Category Archives: Australia

The Perfect Host (2010)

You can’t kill me. I’m having a dinner party!”

DVD trailers sometimes appear to be selected with the idea of common tastes, so with that thought in mind, I wondered what to expect when I painstakingly made my way through the cheesy trailers on the DVD The Perfect Host. I couldn’t remember how The Perfect Host had found its way onto my netflix list. This is the first full-length feature from Aussie writer/director Nick Tomnay, so I know I didn’t select the film due to the director, and neither did the film feature any star whose work I follow.  I probably put the film in the netflix queue simply because it’s a crime film from an Aussie director, and I can’t resist those. So… as I watched the trailers for a handful of cheap and possibly gory thrillers, I began to wonder what was in store for me with The Perfect Host. The film’s tagline, by the way, is Dinner Parties are a dying art….

The film begins with a wounded man, John Taylor (Clayne Crawford) hobbling away from the scene of the crime. Taylor, a heavily tattooed career criminal, is haunted by bad luck. Fate derails his plans for escape and without any money or identification, he decides to try a little home invasion and use the home of some innocent bystander as a hiding place just until the next day. So he starts knocking at the doors of upper-middle class Hollywood Hills homes playing the victim in distress. But hey, this is California! Most people aren’t going to fall for that.

After one door is slammed in his face, John can’t believe his luck when he’s allowed into the beautiful, elegant  home of a quirky, effete middle-aged bachelor Warwick Wilson (David Hyde Pierce). Warwick is busily cooking a meal for some friends who are expected at 8. After John learns that one of them is a prosecuting attorney, he decides that it’s time to take over the house and hold Warwick hostage until morning. And that’s when everything goes wrong….

By necessity this is going to be a short review because to write too much more will reveal this film’s delightful plot. While The Perfect Host appears to take the viewer down some fairly familiar paths of genre, this film is not what you expect at all. Obviously writer/director Nick Tomnay is very familiar with some of the genre’s clichés, and he subverts them with great and darkly comic results here.

David Hyde Pierce has to be seen to be believed and after watching the film, I’m still not entirely sure about this character. Nathaniel Parker plays a tenacious detective and Helen Reddy plays Cathy Knight, Warwick’s nosy neighbour.

Anyway, check out this film–I loved it, and here’s the site: www.theperfecthostmovie.com

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Red Hill (2010)

“Jimmy Conway rides into town, he’ll be bringing hell with him.”

I watched the 2010 Australian film, Red Hill because:

a) I’m an Aussie film fan

b) It’s a crime film

While Red Hill is a combination of two of my film interests (Aussie & crime), it’s also a brilliantly conducted homage to the Western revenge film. Conjure up an image of a hideously scarred Clint Eastwood as the silent cowboy who rides into town seeking revenge, and you’ll have the basic idea.

The film begins with an immediate sense of unease. We see a beautiful meadow of grazing horses disturbed by a distant boom. This boom, as it turns out, is a pipeline explosion in a prison about 6 hours away. More of that later.

Then segue to fresh-faced, young copper, Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten) and his heavily pregnant wife Alice (Claire van der Boom). This is going to be Shane’s first day on the job after requesting a transfer to the remote small town of Red Hill. Shane and Alice are seeking a fresh start and a quieter new life, and Shane is running from the shame of being shot by a young junkie. Shane’s first problem of the day emerges when he can’t find his gun. No worries. He’s not going to need a gun in the quiet town of Red Hill. Or is he?

Red Hill is the sort of town that’s composed of one main street. A good number of the businesses are boarded up with ‘for sale’ signs in the window. That bad vibe continues when Shane arrives in the rural police station. To say he’s met with hostility is putting it mildly. Old Bill (Steve Bisley), his new boss is humourless, nasty and mean. He makes it clear to Shane what his position will be at the police station, and it’s going to include a great deal of humiliation.

Shane tags along with Old Bill who alternately lectures and interrogates his new police officer. There’s a great scene of a town hall meeting that illustrates the town’s politics. Apparently a few years earlier the government declared the nearby mountain as a nature reserve, and this decision rankles the locals who feel the law has hurt their economy. A timid, middle- aged woman suggests looking outside the town for revenue, and Old Bill incites the hillbilly crowd with a polemic designed to eviscerate any argument and encourage violence with seemingly popular sentiment:

Our forefathers didn’t sacrifice their blood, sweat, and tears so a bunch of wankers could come here and suck fucking pinot.

The tedium of a day full of Old Bill laying down his rules to Shane shifts abruptly when news stations report that a dangerous criminal, Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis) has escaped from Western Bay Prison and may be headed back to Red Hill. Years earlier, Conway was convicted of murdering his wife and attempting to murder a Red Hill police officer. Old Bill rounds up a posse of unsavoury characters, and Shane, the new man on the block is assigned to watch one of the roads that leads into town….

Red Hill is a crime film, but it rapidly morphs into a western revenge flick–the lone silent killer, the frontier town layout, the townspeople locked into a conspiracy of prejudice, past guilt and self-righteousness–all the elements of the western are here updated to rural Australia. Aborigine Jimmy Conway, who wears a long duster-clad, sports a bandolier and carries a deadly boomerang, is convincing as the silent, merciless revenge seeker. Once he arrives in town, all hell busts loose….

Shane, and it can’t be any coincidence that the main character is named after one of the greatest heroes in the history of Western cinema, is dropped right into the middle of a mess that he can’t understand.

The early scenes between Shane and Old Bill show Shane suffering humiliation after humiliation while Old Bill makes it clear that he wants a copper who’ll take orders without question. At one point, Old Bill grills Shane about the transfer, and it’s the first time we see Shane dig his heels in over the issue of whether or not the young junkie who shot Shane needed help. Old Bill severely underestimates Shane–if he’d watched the original Shane, he’s know that this character is a former gunfighter. Old Bill, evil old sod that he is, equates being good with being weak–a big mistake.

Red Hill is completely over-the-top at times, but that made me love this film even more.

From writer/director Patrick Hughes

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Walk the Talk (2000)

“There’s no such thing as failure. As far as I’m concerned there’s only results.”

walk the talkAt what point do dreams and ambitions become pathological? That’s the question in the bitterly dark Australian comedy Walk the Talk from writer/director Shirley Barrett.

 Joey Grasso (Salvatore Coco), the film’s main character and narrator attends inspirational meetings, and here while he sits fixated on the message of success–no-matter-the-obstacle, he absorbs the gung-ho messages peppered with illogicalities delivered by well-dressed, glib gurus. With at least one business failure involving the sale of cellulite gel, Joey doesn’t seem to be headed in any particular direction until a svelte blonde takes the seat next to him during a seminar.

The blonde is has-been singer Nikki Ray (Nikki Bennett), and Joey stalks her until he finds a way to slide into her life. First posing as a security analyst, he then offers to become her manager and revive her sagging career.

When Joey isn’t attending self-help seminars, he attends church meetings with his girlfriend, Bonita (Sacha Horler), and the film draws sharp parallels between religion and self-help groups. Both are led by charismatic people who offer hope and promises to a spellbound audience looking for ways to improve their lives. The ubiquitous qualities of religion seep into the background of many scenes in the film through churches with their billboard messages that promise of rewards to come.

 Although Bonita is now a wheel-chair bound paraplegic following a car accident, she’s basically an optimistic person, and she looks forward to marrying Joey. Bonita found Joey and religion in the hospital, and she’s a bit shaky with both the concept of a god and a devoted boyfriend. The sleazy Pastor Bob (Robert Coleby), trots Bonita out as a source of inspiration for his devoted congregation, and she can hold an audience spell-bound with her clear, strong singing voice.

 Bonita is due to receive a settlement of over a million dollars from the insurance company, and although she’s troubled by vague thoughts that Joey is after her for her money, she’s usually able to dismisses the doubt when Joey, spewing out the empty platitudes from his self-help seminars, engages her in dreams about their future wedding.

But all these dreams require money, and so soon Joey is using Bonita’s money to further Nikki’s career. Joey throws himself into the role of ‘agent’ with gusto–renting a convertible BMW, providing Nikki’s expensive wardrobe and even giving her an allowance.

This very, very dark comedy explores the idea of success and its counterbalance force–failure–through its quirky characters and the systems used to support and encourage those who strive for their goals. Joey is played as a naive character who uses the rubbish he gathers at self-help seminars and at church revival meetings to prop up and excuse his exploitation of Bonita. If you “Walk the Talk,” you get results. Joey uses both religion and self-help jargon to manipulate Bonita, and if one doesn’t work, he switches to the other belief system. The self-help message is that the only thing holding you back from success and the things you want in life is yourself. Can Joey really be so naive that he imagines he can launch Nikki’s career with sheer willpower, or is this evidence of some mental disconnect between his words and his actions? Indeed most of the characters seem to have some sort of mental disconnect in their lives–take the scene, for example where Nikki finds out how much Bonita’s settlement is and while she weighs the payment against the wheelchair, she callously and thoughtlessly tells Bonita that while being in a wheelchair is “no picnic,” she wouldn’t “mind it.”

Then there’s Nikki’s dad Marty Raye (Carter Edwards)–whose lounge act is for elderly Australians who can’t travel to Vegas to see Tom Jones. While Marty wiggles and swivels his bottom at the customers who are eating their cheap buffet meals and playing bingo, he imagines that he can lecture about success to his has-been daughter. And yet, in a way Marty is a success. Putting ambition and monetary considerations aside Marty, who is at least gainfully and regularly employed, is content and is a success at what he does in his tiny corner of the world.

The film follows Joey’s increasingly delusional path to failure, Nikki’s revenge scenes on the industry that spurned her, and Bonita’s path towards ‘submitting gracefully.’ This is definitely not a typical comedy but then again, Shirley Barrett isn’t a typical director. Some of the best scenes involve Nikki’s attempts to reenter the entertainment world, and while the industry constantly needs new faces, Joey keeps insisting that Nikki is not washed up but is a major new talent who’s yet to be discovered.

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Love Serenade (1996)

“Would you like to come in and ease my loneliness?”

Set in the tiny backwater Australian town of Sunray, the marvellous film Love Serenade, from writer/director Shirley Barrett is the story of what happens when a single man moves next door to two strange sisters.

love serenadeThe film begins with middle-aged has-been DJ Ken Sherry (George Shevtsov) driving to Sunray while he listens to (and mouths) the seductive songs of Barry White. Sherry’s career has definitely taken a turn for the worst. He used to work in Brisbane and apparently had a short stint on television, but now on his third divorce, Sherry is taking over Sunray’s one room shack of a dilapidated radio station. Both Sherry and his car have seen better days, but his name is big enough to excite hairdresser Vicki-Ann (Rebecca Firth) when she notices a strange car with Sherry’s custom plates sitting in the driveway next door.

Vicki-Ann, who lives with her bizarre sister, Dimity (Miranda Otto) wastes no time spinning fantasies about Sherry. While she warns Dimity off Sherry saying that celebrities need their privacy, she tries to strike up a  relationship with Sherry almost immediately by ferrying over various home-made dishes. Sherry, however, greets Vicki-Ann’s enthusiastic welcome into the neighbourhood with cold disdain.

Sherry begins visiting the town’s drab Chinese restaurant owned by Albert (John Alansu) a quirky character who’s  “embraced nudism.” It so happens that Dimity works here as a waitress, and while she tells Sherry that Vicki-Ann is “looking for a boyfriend,” Sherry starts paying attention to Dimity.

Love Serenade is a very quirky film. The DVD cover photo may make you think you’re about to watch a romance, but this is a highly entertaining black comedy. Sunray is a sleepy town in which everyone knows everyone else, and there’s nothing to do. In another town, Sherry would be a joke. He’s a sleazy playboy whose cheesy pick up lines show that he’s been listening to a bit too much Barry White, but to the Hurley sisters, he seems exotic. He spouts glib meaningless phrases about love delivered with a weighty tone as if he has seriously pondered philosophy, and both of the Hurley sisters fall for him for different reasons. The marriage-obsessed Vicki-Ann thinks she’s found a husband, and dowdy, awkward Dimity can’t wait to shed her virginity. Lucky for her, Sherry says that “virgins are my specialty.”

Meanwhile Albert remains stubbornly unimpressed by Sherry, his views on life and his choice of music. Sherry thinks that he’s hit the mother-lode when he moves in next door to the Hurley sisters, but what he doesn’t realize is while he imagines he’s “setting them free,” in reality he unleashes them. The relationship between the sisters seems just quirky and could even perhaps be excused by Sunray, but it becomes all to clear that there’s a pathology just under the surface. Vicki-Ann’s stories become more and more exaggerated and Dimity becomes obsessed with the aged Lothario.

The character of Sherry steals the film. Looking like some flashback from the disco days, he’s still trying to hold the line that he’s a desirable male. The film captures the weirdness of this tiny sun-baked town with its wide open landscapes and faded buildings. If you like Australian comedy, then do check out this film and Walk The Talk, another Barrett film.

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Noise (2007)

 “If you were a fuckknuckle all your life, that would be hell.”

“Not catching too many crims, are you?”

Noise is this month’s selection from the Film Movement DVD-of-the-month club. As I noted in an earlier post, foreign or independent films never arrive at my local cinema, and since I really enjoy the titles selected by Film Movement, I decided to sign on with their DVD club. Monthly membership works out to be less than the cost of two cinema tickets.

noiseNoise from Australian writer/director Matthew Saville is nothing short of brilliant. That said, I will add that after watching this stunning film, I toodled across the Internet to see what reviewers were saying. I was surprised to read some lukewarm reviews of this wonderful film, but after chewing this over, I’ve decided that it’s due in part to the film’s theme, which is likely to attract a wide audience–some of whom may expect something a bit less elusive.

On one level, Noise follows the investigations of two crimes that occur around Christmas time in a working class suburb of Melbourne. Lavinia Smart (Maia Thomas) a young woman whose headphones blunt her sensory perceptions, enters a late night train only to discover a scene of carnage. The grisly bloody discovery of seven victims inside the train is followed the next day by the discovery of the body of a missing woman. While the community reels from these two tragedies, residents of Sunshine begin to wonder if the crimes are connected.

Meanwhile police Constable Graham McGahan (Brendan Cowell) is experiencing persistent ringing in his ears. His unsympathetic grumpy supervisor assigns McGahan the nightshift in a community police caravan parked near where the missing woman was last seen. McGahan is the first person to admit he isn’t much of a police officer. This is a career he’s drifted into, and perhaps that explains why he doesn’t fit the mold. Stuck with a humorless coworker and an unsympathetic boss who thinks McGahan is a slacker, this lackluster less-than-gung ho policeman sits out his shifts in the caravan. He’s supposed to mesh with the community, gather tips, and talk to possible witnesses, so he hands out flyers and condoms and interacts with various locals, “Lucky” Phil (Simon Laherty), the grief stricken fiancé of the murder victim, and an aggressive weirdo.

While the film ostensibly revolves around the solution to the murders, Noise is not a police procedural. Instead it’s a character study, and while the film seems to begin with the dilemma of Lavinia Smart, the plot very soon shifts to its protagonist McGahan. Terrified that he may have cancer, and waiting anxiously for a Dr’s report, McGahan hides his fears under a veneer of detachment, but he also fights feelings of alienation and self-pity. His hearing problem is literally and figuratively isolating McGahan from his girlfriend, but forced to sit out his shifts in the community caravan, various characters pierce through McGahan’s isolation.

Ultimately the film makes some strong yet elusively subtle comments about Australian society. This is a society in which seven people are randomly and rapidly slaughtered and a young woman simply disappears. Noise may connect us to other human beings–but it’s just that–noise–a substitute for human interaction and emotion. The film presents a world of isolation: a world in which the stronger pick on the weak, and the psychotic slaughter at will. McGahan’s physical problem may isolate him from his girlfriend, but it’s the emotional isolation in society that is far more dangerous.

The film emphasizes sound elements–and sometimes the lack of them–throughout the story. There are some terrific scenes in the film: at one point, for example, McGahan driven almost mad by the ringing in his ears turns on every machine in the house in order to generate enough sound to drown out the constant buzzing.

Those of us who prefer neat, clear and definitive endings may feel a certain amount of frustration at the film’s ambiguous conclusion. Personally, I loved the conclusion and I think the film addressed the meaning of the ending through textual references that occurred earlier in the plot.

If you enjoyed Lantana or Jindabyne, then there’s an excellent chance you’ll enjoy Noise. It’s truly a superb film. Anyway, for more info on FILM MOVEMENT go to www.filmmovement.com

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Around the World in 80 Ways (1987)

 “Best line my tummy so’s I’m able to perform.”

Australians always manage to create some of the most demented comedies I’ve ever seen, and Around the World in 80 Ways from director Stephen MacLean makes my list of top 10 all-time great comedies.

Around the World in 80 WaysWally Davis (Philip Quast), who according to his dad has “gone funny,” owns and operates a tour bus and runs a beachfront trailer/cafe shaped like a giant banana. After the trailer is repossessed, Wally heads home with the plan to raid the family savings account, but Mum, Mavis Davis (Diana Davidson) leaves for a long-desired whirlwind world tour dumping Dad, geriatric Roly Davis (Allan Penney) at the Twilight Rest Home as she heads for the airport. Wally’s dad suffers from “galloping senility” and has “started boring himself to death” thanks to a treacherous blow delivered by neighbour and former business partner the portly, toupee toting, used car salesman Alex Moffat (Rob Steele).

As Mavis Davis departs on the low budget tour that becomes the holiday package tour from hell, her lustful neighbour Alex Moffat unexpectedly joins her. Meanwhile Wally springs Dad from the rest home with the help of his younger brother Eddy (Kelly Dingwall), an “unemployable tragedy”, but all Dad wants to do is set off in hot pursuit of his wife arguing that Moffat, his rival, neighbour and ex-business partner,”pinched my business and now he’s trying to pinch my Mrs.”

But there’s a BIG problem….Wally needs the money in Dad’s savings account to bail out his trailer from repo. So instead of spending the savings on a world tour to catch Mavis, Wally and Eddy improvise. Since Dad only has 2% vision, they simply PRETEND to travel the world in pursuit of the ever-moving Mavis. Stops on the travel tour include: Hawaii, Las Vegas, Rome and Japan, and Wally creates all of these countries aided and abetted by Eddy, his sound system, Nurse Ophelia Cox (Gosia Dobrowolska), and a small army of inflatable dummies. Oh, and Wally ‘borrows’ Moffat’s “Wedding Cake of a house” named “Tara Moffat” for his world tour. While Mavis is dragged across the world, enduring one miserable experience after another, Roly Davis has the time of his life at home.

You have to see this film to believe it–some of the best scenes, for me at least, are in “Las Vegas” when Wally is both a chorus girl and Elvis, and the way in which Wally creates fake flights and airports is brilliant, amazing, and hysterically funny. And take a good long look at the tour guide, Lotta Boyle (Judith Fisher)–she looks uncannily like Hilary Clinton. The way in which the film juxtaposes the real tour with the fake tour is brilliant, but beneath all this comedy, there’s a motto here: you don’t have to travel the world to have the time of your life. If you loved Muriel’s Wedding or Welcome to Woop Woop you will enjoy this insane comedy film too.

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Jindabyne (2006)

“We found a body.”

Jindabyne is a small, rural Australia community with a strange history. The old town is buried under a lake, and the residents now live in the new town, which is built around the lake’s shore. The town’s residents accept this very matter-of-factly–although of course the viewer wonders just what happened to the people who lived in the old town that’s now several feet under water. Did they move away? Were they all drowned? There are elements of life and history hidden beneath the lake’s shimmering, clear surface, and there are buried stories and histories in the pasts of a great many of the film’s characters. But the plot only gives us a few answers to the questions it poses, but then that’s not too surprising, as the film doesn’t seem particularly concerned with providing solutions. The film refuses to tie up the plot into a neat little ending, and this may prove frustrating to some, but for me at least, the film possesses a strange, haunting quality that’s difficult to forget.

Deserted, winding roads lead in and out of the town of Jindabyne, and from the photography, it seems to stuck in the middle of nowhere. It’s a small town–the sort of place in which everyone knows everyone else–or at least they think they do. But the size of the town and the residents’ relationships with one another mask some rather ugly, sharp divisions within the community. The aborigines are separate from the whites, and in the white community, the males tend to stick together and rally around one another. There’s almost an old-fashioned sense to the women’s roles here–kitchen, house, community, and school. But then the murder of a young aborigine girl draws attention to the unhealthy divisions within this small knit community.

Central to the plot is the marriage of Stewart (Gabriel Byrne) and his wife, Claire (Laura Linney). Stewart owns and operates a small petrol station in the town, and there are references to his past as a driver. This is only alluded to, and we never really know how Stewart and his wife ended up in this little town. Stewart and Claire have one child together. Their marriage is fraught with tension, but the cause seems unclear–perhaps it’s due to long-term resentments, or perhaps they’re just incompatible….

Stewart plans his annual fishing trip with three male friends. This trip is a big deal for the men–a chance to get away from the women and just have a good time. Shortly after the men hike up in the backcountry, however, they discover the body of a young aborigine girl. Rather than call an end to their fishing trip, they make the decision to leave her body where it is and keep fishing. When they return to town, the men then collectively concoct a story to cover the delay in reporting the body.

Most of the film is concerned with the fallout from this incident and the ramifications on the four men who found the body and chose to delay reporting it. But the film also shows the wider ramifications of the incident as the men’s callous reaction ripples through the community. Claire is particularly affected by her husband’s actions, and all the rot, the resentment and the simmering rage in their relationship float to the surface

Based on a Raymond Carver story, Jindabyne is from director Ray Lawrence. In some sense, the film’s style is reminiscent of Lantana–although Jindabyne isn’t as good a film. The fact that the murdered girl is aborigine introduces a racial element to the film, and this shifts the film’s emphasis in another direction. The implication is that the men would not have abandoned the body of a white girl, and I’m really not sure about that….

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