Aussiewood: King David (1985), Crimes of the Heart (1986), Last Dance (1996)

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With 1982’s Barbarosa, Fred Schepisi became the first of the Australian New Wave directors to make the pilgrimage overseas, kickstarting a trend of Australian directors selling their wares abroad.  George Miller followed with his contribution to 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie, Gillian Armstrong with 1984’s Mrs Soffel, Peter Weir with 1985’s Witness, and so on. The trend continues to this day (seen most recently with David Michod’s Netflix film War Machine and the Spierig Brothers’ Jigsaw), with directors pursuing bigger budgets and diverse opportunities outside the confines of the Australian film industry. This article is the first in an ongoing series that will highlight some of the lesser-known or neglected ventures of Australian filmmakers working overseas. And given my established fascination with Bruce Beresford’s work—as discussed here and here and here—I’ll kick off by looking at three of his lesser known overseas productions: King David (1985), Crimes of the Heart (1986), and Last Dance (1996).

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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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Final 2000s comedy round-up: Under the Radar (2004), Charlie & Boots (2009), A Few Best Men (2011)

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This week brings one last look at Australian comedies from the noughties, no doubt to some readers’ reflief and other readers’ chagrin. Previous entries grouped films according to theme – romantic comedies, music-centred comedies, small town comedies, with The Wannabes straddling the former two categories – but this week spotlights the three best films (in my opinion anyway) of the series: a sly little comedic thriller, a road movie dramedy headlined by two iconic Australian comedy stars, and a polished mainstream confection.

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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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