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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Oz (1976)

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Director: Chris Löfvén

Stars: Joy Dunstan, Bruce Spence, Michael Carman, Gary Waddell

First viewing, via DVD

The Wizard of Oz, Victor Fleming’s 1939 film based on the first of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, is a beloved movie. It’s not just a classic children’s film, but one of that great crop of late 30s/early 40s movies – along with Gone with the Wind, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Stagecoach, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, and so on – that epitomized the very best of the Hollywood machine (a machine which, as several of these troubled productions including The Wizard of Oz attest, was at times a gruelling, erratic beast). The world of Oz has had a robust afterlife and its 1970s and 80s offshoots are especially interesting. They include the African-American musical The Wiz, which became a flick directed by Sidney Lumet starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson; Walter Murch’s dark sequel Return to Oz; and the much lesser known Australian film Oz, subtitled A Rock ‘n Roll Road Movie, directed by Chris Löfvén with music by Ross Wilson, Wayne Burt, Baden Hutchins, and Gary Young.

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One Night the Moon (2001)

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Director: Rachel Perkins

Stars: Paul Kelly, Kaarin Fairfax, Kelton Pall

First viewing, via DVD

In the opening scene of One Night the Moon, farmer Jim Ryan (Paul Kelly) awakens at his kitchen table. An empty bottle stands at his side, a remnant from a night of drinking to numb his pain. But the pain waits in readiness for him that morning, made clear when he launches into song about having naught to live for. He retrieves his rifle, passes an empty child’s bedroom, then his own bedroom where his wife Rose (Kaarin Fairfax, also Kelly’s offscreen wife) lies crumpled and defeated, then wanders out into the harsh outback. In these few minutes One Night the Moon makes two things abundantly clear. Firstly, it’s a musical, and secondly, it’s not one of the toe-tapping, knee-slapping variety. Where some of the best movie musicals have an inherent weightlessness to them, One Night the Moon is all weight: oppressive, foreboding weight.

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Starstruck (1982)

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Director: Gillian Armstrong

Stars: Jo Kennedy, Ross O’Donovan

First viewing, via DVD

Critic Pauline Kael once declared that the label ‘Made in Australia’ “is almost like a Seal of Good Housekeeping on a film. If a young man goes out on a date, it is safe to take a girl to an Australian film”. Kael was clearly not describing The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, but rather the period flicks that constituted much of the Australian New Wave, like Caddie, The Picture Show Man, The Getting of Wisdom, Breaker Morant, Gallipoli, We of the Never Never, and so on. Gillian Armstrong’s My Brilliant Career is another film of that vintage, albeit with a feminist restlessness befitting its source material under its finely burnished exterior.

With her 1982 sophomore feature Starstruck, Armstrong trades big dresses for big hair, lace for shiny leggings, and Good Housekeeping for amiable pop-punk. As the director recalled, “I didn’t want to make another period picture about a woman fighting for her identity… I wanted to do something completely different” (David Stratton’s The Avocado Plantation, p. 147). But while the films appear as dissimilar as apples and oranges on first glance, Starstruck’s lead character Jackie is restless and hungry for fame and fortune in much the same way Career’s Sybylla hungers for her autonomy. And like Career, Starstruck is very much a woman’s story, consolidating a preoccupation that would pervade Armstrong’s whole career, as noted in my piece on The Last Days of Chez Nous.

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