Posts by Andrew:
At the core of David Field’s The Combination Redemption is a performance by Taylor Wiese that is conjured from the guts of hell itself. All muscles and beard, Wiese’s Bryan is a gut churning echo of the violent thugs that made the Cronulla riots the stain on Australian history that it is writ large. Equally terrifying is the effect that Bryan has on his younger brother, Mark (a powerful performance from André de Vanny), who pushes back against the far right leaning diatribe that Bryan spews endlessly.
Encompassing this core is the continued narrative of John (writer-actor George Basha), carrying on from 2009’s The Combination where John’s brother Charlie (Firass Dirani) was killed by a local gang lord. The image of Charlie being shot in the back rings through John’s mind, startling him out of sleep every morning. Life has carried on for John, even though his mother has returned to Lebanon, and his wife has left him, he manages to carry on working at the boxing studio run by Wes (the late Tony Ryan). While Basha’s script suggests that John has mild PTSD, it’s hard to see this in his performance, especially when he manages to successfully woo new beau, Amira (Abbey Aziz).
Meanwhile, Charlie’s high school friend Mo (Rahel Romahn), never managed to escape the life of pushing drugs, and finds himself in deeper, hotter water after trying to rip off the new drug lord in town – Nas (a manic Johnny Nasser) – to the tune of $100,000. This leads Mo on the run from Nas’s henchmen, and ends up adding to the home life issues that Mo faces.
This is the foundation that The Combination Redemption is working on, and it’s not hard to see that it’s fairly similar to the foundation that The Combination had. Namely, one that appears to throw one too many ingredients into the pot in the hope that it makes for a more colourful, layered dish, but instead comes across just a bit too muddled. George Basha’s script is hyper loaded with bold, dot point issues that plague society as a whole – everything from rampant racism and islamophobia, to the troubles facing those in a relationship when they come from different faith –, and while these issues do organically inform one another, they simply aren’t given enough breathing room in a 100 minute film.
While George Basha manages to write engaging characters, unfortunately there are some areas that fall short. The romantic subplot between Amira and John is underdeveloped and, although Basha and Aziz have good chemistry, it ends up feeling hollow. Compared to the first Combination film, Redemption does have better written gangster thugs, even if they do end up with a bizarrely eccentric (but no less enjoyable) performance from Johnny Nasser, but they are still generic stereotypes that come laden with a generic gangster narrative.
What works in The Combination Redemption is that core narrative of Taylor Wiese’s Bryan and his company of alt-right maniacs. Ripped from the headlines, the correlation between Bryan and walking dumpster fire Blair Cottrell is undeniable. Basha goes so far as to saddle Bryan with his own Fraser Anning figure, a politician (Jeremy Waters – great in a small role) who wants to change the face of Australia, who does so by enlisting the help of radical white extremists, yet, unlike Anning, this one is less than keen to be associated with such violent extremism, instead hoping to change the face of Australia via the mechanics of politics. After the pollie abandons him, Bryan’s actions turn even more violent and aggressive, with his eagerness to enact some horrific ‘ethnic cleansing’ on the suburbs of Sydney.
Taylor Wiese commits completely to his role that it becomes nauseating to see his mania on screen. There’s a distinct level of realism here that is unavoidable, one that reminds us that in the ten years since the first Combination film, there has been few changes in society. In fact, things have gotten much, much worse. Wiese’s Bryan towers over his brother, Mark, and it’s André de Vanny’s performance that reminds us that when presented with evil, it’s not so easy to put it in its place. de Vanny’s Mark is a strong character, yet, the fear of hate that permeates from his brother is intoxicating.
Another area that Basha proves to have great chemistry is the bond that he and Tony Ryan have with one another. The care that Ryan’s Wes has for John is clear, so much so that this relationship alone would be great for a standalone narrative – two down on their luck guys running a boxing gym together and trying to make it work. When a non-consensual violent altercation occurs in the club, Wes is quick to point out that that kind of culture doesn’t have a place in this world – especially in front of kids. It’s a shame that this is Tony Ryan’s last performance, as he really is a wonderful performer here.
The three main narrative threads don’t exactly mesh well enough to be completely coherent. Just like the first Combination film, I wish that the gangster narrative was excised completely as instead of adding tension to the plot, it merely adds a rote thread that lacks any of the urgency it thinks it has.
David Field’s direction is solid. While The Combination had a few ‘first feature’ quibbles, The Combination Redemption shows that Field has come a long way since that first film. There’s a vibe that Field is really pushing his creative voice into new areas here, which in turn makes Redemption a more vibrant, energetic film that the first entry. Hopefully it’s not too long before he’s back behind the camera again.
While The Combination Redemption is much of the same as the first film, it’s also a more polished film. Thematically relevant, and at times, exceptionally frightening, this is a film that is difficult to watch at times, yet, it’s a necessary tale to be told. If there is a third Combination film, one can only hope that it comes out in a time where it’s not as relevant as the first two films.
Director: David Field
Cast: George Basha, Abbey Aziz, Taylor Wiese
Writer: George Basha
Ok, we all love Yahoo Serious, but we’ve all missed the guy a fair bunch after he retired from filmmaking, and in turn, public life.
Well, for one night only, that’s going to change with Yahoo Serious doing a Q&A session at Sydney’s Hayden Orpheum theatre to celebrate (arguably) his finest film, Young Einstein. This will sell out, so if you’re in the area you simply must go to this event as it’ll definitely be a special night.
The event takes place on Friday, 31st of May at 8:30pm. Tickets are available here.
Watching David Field’s The Combination over ten years after its released, it’s difficult to see exactly why this film was as contentious as it was when it first landed. This isn’t to say that a film about Lebanese-Australians in the western suburbs of Sydney and the racism that they face day in, day out, doesn’t still pack a punch, it’s just that there have been a wealth of equally acerbic films in the time since then. But let’s judge the film for itself, and not the films that have come after it.
The Combination is written by George Basha, who also takes the lead as John, a Lebanese-Australian who has just gotten out of jail and is looking to make a better life for himself and his family. He recognises the errors of his past, and doesn’t want his younger brother, Charlie (Firass Dirani), to follow the same path as him. However, given that John was gone for so long, Charlie no longer sees him as the brother figure he wants or needs anymore, so when the white bullies at school rally against Charlie and his friends, well, things get more violent than they should. Further removed from the guidance of John, Charlie and his friend Zeus (Ali Haider), find themselves dealing drugs for local kingpin Ibo (Michael Denkha), and inevitably all the troubles that come with being a low level drug dealer. Meanwhile, John has managed to find himself a girlfriend, Sydney (Clare Bowen), who just happens to be white.
The reputation of The Combination precedes it, with two violent incidents occurring during the film’s opening week. This caused the film to be pulled from some theatres, before finally being reopened with extra security measures in place. But, all talk of violence around the film works to actually minimise what is a genuinely engaging narrative about a Lebanese-Australian family wanting to grow up safe in Australia. Basha wrote the script as a reflection on his own life experiences growing up in Australia, and there is a level of authenticity that comes through strong in the familial moments, with both Basha and Dirani working brilliantly together, and the always welcome Doris Younane as their mother Mary keeping the two in line.
So the family focused moments show truth in the old saying of ‘writing what you know’, and unfortunately the same thing applies to the scenes focused around racial tension. But, it’s the crime and thug life aspect that drags the film down. There’s a little too much ‘first script’ sheen that lingers over the film, with the feeling that both Basha and David Field were attempting to add to the already stacked Aussie-gangster catalogue, and in turn, that aspect feels half-baked and just a little too predictable.
Which is a shame, as most of the gangster stuff appears to simply exist so that Charlie can have a gun in his hand in the third act. In turn, it also appears to add to the heated, manufactured, ‘foreigners doing crime’ narrative that many of the far-right tend to drag up out of nowhere. This is not to say that Australia doesn’t have a history of crime from different ethnographic groups, but show me any group in the world who hasn’t had a history of crime in some regard? Remove this aspect from The Combination, and you’re left with a much more compelling narrative about a kid growing up in high school in a world where the Cronulla riots are taking place. While Basha’s script comes from a place of understanding, he’s not strong enough a writer to give these themes the narrative weight they need to be properly explored and presented.
Performances are fine across the board, with Firass Dirani really excelling as Charlie, funnelling anger and frustration into a character who simply wants to exist without the fear of constant abuse and aggression thrown his way. George Basha is serviceable as John, with it becoming clear relatively quickly that he’s written himself a role that easily makes himself look good. Clare Bowen is fine as Sydney, with some solid scenes of tension between her and her parents arising near the end.
It’s great to see films like The Combination existing in the realm of Australian cinema. While this isn’t a perfect film, it does carry enough relevance to Australian society to make it worthwhile seeking out, especially given The Combination Redemption has just hit cinemas.
Director: David Field
Cast: George Basha, Firass Dirani, Clare Bowen
Writer: George Basha
The basic narrative thrust of Cold Pursuit is as Liam Neeson as they come – the son of a snowplow driver is killed by a drug dealer, so the snowplow driver heads off on a path of revenge to take out the dealers. Pretty basic stuff, right? Well, under the guidance of director Hans Petter Moland (remaking his own 2014 Norwegian film, In Order of Disappearance), Cold Pursuit is a truly bonkers film that embraces an eccentric pitch black comedy streak with a fair dose of over the top violence.
To get an idea of how warm the embrace of comedy is within Cold Pursuit, one needs to look at the way the credits roll. Instead of your usual credits roll, the entire cast list is presented on screen, with their names blowing away ‘In Order of Disappearance’. It’s slyly hilarious, and a perfect way to wrap up a film that has every death presented with the characters name and a culturally specific totem.
But, the comedy aspect of Cold Pursuit isn’t entirely obvious, as Moland knows to take his time and ease you into the groove he’s working in. After the death of Liam Neeson’s son (Neeson’s character does have a name, but really, he’s just playing Liam Neeson, ok?), there’s a sadness that washes over the film. That sadness dissipates slowly, making way for a pitch black comedy about warring drug cartels in the middle of snow drenched Denver.
And what comedy! While Liam Neeson fronts the poster of Cold Pursuit, it’s quite impressive how quickly his narrative thread becomes its own b-plot, as the pseudo-business man like Trevor (Tom Bateman) becomes an increasing threat, in turn, staking a claim for the entire movie. Tom Bateman delivers one of the most eccentric, energetic, and on point comedic performances in years. Every scene has him chewing the scenery with verve and enthusiasm, so much so that his performance amplifies the subdued performances of his henchmen (of note is Domenick Lombardozzi’s Mustang).
Opposing Bateman’s Trevor is Tom Jackson’s White Bull. His band of American Indian’s run their own drug cartel, and as the body count from Neeson’s snowplow driver, and in turn, Trevor’s henchmen, escalates, well, White Bull’s men have no choice but to get involved. Their presence leads to one of the most joyous moments in film this year, which I daren’t spoil it as it’s simply one of the most hilarious scenes that comes out of the blue.
On the edges of this out-and-out carnage attack are performances from Emmy Rossum as a new police officer, and Laura Dern as the snowplow driver’s wife. Dern up and leaves early on. Emmy Rossum is always a nice presence on screen, giving a solid performance with minimal material, but it’d be nice if she were given just a touch more screen time here.
Cold Pursuit attempts to add in a minor thematic thread about respecting your past and your culture, while also acknowledging the new path that is being forged by changing society. But, really, it’s such a minor element that it’s not entirely worthwhile exploring. After all, you’re sitting in the cinema to watch an entertaining film about a snowplow driver who takes revenge on those who killed his son. The mere fact you get a heck of a lot more of that, and possibly the finest comedic punchline ending in a film this year, is enough to ensure that Cold Pursuit is most definitely a film you need to seek out.
Director: Hans Petter Moland
Cast: Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman, Tom Jackson
Writer: Frank Baldwin, (based on the movie Kraftidioten by Kim Fupz Aakeson)
Given the huge wealth of movie musicals hitting the globe nowadays, it makes sense that the genre would be reborn in the Southern Hemisphere. With films like The Greatest Showman, La La Land, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again and dramas-that-are-really-musicals like Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star is Born, well, it just makes plain sense to have a musical that features notable Kiwi tunes as the soundtrack.
Daffodils is based on the stage play about the true story of how two people fell in love, and in turn, how that love fell apart. Featuring NZ singer Kimbra, Daffodils also has Rose McIver and George Mason as the two leads who fall in love. Featuring renditions of Crowded House, Bic Runga, and Dave Dobbyn songs, this looks like one very beautiful musical to lose yourself in.
Check out the trailer below, all the while wondering when Australia will get a Go-Betweens/The Church/You Am I-esque musical.
A barn burns in the middle of the night while a motherless calf simply exists in a nearby shed. A long lost friend magically reappears and asks Lee Jong-su to care after her cat while she visits Africa. Donald Trump gets into office on the promise that a wall will be built between America and Mexico. North Korea exhausts propaganda over the South Korean border, showing that wall or no wall, there is no escaping what’s already here.
These things are true, but these things are also untrue.
This is Lee Chang-dong’s Burning.
An adaptation of the short story “Barn Burning” by Haruki Murakami, Burning is a yearning ode to isolation. While the narrative primarily considers Ah-in Yoo’s Lee Jong-su the main character, this is a film that encompasses the world at large and tries to digest it as best as possible. To do so, co-writers Jungmi Oh and Lee Chang-dong craft a wavering mystery that is at once about a childhood friend, Hae-mi (Jong-seo Jun), who establishes herself with purpose in Lee Jong-su’s life, while also about a curiously wealthy, Ben (Steven Yeun).
And yet, like all Haruki Murakami works, Burning is about everything, and it is about nothing. Deliberately obtuse, and yet, the obfusciation and meandering nature of the filmic text is at once a clear and frank exploration of society as a whole. Lee Chang-dong shows a world bombarded with messages we don’t want to hear, and that we simply cannot escape, yet it’s not intoxicating or all consuming. These messages merely permeate through life with subtlety, creeping into our consciousness like a whisper in your ear while you’re sleeping. For this reason alone, Burning is not a film for everyone.
At the risk of sounding pretentious, this is a film that is for the Murakami faithful. Lavishly filled to the brim with iconic Murakami traits – cats that go missing, a well that may or may not exist, masturbation to pass the time, a mysterious woman who enters a man’s life and forever alters it, jazz. Yet, most importantly, Burning is the clearest depiction of the grandest of Murakami tropes – the slightly pathetic single thirty-something man who lives by himself and meanders through life with little purpose, and little desire to seek a purpose. He cooks for himself, he is book smart, yet, socially inept and devoid of personality. While Lee Jong-su may not consider himself an introvert, his loneliness, and the world he exists in, has pushed him into the realm of being one.
Just like the ever dancing Hae-mi, Lee Jong-su has been moulded by society into being disconnected from those around him. Neighbours to his father’s farm remark that his father always kept to himself and was never approachable. When Lee Jong-su meets up with his long estranged mother who he hasn’t seen for sixteen years, she can barely take her attention away from the messages coming through on her phone. While we search for reasons for why we are disconnected, we are left with more questions than answers. Is it pride that has caused us to be this way? Is it merely not knowing how to talk to one another?
Burning has little interest in answering these questions, but instead suggests that we need to reflect on ourselves, and the world around us, and ask the world why we are disconnected. What forces craft loneliness? How are we manipulated into being singular vessels that simply exist, waiting for something to kick us out of our stupor?
Steven Yeun’s Ben suggests casual destruction is a way of breaking out of the grip of society. To help ‘feel the beat’ within ourselves, he suggests that one must destroy and wreak carnage on the dilapidated skeletons that are scattered around the world. For Ben, that means burning a discarded greenhouse every so often. The flames move quick, quicker than you’d expect, but there is a rebirth that occurs afterwards.
Is Ben the walking epitome of the chaotic destruction that North Korea and Donald Trump have brought to the world? Is he the boy that has come to stir up an ants nest just to see the ants rebuild after their world has been forever changed? As a faithful adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s writing, Burning never aims to answer these questions it raises.
Burning is like a lozenge that you roll around on your tongue, letting the flavours dissipate in your mouth, and when it has all dissolved, the taste lingers, soothing your throat and easing your day. Yet, at the same time, the sickness that you took the lozenge for remains. It’s unshakable, lingering in your lungs like the air you breath.
There is so much more to Burning, so much more that I don’t have the words or the skills to explore in text. Lee Chang-dong has crafted a film that exudes a mood that is difficult to put a finger on. It’s unease. It’s discomfort. It’s peace. It’s emptiness. All of these emotions crumble together into a pile under the shade of being comfortable with one’s own loneliness. Lee Chang-dong embraces the sorrow of being alone and then reckons with that emotion in a devastating way.
This is not a film that I will easily shake off.
Director: Lee Chang-dong
Cast: Ah-in Yoo, Jong-seo Jun, Steven Yeun
Writers: Lee Chang-dong, Jungmi Oh, (Based on the short story “Barn Burning” by Haruki Murakami)
I first came to The Hate U Give via the simply superb audiobook as read by Bahni Turpin. Her embodiment of the narrator, sixteen year old Starr Carter, was perfect, allowing the book to feel like it was a narrated diary, a glimpse into the life of a young black girl growing up in modern America. For the film adaptation of Angie Thomas’ book, the role of Starr is played by the stunning Amandla Stenberg.
Where Boots Riley’s acidic dark comedy, Sorry to Bother You, looked at the way black Americans have to embrace whiteness to be successful, The Hate U Give supplants a similar narrative onto a more reality-bound setting, with Starr having to suppress her black self as she attends an affluent predominantly white school. Balancing school life and home life is difficult enough for a teenager, but it’s even more difficult when the world they live in works against them, with systemic racism adding fuel to the toxic racial stereotype fire. So, at school, Starr acts as white as she can be, all the while having to see her classmates and white boyfriend co-opt black culture with all the ignorance of white people thinking they’re doing nothing wrong.
At home, Starr can let her hair down and embrace her true self. She can use slang that would otherwise distance her white friends. She can attend a party with a house full of black friends, and she can be herself. It’s at a party where she meets up with her childhood friend, Khalil (Algee Smith), and in the beat of the music, the two are able to bond. That is, until a gunshot rings through the house and everybody flees. Khalil guides Starr into his car, taking her to safety. After reaching a safe distance, Khalil is pulled over by police, and after a brief altercation, is shot dead by a white police officer. Suddenly, the two worlds that Starr has tried to keep separate collide in a horrific way.
Where Angie Thomas’ book managed to put you in the shoes of Starr and thoroughly empathise with her life, writer Audrey Wells has adapted the text perfectly, giving Amandla Stenberg the exact material she needs to help bring the reluctant activist Starr to life. Outside of The Hunger Games, I’m mostly unfamiliar with Stenberg’s work, but if The Hate U Give is any indication, she is most certainly a star on the rise, as she effortlessly gives one of the finest performances by a young actor in recent memory. This may be due to the close correlation that Stenberg has to Starr, with Amandla being quite outspoken about her political views, and in turn, challenging the world that she lives in.
Stenberg has been vocal about the effects of cultural appropriation, an issue which many of culprits have shrugged off as harmless, but as The Hate U Give goes to great lengths to show, can leave those whose culture is being appropriated feeling like they’re floating through life without a tether. White people use black slang and make themselves feel comfortable with black culture, but as soon as black culture pushes back against this, they cry foul and get upset.
The book and the film take their titles from the Tupac Shakur song THUG LIFE – a title that breaks down to be ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone’. Taking that concept, and distilling it to its pure essence (as in, what happens to the youth of the world when the world is full of hate), The Hate U Give applies it to a logical narrative that follows through of what happens after a police shooting occurs and another black person has their life taken. Director George Tillman Jr. manages to masterfully weave in other issues facing black America. Is Starr’s white boyfriend just dating her because she’s black, and not because she’s Starr? Are Starr’s white friends simply keeping her around just so they can feel better about themselves using black slang? What happens when a black police officer is presented with the horrific issue of one of his white colleagues having killed a black man? What happens when someone reluctantly becomes a major figure for a protest movement just because their friend died?
The supporting cast is truly superb, with Russell Hornsby as Starr’s father Maverick delivering a notably brilliant performance. Which is not to say that Regina Hall’s Lisa Carter (Starr’s mother), Common’s police officer Uncle Carlos, TJ Wright’s brother figure Sekani, or Issa Rae’s activist April, aren’t any good – in fact, they’re all exceptional.
But, this is Amandla Stenberg’s show and she deserves every accolade she gets for being able to carry this deep film about racism in America. There is a lot more to explore within the film, and sure, I’m only skimming the surface of what is being touched on here, but the key thing is, you should go and see The Hate U Give. Take your friends and family and go out afterward to discuss it, because damn, this one needs to be shared far and wide.
The Hate U Give is a vital film that’s powerful, exciting, moving, and is easily one of the best films of the year.
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Russell Hornsby, Algee Smith
Writer: Audrey Wells, (based on the novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas)
I spent most of 2018 going on about how great Sweet Country was, and was looking at the roster for Australian films in 2019 and seeing a huge wealth of brilliant work coming up – The Nightingale, I Am Mother, Hotel Mumbai, Little Monsters, and, Top End Wedding. Seeing the rave reviews for Aussie films out of Sundance set my mind at ease that Jennifer Kent’s latest, Grant Sputore’s debut, and Abe Forsythe’s horror flick were going to be ok.
So, to give you an idea of how excited I am for Wayne Blair’s latest film, Top End Wedding, I have to tell you about a dream I had the other night. I went to sleep thinking about how great it is that Australian cinema is going to have another great year, then I thought about how exciting it was that Wayne Blair had a new film out. Then, I dreamt that the weekend Top End Wedding opened up, everyone went to go and see it. This wonderful celebration of love and family resonated with audiences, and the film skyrocketed up the charts, breaking Australian box office records.
Now, that was just a dream, but now that the trailer is here, I’m convinced that Top End Wedding is going to do gangbusters just like Wayne Blair’s AACTA award winning film, The Sapphires, which managed to grab a stunning $14 million at the Australian box office. I know that for 2019, this will be one of the major films that I can’t wait to get behind and encourage people to head along to see.
Featuring a lead performance from co-writer Miranda Tapsell, Top End Wedding has her character, Lauren, heading up to the Northern Territory for her dream wedding with Ned (Gwilym Lee), but before that can happen, they have to track down her mother who has gone AWOL. Rounding out the cast in supporting roles are Kerry Fox, Shari Sebbens, Huw Higginson, and Ursula Yovich.
So, check out the trailer below and get yourself excited for what will easily be one of the best films of the year when it lands in Australian cinemas on May 2.
This review will contain spoilers.
In the year 2019, Colin Thiele’s classic novella, Storm Boy, will be celebrating its 55th anniversary. To honour this momentous occasion, there has been a video game released, as well as a remake/re-adaptation of Henri Safran’s AFI Award winning film of the same name. Landing with all the grand fanfare and pomp that an adaptation of a celebrated book and film comes with, director Shawn Seet’s version employs big name stars like Jai Courtney and Geoffrey Rush to act as set dressing for the stars of the show – three pelicans.
A quick rundown of the plot of Storm Boy: grieving father ‘Hideaway’ Tom (Courtney) takes his son, Mike aka Storm Boy (Finn Little), off to a remote beach to raise him. While there, Storm Boy becomes friends with Fingerbone Bill (Trevor Jamieson). As Fingerbone Bill and Storm Boy are wandering the dunes one day, they hear the shots of hunters, and not too long afterwards, discover three orphaned pelican chicks. Storm Boy decides to raise them, giving them the names Mr Proud, Mr Ponder, and Mr Percival.
Meanwhile, because a straight adaptation would be too easy, writer Justin Monjo throws in a present-day set narrative featuring an older Storm Boy, played with accentuated agedness and gruffness by Geoffrey Rush. Mike is now a retired businessman who lives a pretty comfy life, except for the fact that he still has to vote on the board of a company he’s associated with. For some reason, the company wants to establish a mine in the Pilbara, and for Mike’s son-in-law, Malcolm (Erik Thomson), this is the culmination of years of dealing and bargaining. For Mike’s granddaughter, Madeline (Morgana Davies), it’s a slap in the face and goes against everything she wants for her future.
This shoe-horned extraneous framing device exists to contemporise an already relatable core narrative. Oh, and to also have Grandpa Storm Boy call up a helicopter and fly himself and Madeline off to some beach so he can put his feet in the sand and talk about some pelicans he knew way back when. While the A-plot still carries an emotional punch (mostly thanks to the pelicans), it does so while in combat with a decidedly empty and extremely contradictory manufactured B-plot. The life of decadence that Mike has exists to show how far he’s come from his humble beginnings growing up on a beach in the middle of nowhere, but instead it plays like an ode to pompous white businessmen.
Actually, it’s worse than that. For the most part, it carries on like a bizarre advertisement for Lolly Gobble Bliss Bombs, which Mike states ‘could only be bought in Singapore’, which is clearest indication that he’s a wilfully ignorant successful businessman, given that if he took a brief stroll down the chips aisle at Woolworth’s, he’d find bags of the darn things. Most obnoxiously is the way that a climactic business deal is thwarted because two of the older board members remember how nice nostalgia is when delivered in food form, rather than them actually caring about the indigenous land that the mine would be established on. The mere fact that a business deal is utilised for the climax of a film that’s clearly about nature is a sure sign that both writer Justin Monjo and director Shawn Seet are greatly out of touch with their source material.
Which is a real shame given the quality of Colin Thiele’s book, and the darkly hopeful tone within Henri Safran’s film. After all, this is a story that’s about grief, and what it means to live a life in solitude as you process your emotions. Tom is so heavily weighed down by the grief he carries that he has no idea of the harm that it may bring to his son.
But, if this version didn’t explicitly state that Hideaway Tom (named as such due to his reclusiveness) had made off to the beach because he was grieving, one could be mistaken for thinking that Jai Courtney was actually just a leftover extra from that one episode of Australia’s Next Top Model where they went to Kangaroo Island. He’s so photogenic, so perfectly groomed to imply that he’s mildly dishevelled, that he instead looks like he’s stepped out of a Rivers catalogue. Look, I’m not one to complain about Jai Courtney’s acting (he’s great in Felony), but he’s clearly miscast here, given little to do other than fish, pout, fish some more, and then drive a boat. When he does show a glimmer of acting ability, he’s betrayed by nostalgia framed flashback scenes which show his soon-to-be-dead wife and daughter driving away jovially. These do little to add to the implied trauma that Tom is experiencing, and instead come across as a cinematic ‘no big deal’ shrug.
Which then means that the emotional weight of Storm Boy falls onto the shoulders of Fingerbone Bill, the pelicans, and Storm Boy himself. Now, Trevor Jamieson is the MVP here, mining the emotional echoes leftover from the masterful David Gulpilil from the original version, and creating a beautiful character for Finn Little’s Storm Boy to bounce off. Finn is Finn, carrying the torch of Aussie child actors giving the best (picking up from Levi Miller and Ed Oxenbould), he’s required to do little more than play with pelicans, while every so often manipulating the audience by accentuating his big bottom lip as he cries.
Expectedly, the pelicans are exemplary, conjuring the majority of the emotional impact that the film so eagerly wants and needs. The bond that Storm Boy has with Mr Proud, Mr Ponder, and Mr Percival is tangible. Which is why Alan John’s exuberant and energetic score belies the narrative playing out on screen, robbing sad moments from their energy, and instead making them feel disturbingly close to a pantomime. Most disturbingly, the climactic death of Mr Percival (which comes right alongside that aforementioned business-deal climax) is dragged out to an unnecessarily brutal conclusion. After being shot out of the sky and tumbling to the ground, Mr Percival’s death drags on for an age, taking hours for him to pass. There’s an underlying feeling of cruelty directed to the character of Mr Percival, as both Hideaway Tom and Fingerbone Bill (you know, the two adults in this situation) sit by and let the poor bird bleed to death instead of helping it in any way.
Mr Percival quickly becomes Australia’s Cecil the Lion, with his rise to celebrity status in the community amplifying the repercussions of his needless death, and in turn, bringing about a hunting ban in the region. It’s supposed to be the one takeaway message from the narrative, but instead it’s muddled in with a watered down anti-mining message that is supposed to supplant the anti-hunting message of the original film. Whether the impacts of hunting in Australia have greatly decreased since the 1976 version or not appears to be beside the point, as the key takeaway from this version is not that hunting is bad (the wealth of dead pelicans amplifies this fact), or that mining is bad, but instead that you can’t change the past. Regardless of what happens, Mr Percival will always die, it’s just up to us how we reflect on his legacy.
Which is a good way of saying, if this 2019 version of Storm Boy, and the 2018 game created by Blowfish Studios, is supposed to honour the legacy of Colin Thiele’s text, then one has to wonder whose dog Thiele ran over first. Yes, that’s a reductive, harmful way of throwing salt in the eyes of hard working people, but given the easy home run that this could have been, one can’t help but wonder how todays youthful generation will recall Storm Boy when they’re grown up. After all, I hear that there’s nothing more exciting for kids than business deals and drawn out pelican deaths.
A short aside on the 2018 game: this is a visually impressive game that is disturbingly absent of engaging gameplay. I managed to complete the entire game in fifteen minutes, finding the mini-games that litter the watered down narrative to be bland and uneventful. Sure, there’s a small amount of joy that can be gleaned from flying around as an ibis or as a pelican, but it’s clear that this game merely exists to remind people that it’s the 55th anniversary of a book.
Director: Shawn Seet
Cast: Finn Little, Trevor Jamieson, Jai Courtney
Writer: Justin Monjo, (based on a novel by Colin Thiele)
While the Awards season rages on, it’s worthwhile shining a light on what’s going on in Australia. The annual AFCA Film Award nominations have been announced, and there’s a wealth of great films up for consideration.
AFCA – the Australian Film Critics Association – is made up with members who are film critics, reviewers, and journalists. All members cover a wide array of Australian films and world cinema, with the Association seeking to foster an appreciation of significant or challenging films that may have been neglected.
Each year, the Association rewards the best of the best, with a keen focus on Australian films, as well as a smattering of international films.
The 2019 nominations have been announced, and (thankfully), the Australian film critics have gotten behind one of the finest Australian films in years and rewarded Sweet Country with a stunning nine nominations, including two for cinematographer/director Warwick Thornton. It’s followed up by Breath (which gained triple threat Simon Baker three nominations) and Ladies in Black which scored six nominations each, and Cargo with six nominations, and finally, Strange Colours with four nominations. All of these films were nominated for Best Picture and Best Director.
Rounding out the nominations were nods for Boy Erased, West of Sunshine, Brothers’ Nest, 1%, The Merger and Upgrade.
But that wasn’t the end of the nods for Australian films, with three Australian documentaries making it into the Best Documentary category – Backtrack Boys, Gurrumul, Jimmy Barnes: Working Class Boy.
The winners will be announced at the ceremony on February 15th.
Check out the rest of the nominations below:
Ladies in Black
Simon Baker – Breath
Bruce Beresford – Ladies in Black
Ben Howling & Yolande Ramke – Cargo
Alena Lodkina – Strange Colours
Warwick Thornton – Sweet Country
Martin Freeman – Cargo
Lucas Hedges – Boy Erased
Damian Hill – West of Sunshine
Shane Jacobson – Brothers’ Nest
Hamilton Morris – Sweet Country
Kate Cheel – Strange Colours
Abbey Lee – 1%
Kate Mulvaney – The Merger
Julia Ormond – Ladies in Black
Angourie Rice – Ladies in Black
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Simon Baker – Breath
Bryan Brown – Sweet Country
Ryan Corr – Ladies in Black
Russell Crowe – Boy Erased
Ewen Leslie – Sweet Country
Sam Neill – Sweet Country
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Lynette Curran – Brothers’ Nest
Elizabeth Debicki – Breath
Natassia Gorey-Furber – Sweet Country
Nicole Kidman – Boy Erased
Susie Porter – Cargo
Jamie Brown – Brothers’ Nest
Gerard Lee & Simon Baker – Breath
Steven McGregor & David Tranter – Sweet Country
Jason Raftopolous – West of Sunshine
Leigh Whannell – Upgrade
Marden Dean & Rick Rifici – Breath
Peter James – Ladies in Black
Michael Latham – Strange Colours
Geoffrey Simpson – Cargo
Warwick Thornton – Sweet Country
BEST FILM (ENGLISH LANGUAGE)
A Star is Born
Leave No Trace
You Were Never Really Here
BEST FILM (FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
Jimmy Barnes: Working Class Boy
Won’t You Be My Neighbor