Small town comedy triple review: The Nugget (2002), The Honourable Wally Norman (2003), and Strange Bedfellows (2004)

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The last few comedies covered on Down Under Flix – The Night We Called It a Day, BoyTown, The Wannabes – took place in urban settings and dealt with the lives, longings, and lacerations of showbiz personalities. This week’s featured comedies are set in rural locales and deal with the lives, longings, and lacerations of small town battlers. These depictions of small town life and struggles are less Welcome to Woop Woop, more Danny Deckchair, erring towards the quaint and cute and romanticising small town living while still articulating the anxieties and concerns of regional communities.

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Tag team review: The Wannabes (2003)

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Director: Nick Giannopoulos

Stars: Nick Giannopoulos, Isla Fisher, Russell Dykstra, Felix Williamson, Chantal Contouri, Costas Kilias, Ryan Johnson, Lena Cruz

First viewing, via DVD

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Down Under Flix’s month-long focus on comedy continues this week with a look at Nick Giannopoulos’s 2003 directorial debut The Wannabes. Danny (Giannopoulos) is the ultimate theatre kid—singer, dancer, actor—bereft of both humility and talent. He gets a job training a quartet of thugs to be children’s entertainers, little knowing their act is a cover for a heist. While the crime gets botched, the crew finds success as a Wiggles-esque group called The Wannabes. Following February’s successful tag team review of Ghosts … of the Civil Dead, I’m joined below by Kathryn White, novelist and blogger at Kathryn’s Inbox.

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Musical comedy triple bill: The Night We Called It a Day (2003), Thunderstruck (2004), BoyTown (2006)

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Last week, Down Under Flix kicked off a month on comedies from the noughties and thereabouts, highlighting a triptych of Australian romantic comedies. This week’s featured trio are linked by a shared focus on music, milking comedy from real-world entertainment lore, rock ‘n’ roll hagiography, and satirical jabs at manufactured pop music.

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Romantic comedy triple bill: Dating the Enemy (1996), Danny Deckchair (2003), I Love You Too (2010)

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To some viewers, Australian comedies are a warm blanket providing comfort and joy. For some, they’re an acquired taste, the cinematic equivalent of Vegemite. For others, they’re only marginally preferable to arsenic, and for others still arsenic would be the preferred beverage of the two. Personally, I like local comedies just fine, though I’m not naturally predisposed towards them and have only seen the better known ones. In other words, I’ve seen The Castle, but not The Craic; I’ve watched The Wog Boy, but never Hercules Returns.

Throughout February and March, Down Under Flix will shine a light on thirteen Australian comedies, mostly from the 2000s. The noughties were a curious period for local comedies, a decade that yielded some big successes – The Wog Boy, The Dish, Crackerjack, Kenny – but also many duds, often from the very same creative teams. On first glance, there’s no holistic identity uniting the comedies of that period. The major comedies of the 70s – Alvin Purple and The Adventures of Barry McKenzie and Barry McKenzie Holds His Own – rejoiced in their newly forged opportunity to present Australian identity on film (even when covertly attacking it, as per Barry Humphries’ work) and embraced the sex and the sauce thanks to the liberal attitudes and censorship of the time. The major comedies of the 80s – Crocodile Dundee and Young Einstein and Les Patterson Saves the World – commodified that Australian identity for a global audience. And the major comedies of the 90s – Muriel’s Wedding and The Castle and The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert – gave voice to misfits and social outcasts: suburban battlers and drag queens and plump downtrodden wallflowers all fell under their purview. The comedies of the 2000s, in contrast, appear less interested in cultural politics and national identity, less significant, and less meaningful overall. The outcasts had found expression, Australia’s global branding was secure, and Australian voices had pervaded both national and international cinema for three decades. What was left?

We’ll be chipping away at that question over the next few weeks, starting with these three romantic comedies. The rom-com is a genre that hews close to formula, with predictable outcomes and often diminishing returns, but when executed well can provide solid popcorn entertainment and sometimes even strike deeper chords. While none of these three films are stealth classics, for fans of the genre – and those fans are legion – they provide the usual comforts as well as some sneaky Antipodean charms.

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Resistance (1992)

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Directed by: Hugh Keays-Byrne, Paul Elliott

Starring: Helen Jones, Lorna Lesley, Robyn Nevin, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Stephen Leeder, Harold Hopkins, Jack Thompson

First viewing, via DVD

Resistance is a film that’s been on my “to watch” list a long time. A remote-set dystopian action-thriller co-directed by character actor Hugh Keays-Byrne, best known as the antagonist in those other famous remote-set dystopian action-thrillers Mad Max and Mad Max: Fury Road, is an enticing proposition. However, the film was not afforded a conventional theatrical release in Australia, and is not widely available on physical or streaming media. I managed to secure a DVD copy via Amazon, but on receiving and finally playing the disc was disappointed to find the soundtrack was in French and there were no English subtitles. I decided to forge ahead and watch the film anyway, on the chance I mightn’t ever see it in another form, though I hope that Ozflix can one day add it to their collection with its original soundtrack. That wasn’t my only quandary though; I also had to decide whether to review a film which, based on the language barrier, clearly had me at a disadvantage. Again, I decided to forge ahead and do this because, as this review attests, even under imperfect viewing standards the film’s merits are evident.

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Tag team review: Ghosts … of the Civil Dead (1988)

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Director: John Hillcoat

Stars: David Field, Mike Bishop, Chris DeRose, Kevin Mackey, Dave Mason, Nick Cave, Bogdan Koca, Freddo Dierck, Vincent Gil, Tony Clark

Second viewing, via DVD

Ghosts … of the Civil Dead is a prison drama set in Australia’s Central Industrial Prison. A flagship of Australia’s “New Generation Prisons” based on existing American prison models, Central Industrial Prison is, according to the film’s title card, a “maximum security facility designed to house the prison system’s most violent, unmanageable and predatory inmates”. At film’s start, the facility has just initiated 37 months of lockdown after a long string of violent incidents. The film backtracks to chronicle the lead-up to this event, following the paths of various prisoners as they are systematically abused and dehumanized by each other and the system. For this tag team review, I’ll be joined by music critic and commentator Cristian Stromblad, whose work can be found at the website Ugly ‘n’ Weird.

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Results: The Down Under Flix Australian Film Survey

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Last year I created a survey to gauge people’s viewing habits in regards to Australian films. The aim of the survey was to see what sorts of films people have or haven’t seen, as well as what films they have or haven’t heard of. The survey was created partly to satisfy my own curiosity, but also in service of the mission of Down Under Flix to illuminate films that are underseen and/or under the radar. I want to ensure that in choosing what to cover on this site I’m not making elitist assumptions about the general public’s viewing habits, or over-servicing films with comfortable legacies while dis-servicing those that could use some attention.

Overall, 52 people responded to the survey and I’m grateful to each and every respondent. The gender mix of respondents was fairly even: 52% male and 48% female. Unfortunately, none of the respondents were under the age of 24, but the age range above that was a nice mix: 19% 25–34, 35% 35–44, 23% 45–54, 10% 55–64, and 13% 65+. Without further ado…

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