Swimming Upstream (2003)

swimming_upstream poster

Director: Russell Mulcahy

Stars: Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis, Jesse Spencer

First viewing, via DVD

A quarter of a century ago, Russell Mulcahy’s music video for ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ became the first ever screened on MTV. As a music video director, Mulcahy helped define the form and helmed many of the medium’s most iconic, bombastic clips, including Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ and a good portion of the Duran Duran catalogue. As a filmmaker, he’s best known for genre fare (action, sci-fi, horror), from Ozploitation gem Razorback and cult classic Highlander to recent episodes of TV’s Teen Wolf.

Suffice to say, when I think of Russell Mulcahy, I think of smoky visuals, dramatic backlighting and shafts of light, killer swine hating on humans, sword-fighting immortals decapitating each other, Christopher Lambert as a Scotsman, Sean Connery as an Egyptian, and Queen. A modest drama about sibling swimmers pressured into competition by an abusive, alcoholic father doesn’t spring to mind, but Mulcahy defies pigeonholing with Swimming Upstream.

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News Roundup July 2016

A roundup of classic films and catalogue titles currently in the news.

Picnic

Down Under Flix is all about spotlighting underappreciated, neglected, forgotten or obscure Australian films that flew under the radar or fell through the cracks. Picnic at Hanging Rock ain’t that film. Peter Weir’s 1975 mystery drama is one of the all-time great Australian features: a gorgeous, otherworldly, spooky, jarring, cryptic, unapologetically bizarre film beloved by most. Well, maybe not the late Bob Ellis.

Anne Lambert, the iconic star of the film, is currently in the news campaigning alongside the National Trust of SA to protect one of the other iconic stars of the film, Martindale Hall.

Read more at Adelaide Now

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Radiance (1998)

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Director: Rachel Perkins

Stars: Deborah Mailman, Rachel Maza, Trisha Morton-Thomas

First viewing, via SBS On Demand

According to research conducted by Screen Australia, women comprise on average 16% of working film directors in Australia, with 32% of producers and 23% of writers also women. It’s a disappointing statistic, and sadly consistent with overseas trends. It’s all the more frustrating given the impressive pool of female directing talent that Australia has produced, including, but by no means limited to, Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career, Oscar and Lucinda), Jocelyn Moorhouse (Proof, The Dressmaker), Sue Brooks (Japanese Story), Cate Shortland (Somersault), Shirley Barrett (Love Serenade), Ana Kokkinos (Head On, The Book of Revelation), Samantha Lang (The Monkey’s Mask), Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), the late Sarah Watt (Look Both Ways), and Rachel Perkins, director of Bran NueDae and Radiance.

Radiance centres on three Indigenous sisters of different ages, fathers and temperaments reunited for their mother’s funeral. The sisters are an outwardly disparate trio: Mae (Trisha Morton-Thomas) looked after their mother during her final years, and is coarsened by the experience; Cressy (Rachel Maza) in an international opera star who seemingly abandoned her family to pursue her career; and newly pregnant youngest sister Nona (Deborah Mailman) is the most perky and naive of the three. Over the course of the film they rub each other the wrong way, air dirty laundry, and forge new connections. It is, after all, based on a play.

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Paradise Found (2003)

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Director: Mario Andreacchio

Stars: Kiefer Sutherland, Natassja Kinski, Alun Armstrong, Chris Haywood, Nicholas Hope

Second viewing, via DVD

A broad ocker comedy. A gritty police procedural charting murky moral waters. A Shakespeare adaptation. A road movie about Indigenous youth. An art-house drama about intimacy issues. Given the variety of films covered on Down Under Flix thus far, it’s fairly clear that “Australian cinema” is a fluid, rubbery, malleable term that can encompass a range of different genres, styles and tones.

Paradise Found, a film about a French artist in Tahiti starring the guy from The Lost Boys and 24, is another Australian film, and a somewhat unlikely one. But this Paul Gauguin biopic has an Australian director, Mario Andreacchio; it features veteran Australian actors in supporting roles; it was filmed in Queensland as well as the Czech Republic; and it was funded by Australian as well as French, German and British financiers. And while we tend to associate such cinematic appropriations of other cultures and historical figures with Hollywood – by way of example, Anthony Quinn scored an Oscar for playing Gauguin in Vincente Minnelli’s 1956 Vincent van Gogh biopic Lust for Life – it’s also a typical instance of cinematic globalization in action.

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Human Touch (2004)

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Director: Paul Cox

Stars: Jacqueline McKenzie, Aaron Blabey, Chris Haywood

First viewing, via SBS On Demand

With the recent passing of director Paul Cox, it seemed appropriate to track down and commemorate one of his films on Down Under Flix. A brief caveat: prior to this week’s film, 2004’s Human Touch, I’d only seen two of Cox’s other works – the arch drama Man of Flowers (1983) and the low-fi period epic Molokai: The Story of Father Damien (1999) – and both long ago. Suffice to say, this is something I’ll be remedying over my time on this website, but in the meantime it leaves me an ill-informed tributary. For lovely, rounded tributes to the filmmaker, see here and here.

Human Touch stars Jacqueline McKenzie as Anna, the talented lead singer in a choir that’s raising money to visit China. Anna finds a fan in Edward (Chris Haywood), a wealthy gentleman with an open marriage and artistic bent who has dedicated himself to “women, love, and the arts”. Edward pays Anna to pose for some artful nude photographs, and the film traces the ripple effects this has on their respective relationships. In particular, Anna becomes distant from her partner David (Aaron Blabey) and resistant to his touch.

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Beneath Clouds (2002)

Poster BC

Director: Ivan Sen

Actors: Danielle Hall, Damian Pitt

First viewing, via DVD

Ivan Sen’s latest film Goldstone premiered at the Sydney Film Festival earlier this month and is due for wider release in July, making this a good time to check out his debut feature, 2002’s Beneath Clouds. Sen won Best Director at that year’s Australian Film Institute Awards, in what proved a significant year for Indigenous-themed films: on top of Sen’s Best Director win, Best Film went to Phillip Noyce’s Rabbit-Proof Fence and Best Actor went to David Gulpilil for The Tracker, and all three films were nominated and/or won in multiple categories.

Beneath Clouds follows two young Indigenous teenagers hitch-hiking to Sydney through rural New South Wales. Lena (Danielle Hall) is the daughter of an absent Irish father and a negligent mother. Vaughan (Damian Pitt) is a juvenile delinquent working on a prison farm who finds out his mother is ill. Both characters resolve to escape their prisons – literal in Vaughan’s case and small time life in Lena’s – and set off to Sydney, Lena to see her father and Vaughan to visit his ailing mother. They meet on the road and end up travelling side by side. Initially cynical of each other and verbally combative, they form a strong bond as their journey progresses.

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Macbeth (2006)

MACBETH

Director: Geoffrey Wright

Stars: Sam Worthington, Victoria Hill, Gary Sweet, Lachy Hulme

Second viewing, via DVD

It’s fascinating that in the short space of ten years, two Australian filmmakers have adapted William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. While the Bard’s play is an all-timer, and has been adapted in the past by master directors like Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, and Roman Polanski, film adaptations haven’t exactly been abundant. So the fact that two Australians would choose to steer it to the screen less than a decade apart is a weird anomaly, though not inexplicable. One could conjecture at length about the 400+ year old “Scottish” play’s relevance to contemporary Australian identity, the timelessness of its depiction of ambition, greed, conspiracy, regicide, guilt, and hubris… but really, it’s just a terrific, badass piece of source material.

I really wanted to like Justin Kurzel’s 2015 adaptation of Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender. Kurzel’s a very good filmmaker – his 2011 film Snowtown, about the murders that transpired in the South Australian town of the same name, is exceptional – and I like that he committed to a very particular take on the source. I just wasn’t a fan of that relentlessly gridmark take. I also can’t help but question the casting of Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth: she’s a tremendous actress, but also possibly the least Scottish person on the planet, and that planet includes Jackie Chan, Deepak Chopra and Usain Bolt.

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