Down Under Flix 2016 Review

end-of-review

It’s that time of year when film critics and commentators, both legit and impostors like myself, assemble their end-of-year lists praising and burying the year just gone. Given Down Under Flix’s focus on Australian films, particularly older ones, attempting a global review of the year in cinema is well outside my jurisdiction. Instead, I’ll be listing my top five new Australian releases of 2016, followed by the top ten films covered on/for Down Under Flix over the past seven months.

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Metal Skin (1994)

EMBIGGEN Metal Skin

Director: Geoffrey Wright

Stars: Aden Young, Ben Mendelsohn, Tara Morice, Nadine Garner, Chantal Contouri

First viewing, via DVD

Metal Skin is director Geoffrey Wright’s follow-up to Romper Stomper, his controversial, barnstorming 1992 film about young neo-Nazis in Melbourne. That film announced both Wright and star Russell Crowe as ferocious, major new talents, scoring the former a Best Director nomination and the latter a Best Actor gong at that year’s AFI Awards.  Wright remained on Melbourne’s mean streets for Metal Skin (and would revisit them again in 2006’s Macbeth) and the city proves once more a dark, seedy muse for the filmmaker.

The film opens with a distressed scream over pitch black, before cutting to a dazed, visibly injured woman wandering through a maze of shipping containers. It’s a fitting opening for a film that feels, at times, like a celluloid manifestation of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. From there, the film plots tragic courses for its four young protagonists: Roslyn (Nadine Garner), the woman glimpsed at film’s start; Dazey (Ben Mendelsohn), her disaffected and cheating boyfriend; Savina (Tara Morice), a troubled young woman who rebels against her devout mother (Chantal Contouri) by dabbling in the dark arts; and Joe (Aden Young), a rodent-faced twentysomething charged with looking after his ill father. When Joe starts a new job alongside Dazey and Savina, he falls for Savina, who is infatuated with Dazey, who uses and discards her, and the film follows the fallout of this damaged love triangle.

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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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