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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This Sporting Life: Dawn! (1979), The Club (1980), and The Coolangatta Gold (1984)

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Sport has long occupied a key place in Australian culture. As noted by Daryl Adair in his essay ‘Making sense of Australian sport history’, the earliest British migrants used sport to maintain links with their country of origin, while subsequent generations helped forge a national identity on the world stage via their sporting prowess. Adair also notes that Australia’s coasts and surf culture have facilitated an array of water-based sports, and in recent years the AFL, among others, has contributed to the reconciliation agenda as a prominent employer of Indigenous athletes. In light of this national pastime, this week Down Under Flix spotlights three sports-centric films from the late 1970s and early 80s.

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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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The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky (2001)

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Director: Paul Cox

Stars: Derek Jacobi (narrator), Leigh Warren & Dancers (dancers)

First viewing, via DVD

As Mario Andreacchio’s Paul Gauguin biopic Paradise Found attests, the lives and work of international artists are not beyond the purview of Australian filmmakers. In 1987, Paul Cox directed an acclaimed documentary about painter Vincent Van Gogh, titled Vincent, which featured narration of the artist’s letters by John Hurt. In 2001, Cox released a similar project, The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky, trading letters for journals and easels for the stage to chronicle the mental deterioration of another tragic artist, the dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. Derek Jacobi, who also appears in Cox’s film Molokai: The Story of Father Damien, serves as narrator for this feature.

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The Cup (2011)

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Director: Simon Wincer

Stars: Stephen Curry, Daniel MacPherson, Brendan Gleeson

First viewing, via DVD

Whether you see it as the race that stops the nation or the race that divides the nation (there’s valid argument for both), and whether it’s the gravitational centre of your day, a chance to go all Caligula, or simply background noise, there’s no shaking that the Melbourne Cup’s a big deal. For non-local readers: it’s a major horse racing event (along the lines of the Kentucky Derby or Royal Ascot) that’s been running in Australia for over 150 years. It’s such as big deal that it’s somewhat surprising the Cup hasn’t featured too prominently in local films, though the prohibitive cost of recreating the event is obviously a factor. Crime comedies Horseplay and The Hard Word (both 2002) spring to mind as recent films to feature the event, albeit in a supporting role. Simon Wincer’s 1983 film Phar Lap, about the titular champion race horse, is probably the best-known film to feature the event. It’s fitting, then, that Wincer takes directing reins of 2011’s The Cup.

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Age of Consent (1969)

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Director: Michael Powell

Stars: James Mason, Helen Mirren, Jack MacGowran, Lonsdale

First viewing, via DVD

In the 1940s, British director Michael Powell, in collaboration with Emeric Pressburger, made The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death, and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, among others. All four are jewels in the crown of British cinema: look at any list of the greatest British films ever made and you’ll find them featured prominently. By way of example, see this list from Time Out and this one by the British Film Institute (this list also features Carry On… Up the Khyber ranked directly above The Killing Fields, making it mandatory reading). While Powell’s 1960 film Peeping Tom also features on these lists and is today held in esteem, this voyeuristic psychological thriller was reviled by critics and cultural commentators on release and the filmmaker was ostracized wholesale from the industry. Later that decade he made two flicks in Australia: the 1966 comedy They’re a Weird Mob and 1969’s Age of Consent.

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