September 14, 2007

Australian Films of 2006

The last few reviews are up

These last few weekends I have been attending the AFI Festival of Film, which is screening the 15 films (plus the nominated documentaries, shorts and animation) eligible for this year's Australian Film Institute Awards. I thought I'd keep a journal of the movies I'm seeing, just like I did for the Melbourne Film Festival. Two of these films, Irresistible and Like Minds are actually 2006 releases (but they wouldn't have challenged any categories in the 2006 UMAs. Oddly, two other 2006 releases that weren't eligible for last year's AFIs are Happy Feet and BoyTown and, for whatever reason, didn't show up on this year's ballot. Weird. It's disappointing that The Jammed isn't eligible as it could have been a real force to be reckoned with. Oh well.

4, dir. Tim Slade (doco)

Unfortunately unforseen issues meant I was unable to attend the 4 screening. I hope to see it on DVD.

The Bet, dir. Mark Lee

The feature debut of Mark Lee who some of you will remember as the lead from 1980's Gallipoli. You know, the one who wasn't Mel Gibson. The Bet is a tightly wound little thriller. It's sort of like that David Wenham/Anthony Lapaglia movie The Bank, which was also about the stock market, but without the incredibly ridiculous ending (remember Anthony running around with a giant shotgun! lol), although this movie does have a weak final section it's forgivable. The actors are all good enough (I always enjoy seeing Sibylla Budd is anything) and it looks and sounds great with photography by Hugh Miller and original music by John Grey. I was impressed by The Bet, although I could see it's small beginnings (it received no government funding) behind the seams. B

Burke & Wills, dir. Oliver Torr & Matthew Zeremes

Well done to writers, producers and directors Torr and Zeremes for getting Burke & Wills made and then distributed, but unfortunately it's more a success in that area than it is in more crucial aspects. It comes as no surprise to learn that the story of Burke & Wills (not based on the famous story of "Burke and Wills") was originally intended for the stage, because it does feel very stagy. The performances feel cagey, although Zeremes does have some very find moments and shows promise as a screen actor. Perhaps it was the nature of Torr's character of Burke that made him so frustrating, but I wanted a few more facial expressions out of him thank you. There are some moments that indeed show promise behind the camera as well, but it's not enough to make this any more than a hardcore independent feature that ran out of money - there is literally no third act, which - considering where the film ended - could have really improved the film. Oh well, dems are the breaks of independent film making. C

Clubland, dir. Cherie Nowland

I wasn't exactly anticipating Cherie Nowlan's first theatrical feature film since 1997's quite great Thank God He Met Lizzie (with Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh, she has since been working on TV such as the Small Claims miniseries). From the sounds of it it was exactly the sort of movie that Australians have made 1000 times before, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was much better than I had been lead to think. I can't quite put it into words, but it was a nicely blended mix of comedy and drama with fine performances by Brit-import Brenda Blethyn, newcomers Khan Chittenden (much better here than in the vile West, below) and Emma Booth, and industry stalwarts like Frankie J Holdon and Rebecca Gibney. The writing is well done with some great comedy routines for Blethyn stand up comedian mother and a "coming of age" tale that actually feels real ("Is this the Samantha incident all over again?") Definitely a strong contender. B

Dr Plonk, dir. Rolf de Heer

Trust the UMA winning director of eclectic films such as Ten Canoes, Bad Boy Bubby and The Tracker to follow up his biggest success financially, critically and awards-wise with a silent black and white comedy about a time-travelling professor. Made using an original hand-cranked camera and unused black and white film stock and employing a main cast of only three (including Magda Szubanski and Adelaide street Performer Angus Lunghi, aka Mr Spin), Dr Plonk is, quite frankly, the funniest movie of the year. Revelling in the slapstick comedy of the silent era (what with people slipping on banana skins it's like a classy Australia's Funniest Home Videos!) de Heer has crafted a truly original and special piece of cinema. It certainly won't be to everyone's tastes, but if you're willing to give it a try I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

The, best described, inspired lunacy really picks up in the second half of this 80-minute film when Dr Plonk begins travelling back and forth between 1907 and 2008, where people sit like drones in front of the tv watching commercials for a tv movie "The World Is Ending". One scene involving a chase from two police officers is particularly fantastic. I would recommend this to anyone willing to give it a try. De Heer has done it again. A-

Forbidden Lie$, dir. Anna Broinowski (doco)

A hilariously entertaining documentary about one of the most bizarre literary stories of the last decade. It involves the case of Norma Khouri who wrote a book called Forbidden Love about her Muslin friend in Jordon who was murdered by her family in an "honour killing". She wrote the New York Times Bestseller, went of talk shows (there's even a clip from USA Today) and did talks about the subject. And then it was later revealed as a fake. The film, for the first half, follows this story through dramatised sequences and discussion about the topics and such and then the second half of the film is Khouri vehemently trying to defend herself to director Broinowski. They even travel to Jordan where Khouri believes she will be murdered. And then it turns out she's on FBI's watch list! It turns out that every single name, place, time and detail in the book was changed to "protect her family" and we never do find out what's real and what's not. What we do realise is Norma Khouri is fucked up. Drags towards the end, unfortunately. B

The Final Winter, dir. Brian Andrews & Jane Forrest

Okay, first things first: I hate rugby league. No, scratch that. I loathe rugby league. Sure, if I bothered to sit down and watch a match I might get one single iota of an idea as to what in god's name is going on in that ridiculous mess of a game, but why would I wanna punish myself. Last year's worst movie was another Aussie film about rugby so I was wary of The Final Winter but while I didn't have any idea what these people were talking about it wasn't anywhere near as bad as that retched Footy Legends. There were good performances here and it brought up some interesting stuff, such as Australia sporting culture and brought back a time when men had to be men and all that junk, just not enough of it. I wouldn't recommend it for a trip to the cinema, but it's not all bad. I must say that I was disappointed that there were all these locker room scenes and yet not once did we get to see yummy Nathaniel Dean in his skivvies. POOR FORM, GUYS! C+

Global Haywire, dir. Bruce Petty (doco)

Unfortunately unforseen issues meant I was unable to attend the Global Haywire screening. I hope to see it on DVD.

Gone, dir. Ringan Ledwidge

I have issues with Ledwidge's post-Wolf Creek desert thriller. Routinely in horror/thriller movies us audiences begrudge the characters who are idiots and don't simply leave when they get a chance or who, when it comes to fighting the evil baddie, just don't think with any common sense. Well, and here is spoiler territory if you were at all interested (Aussie box office suggests nobody is), in Gone it's all buildup to what is surely a big finale, but once the main girl realises who the American travelling with them really is (dun dun duunnnn) she manages to escape rather easily (due some fortunate wire meshing) and then it ends. It's like some anti-horror movie. All buidup and then when you think the girl is going to be stupid she actually, shock, turns out to be smart and manages to outsmart the killer much fasther than normal. It's weird. C

The Home Song Stories, dir. Tony Ayres

Yes, Joan Chen gives a performance as great as you've heard. Chen is incredibly strong in Tony Ayres' followup to multi-AFI winning Walking on Water film. Thankfully, she doesn't go entirely overboard which, like Brenda Blethyn in Clubland, could have seriously hampened the film experience. Strong work is also put forth by newcomer Irene Chen (no relation) as her daughter. The film looks great, and there is a very well-done third act to give the viewer the allusion that the entire film was as strong. Unfortunately, the second act drags as the story goes around in circles of men, yelling, suicide, making up, etc. However, the final scenes do pack a punch. B-

Irresistible, dir. Ann Turner

Another incrediblty strange movie. Not only does this suburban thriller (or sorts) have Susan Sarandon and Emily Blunt amongst it's major cast members (I know) it's also like some upscale made-for-tv movie that somehow came upon a theatrical release. I mean, things you will find in Irresistible:

Susan Sarandon stalking in the bushes! Insane people! Long lost daughters! A court case! Restraining orders! Possibly incestious love scene! Domestic violence! Alcoholism! Sarandon being attacked by a swarm of wasps! Suspicious wives! Hysterical mothers! Orphans! Pottery!

At times it can be hilarious entertaining (such as seeing Susan Sarandon crouch in the bushes and break into people's homes), or it can also be silly and ridiculous (such as seeing Susan Sarandon crouch in the bushes and break into people's homes). The wasp scene was particularly disturbing for me considering my phobia of them (thank god there weren't any clowns because I may have just flipped my shit.) Still, the one thing that perplexes me still is why a character born in America and raised in Australia (I think) has a British accent. C+

Like Minds, dir. Gregory J Read

Also known as Murderous Intent overseas. An overly confusing bunch of nonsense that gets by because it's well shot and the actors are trying to keep your interest. The story stops making sense at about the 10 minute mark when flashbacks upon flashbacks start. I wonder why Toni decided to take the role in this movie? What does Gregory Read have on her? C

Lucky Miles, dir. Michael James Rowland

--Comments here. Essentially, it was cute and charming, but far too long for such a simple premise. B-

Noise, dir. Matthew Saville

And the prize for most improved goes to Noise. I have previous discussed Matthew Saville's feature debut (after brilliant TV work such as We Can Be Heroes and Love My Way and the short Roy Hollsdotter Live). I decided to see this one a second time because I had nothing better to do and, I'll be damned, I now love this movie. If Noise isn't in my top five for the year then it will have been a very good year for movies. Something about this second viewing deeply moved me. I grew to appreciate Brendan Cowell even more and loved Maia Thomas' debut as the traumatised massacre survivor. I can't quite put my finger on what it was exactly but sometimes a movie just clicks and it's magic. I felt that this time. It was fantastic. A

Razzle Dazzle: A Journey Into Dance, dir. Darren Ashton

LOL I know the whole "mockumentary" thing is getting very stale, but here in Australia I reckon it's as alive as ever (with programs such as We Can Be Heroes, Kath & Kim and Summer Heights High and this film). A comedy about the goings on behind the scenes at two dance child dance academies during the leadup to an annual prized dance competition. It has obsessive mothers (Kerry Armstrong is a hoot), campy choreographers (Ben Miller's Mr Jonathan is obviously riffing off of Corky St Clair), tutus, and 10-year-olds dancers dressed in burkas. There are plenty of hilarious one-liners and the costumes are great to look at. Overall it's just a fun time at the movies. B+

Rogue, dir. Greg McLean

Already discussed here. In summary though, Rogue is a well-made fun entertaining and scary monster flick, which is in stark contrast to the sort of scares director Greg McLean had on offer for his prior film Wolf Creek. As a moviegoing experience I liked it more, but as a filmmaking exorcise it's not quite as good. But, that's neither here nor there really. B+

Romulus, My Father, dir. Richard Roxburgh

A bit of a disappointment for me. It's not bad or anything, but it's not particularly enthralling cinema here. It follows the same path over and over again. Franka Potente shows up. Franka fights with Eric Bana. Franka leaves. Eric and son bond. Franka shows up. etc yada blah blah blah. It's wonderfully shot and Bana gives a good performance (but not one of his best), but the little kid (Kodi-Smit McPhee) pissed me off - "IT'S ME!". C+

West, dir. Daniel Krige

Ugh, do I have to? Paul at Melbourne Film Blog already said everything there is to day, but I guess I'll regurgitate it (regurgitate is an appropriately ugly word to use for West). It's basically a bunch of horrible lowlives who take and sell drugs, drink constantly, have no lives outside of taking and selling drugs and drinking constantly, who suddenly both fall for the same woman. It's a romantic comedy! No. Not at all. Every character is detestible. Am I meant to be rooting for these guys? Am I meant to feel sad when one of the main characters jumps in front of a train? The only good part was the storyline involving a hitrun victim who chooses to dump the drug lifestyle, but the film decided to focus all it's time and energy on revolting cretenous wastes of space instead of a possibly uplifting and human tale. West has, quite frankly, nothing going for it. And not even the opening credits (yes, Paul, I didn't like them either!) F

Words From the City, Natasha Gadd & Rhys Graham

Wall-to-wall hip-hop here, that serves to make the film both rauciously entertaining, but also frightfully depressing. Australia's hip-hop scene hasn't reached the mainstream level of success that America's has (although Hilltop Hoods have) so our music hasn't reached the tipping point of crap. American hip-hop used to be amazing, and now it's just monotone bores who can't speak properly, who dance around in Louis Voitton and think (think?) having bikini-clad boob jobs in their videos makes them great. By contrast many of the artists in Words from the City come off as articulate, smart and socially conscious people who deserve more respect than they get. B

That's it folks.


Stephen G said...

Hiya Glenn,

Came across your blog via The Film Experience and was keen to see your comments on AFI films. I'll probably only get to 12 this year, have so far seen Lucky Miles, Irresistible, Like Minds, Clubland, Romulus, Noise, Razzle Dazzle and West. Home Song, Final Winter and The Bet will be showing up the road from me in Newtown, Sydney, so I have no excuse to miss them and I will probly make an effort for Dr Plonk.

Agreed with a lot of what you wrote, esp about Noise and Razzle Dazzle. Romulus and West I thought were both well acted and made, but the subject matter of both just wasn't very interesting to me. Clubland was blah. Agreed on Lucky Miles, which also could have benefited from an ending with a bigger payoff. I'm a bit more gullible when it comes to thrillers, so got more out of Like Minds than you did (I read some reviews online and was amazed that critics didn't seem to follow the plot). Am crushed about Nathaniel Dean (though I did see an awful lot of him on stage one year at the STC, if I recall correctly).

I did want to point out something re Irresistible.


Don't forget the lame ass ending (which ruined any scrap of credibility the film had to that point) whereby Emily Blunt was revealed NOT to be the illegitimate daughter after all, so therefore presumably not American. The daughter was the aid worker in Kosovo (or wherever it was) and Blunt stole her identity. What tosh. Still, doesn't explain the Brit accent.

Kamikaze Camel said...

Nothing explains how an Australian orphan miraculously gets a British accent. The end was quite silly, wasn't it? I totally forgot about the fire in the basement. Teehee.

I've heard bad things about West. Can't say I'm looking forward to it.

Are you an AFI member or you just like Australian movies? Stick around and enjoy the show!

Paul F said...

"'s also like some upscale made-for-tv movie that somehow came upon a theatrical release."

I agree. I caught a random clip of Irresistible not knowing anything about the film and could not understand what Georgie Parker was doing in a scene with Susan Sarandon?

Stephen G said...

I'm an AFI member, and have been attending the AFI FEstival in its various incarnations since 1997. I live nearby to the Dendy Newtown where a lot of Aus movies played throughout the year and I made an effort to see them there knowing it's not always easy (time-wise or motivation-wise) to get to weekends full of screenings at this time of year.

As for West, Nathan Phillips is very easy on the eye, even when he's playing a bogan, so that helps! And the lead actress was good too, I thought. Look forward to hearing more of your thoughts after weekend marathon #2!

Cal said...

Hi Glenn.

Just wanna talk about 'Gone'. I saw it yesterday and actually liked it. I thought it was patiently built and the characters came across very genuinely. I especially liked the British guy. I do admit that the end is slightly anti-climactic but I preferred it to Wolf Creek because it seemed much less staged and theatrical (I had similar problems with 'Elephant').

What I didn't like was the female character, and how easily led she was, although I think this tells us that the relationship the British couple had wasn't that strong, evident from the beginning (although it doesn't reveal if he actually shagged the other girl or not).

Overall the dynamic of the film feels reactionary and I think that works, given that a lot of it is really uncertain.

Kamikaze Camel said...

I just felt it was all buildup and no payoff.

The British guy was so much hotter than the American one too, so that girl is stupid.

Cal said...

Yeah. He was edgier. The other one was just pretty.

Paul Martin said...

The Australian film industry is a curious beast. In a quiet year, we bemoan the state of the industry. Then we have 2006, which I consider perhaps one of the best years, in which two Australian films made my top 10: Em 4 Jay was my favourite film of the year, while Ten Canoes made it to #3.

This year seems to be marked with a number of films - mostly serious drama - that are competent, worth-seeing, but not exceptional. Nothing really stands out as a killer film and some have pretty serious flaws.

Films in this category for me are:
- Home Song Stories
- Romulus, My Father
- Razzle Dazzle
- Noise
- Clubland
- Lucky Miles

For me, West and Irresistible were complete duds and to be avoided at all cost. I thought Irresistible was so long ago that it wouldn't even be on the horizon this year. It made it into my 10 worst list of 2006, and West will easily make it into my 2007 list.

Dr. Plonk is probably the film I enjoyed the most, followed closely by Home Song Stories and Romulus, My Father. It wouldn't surprise me if Noise won, though I found it frustratingly flawed.

Looking at my database of films watched, the Australian film I gave the highest ranking to was Forbidden Lie$ which I think will easily win best documentary (and not just at the AFIs).

Kamikaze Camel said...

See, Noise is currently my #1 of the year and if it's not in my top 3, let along top 5, by the time I get around to doing a list then it'll be a pretty good year. I thought Noise was amazing.

I had Jindabyne (#1) and Ten Canoes (#7) in my top ten for 2006.