Posts by Andrew:
Before sitting down to watch Can You Ever Forgive Me?, do yourself a favour and push everything you know about Melissa McCarthy out of your mind. Yes, she’s been sidelined into outlandish, over the top comedic characters with thanks to her director husband, Ben Falcone, but with the direction of Marielle Heller (Diary of a Teenage Girl), McCarthy delivers the best performance of her career.
The year is 1991, and journalist turned author Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) has just been fired from an editing job, she’s late on her rent, has a sick cat that’s in need of veterinary care, and struggles to hear back from her agent about the Fanny Brice biography she’s been working on. The world isn’t looking particularly bright for Israel. In a bind, she sells a signed letter she received from Katherine Hepburn to make ends meet. Then, by chance, a signed letter from Fanny Brice appears as she’s doing research. Israel sells that too. Before too long, she sees the path to profit and starts forging letters from deceased writers and actors. Along the way, while boozing away the hours of the day at a dive bar somewhere in Manhattan, she meets perpetual flooze Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), and quickly a friendship flourishes.
Outwardly, Lee Israel is a difficult person. She isn’t afraid to be vocal about preferring the company of cats over the company of people. She’s a crank, and is always in arms reach of a whiskey. Yet, for all the unlikeable attributes that Lee Israel may have on paper, Marielle Heller never lets her become someone you can’t relate to. With thanks to a stunning script by Nicole Holofcener (Lovely & Amazing) and Jeff Whitty, and the superb direction from Heller, Israel is a purely empathetic character.
McCarthy’s Israel has a dry, cynical world view. At one point, Israel rants about Tom Clancy being a hack who has managed to earn millions by writing populist novels, all the while being wilfully ignorant to the way that Clancy works the system to ensure his own success. In Israel’s eyes, she should be a success simply because her writing is good enough, and the subjects she covers are interesting enough (to her, at least). The bitterness that Israel directs to the world around her theoretically should distance her from the audience, but McCarthy easily makes the social anxious Israel exceptionally relatable.
It’s powerful to see someone who is comfortable with living a life by themselves be portrayed in a way that doesn’t stigmatise them for not wanting to participate in society as a whole. There’s no doubt that loneliness is a major issue in society, but Heller reminds viewers that this is 1991 and for members of the LGBT+ community, like Lee Israel and Jack Hock, many were still ostracized from society. The AIDS crisis was looming large at the time,and Hock makes a sly joke about not being able to tell anyone Lee’s secret of forging letters, as all his friends are dead.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? shows what it’s like to live in a world full of strangers, struggling to connect with anyone, only to find that one person who understands you completely. For all the cynicism and caustic remarks thrown at each other, that‘other person’ for Lee is Jack Hock. Richard E. Grant is flawless as Hock,portraying the homeless drunk with all the verve and energy of a man with no worries. The film sings when Grant and McCarthy bounce off each other, sharing some wonderfully charming moments that are endearing and amusing.
Heller ensures to show the toll that living with someone as acerbic as Lee Israel has on someone, with Israel’s one time partner Elaine (an always welcome Anna Deavere Smith) reminding Lee why she left in the first place. There’s only so much one person can to do help someone who won’t help themselves, and Elaine reminds Lee that it’s no longer her responsibility to carry her weight for her.
Some may take issue with the fact that Lee Israel rejects the notion of going out and doing anything other than writing to make money, all the while scoffing at the idea of giving up the drink and trying to become a better person. Israel embraces who she is as a person, finding comfort in being a curmudgeon and being stubborn in the face of change. There is a slight correlation between those who engage with the arts as a career and the way society deems them to be the great unwashed, sponging off society just so they can write their stories for a small audience. One of the joys of Heller’s film is that she contextualises Lee’s story, showing the value in these story tellers who dig into the past and unearth the stories of forgotten icons, often working fora pittance.
If anything, this is an ode to the world of niche writing. Tom Clancy this is not. The letters that help keep Israel financially stable are crafted for a small group of collectors, many who initially relish the dive into the lives of the icons they hold so dearly in their hearts. Years later, after the forgeries were discovered and the punishment was laid upon Israel, a bookstore owner remarked, ‘I’m certainly not angry anymore, though it was an expensive and very large learning experience for me. And she’s really an excellent writer. She made the letters terrific.’ For all the illegal consequences of Lee Israel’s actions, it’s clear that people still held some value in these fictional dives into the lives of icons.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? had a bumpy journey to being made, with creative differences between Julianne Moore (originally cast as Israel) and then director Nicole Holofcener forcing production to halt just six days before they were set to start filming. In its own way, Lee Israel’s story is not too dissimilar to that of Fanny Brice – a person lost to time, who only a handful of people may recall, and in turn, an even smaller handful may have an interest in. Ironically, if it weren’t for the forged letters, then Lee Israel could easily have been a name that faded into the ether of history. And, in turn, if it weren’t for Nicole Holofcener and Marielle Heller, then Lee’s story may have slipped away.
Simply put, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is one of the finest films of the year. Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant are a treat to watch dig into these great characters.
Director: Marielle Heller
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E.Grant, Jane Curtin
Writers: Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty (based on Lee Israel’s book Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Imagine trying to rewrite a language. Imagine sitting down, and seeing the immense history of English and thinking, I’m going to reinvent this language and make it new again. It’s an insurmountable task. It’s impossible. But, to paraphrase a great man, reinventing something old is done not because it’s easy, but because it is hard.
First Man is a film that demands prior knowledge of the history of NASA and the space race in the sixties. It doesn’t care to hold your hand and explain who is who or what is what, it simply wants to show the internal struggles of one man – the one man whom fate has deigned to be the first human being to place a foot on the moon. That man, of course, is Neil Armstrong, portrayed by Ryan Gosling.
Damien Chazelle approaches the story of Neil Armstrong and his role in the space race like there has never been a movie about space exploration made before. He takes the texts of Stanley Kubrick, Ron Howard, Christopher Nolan, Philip Kaufman, and Andrei Tarkovsky, and rejects them completely, discarding decades of space focused texts under the notion that he can rewrite them and make them new. Chazelle’s ego permeates through every frame as he attempts to show the life of the first man on the moon through the prism of cinema vérité style film making, taking every page from the handbook of Paul Greengrass and applying it to the grandeur of space exploration.
Yet, Damien Chazelle is no Kubrick, Kaufman or Howard. He may have an Oscar, but he lacks the necessary skills to straddle the line between the intended internal monologue that drives Armstrong and the grandeur of space. Chazelle, alongside writer Josh Singer (working off James R. Hansen’s book of the same name), intend this to be a character study – an exploration of what goes into the mind of Neil Armstrong as he struggles with family life and work life, with every day on the job bringing the threat of death. That in itself is an interesting concept, but Singer never gives Gosling the material to craft a compelling, engaging version of Neil Armstrong.
Ryan Gosling has perpetually been an actor that works in the wheelhouse of subtlety, crafting characters that appear to have a world of emotions raging under the surface. The directors he’s worked with have managed to coax these emotions out with varying quality. Derek Cianfrance eked a heartbreaking husband figure out of Gosling in Blue Valentine, while Nicolas Winding Refn helped Gosling craft two of the most impressive explorations of masculinity in modern cinema with the one two punch of Drive and Only God Forgives. These are directors who understand how to work with Gosling, and how to give him the space to craft fascinating characters.
Yet, every decision Chazelle makes works against his leading man.
First of all, the mad, crazy, handheld cinematography from Linus Sandgren (he who crafted a beautiful dream like aesthetic with La La Land) works against the film in every frame. The old rule of show don’t tell is broken in every way, with the frenetic, shaky cam being employed to evoke the underlying anxiety and stress that thrives in Armstrong. He may not show his stress, opting to internalise the pain he lives with after the early loss of a daughter rather than talk about it, but Chazelle never allows us to see Gosling explore these emotions. It’s obnoxious to the point of frustration.
And what a frustrating missed opportunity to explore masculinity in the sixties. An era where men were redefining themselves in between wars, and a country was standing up and announcing themselves as a world power, is ripe for deep exploration of what it meant to be a man growing up then. Outside of a brief moment where Jason Clarke’s underutilised Edward Higgins White asks Armstrong out for a beer, there’s little ground covered with what it means to be an astronaut, or someone changing history.
Back to Armstrong’s daughter for a moment – her presence is such a haphazard, disrespectful one. Chazelle presents her as a spiritless character who passes away within the first act of the film, reducing what should be an emotional element into something that is disrespectful and tacky. This is merely a cheap way of getting the audience to emotionally engage with an emotionally distant Armstrong, forgoing any of the necessary work to make the connection feel organic and natural.
On top of Sandgren’s shocking cinematography is the use of Justin Hurwitz’s tepid score. At one point, a short motif from La La Land rears its head in part of the score, and I was convinced that this laziness was merely there so Chazelle could slip in City of Stars once again. You can almost hear him arguing with the producers off screen, ‘get it? See, Neil Armstrong is going to the moon which is like a city, and the moon is surrounded by stars. It’s a City. Of. Stars.’ It’s enough to make you sigh in frustration.
As is the case with these ‘men exploring the skies’ films, the wife is kept diligently suffering at home as she has to wrangle bored kids in a manufactured suburb where wives wait for their husbands to return home. Claire Foy gets the honour this time round, playing the wide eyed Janet Armstrong who gradually becomes more frizzled as the NASA space program claims life after life in the pursuit of science. Foy does her best, but is again hampered by Sandgren’s cinematography that works primarily in close ups, aiming to squeeze every single last element of emotion of out the frame.
Characters flit in and out of the story without explanation of who they are or what their role is in the realm of Armstrong’s life story. Equally so, the world of America surrounding the space program is given a short shrift, with mere cursory glances to the public’s reaction to millions being spent on such a program. Chazelle steps into problematic territory when placing the only black ‘character’ in a protest scene, with him singing a soulful protest song that merely exists to evoke some kind of emotion. It’s cheap and patronising.
First Man was a film that Chazelle had been working on for years, having made La La Land as a way of helping secure the clout and financing for this story to be told. Yet, like with many passion projects – especially one that comes after a Best Director win (a bit like Peter Jackson and King Kong really) – the director is too heavily invested in telling a story they have fallen in love with, and have fallen so deep in love that they lack any distance from the narrative. Chazelle comes across as a director who is giddy with the possibilities he’s presented with. So eager to make his mark on this sub-genre of cinema that he neglects to see whether the decisions he makes are the right ones for the story he’s telling.
In the end, First Man comes across as being a purely amatuerish affair. It’s a film that’s devoid of necessity, what with films like The Right Stuff and shows like From the Earth to the Moon existing. No new ground is forged, and the language that Chazelle thinks he’s writing in is illegible and muddled. The closing shot of Neil and Janet reuniting, separated by a quarantine window, works as the films sole pure moment of emotion, leaving me wishing that the rest of the film had had the same heft as those few seconds do.
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Corey Stoll
Writer: Josh Singer, (based on the book by James R. Hansen)
On this episode of Not A Knife, Andrew chats with director Giovanna Mercuri about her film, The Target, and discusses the effects of bullying in the workplace. This episode is coming out around R U Ok? day, a day about discussing mental illness. To find out more, head over to RUOk.org.au for more information.
Also on this episode, Andrew recommends Mojo Juju’s latest album, Native Tongue, as well as Leigh Whannell’s latest film, Upgrade.
To find out more about The Target, head over to Locked in Productions Facebook page.
Find out more about Mojo Juju here.
For crisis support and suicide prevention help, head over to Lifeline for more information.
Check out other great shows on the Auscast Network here.
If you want to get in touch, send an email to TheCurbAU@gmail.com
Hearts Beat Loud is chicken soup for the soul. It’s a beautiful, warm hug on a cold winters day, breaking through the dreariness and bringing the sunshine in. It’s a film that knows the power of the Nick Offerman smile, and employs it with great efficiency. It’s a celebration of family, love, life, and music. It’s the unkickable puppy.
Director Brett Haley teams up with co-writer Marc Basch (both having worked on Haley’s previous directorial effort, The Hero), and together they weave the tale of father and daughter duo (Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons respectively) and their relationship as they make music and grow together. Offerman’s Frank Fisher runs a record store that’s on its last legs. Clemons’ Sam Fisher is on the cusp of heading to college to study medicine. The two share a love of music, and to bond and pass the time, they jam. One night, Frank drags Sam away from studying to play a few tunes together, and a song – the titular Hearts Beat Loud – is born. Buoyed by the electricity the two shared together, Frank tries to encourage Sam to start a band together, at which she shuts him down saying, ‘we’re not a band’. Low and behold, Frank employs that phrase as a band name and whisks Hearts Beat Loud onto Spotify the following day. It – inevitably, as it’s a damn good song – becomes a success. Then, the plot doesn’t go where you think it will.
There’s been a minor revival of music-centric films over the past decade, mainly thanks to the work of John Carney (the triptych of Once, Sing Street, Begin Again combine together perfectly in harmony). While not full blown musicals, these films are inherently crowd pleasing affairs, with great songs peppered throughout the day to day dramas of life. Hearts Beat Loud subverts the well worn ‘Carney-music-dramedy’ mould by focusing on a father/daughter dynamic, rather than a couple falling in love.
There’s little in the way of conflict between Frank and Sam outside of mere routine life issues. This lack of conflict is thanks to the separate life journey’s that both Frank and Sam want to embark on. Sure, Frank could try and keep his record store going, especially with the possible lifeline that landlord Leslie (an always appreciated Toni Collette) throws out to him, but after running the joint for seventeen years, he’s exhausted and in need of something new. When Hearts Beat Loud becomes a surprise entry on the ‘best of indie music’ playlist on Spotify, that ‘something new’ feels like it’s presented itself in the form of a band. Yet, as the more adult of the two, Sam realises that this could simply just be a flash in the pan, and the most logical path for her forward is to follow her academic future.
This is what’s most refreshing about Hearts Beat Loud – it recognises the value of dreams, but it also recognises the need to live a life outside of those dreams. If anything, it’s about people embracing a hobby, doing that hobby well, and then continuing on with their life. While challenges exist, it’s a salient reminder that in this hectic, mad world, we all need to take a moment to recharge and enjoy small things – whether that’s a nice bottle of ‘the good stuff’, or just enjoying a jam session with your kid, taking that moment to chill and do something for you is something that we all need to take note of.
It’s both hard to spoil and hard to talk about Hearts Beat Loud as it’s a film that works so darn well when you’re sitting with it. There’s a unique harmony that comes from the pitch perfect casting of Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Toni Collette, Ted Danson, Blythe Danner, and Sasha Lane. They blend together so well, creating a supremely comfortable, calming vibe throughout the film. Most notable is the romance that Clemons and Lane fall into. It’s great to see Sasha Lane forging a great career after she exploded on the screen with the superb American Honey, and the same can be said for Kiersey Clemons after her breakout role in Dope. When seasoned and new performers combined, they help make Hearts Beat Loud into a harmless, charming effort that just makes you smile.
The supreme smile creator Nick Offerman does a superb job of just making you feel good, especially when he giggles that trademark giggle that makes the whole cinema breath in comfort, leaving them feeling slightly light headed. The chemistry that Offerman and Clemons have together that leaves the genuine impression that these two people have grown up together, with Frank shaping Sam’s life into someone who can head off to college to study medicine. The learned shorthand the two have together is something that can easily feel fake, but here it’s natural, almost symbiotic, as any great band that works together should be.
And you’ll damn well want to pick up the soundtrack too. Keegan DeWitt wrote the songs and the score and his effort is wonderfully realised through the brilliant vocals that both Offerman and Clemons provide. Each new song that is revealed as the plot develops feels natural, and far removed from the cynical view that they’re simply there to pad out a soundtrack that’s designed for you to pick up as you exit through the gift shop on your way out of the cinema.
Hearts Beat Loud is a beautiful, calming experience. A real treat to sit with, carrying a level of authenticity that feels like the exact thing that we need in this ever turbulent world. Let this film wash over you and walk out of the cinema feeling cleansed and like you’ve just had a long, warm hug from your Grandmother.
Director: Brett Haley
Cast: Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Toni Collette
Writers: Brett Haley, Marc Basch
Pontificating about life and being a man is the aim of the game with Tim Winton’s seventies surfing focused novel, Breath, and first time director Simon Baker, with the help of co-writer Gerard Lee, manage to allay any fears that Winton’s work wouldn’t be given the honour it deserves. It also helps that the film is carried by three major forces at work: newcomers Samson Coulter and Ben Spence, and the stunning scenery of Denmark.
The plot is threadbare – Pikelet (Coulter) and Loonie (Spence) are best mates, and in their downtime they need something to keep them occupied. That thing ends up being surfing. As they watch in awe the skilled surfers carving paths through the angry waves, they’re lead to Simon Baker’s Sando, a world class surfer who help guide Pikelet and Loonie in the skill of surfing. That’s about it.
Prolific writer Tim Winton is as West Aussie as The Triffids, great beaches, and Quokkas. His books litter the households of Australia and make up a fair amount of the syllabus for high school and university English classes. Odds are, if you’re Australian, you’ve encountered at least one of Tim’s books along your book reading life. Whether you like his explorations of the Aussie male or not is another thing. Given Tim Winton also provides vocal assistance in the way of narration, well, your tolerance of the man will be tested if he’s not your thing.
Sure, Winton’s writing carries many of the same themes – growing up in rural Australia, the way Aussie males refuse to grapple with their emotions, and surfing, oh gosh, so much surfing -, but when isolated (as they are in Breath) these themes are well worth exploring. The predominant theme at work in Breath is how men deal with fear and anxiety, and what better way to explore such a theme than by having young guys surfing on raging waves.
It’s worthwhile shouting out the combined cinematography efforts of Marden Dean and Rick Rifici. Dean tackled the land cinematography, and as he’s shown with the stunning Boys in the Trees and Fell, he knows how to capture the Australian landscape perfectly. Rick Rifici showcases his talents as the water cinematographer perfectly. You feel like you’re in the water with the boys, the smell of the sea permeating out of the screen. If anything, watch Breath for some of the best surfing scenes in cinema.
The casting of surfers Samson Coulter and Ben Spence in the lead is inspired. As Simon Baker said, it’s harder to surf than it is to act, and while it would have been easy to cast stunt doubles to do the surfing scenes, it would have created a disconnect between the viewer and the narrative. It’s part of what makes Tom Cruise such an enjoyable actor to watch – you know it’s him hanging off the side of the worlds largest tower, and not some stunt guy with Cruise’s face CGI’d over theirs. Knowing that the actors are out there in the thick of the churn, working their ways towards the surf, and in turn, are the guys conquering the waves, adds to the experience of the story.
Not only do Coulter and Spence show their great talents as surfers on the water, they also impress with their natural performances. Winton’s dialogue is as ocker as it gets, as if he’s stuck a recorder in rural Australia and just crafted a narrative around the best lines. Coulter’s Pikelet is reserved and observant. He’s anxious, fearful, always questioning himself – and, as a typical male, he’s also not got much to say, which in turn relies on Coulter to deliver a lot of Pikelet’s emotions just through a look.
Ben Spence’s casting is inspired. His performance is one of the best of the year, portraying a true blue ocker Aussie male growing up. Thanks to an abusive father, Loonie doesn’t know how to release his pent up emotions, in turn goading himself into achieving difficult and dangerous feats – a huge wave, or a notorious surfing spot where a Great White is known to lurk. Self harm and destructive behaviours are peppered through Loonie’s life.
It’s impressive that Simon Baker’s Sando doesn’t become a wise, all knowing father figure that the boys need. He’s as flawed as they are. When Loonie acts out, there’s no reparation or guidance to help Loonie realise he’s doing something wrong. Instead, Sando whisks Loonie off to Indonesia for an impromptu surfing trip.
With that said, it’s disappointing that great actors like Richard Roxburgh, Rachael Blake, and Elizabeth Debicki, are given weak characters to work with. Sure, Roxburgh’s father is afraid of going out into the surf to do his fishing, but other than a few concerned glances, that’s all we get. Blake is wasted as an underwritten mother – a role that instead manages to show how talented Blake is as an actress, where you can easily see her filling in the gaps of the screenplay.
Worst is Debicki, who takes up the thankless role of damaged girlfriend who exists to reflect the men’s inhibitions and self worth. Sure, there’s a basis to her character – a skier who has had her dreams taken away from her because of an injury – that reflects the core themes of the film, but that’s still no excuse for how weak the character of Eva is written. When the film shifts focus to her in the third act, you can’t help but wish we were back out on the surf with the boys, watching the waves come crashing down in the ocean.
Which is where we’re left with Breath. It’s like a splash of ocean water – first it’s refreshing, exciting, and rejuvenating, then gradually as the salt water settles in your skin, it starts to dry out and makes you feel weathered and lifeless. Winton’s work has been faithfully transferred to the screen under the assured guidance of Simon Baker. The strengths are amplified (exploration of masculinity), and the weaknesses are equally amplified (poorly written women characters).
Given this will likely become a staple in English Literature classes around school rooms in Australia, kids of the future could have a lot worse to watch in regards to Australian literature transferred to films. Either way, teachers, keep an eye out for essays about fear and how sometimes you conquer it, sometimes it consumes you, and sometimes it makes you feel worthless, but it’s how you live with it that defines you.
Director: Simon Baker
Cast: Samson Coulter, Ben Spence, Simon Baker
Writers: Gerard Lee, Simon Baker (Based on Breath by Tim Winton)
Within the first five minutes of Björn Runge’s The Wife, we’re reminded how lucky we are that there are actors like Glenn Close in the world. Laying in bed with her husband Joe (Johanthan Pryce), Joan Castlemane (Close) is woken for some late night sex. Joe is giddy with nervousness over the impending announcements of who will be the recipients of the Nobel Prize for that year, and the sex is a good way of relieving this built up energy. Cut to early morning, as a phone cuts through the restless sleepers slumber – it’s the Swedish Academy announcing that Joe has won the Nobel Prize for literature.
As Close’s Joan sits on the other extension, we see a wealth of emotions wash over her face. Pride, confusion, excitement, depression, anxiety, stress, and joy. With only having spent mere moments with this couple, it’s through Close’s expressions we see a lifetime of memories and experiences that they have gone through together to end up at this point.
To say more about The Wife would be to spoil the intricacies of Jane Anderson’s powerful script (working from Meg Wolitzer’s book of the same name). In turn, avoid the trailer for this film at all costs as it plays out like a two minute version of the film, revealing plot points that come naturally and with great weight as the film progresses.
What there is to talk about is the revealing tête-à-tête that Pryce’s Joe and Close’s Joan have in public as Joe is wheeled out to endless social events, with equally endless nobodies fawning over him for his aptitude for creating profoundly affecting literature. Pryce is flawless as he portrays an aged writer who laps up the attention whenever he can. He feels he has been long overdue for such an accolade, and isn’t afraid to hide that through his weathered expressions. Joan watches diligently as ‘the wife’ who stands and fields questions about what it’s like to support a genius like Joe, all the while Joe interrupts the ones about whether Joan would have liked to have been a writer by saying ‘she doesn’t write’.
In the world of man, the role of women is to always support and never to take the spotlight. An exchange with a mathematician whose wife is also a mathematician highlights this toxic notion – yes, the husband knows she is more brilliant than he is, but he daren’t ever let another man know this. It’s an unspoken truth that the men never acknowledge, instead leaving harmful nuggets of pain the path of their children and their wives. Joe’s lack of support and encouragement for his son is perceived by him to be character building and helpful, but instead it’s more misguided toxic behaviour wrapped up in disguise as positive reinforcement. There is this subtle chest beating that exists in this intellectual bro club, where every man needs to belittle everyone else to reinforce his needless masculinity and show other men that, yes, indeed, he is a man.
The toll of this long marriage on Joan begins to appear at each new social event. Joan’s patience with Joe and his swanning around as a newly branded laureate begins to wear thin, with her finding solace in Christian Slater’s wannabe Joe Castlemane-biographer, Nathaniel Bone. Slater’s presence is always welcome, and for the most part he matches Close and Pryce. Bone is a snooping journalist who wants to explode Joe Castlemane’s history wide open – and Joe isn’t having a bar of it. Slater walks the thin line of being a creepy sleaze, and being a man who just wants to explore an interesting story.
It’s through Bone’s investigation and some inciting incidents that we’re given flashbacks to Joe and Joan’s early life as academics. Given The Wife is set in 1992, these flashbacks take place in the sixties, where Joe is a lecturer, and Joan is his student. The casting of Harry Lloyd as young Joe, and Annie Starke as young Joan is inspired. Lloyd plays a younger, naive version of Joe, allowing a clear through line to Johnathan Pryce’s older version of the writer. Annie Starke looks the part of a younger Glenn Close (which, of course, is helped by the fact that she’s Close’s daughter), and shows the talents of young Glenn Close as well. Here’s hoping she’s not perennially cast as younger versions of Glenn Close in everything heading forward as she definitely is a talent that deserves to grow outside of the shadow of her mother.
Which brings us back to Johnathan Pryce and Glenn Close. Pryce is stunning, with each plot reveal unveiling a new layer of his character. Pryce is a seasoned actor who has honed his craft impeccably throughout the years, and it’s a joy to see such a great talent stand up alongside and against another great talent like Glenn Close.
Close has consistently been one of the finest actors working – tracking back to her work in The Big Chill, to her iconic villain in Fatal Attraction (both of which lead to Oscar nominations), to recent genre fair like Guardians of the Galaxy and the underseen The Girl With All the Gifts, Close’s talent is undeniable. Yet, after six Oscar nominations and countless other awards, it’s with The Wife that Close delivers a career best performance.
Portraying a diligent, supportive wife appears to be a thankless task given how average the writing has been for such roles in the past. With Jane Anderson’s great script, Close is given the material she deserves, allowing her to take a deep, real character like Jane Castlemane and bring her to life. As the film comes to a close, one can’t wish that we were privy to the writing of Jane and to see the possibilities that would have come to her if her voice was given a platform.
It’s also worth taking a short moment to applaud the work of cinematographer Ulf Brantås who manages to amplify the chill and coldness of winter drenched Stockholm.
(As a sidenote, if there’s one thing from stopping The Wife from being a full five star film, it’s the unnecessary final shot that appears to exist to remind viewers one last time that Concordes used to exist as a form of travel.)
The Wife comes at a vital point in the #MeToo era. It portrays a story that may feel all too familiar to women working from the sixties onwards, trying to prove themselves in male driven fields and continually being denied a way forward because of their gender (also see: RBG for how difficult it was for such a great like Ruth Bader Ginsburg to find a footing in a world driven by men). It shows what happens when women are denied a voice or a career simply because they are women. Sexism is strong, and sexism is inherent in life, work, marriages, and motherhood. This is a vital, unmissable, powerful film. Go for Glenn Close, stick around for the story that won’t leave your mind.
Director: Björn Runge
Cast: Glenn Close, Johnathan Pryce, Annie Starke
Writer: Jane Anderson (based on the novel “The Wife” by Meg Wolitzer)
Shai Pittman’s Karen Burden is getting out of prison. A few years behind bars has changed her life. Sure, she’s clean, but she’s also lost her daughter and has no work experience. She heads to a women’s shelter to find some stability and get her life back on track. From there, things are going to change, the future will be brighter.
Here I Am is writer/director Beck Cole’s feature film debut, after creating some great documentaries and short films. This powerful film takes a look at three generations of women – Karen Burden, her daughter, and her mother, Lois (Marcia Langton) – and how their lives adjust to Karen being out of prison. This is a story we’ve seen told countless times before, but not from the perspective of indigenous women in Australia. Familiar stories transform into something completely different when told from different perspectives.
There’s little need for extensive backstories, or the reasons why the women are in the shelter that they are in, when their stories can be read from the looks on their faces. Whether it’s getting off drugs, finding refuge from an abusive partner, or centering themselves after a stint in prison, these women have the world on their shoulders, and Beck Cole’s assured direction and empathetic writing allows their stories to breath. In lesser hands, this could easily become a film that over amplifies its themes and underlines them to ensure the audience understands what’s going on, but Cole understands this kind of story is essential for audiences to understand the lives of indigenous women in Australia.
Additionally, Cole allows the weight of the difference between generations to be felt. In one powerful scene, Karen confronts her mother – who has custody of her daughter – and asks why she can’t see her daughter. Karen’s previous life of drug use is brought up, at which Karen reminds her mother that grog was her poison instead of drugs. It’s a small line, but it reminds that from each generation, the addiction is different, even if the damage they do to families and lives is no different.
There’s a powerful resilience to Karen – even as things appear to go bad, or threaten to upturn her progress to a better life, she reassures herself that she’s going to be ok. A visit to a job office has Karen being hit with the realisation that she may have some life experience, but without ‘that certificate from the white man’, she is going to struggle to get a job. This comes after a shopkeeper clearly racially profiles Karen and denies her a basic job of delivering newspapers that he’s advertised in the shop window. Yet, she persists.
Later, in the standout scene of the film, the women of the shelter unwind with music and booze, and talk about how the proportion of indigenous women in Australia is so small, but a startling 25% are imprisoned. This film was made in 2011, and devastatingly, the statistics haven’t improved since then, with women being locked up for unpaid fines (as in the death of Yamatji woman Ms Dhu), and deaths in custody being a way of life. In turn, 80% of indigenous women in prison are mothers, with their children often heading into child protection system, or worse, in the criminal justice system.
Then there’s the domestic abuse that causes unseen scars on the soul of women. Betty Sumner’s vibrant Anita stands in the small room, demanding the radio to be turned up so she can sing at the top of her lungs along to Archie Roach’s Walking Into Doors. She sings at the top of her lungs that she’s tired of walking into doors. It’s a powerful moment as the women hug and unite. They may not always be smiles and hugs to each other, but they are there to support each other when they need it. Later, when sitting in a sharing circle, Anita shows warmth and support for another woman who has finished her meth addiction treatment and doesn’t visibly appear proud of having done so, but as Anita reminds her, inside she’s proud, and the other women in turn are proud for her.
Here I Am is not a message movie, instead feeling more like a beacon for the indigenous women of Australia to say, hey, y’know, life can be really shit, and the system works against you, and the world will try drag you down, but keep your head up as you’re not alone, and together we can get through this. Shai Pittman’s performance is initially subdued as she reenters the world, but gradually opens up with a vulnerability, showing a steadfast and proud mother who wants to reconnect with her daughter. She’s matched by Marcia Langton’s mother – fiery, protective, and clearly the mother of Karen, Langton’s performance shows the weight of generations of indigenous mothers trying to make sure that the world doesn’t tear their daughters down like they’ve seen happen to countless other indigenous women.
This kind of tragedy can be oppressive, but there’s moments of beautiful comedy – mostly from Betty Sumner’s Anita – and inviting moments of warmth. When Karen and her housemate, Skinny (Pauline Whyman), head out to catch up with some men, they down a few beers around a fire, as Bruce R. Carter’s Jeff sings a country song on his guitar. It’s a small moment, but in the lives of these women, sometimes all they have are the small moments.
Here Am I ends on a powerful moment that feels like a helping hand being invited to women in need everywhere. As Karen meets up with her parole officer after a particularly tough week, the officer asks, ‘so Karen, you’ve had a rough week, but how are you doing?’ With a moments pause, Karen looks up and says, ‘yeah, I’m going to be alright’.
Beck Cole feels like a hidden gem in the landscape of Australian indigenous cinema, but her work is definitely one you’ll feel better for having sought out.
Director: Beck Cole
Cast: Shai Pittman, Marcia Langton, Vanessa Worrall
Writer: Beck Cole
No rest for the wicked! The dust hasn’t even settled on the 21st Revelation Film Festival, and the hard at work team at Revelation have already announced their next monthly Australian Revelations film.
For the month of August, it’s director Philip Noyce’s killer thriller, Dead Calm. Featuring a trio of great performances from Sam Neill, Nicole Kidman, and Billy Zane, Dead Calm is one heck of a film to see on the big screen.
If you’re in Perth, pick up your tickets right here, and make sure to head along on August 27th at 6:30pm for what will be another great night of Aussie films on the big screen.
James Joyce, Hannah Gadsby Nanette, Call Me By Your Name, Camp Cope Courtney Barnett and Violence Against Women – Not A KnifeJune 26th, 2018
Well, this is some episode of Not A Knife.
There’s an interview with David Blake Knox – the writer of the documentary James Joyce: A Shout in the Streets, which is screening as part of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival on the 6th of July at 7:00pm. Tickets available here.
Then, there’s a look at Hannah Gadsby’s essential Netflix stand up comedy show, Nanette. It’s at this point of the show that a trigger warning comes into effect, so if discussions about violence against women or sexual assault is too much, then please be forewarned that the discussion heads in that direction.
Then, a look at one of the great films from 2017, Call Me By Your Name, and the value of bisexual representation in cinema.
Finally, a wrap up look at the music of Camp Cope and Courtney Barnett and how they have weaved stories about sexual assault and violence against women into their music.
It’s a long one. It’s not an easy discussion to have recorded, but it’s out there.
Find The Curb on all the socials here:
If you want to get in touch, send an email to TheCurbAU@gmail.com
The relevant links mentioned in the show:
Victoria Against Violence ‘Call It Out’ ad campaign
Women’s Community Shelters
Junkee article on State of Origin domestic violence spike
Lifeline – 13 11 14
Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636
Top 20 charities that support Women
Minus18 article on busting 7 myths about being bisexual
Destroy the Joint facebook page
On this episode of Not A Knife, Andrew sits down with writer/director Kori Reay-Mackey and producer Dan Thom to chat about their upcoming short film Residue. In this discussion, the foundations of the filmmaking process are given a going over – with discussions about the search for a viral hit, how entering advertising competitions shaped the filmmaking perspective, working with bands, and most importantly, the process of getting a first short film off the ground.
To support Residue you can head over to the GoFundMe page right here: https://www.gofundme.com/residue
Check out the Doritos entry here.
Check out other great shows on the Auscast Network here.
If you want to get in touch, send an email to TheCurbAU@gmail.com