John Hargreaves double feature: Hoodwink (1981) and Sky Pirates (1986)

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Discounting the film Blackfellas, in which he plays a minor role as a racist policeman, I’m surprised it’s taken this long to cover any John Hargreaves films on Down Under Flix. A six time AFI Award nominee (including for Hoodwink) and triple winner, Hargreaves is one of the best leading men to emerge from the Australian New Wave, and I have particular regard for his work in Don’s Party, Long Weekend, and The Odd Angry Shot. Hargreaves was a natural performer: gifted and charismatic, but not unnecessarily flashy; handsome, but not movie star handsome, and slightly crumpled like a creased jacket. He was a quintessential Australian everyman ala Jack Thompson and Bryan Brown, though he’s less familiar to young filmgoers today, partly due to his untimely passing in 1996 at age 50. This article looks at one of Hargreaves’ best films… and one of his other films…

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If music be the food of love… Passion (1999) and Garage Days (2002)

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Director: Peter Duncan

Starring: Richard Roxburgh, Barbara Hershey, Claudia Karvan, Emily Woof, Simon Burke

Troubled pianists were, briefly, a big deal in Australian cinema. There was 1996’s Shine, Scott Hick’s impeccably made biopic of David Helfgott which scored Geoffrey Rush an Academy Award for Best Actor, and then there was 1999’s Passion, a lesser-known biopic of Australian-born composer and pianist Percy Grainger. Peter Duncan’s film chronicles the early stages of the artist’s international career, as the Hobbit-looking Grainger (played by Richard Roxburgh) finds fame but is handicapped in his life and romantic relationships by his predilection for self-flagellation and the “unnatural hold”, to quote the film, that his mother (Barbara Hershey) exerts over him.

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Double feature: Love and Other Catastrophes (1996) and Youth on the March (2017)

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Director: Emma-Kate Croghan

Starring: Frances O’Connor, Matt Day, Alice Garner, Radha Mitchell, Matthew Dyktynski

In 1992, Quentin Tarantino kicked off Reservoir Dogs with a monologue about Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’. In 1994, Kevin Smith punctuated Clerks with a conversation lamenting the fate of the Death Star construction workers in Return of the Jedi. At the risk of simplification, 1996’s Love and Other Catastrophes feels like a film both by and about the very kids that Tarantino and Smith sent scurrying to film school. Tarantino’s venerated status among 1990s movie disciples is even acknowledged in a surreal scene midway through the film (more on that later). A few weeks ago, I commented on Dogs in Space as a timestamp of both when it was set and when it was made; in the case of Love and Other Catastrophes, you can pinpoint not just the era, but practically the month, date, and day of the week it was shot.

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1987 Triple Feature: Dot Goes to Hollywood, Dogs in Space, High Tide

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Every week, another film turns 30 years old. And if you visit movie websites or frequent “Film Twitter”, you’re bound to hear about it. Robocop turned 30? Here are 12 fun facts from The Wrap. Lethal Weapon turned 30? Here are 15 fun facts courtesy of Metro. Predator turned 30? Here’s an oral history from The Hollywood Reporter. Full Metal Jacket turned 30? Jo Blo’s got you covered with a Matthew Modine/Vincent D’Onofrio interview. Not a lot of local films get the 30 year commemoration (partly because they don’t lend themselves as easily to nostalgia-tugging click-bait), so I figured it was time to get into the 30th anniversary business and shine a light on some 1987 releases. I’ve already reviewed several 1987 titles on Down Under Flix, including Les Patterson Saves the World, The Time Guardian, and The Year My Voice Broke; other notable releases include Kangaroo, The Lighthorsemen, and Travelling North. Suffice to say, it was an eclectic year, and the three film discussed below are the very definition of a mixed bunch.

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Kriv Stenders double feature: The Illustrated Family Doctor (2005), Lucky Country (2009)

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In a recent interview with The Age, director Kriv Stenders characterises his ability to continue working as a marker of success. He’s not wrong. Sift through the back catalogue of films covered on Down Under Flix and you’ll find an abundance of directors who debuted and bowed out with a single film (e.g. Dating the Enemy’s Megan Simpson Huberman, Beyond Innocence’s Scott Murray, Bondi Tsunami’s Rachael Lucas) or who struggled to generate output following earlier successes. Stenders remains productive and prolific, with a new film, Australia Day, on this year’s festival circuit and a television remake of Wake in Fright in the works. He’s also found a measure of mainstream success with his Red Dog films. The first, 2011’s Red Dog, is a modern family classic, a spunky, funny tearjerker and one of the best local films of the 21st century. Its follow-up, 2016’s Red Dog: True Blue, got a lukewarm reception but it’s a nice old school Australian bildungsroman with a light touch and a canine co-star in the Storm Boy/Blue Fin tradition. The films that launched Stenders’ career, however, are very different animals.

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Lonely Hearts (1982)

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Director: Paul Cox

Stars: Norman Kaye, Wendy Hughes, Jon Finlayson, Julia Blake, Jonathan Hardy

First viewing, via DVD

This review serves as a somewhat belated tribute to the late John Clarke, who passed away back in April (make that very belated…). As one of Australia’s sharpest, savviest satirists, Clarke’s reach and legacy were impressive, as noted in many of the more punctual tributes following his death (this one is particularly good). While not his most famous commodities, Clarke was no slouch on the film front, contributing memorable supporting turns in films like Death in Brunswick and Crackerjack and co-writing two features with another late luminary, director Paul Cox, 1982’s Lonely Hearts and 1996’s Lust and Revenge.

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Aussiewood: Mister Johnson (1990)

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Director: Bruce Beresford

Stars: Maynard Eziashi, Pierce Brosnan, Beatie Edney, Edward Woodward

First viewing, via DVD

My admiration and fondness for Bruce Beresford’s work is well-documented: see my previous reviews of such diverse fare as the excellent The Fringe Dwellers, the entertaining The Club, the red-headed larrikin stepchild Barry McKenzie Holds His Own, and the decidedly mixed bag of American films that is King David, Crimes of the Heart, and Last Dance. Beresford has done stronger work overseas than those three median efforts; indeed, based on the one-two-three punch of 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy, 1990’s Mister Johnson, and 1991’s Black Robe, Beresford should be heralded as one of the finest working directors of that period. As it stands, Driving Miss Daisy reaped all the glory (and the inevitable post-awards backlash) and Black Robe’s reputation has blossomed steadily over time, but Mister Johnson was and remains virtually unknown. Beresford himself notes that it was “the best reviewed film I ever made by far, and seen by no-one” (There’s a Fax from Bruce, p. 166).

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