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Category Archives: Australian Film

Last Cab to Darwin

Last CabOkay, I’m a bit late. I recall wishing I had the time to go see this on stage a few years ago, and in recent months I again thought it looked like an interesting film. How I underestimated it!
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The story of a cabby from Broken Hill who finds himself with terminal cancer and an abrupt prognosis, this film resonates with some of the deepest anxieties of humanity. When the Northern Territory legalises euthanasia, he hoofs it in his cab across the desert to end his life on his own terms.
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This is a brilliant road movie, certainly one of the best I’ve ever seen. It succeeds in portraying some deeply flawed characters with empathy and keeps them at the centre of the story despite the political nature of the theme. This is probably the film’s greatest strength. It could have ended up being something of a polemic, but it remains grounded by its earthy and endearing characters who are never out of focus.
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I ended up seeing Last Cab to Darwin in an aeroplane flying across Australia, and it turns out that’s the perfect context. I whipped up my window blind afterwards and watched Kangaroo Island pass underneath as the plane made its way out over the Bight, just the right time to whistfully ponder the beauty and ugliness of life. Australia’s outback offers the perfect metaphor for this; majestic in its grandeur and vicous in its relentless trajectory towards death and destruction.
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Be afraid, it seems to say, but stay on the road. I hope when my journey ends, I don’t have to make a decision like this, but I’m also sure I’d make the same one. I just hope our governments can manage to keep their worthless noses out of my bloody business.
 
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Posted by on Thursday, 8 October 2015 in Australian Film, Film

 

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Holding the Man

holding the manTimothy Conigrave’s autobiographical story of his love for John Caleo has turned into one of the finest Australian films ever produced. In fact, I should strike the Australian from that sentence, as it’s really one of the finest films ever produced in the world, but having seen it, I’m rather more proud to be an Australian than I was yesterday, so it’s staying.

Adapted for the stage (and subsequently the screen) by Queanbeyan playwright Tommy Murphy, Holding the Man follows the story of Tim and John from when they meet in high school and Tim pursues John. The story follows their love through homophobia, infidelity (of sorts), moderate success and finally AIDS. The characters are portrayed skilfully by Ryan Corr as Tim, and Craig Stott as John. Despite a strange, forced accent from Corr (he insists on pronouncing every T as if he were dining with the queen and it annoyed me throughout), their performances are truly impeccable.

The film matters in a sociological sense because it is set against the backdrop of the changing Australia of the late seventies through early nineties, which was when the bulk of social attitudes about the rainbow community shifted. And yet, despite the significance of these political shifts, this story is firmly grounded in the experience of the two men at the heart of this tragedy. And therein lies its greatest strength.

If you really hate spoilers, you might want to stop reading now, but really, the ending is clear from the very opening moments of the film, anyway. It is rare, I think, that this tactic works, but this is certainly one of the circumstances in which it serves well for keeping the story on track and focused. One of the benefits of knowing that John dies is that as the film delves into some very dark places the audience doesn’t question whether he will pull through. And because we know he is going to die, we are able to concentrate on the way in which the characters deal with their circumstances. It really is very strategic storytelling, and shows a master of the art was at work.

Despite the darkness of this story, this film is, at its heart, a celebration of love. It truly demonstrates a spectacular skill on the part of Tommy Murphy, to delve into such dark plotlines with such pathos and not lose sight of the heart of the story, which was the love between the two protagonists. Few writers can manage this with such dexterity.

I simply cannot recommend this film highly enough. Get it. Watch it. Share it.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 26 August 2015 in Australian Film, Film, Goalpost Pictures

 

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Paper Planes

Paper_PlanesI think I need to begin this post with a warning: I may gush a little. This is simply one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Maybe I say that a lot, but it doesn’t make me like it any less. There’s a great deal of skill involved in balancing plot with character development, balancing pathos with humour and balancing light with dark. The creators of this film have done all three brilliantly.

Paper Planes is focused on Dylan, a 12-year-old who lives with his grieving father on a dilapidated farm near the fictional town of Waleup in Western Australia. When a strapping, visionary student teacher introduces him to the world of competitive paper plane-making, he enters that world with enthusiasm and brings a balance of humility and determination with him, which helps to draw his father back to life.

Ed Oxenbould‘s portrayal of Dylan is the linchpin for this brilliant film, and his ability to balance energy and pathos is remarkable for a 13 year old actor. He is supported well by Sam Worthington, whose character is sullen throughout without being entirely flat, which is quite an achievement. And light relief is all in the hands of the brilliant Deborah Mailman, who adds just the right spice to the mix.

The plot is largely predictable, but doesn’t suffer for it. Even the best of the humour is available in the trailer, so if you don’t like character and aren’t interested in their journeys, then maybe you shouldn’t bother with this film (if that’s the case, why would you watch films at all anyway?). The fact is, this is a light-hearted story that really gets to the guts of what life is about.

And more importantly, perhaps, this film is a testament to growing maturity in Australian storytelling. While it is distinctly Australian in character, it refrains from either romanticising or demonising the bush, and there’s barely a skerrick of cheap and nasty ockerism. There’s a hint of romanticism about Sydney (something I’ll never understand, having been liberated from Sydney myself), but what it does best is pitch a national identity that is quietly confident, but nonetheless cautious. I don’t think we’ve done that very much before.

I’m even willing to forgive some very substantial continuity errors, the biggest of which I can’t mention as it would spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it.

If the opportunity presents itself, don’t miss this one. If you’re the teary type, take tissues. If you like a good laugh, don’t put the popcorn in your lap. But either way, see it.

 
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Posted by on Sunday, 11 January 2015 in Arenamedia, Australian Film, Film

 

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The Rocket

rocketThe plot summaries about for this film leave a lot to be desired. There is something distinctly airy-fairy about a line like “a boy who is believed to bring bad luck leads his family on a journey through Laos to find his family a new home”. Had I read that, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with The Rocket. Luckily I didn’t read one as soppy as that, and I took off on a whim to our cushy Palace Electric Cinema and saw it.

Now, I’m not saying there’s nothing soppy about this film, and that sentence is not an entirely inaccurate description of the plot. But this is a gritty, mucky and sometimes confronting story that just oozes the best and worst of humanity.

Set in the northern mountains of Laos, the story begins with the birth of that boy, Ahlo, who is saved from the tribe’s gruesome tradition of slaughtering the first-born of twins by his mother’s pleas against his grandmother’s judgement. The story cuts to him in early adolescence as his village is about to be flooded by the construction of a hydro-electric dam, and his mother is killed in a tragic accident. In the midst of his grief and confusion, he incurs the wrath of the village and the family finds themselves fleeing and beginning the search for a new home.

There is the risk with a story such as this that the inner turmoil of the boy could be overworked, bogging the story down in melodrama. But there is a great balance of pathos with movement, and the story almost plunges forward. There are moments of intense fear, beautifully crafted, and moments of sheer pleasure. This truly is the stuff of life.

The ever-present danger of unexploded weaponry, legacies from the Americans’ secret sojourn through the territory in the 1960s, is intermixed with idyllic settings and distinct twenty-first century technology like LED lighting, painting a picture of a society not entirely backward, but nonetheless held back by its history.

The success of this story really stands on the back of a brilliant performance by Sitthaphon Disamoe, whose energy is magnificent and never falters. The ten year old certainly earned the Best Actor Award he picked up at the Tribeca Film Festival.

This is genuinely one of the best Australian films I have ever seen, and if this is any indication of the direction our film industry is going, I think there is a bright future ahead.

 
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Posted by on Friday, 6 September 2013 in Australian Film, Film, Red Lamp Films

 

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The Sapphires

 

We’ve seen plenty of films centred on the victories of the Civil Rights Movement. Most are quite interesting but the bulk of them seem to float in the ether of the social and political significance of their subject matter, and don’t make a particularly smooth landing in the grit and grime of reality. That criticism can’t be levelled at The Sapphires.

Inspired by the true story of the writer’s mother, who toured Vietnam during the American WarThe Sapphires portrays three sisters and a cousin, young Aboriginal women who in 1968 are discovered by a drunk Irishman who can barely hold down a job but has a great passion for Soul music and recognises a talent. Auditioning for an American military talent scout, they are recruited and find themselves on their way to a war zone.

The story veers close to the heavy themes of racial discrimination, the Stolen Generation, and the moral predicament of the Western powers in Vietnam, but deftly avoids wallowing in them, instead focusing on the narrative of a family. It is remarkably how carefully balanced this story is, since it could so easily drop into a tirade on the heavy themes it skirts, but instead focuses on the triumph of hope and perseverance.

The Sapphires is distinctly the product of the early twenty-first century. It looks back at this period as a critical juncture in world history, a point when the usual shift in cultural values across the western world took on seismic significance and fundamentally altered the way we see things. And unlike most films that try to do this, it doesn’t preach, it doesn’t overstate the political and cultural significance of its subject matter. It just tells the story of five young people experiencing change at the crossroads of world culture. This is cinema at its best.

 

 
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Posted by on Friday, 10 August 2012 in Australian Film, Film, Goalpost Pictures

 

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Swerve

The thriller has not been a genre that has appealed to me greatly, but over the last few years a few of them have  started to change that. Wolf Creek was one of the first, and The Ghost Writer was probably the most recent to impress me. Swerve can now be added to that list.

Starting with an exchange of drugs and money that doesn’t go entirely to plan, mild-mannered Colin (David Lyons) gets mixed up in a web of deceit, corruption and tangled motivations that don’t just keep you on the edge of your seat, but also keep your mind on its toes trying to remember who knows what, who owes what to whom, and where stuff is. In fact, this web of complications is almost too tangled, but I think the film survives thanks largely to two brilliant central characters expertly portrayed by Emma Booth and David Lyons, neither of whom I’ve ever encountered before.

Several action scenes involving car chases and accidents exemplify the elegant simplicity in this film’s cinematography, and that’s no mean feat. Perhaps its thanks to cinematographer David Foreman‘s background in television, but the action is brilliantly pared back to ensure that the focus remains on the characters and their objectives, contrary to what a lot of film makers tend to do. This is absolutely essential for a thriller, otherwise all you get is stunts and acrobatics, which I find far less satisfying than the thrill of seeing characters I care about in danger. As a result, the film as a whole stands up against its complicated plot and the occasional continuity error.

The sense of fear is palpable, and the film maintains an ethereal atmosphere without losing its grounding. This one is worth watching over and over again.

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 16 June 2012 in Australian Film, Duo Art Productions, Film

 

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Toomelah

Toomelah is a particularly interesting film, if not especially engaging. Writer and Director Ivan Sen went into the New South Welsh township of Toomelah, which began life as an Aboriginal mission, and filmed this story with the local community performing the roles. As characters and performers, they offer a lot. They are, in a sense, playing themselves, and although the story is fictitious, the setting and the circumstances of life in Toomelah is very real.

After the screening at Arc, Sen described the experience of making the film in this community. He went alone, with no film crew, in order to get unhindered access to the community, and to allow the performers more scope to ignore the camera. The effect is remarkable; these characters come to life, despite having just about the thinnest plot I’ve ever seen. There was one point while watching the film when I wondered whether the story was actually just Sen following Daniel Connors around and filming his real life.

The reality, though, is that this is a fictitious story about a real community, played by the people of the community. The slowness of life in this community is, presumably, captured faithfully, but unfortunately I don’t think this verisimilitude does the film any favours. It asks a lot of the audience to keep watching, and while I think this is often acceptable, it is more effective when the story is more engaging.

I think it is particularly important that we tell the story of diverse Aboriginal communities, but I still think these stories need to be told in the dominant storytelling form of our society. While Toomelah is a film worthy of our attention, I doubt it will get much. With a plot arc this slow, it takes pre-established empathy with the characters for an audient to sit through it.

So I find it sad that I don’t think Toomelah will get much attention. It is worthy of every Australian’s attention, but its interest lies in the way it was made and what it offers as a picture of life in this community, rather than being intrinsic to the film.

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 29 October 2011 in Australian Film, Film

 

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