins are razor thin, staff can be undependable and turnover is high, and your restaurant can live or die on the quality of a day’s produce, or be murdered by a single stinky review. It produces exceedingly talented people, but it also makes some bush league level arseholes into Parliamentary – International level arseholes.
Arseholes like Tom. We see a lot of disjointed images at the beginning, ones that seem to be jumping all over the place time-wise. We’re not sure what’s happening and when it’s meant to be happening, and it takes a long time for the story to coalesce for us.
This deliberate fractured narrative is intended, I think, to give us the setup first: How much of an arsehole is Tom, who also seems to be heading for a fiery death, and how did this all come about?
There are a lot of women shown briefly at the beginning, giving us a sense that Tom is a player of the highest order, just like all chefs, but as the story progresses it illuminates the elements of his character, so that time (as in, when something happens) tells us more about Tom rather than the element itself.
For much of the flick’s length I thought the flick was trying to explain why Tom ended up where he seemed like he was going to end up. Instead it’s trying to explain why a seemingly high-strung man is always angry. Turns out that he has a bloody good reason.
dir: Stuart Beattie
An Aussie version of Red Dawn? Sign me up right now! I'd watch the shit out of such a movie. And I did, I guess...
Red Dawn, that brilliantly stupid 80s flick about American teenagers leading a guerrilla war against their Communist oppressors, deserves to be a template worth replicating. Of course, I’ve heard that they’re making a new Red Dawn, which I think is completely redundant now, with this flick having been made.
Of course, though cheesier than a three-cheese pizza, this flick doesn’t have a scene where Harry Dean Stanton yells with a demented gleam in his eye: “AVENGE ME, BOYS, AVENGE ME!”
And for that alone there need to be multiple competing versions of this meme out there.
I don’t personally know John Marsden, but I feel like he’s one of Australia’s living treasures, and that his efforts in the fields of writing aimed at ‘young adults’ and in education make him someone worthy of awards, showers of wealth and the attentions of hot people with skills to pay bills. I remember that I read some of his books back in the day, including this one, but I’d be lying if I said I actually remembered this book from when I was twelve. I vaguely remember it, and remember how shocking the idea was, and how confronting the idea of Australian teenagers killing to survive was, but little more than that.
There are two contradictory ideas that the flick has to balance in order to work, and it does fairly well with both of them. The first is one that’s contradictory all on its own, which is that these are ‘kids’ thrust unwillingly into the role of soldiers or insurgents, depending on how you look at it, who have to stand up and put away childish things to become freedom fighters.
The second idea is that these clueless but resourceful kids could ever be a threat to an army, and that’s far less convincing, unless you depict the action in a cartoonish and overamped manner, which the flick delivers in spades. So even if we can’t believe it, we’re supposed to be able to relate to it in our own local context.
It’s a somewhat precious idea when you consider that there are kid soldiers in other countries, especially certain African countries, that are hopped up on goofballs and running around raping and killing under orders before they’ve even hit puberty. Also, actual soldiers in actual Western armies are often eighteen anyway. They’re the ones who expect and demand to die on the front lines, being the tattooed cannon fodder by definition that they are.
dir: Rachel Ward
It’s a good thing Rachel Ward directed this film. Not only because she brings a deft and empathetic eye to a ‘difficult’ story, and renders it both meaningful and Australian despite its American origins. It’s also because if a guy had directed this, you’d accuse them of being a dirty, dirty old man, instead of being a sensitive and accomplished filmmaker.
She also, in a clear instance of welfare handouts, gives a plum role to her husband Bryan Brown, who plays a dying patriarch. Do you reckon he had to earn his spot in the film on the casting couch, by sucking and fucking his way to fame and stardom? I wouldn’t put it past her.
This is a good film, but the subject matter is rough, more than a bit rough. It’s downright discomfiting. Any story with elements of incest in it by default is going to be hard watching. And the elephant in this room is so large and so grey that it practically squishes every single other element. Almost.
There’s death, there’s very wrong sex, there’s suicide, and there’s the rage you can only feel towards parents, all here up on the screen for our delectation. Enjoy!
Based on a novel by Newton Thornburg, Beautiful Kate’s setting is transformed from being set just outside of Chicago, Illinois, to the exactly identical setting of the South Australian Flinders Ranges. Ned (Ben Mendelsohn) is a writer summoned back to the family property (called Wallimbi or Gumby or Mallulabimbi) where his saintly father Bruce (Bryan Brown) is loudly dying. Wait a second, maybe Bruce isn’t that much of a saint. In fact, like all of the male characters in this, maybe he’s a bit of a prick.
dir: Warwick Thornton
Samson and Delilah is unlike any other film, Australian or otherwise, in its depiction of Aboriginal characters or an Australian story. It is unflinching, and brutal, and beautiful. It might take its name from the biblical story, but this tale is far more real, current, tragic and yet hopeful in its ultimate realisation.
It is not an enjoyable flick. There isn’t much dialogue. It’s as meticulously crafted as any work of art you’re likely to ever see, but its purpose isn’t to entertain. Though there is occasional humour to leaven the grim circumstances of these lives, it remains true to the characters and the reality of their situation. A situation not exclusive to the characters in this film.
It’s not easy going, not by any stretch. But then, why should it be?
In an isolated community in the Northern Territory, Samson (Rowan McNamara) wakes up, sniffs petrol for a while, rubs his head then gets up and wanders around. He has nothing to do all day. The isolated community is so small that it probably consists of about 5 shacks, a shack church and a shop. Heat vibrates off everything. A communal phone rings and rings, but no-one answers it.
Music is what wakes Samson up each morning. His brother (Matthew Gibson) and his terrible band play the same song all day long. They play it all day long every goddamn day. The repetition, like the oppressive heat, is maddening but reassuring in its permanence. The phone keeps ringing unanswered.
dir: John Hillcoat
I still have the soundtrack by Warren Ellis and Nick Cave ringing in my ears. For in truth that is probably the most successful part of the film.
This so-called Australian “Western” has little going for it except lovely postcard visuals, a melancholy tension, people with bad teeth giving good performances and a hell of a lot of brutality.
Let’s face it, the starting point of British colonialism in this country was anything but auspicious or pleasant for any of the people involved. The town of Banyon serves as the “hell” in the line uttered by one of the film’s many characters, “What fresh hell is this…”, though he is in fact talking about all of Australia.
Though the land has its empty natural beauty, it looks like what much of it is: hostile and inhospitable. Of course the film plays this up and makes it look like the first whities here must have been insane to stay. As well as being very dirty all of the time.
Many people star in this flick, many people were involved, and so it comes with many expectations. Maybe a stack of people are going to think it’s the bee’s knees. For me it was more like the flea’s disease.
It looks authentic, despite its clear lack of authenticity; it has a melancholy, tense feel to it throughout; the script and dialogue are rich in language, the performances are decent and the music adds to the story instead of being distracting. But there are still issues which make me less than happy about it.
dir: Rolf de Heer & David Djigirr
For the first Australian film made entirely in an indigenous language, Ten Canoes has quite modest ambitions. There’s nothing political or activist going on, it’s not representing anything that deep or significant about indigenous culture, contemporary problems or earnest, well-meaning social commentary. So you can breathe a collective sigh of relief. Ah, that’s better.
It’s just a story within a story about a bunch of people living at the top end of Australia before colonisation. Pretty simple. They make fart jokes, they believe superstitious nonsense about sorcerers and people doing bad stuff to them by putting spells on their shit, and they sometimes covet each other’s wives. Simple people living simple lives.
We are introduced to the storyteller, voiced by David Gulpilil, who pretends he’s going to start the story with ‘a long time ago, in a land far, far away’, then takes that back after laughing. He then tells us gradually of the Dreamtime process of birth for his ancestors, and the way of all births, being the soul waiting at their individual waterholes until it becomes time for them to be put in their mother’s womb before being born.
dir: Jeremy Sims
Well, this week’s a real bogan fest here at movie-reviews.com.au, because we have another Australian flick that is utterly dependant on criminal bogans as two of its main characters. Hooray!
Last Train to Freo, surprisingly enough, is about some people travelling on the last train (for that night) to Fremantle, the West Australian port city south of Perth. Two of the people on the train are clearly dangerous criminal thugs. And, as often happens on public transport, thugs can often be overcome with the delusion that they are charismatic and special, and that everyone on the train wants to hear from them.
It’s a delightful circumstance to be trapped in. It’s happened to me a few dozen times, so I assume it’s happened to you, gentle reader. These characters are at the mercy not of the private companies that now run most of the trains in Australia, but of the tyranny of distance and these two thugs.
The thugs (Steve Le Marquand and Tom Budge) clearly have no problem with jail time, with personal space or human dignity. One is tall, hideous and grandiose (Marquand), the other is a nervy and crazy junkie (Budge), but in a seemingly less dangerous way. They discuss various moronic topics on their journey before they are joined by the other passengers.