On Sunday 11 November (Remembrance Day) at 11am, pay tribute to those who have died in military combat through a minute of silence …
Director: Mel Gibson
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Vinge Vaughan, Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Teresa Palmer
Last month I reviewed Bruce Beresford’s Black Robe, and it got me thinking about depictions of Christianity in Australian cinema. In Hollywood’s heyday, Biblical epics were a genre unto themselves and a commercial force not unlike today’s superhero films; indeed, adjusted for inflation, The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur are among the most successful films of all time, far out-grossing anything from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Beyond that genre, classic Hollywood depictions of Christianity were heavily informed by the Motion Picture Production Code (colloquially known as the Hays Code) which prohibited ridicule of the clergy or depicting religion in a negative light. While contemporary mainstream Hollywood fare errs to the secular, earnest depictions of Christianity persist in the faith film, a very American genre that’s enjoyed striking successes in recent years (see Heaven is for Real, War Room, or this year’s I Can Only Imagine). In contrast, in Australian cinema only a handful of films centre on Christian protagonists: The Devil’s Playground, based on Fred Schepisi’s days in a Catholic seminary; A Cry in the Dark, Schepisi’s sympathetic portrait of Seventh Day Adventists Lindsay and Michael Chamberlain following the disappearance of their daughter Azaria; and international co-productions such as Paul Cox’s historical film Molokai: The Story of Father Damien and the abovementioned Black Robe (Beresford also helmed the Hollywood Biblical feature King David). Nonetheless, look at the list of most successful Christian films on Box Office Mojo and you’ll find a number of Antipodean threads: the Chronicles of Narnia films were made in New Zealand and utilised local craftspeople; cinematographer Dean Semler shot Heaven is For Real; Sam Worthington and Radha Mitchell headline The Shack; Australian Christian band Hillsong United is the subject of documentary Hillsong: Let Hope Rise; and the highest grossing Christian film (unadjusted for inflation) was helmed by an Australian actor-director: Mel Gibson.
Continue reading “Hacksaw Ridge (2016)”
Down Under Flix took a break over December and early January while I traveled overseas for Christmas. But while you can take the Australian film reviewer out of the country, you can’t take the Australian film reviewer out of the Australian film reviewer, particularly when they also took Australian films to review out of the country. If that makes sense. Either way, here are some short reviews from my Christmas season viewing, all interesting films worthy of full reviews at some point.
Continue reading “Down Under Flix’s Christmas 2017 viewing”
Director: Bruce Beresford
Stars: Susannah Fowle, Sheila Helpmann, Patricia Kennedy, Candy Raymond, Hilary Ryan, Barry Humphries, John Waters, Sigrid Thornton, Kerry Armstrong, Julia Blake
At the time of The Getting of Wisdom’s release, Bruce Beresford was best known for directing muscular, rowdy entertainments like The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, Barry McKenzie Holds His Own, and Don’s Party. The latter film, adapting to the screen a play by Australia’s premier playwright David Williamson, was a step towards respectability for Beresford after his near professional ostracization following the Barry McKenzie films, and he was awarded a 1977 Best Director AFI Award for his efforts. The Getting of Wisdom seems an even more decisive step towards respectability, courting association with the dominant commercial aesthetics of the Australian New Wave: indeed, with its period setting, girls boarding school location, and literary origins (based on Henry Handel Richardson’s 1910 novel), it’s immediately evocative in its surface details of Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, released two years earlier and likewise set in Victoria at the tail end of Queen Victoria’s reign. However, The Getting of Wisdom’s a lighter yet more full-bodied blend than Weir’s artful, enigmatic melodrama. And while its focus on a young woman protagonist and feminine milieu outwardly suggests a significant departure from his earlier work, in its focus on culture clash the film is consistent with not only Beresford’s prior films but also subsequent ones like Breaker Morant and The Club.
Continue reading “Bruce Beresford Bildungsroman Bonanza: The Getting of Wisdom (1977) and Mao’s Last Dancer (2009)”
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…
Continue reading “John Hargreaves double feature: Hoodwink (1981) and Sky Pirates (1986)”
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.
Continue reading “If music be the food of love… Passion (1999) and Garage Days (2002)”
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.
Continue reading “This Sporting Life: Dawn! (1979), The Club (1980), and The Coolangatta Gold (1984)”
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.
Continue reading “Musical comedy triple bill: The Night We Called It a Day (2003), Thunderstruck (2004), BoyTown (2006)”