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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Double feature: Love and Other Catastrophes (1996) and Youth on the March (2017)

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Director: Emma-Kate Croghan

Starring: Frances O’Connor, Matt Day, Alice Garner, Radha Mitchell, Matthew Dyktynski

In 1992, Quentin Tarantino kicked off Reservoir Dogs with a monologue about Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’. In 1994, Kevin Smith punctuated Clerks with a conversation lamenting the fate of the Death Star construction workers in Return of the Jedi. At the risk of simplification, 1996’s Love and Other Catastrophes feels like a film both by and about the very kids that Tarantino and Smith sent scurrying to film school. Tarantino’s venerated status among 1990s movie disciples is even acknowledged in a surreal scene midway through the film (more on that later). A few weeks ago, I commented on Dogs in Space as a timestamp of both when it was set and when it was made; in the case of Love and Other Catastrophes, you can pinpoint not just the era, but practically the month, date, and day of the week it was shot.

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1987 Triple Feature: Dot Goes to Hollywood, Dogs in Space, High Tide

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Every week, another film turns 30 years old. And if you visit movie websites or frequent “Film Twitter”, you’re bound to hear about it. Robocop turned 30? Here are 12 fun facts from The Wrap. Lethal Weapon turned 30? Here are 15 fun facts courtesy of Metro. Predator turned 30? Here’s an oral history from The Hollywood Reporter. Full Metal Jacket turned 30? Jo Blo’s got you covered with a Matthew Modine/Vincent D’Onofrio interview. Not a lot of local films get the 30 year commemoration (partly because they don’t lend themselves as easily to nostalgia-tugging click-bait), so I figured it was time to get into the 30th anniversary business and shine a light on some 1987 releases. I’ve already reviewed several 1987 titles on Down Under Flix, including Les Patterson Saves the World, The Time Guardian, and The Year My Voice Broke; other notable releases include Kangaroo, The Lighthorsemen, and Travelling North. Suffice to say, it was an eclectic year, and the three film discussed below are the very definition of a mixed bunch.

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Nadia Tass double bill: The Big Steal (1990) and Mr Reliable (1996)

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Director: Nadia Tass

Stars: Ben Mendelsohn, Claudia Karvan, Steve Bisley, Marshall Napier, Maggie King, Damon Herriman, Angelo D’Angelo

First viewing, via DVD

As someone who doesn’t own a car, I’m fairly oblivious when it comes to cars and car culture. Even so, anyone who’s ever watched a handful of teen movies will recognise the prominent role of cars and the social cachets and personal freedoms they bestow in rites-of-passage films, from Rebel Without a Cause to American Graffiti to Grease to Dazed and Confused and beyond. Even the first act of Transformers hinges largely around protagonist Sam Witwicky’s (Shia LaBeouf) bond with his new car, before switching priorities to pyrotechnics and robots thwacking each other about.

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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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Joint Review: The Year My Voice Broke (1987) and Stanley’s Mouth (2015)

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This week’s review pairs two youth-centred Australian films of very different vintages and aesthetics. 1987’s The Year My Voice Broke is a traditionally-shot, rural-set period film (though originally shown on television) directed by John Duigan (Sirens) and produced by Mad Max creator George Miller. The film earned several Australian Film Institute Awards including Best Picture and Director, and a restoration of the film is scheduled to screen as part of next month’s Sydney Film Festival. In contrast, 2015’s Stanley’s Mouth is a non-traditionally shot, micro-budgeted, urban-set contemporary drama from independent director Mike Retter. The film screened at the Adelaide Film Festival in 2015 and is freely available on YouTube in several different formats.

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Yolngu Boy (2001)

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Director: Stephen Johnson

Stars: John Sebastian Pilakui, Nathan Daniels, Sean Mununggurr, Jack Thompson

First viewing, via DVD

There’s no better deal on Earth than the movies. For the cost of a cinema ticket, a monthly streaming subscription, a DVD or Blu rental, or whatever amount of data it takes to torrent a film, you can be entertained, educated, and elevated by everything from Doctor Strange to Pink Flamingos to Tokyo Story. With that embarrassment of riches, it’s little wonder Australian flicks fall through the cracks, and I’m as guilty of this as anyone. When Yolngu Boy was released in March 2001, it generated some really positive notices … which I roundly ignored along with the film, instead showering my not-so-hard-earned cash on significantly less well-received stuff like Dracula 2000 and Proof of Life. I might even have seen Miss Congeniality… on a discount day of course… But anyway, poor life decisions all around…

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