Posts by Andrew:
- Seventeen films directed or co-directed by women
- Twelve films not in the English language
- Ten documentaries
- Seven Australian films
- Eleven films from Perth’s Revelation Film Festival
Best of lists are always strange beasts. We sift through a year of ‘stuff’ trying to find value and quality, only to put it in some kind of arbitrary order. These lists always play like a competition – where you sit there for weeks pitting one ‘thing’ against another, judging its quality and minutely assessing it for blemishes and bruises that may tarnish its placement. Why do we do this? To what purpose is the existence of a ‘Best of List’?
Well, for me, a ‘Best of List’ is not so much a ranking of quality, but instead a way of putting a series of ‘things’ in order of their perceived value to me. Are these the best ‘things’ that that year had to offer? No, not entirely. In fact, there’s little way of actually deeming what is the ‘best’ at the end of a year.
I’m being deliberately obtuse – mostly because I’ve already done a handful of Best of Lists for 2018, but also because I’m trying to emphasise that the following list of fifty films from 2018 is in no way a definitive statement of what is the ‘Best’ that cinema had to offer. To that end, neither is the Academy Awards, or any awards ceremony for that matter.
What this list is, is a reminder to me that these were the films that were the ones that left the longest impression on me. Whether it was a personal connection I had with the film – I think of Strange Colours and my initial reaction of complete surprise that a film like that could speak so directly to me – or whether it was that these were films that utilised the art form of filmmaking in a way that I appreciated the most, these films all left a mark on me in some way.
I find ‘Best of Lists’ a fascinating endeavour. They work as a glimpse into the minds of the many, as a way of seeing into their lives for a moment and understanding what impacted them the most in that year. There’s something uniquely intimate about a ‘Best of List’. It’s a way of looking into someone’s life and seeing where they were at that point in time. Maybe you’ll agree with some of the films on my ‘Best of List’. Maybe you’ll find something about me through my selections that I didn’t know.
Most importantly, for me at least, I hope you find a few titles that you haven’t heard of or hadn’t seen.
As I’m based in Australia, all of the films included are done so by Australian release dates. For some films, they have only had festival appearances – in these circumstances, I have included them with the knowledge that they may appear at a theatrical screening later on. Given the finicky aspect of global release dates, this is an imprecise element of list making.
Some stats about the list:
50. Happy End
Director: Michael Haneke
Michael Haneke’s Happy End plays like a ‘Best of Michael Haneke’ album, with nods to his previous work and the continuation of many themes he’s explored before. It’s also his most accessible, with the dark saturation of depressing themes surprisingly absent. Give this a watch for the best karaoke version of Sia’s Chandelier.
49. Book Club
Director: Bill Holderman
The distinct charm of watching masterful actors like Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, and Candice Bergen, work together is the core essence of why Book Club is such a deeply enjoyable film to watch. Easy fun with an easy plot that’ll bring out easy laughs.
48. The Endless
Directors: Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson
Unique, original science-fiction fare tends to fall between the cracks, which is why it’s important to single out the work of Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson who manage to craft one of the most intriguing, mind bending narratives in genre film for 2018. The Endless works like a flower, revealing itself gradually until it’s in full bloom, only to close up at the end with you trapped inside wondering what’s just happened.
Director: Brett Morgen
Jane Goodall is one of the finest human beings to ever exist. Her narrative is so pure, and so inspiring, that watching this documentary that collates much of the footage captured in her time in Gombe is like sinking yourself into a hot spring. It’s refreshing, calming, and reinvigorating. Goodall is a person – like Fred Rogers – whom you are better off for having spent time with them.
Director: Spike Lee
Spike Lee is not a subtle director, and BlacKkKlansman is no different. Yes, it has a gut punch of an ending, and it’s full of Spike Lee-isms, but it’s also a film that encompasses black culture in all its glory in an unexpected way. Open discussions about the difference between Super Fly and Shaft, or the historical relevance of Gone With the Wind, help create a timely film about race and racism in America.
Director: Alex Garland
Home of one of the most unsettling scenes of 2018, Alex Garland’s Annihilation feels like a film lost in time. It’s an eerie, affective film about what thrives within us – whether it be emotions, or a past we can’t escape, Garland’s film explores it as a whole. Driven by some of the years finest performances, Annihilation is another sign that science-fiction that tests your mind is alive and well.
44. Avengers: Infinity War
Director: Anthony & Joe Russo
If Annihilation and The Endless got your mind grapes going, then Avengers: Infinity War will get your science fiction action heart pumping. One of the most visually exciting films in recent years, this is a film that, on paper, should not work, but punch after punch, quip after quip, and CGI explosion after CGI explosion, it somehow manages to be one of the most exciting comic book films ever.
Director: Ryûhei Kitamura
Downrange is a fairly simple concept with one heck of an execution. A car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, with the occupants gradually finding out that it was no accident, but instead a gunman somewhere. As the bodies pile up, the madness of the scenario amplifies to one heck of a crescendo that ends with easily one of the best endings of 2018. Low-fi horror filmmaking at its finest.
Director: Dana Nachman & Don Hardy Jr.
2018 was not a good year, but at least Pick of the Litter was there to deliver all the puppy goodness you need in your life, plus a little bit more. But, a good film can’t ride on cuteness alone, and Pick of the Litter ensures to show the hard work that goes in to training dogs for the vision impaired, while also showing what happens with the dogs who don’t pass the test. Easily one of the best family films of the year.
Director: R. Balki
Padman is one of the very few films that states a case for mansplaining (under the necessary conditions). Let me clarify (or, rather, let me do a little mansplaining myself) – based on a true story, this is a film about Arunachalam Muruganantham, a man who invents a low cost sanitary pad making machine in India and travels around India explaining to women why using these pads is life-saving. Akshay Kumar is great as the titular ‘Padman’, and the film as a whole is an eye opening exploration into how poorly the needs of women around the world are met.
Sitting down to watch Green Book in this current atmosphere of ‘cancel culture’ and supreme ‘woke-ness’ is to sit down with a film that you’ve possibly already made your mind up about. Well, that is, if you sit and consume discussions about the entertainment industry 24/7. If that’s not your life (which is likely the majority of people out there), then you’ll enter Green Book with no preconceptions as to what the film will be – and you’ll have a damn good time too.
I’ll jump back to the ‘woke-ness’ part a bit later on as it’s something which I feel may genuinely effect the way people view this film. While the reasoning behind being concerned about the behind the scenes goings on of the Green Book creative team is a salient one, it’s also a perfect textbook example of separating the art from the artist.
Ok, with that in mind, what exactly is Green Book about?
It’s the 1960’s, and black pianist Dr Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) is about to head off on an eight-week concert tour in the Deep South of the United States. Given the fact that segregation is still alive and well in America, Shirley employs a New York City bouncer, Frank ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), to work as his driver and ‘protection’ on the tour. Tony Lip is as Italian as they come – big families, talks with hands, he’s the textbook Italian-American stereotype.
He’s also a casual racist. When his wife, Dolores (Linda Cardellini), has workers by to fix the mouldy floorboards in their house, Tony Lip throws out the glasses they drink water out of just because they’re black. All the while, Tony Lip’s brothers and father come by to keep Dolores safe simply because the workmen are black.
Naturally, as he’s the lead character of this story, he’s the audience surrogate for learning about racism in America. With that in mind – this is very much a white person film about racism. It’s very surface level stuff, with the clear intention of getting white folks to understand that hey, life isn’t really that easy for people of colour. This is not to say that Tony Lip doesn’t have problems – he carries his family from pay packet to pay packet, barely making ends meet – it’s just that his problems are completely different from the problems that Dr Shirley lives with.
As the trip in the south rolls on, Tony Lip gradually works out that racism still exists, and figures out exactly how tough Dr Shirley’s life can be. Given the abuse that’s thrown at Dr Shirley, Tony Lip asks the one question that’s on everyone’s mind – why exactly is he putting himself through this endeavour? The response is, naturally, that to combat racism, one must attack the racists and the ignorant with kindness. Dr Shirley leans into his classical music, and openly rejects the ‘whiskey on the piano’ black musician who – to him – panders to the white mans expected motif of what a black man is.
A lot of the negative criticism towards Green Book comes from the way that Tony Lip ‘educates’ Dr Shirley about black culture. And, for me, I immediately had my hackles up when I heard about this – as if mansplaining was bad enough, now we have whitesplaining to deal with too? When will this ever end? But, to applaud the script by Nick Vallelonga (Tony Lip’s son), Brian Hayes Currie, and Peter Farrelly, they make it clear that sure, this is whitesplaining, but just because Dr Shirley is ignorant aspects of black culture doesn’t make him any less black at all. In one Oscar reel moment – of which there are many –, Mahershala Ali shows why he’s one of the finest actors working today as he stands in the pouring rain pleading to a drenched Viggo Mortensen, ‘if I’m not black enough, and if I’m not white enough, then tell me Tony, what am I?’ Andie McDowell, eat your heart out.
Where Green Book has Dr Shirley being educated about fried chicken and Aretha Franklin, it’s worthwhile bringing up the comparison of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman where John David Washington’s Ron Stallworth is educated about the difference between Shaft and Super Fly by Laura Harrier’s Patrice Dumas. Spike Lee has crafted a career where he explores racism and black culture from a black perspective, and while these are some of the finest films ever made, they do often struggle to reach audiences in the ways they deserve to. This is not a problem with the filmmaker, but more a problem with the system that films operate in. Green Book operates in the realm of safety – there’s no point in distancing audiences by throwing relatively unknown pop culture references at them, when the clear short hand of ‘fried chicken’ exists. Is the reliance on this racist? Well, no, but it’s necessary to understand that it can immediately appear problematic without context.
And that’s what Green Book thrives on – context. When you take elements of it by itself, it’s problematic. But, as a whole, Green Book is a wholesome affair that rewards by entertaining and educating. Jokes about Green Book ‘curing racism’ are overblown – yes, Green Book does have an agenda to help discuss racism and to break down barriers, but at the end of the film, it’s clear that racism isn’t ‘cured’ in America, but it is certainly ‘cured’ for one family. And, if there’s one thing to take away from Green Book it’s that change in society starts at home. There’s a clear need to discuss racism in society, and for Australian audiences, the discussion about what constitutes a racist act appears regularly in the media. It’s disheartening that in the year 2019 there are white people still making a case that blackface and Gollywogs are ‘ok’ things to exist. These people – like Tony Lip – may not see themselves as racist, but their actions and their words certainly are racist, and it’s this area that needs to be rectified. What may seem harmless to one group of people can be exceptionally offensive to another group. It shouldn’t take stepping into another’s shoes to see that this offense can hurt, but hey, if simply taking something on face value (ie. ‘blackface is racist because the history of minstrels and cultural appropriation, don’t do it’) doesn’t work, then maybe, just maybe, a film like Green Book can add to the conversation that white people around the world desperately need to have.
Think of it this way – Green Book is good for you in the way that a gummy vitamin is. It’s sweet, has a little bit of helpful stuff in it, is mostly harmless, and goes down a treat. Whereas, a film like BlacKkKlansman is a wholesome diet of fresh fruit and vegetables and healthy eating. Separately, they have value, but when paired together, they tell two sides of an important discussion that needs to be had.
There’s a lot more to Green Book than just an exploration on racism. Viggo Mortensen’s exercising of his comedy muscle is a joy to watch. The scenes where Dr Shirley helps Tony Lip write letters to Dolores are genuinely sweet and caring, showing the beautiful tenderness that the art of love and devotion to another can bring. Mahershala Ali is a joy to watch, giving a performance that pretty much cements a second Oscar for him. The gentle comedy that thrives in the film is the kind that is best discovered for yourself.
So, that’s Green Book. Good, entertaining, informative, and engaging. White folks – take your parents to go see it, they’ll be the ones who will benefit the most from it.
Now, I mentioned the ‘cancel culture’, ‘woke-ness’, that is plaguing Green Book at the moment. This is something that’s worthwhile touching on, so if it’s a discussion you’re interested in reading about, then by all means, head over to the next page and read on.
Director: Peter Farrelly
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini
Writers: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly
Heaven’s Burning is, like many 1990’s Quentin Tarantino wannabes, a derivative piece of crime fiction that struggles to punch through the façade of originality. Which is not to say that Craig Lahiff’s film doesn’t have its moments, it’s just that it’s drenched in the shadow of Quentin Tarantino, and attempts to ride on the coattails of what made Tarantino, well, Tarantino.
Written for the screen by playwright, Louis Nowra, Heaven’s Burning has Russell Crowe (right on the cusp of Hollywood success) as Colin, a reluctant getaway driver who takes a gig with some ‘mates’ just so he can fix up a few debts he has. Meanwhile, honeymooner Midori (Yûki Kudô) has just fled from her husband Yukio (Kenji Isomura) as they holiday in Sydney. Midori hopes to make a new life for herself in Australia, and doing so, manages to find herself in the middle of a bank robbery that goes horribly wrong. Events lead Colin and Midori to flee on the run from both the police and the robbers that Colin was working for.
Trying to unpack Heaven’s Burning feels like a fool’s errand, but let’s give it a brief shot.
Heaven’s Burning is an odd affair. It’s full of casual racism, but come the explosive finale, you’re left asking if maybe that’s part of the point of the film? This is a romantically bleak look at Australia – everyone is inept and racist, but Louis Nowra and Craig Lahiff appear to be saying, well, at least they’re Australian, isn’t that all that matters?
Before the violence even begins, we’re left to ponder the reason for Midori’s abandonment of her marriage. At first, it seems like she was forced into an arranged marriage or something like that, but it soon becomes clear that the mere notion of overcrowding in Japan was reason enough for her to want to flee her home country. When introduced to the open countryside, Midori stands up in a makeshift sunroof and announces to the world that she feels alive. The wide open nothing of the Australian outback is an inviting place for Midori, and she thrives in it.
But, Nowra’s script is aggressively anti-Japanese. Midori’s husband fumes over his wife just up and leaving him, so much so that he vows to hunt her down and kill her. When his business partner procures a gun for him, and Yukio accidentally kills him with it, Yukio immediately gets a thirst for blood and violence. Yukio quickly becomes a one note character who’s only concerned about one thing – revenge at all cost.
This reductive appetite for violence from foreigners carries on with the three Afghan brothers who decide to rob a bank. The robbery itself is one of the films high points – a brutal, unexpected sequence that continues to amplify the tension to breaking point, and has one moment of extreme violence which will leave you stunned. During the robbery, Midori is taken hostage, and after escaping, the remaining brothers plan to take her into the country to ‘get rid of her’. That plan turns sour as Colin saves Midori at the last moment, killing one brother, and leaving the other stranded.
The remaining brother, Mahood (Robert Mammone), makes it back to his father, Boorjan (Petru Gheoghiu), who together vow revenge on Colin and head off to hunt him down. The less said about the nineties staple ‘state of the art’ computer hacking sequence that Mahood and Boorjan use to track down Colin, the better. When Boorjan tracks down Colin, he utilises torture techniques he learned in Afghanistan, and pins Colin’s hands to a table with massive nails. Because of course he does.
So, for those keeping score – we’ve got a Japanese man seeking revenge to defend his honour. We’ve got an Afghan family who happens to be really darn good at torture. What else does Heaven’s Burning have in store?
Well, if you thought that Australian’s were going to get out of this mess unscathed, then you’re surprisingly wrong! Nope, security guards and police officers are exceptionally inept at their job. As Colin manages to make a getaway from the robbery, the security guard opens fire on the car, missing completely and instead hitting an oncoming woman driving her car in the head. Later, for no reason whatsoever, the police who are trying to track down the blokes who did the bank robbery run over someone’s dog. So, civilian casualties and canine homicide are the order of the day for Aussie law enforcement.
But, for some reason, the way the violence enacted by the security guards and the police officers is presented with a jovial affectation to it. It’s as if Lahiff is saying, hey, it’s ok that this guard shot that woman because he was protecting Australia. And, no big deal that the cops ran over the dog because they had to get on the tail of the crooks. As long as they’re taking pleasure as they enact violence on others, then it’s ok. Whereas Yukio and Boorjan both take extreme glee in killing people, so therefore, they’re bad people.
Yet, while all of this should make Heaven’s Burning a horrible affair, there is an odd warmth to the film. The casual racism and xenophobia that runs deep is wholeheartedly embraced by the film in a way that aims to lionise the Aussie bloke doing it tough. While the country ‘larrikins’ would never see themselves as being racist, the film does clearly outline that they are, in fact, racist. When Yukio encounters Sharon (an always welcome Susan Prior), the hairdresser who changed Midori’s hair colour to blonde, she comments that ‘you guys look better with blonde’. An off the cuff comment that on the surface seems innocuous, especially given the fact that Sharon is as high as a kite, but carries an undercurrent of racism to it.
The only indigenous character is a dope smoking rasta played by Alan Dargin. He flits into the mix ever so briefly, then disappears just as quick as he came. It says something about the state of indigenous roles in the eighties and nineties that Dargin’s short run of characters before his passing, include ‘Aboriginal Man’ (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) and ‘Tracker’ (The Marsupials: The Howling III). We’ve come a long way since then, but still have a long way to go.
There’s a slight dig at the huge wealth of nothing that Australian’s appear to completely reject – especially when compared to Midori’s wonder and admiration of it. Pubs are full of men getting drunk and drowning their lives away, while elsewhere drugs keep the users subdued and vacant, numb to the world around them. I’d be applying too much subtext to a film that has little of it if I said that maybe Heaven’s Burning was a film that explored how we never fully realise what we have til it’s gone.
Which is not to say that Nowra doesn’t try to inject some kind of world reflection into the mix with Colin’s father Cam (Ray Barrett), who espouses large about the karma coming for Japan after the actions of Japanese soldiers during WWII. Cam is a man who lives by himself on a huge property in the middle of nowhere. He takes photos of himself daily – like Rembrandt did with his self-portraits, he says – to remind himself that he exists in this world. He watches his land disappear due to drought, and then blames the death of his land on the kangaroos that have lived here before white folks ever arrived. When he meets Midori, she immediately recognises that he doesn’t like her. Cam advises that he has no hate left for anyone, but he wishes he did, as it’d at least be an emotion. What a devastating thing to say to someone – no, I don’t dislike you because I have no emotions left to do so, but I wish I did so I could actively dislike you.
When Cam meets his end at the hands of Yukio, he reminds Yukio of the karma that will come to him down the line. One has to wonder, is the drought the karma that has come for the Australian male? Is it the empty ‘companionship’ that comes with drinking from dawn to dusk in a fly ridden bar? Is it waking up in the morning and realising that your emotions have abandoned you, just like the wife that left for the city decades ago? Louis Nowra has the viewer leaving Cam having his face pushed into a dirty pond, the land that he despises eventually consuming the old codger.
It’s here that Nowra draws his bow and attempts to hit a bullseye, but greatly misses the mark. By equating the actions of Japanese soldiers in WWII, to the actions of soldiers enacting torture in Afghanistan, and then purporting that hey, Australian’s are doing things just as bad to themselves with drugs and drink, well, it’s tone deaf. If this is not the comparison that Nowra is aiming for, then I’m lost as to why he would even bring up WWII or torturing other than colourful set dressing for his dialogue.
There’s a lot to hate and dislike in this film, a lot to turn your nose up, but there’s also a wealth of greatness in there. Russell Crowe and Yûki Kudô are superb as Colin and Midori. Crowe shows why he was able to co-lead LA Confidential in the same year that Heaven’s Burning was released. Louis Nowra’s script is mostly good, unfortunately not a scratch on his scripts for Radiance and Cosi. Craig Lahiff’s direction skews a little too much into the realm of Tarantino-copycat, but otherwise ticks enough boxes to make it watchable.
As Cam and Midori talk, she hears a bird cry in the night and calls it beautiful, to which Cam shuts her down saying that while it may sound beautiful, it’s actually a cry of fear. Which – in a nutshell – is what Heaven’s Burning is all about. It’s about embracing all of the ugly, all of the fear, all of the anger that thrives in Australia. For many, this notion alone is disgusting – especially in a modern context –, but there can sometimes be value in exploring these themes in film. It’s clear that Nowra isn’t endorsing what he’s saying, but it doesn’t make the message any less aggressive, and it’s clear he’s also not condemning the message either.
There are no heroes in Heaven’s Burning. Everybody is corrupt and everybody is wrong. This includes director Craig Lahiff and writer Louis Nowra. This is a curious beast of a film – I was equally entranced and frustrated. The action is top notch, but the content surrounding the action is a little more difficult to digest.
The new Blu-Ray disc released by Umbrella Entertainment is superb. The clean-up of the print makes for a stunning transfer – Umbrella have really stepped up and need to be applauded for putting a heck of a lot of work into their releases. A commentary by Louis Nowra and producer Helen Leake is informative and engaging. Cast and crew interviews surrounding the films release are passable, mostly playing like expected back patting from all involved as they come down from the post-filming high. The deleted scenes on offer show why they were removed, and a behind the scenes video is exactly that – behind the scenes footage of a film being made. Also included are some of Craig Lahiff’s short films and trailers for his other films. These are great, and always appreciated on an Umbrella release.
This may not be an essential release, but for those who like Australian cinema, then you’ll find a lot to enjoy and appreciate with the disc as a whole. For everyone else, check out the trailer below and decide from there.
Director: Craig Lahiff
Cast: Russell Crowe, Yûki Kudô, Kenji Isomura
Writer: Louis Nowra
When the rest of the world was making Threads, Miracle Mile and The Day After, Australia was busy making Smoke ‘Em If You’ve Got ‘Em. Writer/director Ray Boseley plugs in the amp, loads up the bong, and turns off the lights for the party to end all parties as he brings the nuclear apocalypse to the Elwood, Melbourne. This 1988 raucous punk affair runs for a brisk 48 minutes, making good on the promise that once the bombs hit, you don’t have long to live, so you best have one heck of a time while you’re going out.
And dammit, Smoke ‘Em If You’ve Got ‘Em is one heck of a good time. Where Threads showed the horrific fallout of a nuclear bomb dropping on London, Smoke ‘Em looks at the already underground post-punk scene in Melbourne in the days after someone, somewhere, decides to send Australia to hell. A bunker in the middle of a cacophony of destruction hides a raging party with a wealth of ragers making the most of their increasingly dwindling drug supply. It’s like the cast of Dogs in Space or Pure Shit never stopped working, keeping the midnight oil burning and moving the party to new digs. And sure enough, the cast carryover from Dogs in Space is real, with Nique Needles making an appearance in Smoke ‘Em.
This is pitch black comedy at its finest. A pure embrace of the ‘we’re all fucked, so let’s make the best of it’ mentality. What could be seen as a license to embrace drug use culture is quite the opposite. In one hilarious moment, one bloke makes a selection from an array of drugs, rejecting the smack because he doesn’t want to get hooked, and instead opting for a ‘bong and bomb’. A huge bong is dragged out, he takes a huge pull from it, and immediately after he’s dragged to a microwave and has his head thrust into it where he gets a ten second twirl of electric currents blasting through his head. It’s brutally hilarious.
Boseley doesn’t want you to head into this film with false impressions, opening the film with an old bloke waking up, ignoring the imminent nuke warning over the radio and wandering to the kitchen to fix himself a coffee. Chaos ensues outside as he looks out the window surveying what’s going on. Before he knows it, the blast hits and the skin is ripped from his skull. His skeleton stands there in his destroyed kitchen, mouth ajar at what’s happened. It’s pitch perfect Looney Tunes-esque comedy.
On the essential Monster Pictures DVD release, Ray Boseley mentions that he was aiming for a blend of The War Game and The Party, and it’s clear that he’s managed to do almost just that. While there’s no painted elephants, there is an increasing realisation of chaos and mayhem. As people start dropping like flies as the radiation takes an intense toll on their body, the bunker gradually fills up with bodily fluids, spilled alcohol and spent syringes. Clayton Jacobson’s blind and deaf drummer keeps banging on, carrying the blues-rock band Blue Ruin through the long, endless night, and in turn, providing a damn great soundtrack for the film. Lead singer Ian ‘Quinsy’ Maclean has one heck of a voice that makes you kinda wish that when the end of the world does eventually come, you’d have someone like him to sing you into death.
Boseley’s dialogue is exceptionally quotable. As the surrogate ‘doctor’ nurses a guy who’s suffering from a head wound, she asks him what his favourite food is. The only available food in the bunker is tomato soup and canned lychees, leading to the superb line: ‘Your days are numbered. Every lychee you eat is one banana you’ll never have time for.’ It’s bittersweet comedy at its finest.
On the surface, Smoke ‘Em If You’ve Got ‘Em is everything that old fuddy duddy’s hated about the eighties. Boseley ensures to include a moment where the old tie wearing, button up shirt, elbows off the table fifties-era fathers are taken down a notch, with the bunker-ites discovering they have neighbours, and in turn, bashing down the wall that separates them and freeing their son who could have spent the rest of eternity in a mire of jigsaw puzzles and boiled cabbage. The old bloke tries to restore order through the only way he knows – waving a gun around, demanding everything is restored – but he’s overpowered by the future.
To hopefully not get too cringeworthy, there’s something decidedly millennial about the punk aesthetic in Smoke ‘Em If You’ve Got ‘Em. Live fast, die hard. The acceptance that we’re all fucked, so we better make the best of what’s left. As much as the baby boomers may want to say that the messed up state that we find ourselves in is the fault of the younger generations, it’s clear that’s not the case. Boseley’s end of the world enthusiasts have embraced the shit plate that life has dealt them and they’re going to make the best of it while they can. If that means facing the unceasing wave of radiation and screaming in its face, then so be it.
Yet, no matter how fucked the bunkers inhabitants are, there’s a strong sense of mate-ship that carries them through everything. As the end rolls along, two blokes sit together on beach chairs watching another bomb soaring through the sky to send them even further into oblivion. It’s an oddly touching moment to see these two guys embrace each other and say how much they meant to each other. There’s genuine love between blokes here – so much so that anyone unfamiliar with the underground punk scene might find this kind of open affection between mates strange.
The shoestring budget for Smoke ‘Em is part of the charm of this genuinely mad film. Coming right at the arse end of the Ozploitation era, Ray Boseley’s film feels like the perfect full stop for one of the most productive periods of Australian cinema. This is a time where Australia experienced Mad Max, Turkey Shoot, The Cars That Ate Paris, Dead End Drive-In, The Chain Reaction, and Fortress, making it no wonder that Australia became synonymous with the post-apocalyptic aesthetic.
Where the UK and the US had legitimate fears that someone was going to drop a nuclear bomb on them, there’s a wonder whether Australia felt that maybe they were just a little bit too far for anyone to go to the bother of bombing us. For a country that feels like it’s the arse end of the world, Smoke ‘Em suggest that the end of the world fears that should plague anyone faced with certain death were simply non-existent. This is not to say that this is a film that is flippant about the fallout of nuclear war, reminding viewers at the end that by moving a lot when drenched with radiation will bring on death quicker and that nukes are a serious thing.
That ‘end of the world’ theme took a break from Australian cinema, for the most part hanging on the fringes in indie cinema, eventually reappearing with great critical acclaim with Zak Hiltdich’s These Final Hours. There’s a tinge of Smoke ‘Em If You’ve Got ‘Em in that flick, where a party rages on as meteors come to claim Earth as their own, wiping everyone out. But, for the most part, Hilditch skews towards the morose with more than an ample nod to Deep Impact’s sobering final shot.
The immediacy of death from above has become more real in the world of Trump and co., so it’s nice and refreshing to dig into a film where that threat was dragged down a peg or three via an over the top dark comedy. Smoke ‘Em If You’ve Got ‘Em isn’t prestige cinema, it’s merely a flick that works like that mate that’s asking you to come round for a few bevvies and have a good time.
This is the exact sort of discovery that makes digging into the history of Australian cinema a real joy.
Director: Ray Boseley
Cast: Nique Needles, Ian ‘Quinsy’ Maclean, Rob Howard
Writer: Ray Boseley
Hotel Mumbai is a film that’s high up on the ‘must see’ list for 2018. The Curb‘s Travis Akbar saw the film at the 2018 Adelaide Film Festival and gave it a perfect score, saying that:
Hotel Mumbai engages you from the very beginning and keeps your attention until the very end.
Thankfully for those who couldn’t attend that screening, the trailer has arrived, letting us all get a taste of what we’re in for when Anthony Maras’ film lands later this year. And boy does it look good.
Drop your thoughts in the comments below.
Curating a list from the many great prints has been a yearly joy for me, and 2018 is no different with it being another solid year for movie posters. There were varied and unique takes on films that have had endless amounts of prints crafted for them, as well as a wealth of new films being explored via great artists.
Crafted by boutique businesses like Mondo, Black Dragon Press and Bottleneck Gallery, or even commissioned by faithful fans, these prints are odes to new and old films, working to supplant the usually average studio commissioned posters that you’d find in your local multiplex.
As with previous years, I start my list with a few honourable mentions…
Silence – Jonathan Burton
Jonathan Burton had a great year with some fantastic Universal Monsters prints coming out alongside this print for Martin Scorsese’s religious epic. The muted colours help amplify the increasing sense of despair.
Thief & Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Robert Sammelin
Robert Sammelin’s 2018 output would put many to shame. It’s bloody hard to pick some of the best works he crafted this year, but here we are with nods to Thief and Texas Chainsaw Massacre – two very different prints. One a colourful expression of an iconic dance with a chainsaw, the other a moody glimpse into darkness. Both superb.
Jurassic Park – Claire Hummel
Another year, another Jurassic Park print. For films that have had endless amounts of prints crafted for them, it’s rare to see something ‘new’ just… appear. And, well, Claire Hummel’s Jurassic Park print takes the concept of dinosaurs back to the pure essence of their existence in our world – their skeletons. There’s a voyeuristic feel to this print, one that hints at impending chaos. I can’t wait to see what Claire Hummel comes up with in 2019.
Annihilation – Rory Kurtz
Rory Kurtz keeps going from strength to strength. Here, he apes his A Clockwork Orange print and swaps milk for flowers and snakes, with the assumed body of one of this ethereal science fiction films characters overwhelmed by nature. A beautiful film deserves a beautiful print, and this one does exactly that.
Head on over to see the top ten list…
On paper, Instant Family has all the ingredients for being a mess. It’s directed by Sean Anders – he of That’s My Boy, Daddy’s Home and Daddy’s Home 2 fame. It has a comedic lead turn from Mark Wahlberg. And, it’s about a white couple adopting three latinx kids. Alarm bells are ringing.
But, dammit, Instant Family is great.
And it’s likely thanks to Sean Anders himself. Partially based on his own life, Instant Family sees Wahlberg acting as the surrogate for Anders, with Rose Byrne stepping into the role of Sean’s wife. Here, they are thirty-something Pete and Ellie Wagner – house flipping power couple who never expected to have kids until they realise they have a kid shaped hole in their life that needs filling. Not particularly keen to have kids of their own, they opt to give adoption a shot. At an adoption event, they meet Lizzie (the truly fantastic Isabela Moner), and thinking that they are adopting just her, they put in an application. Little do Pete and Ellie know that Lizzie actually comes with two siblings – Juan (Gustavo Quiroz), and Lita (Julianna Gamiz).
What initially seems like a walk in the park quickly turns into Pete and Ellie being out of their depth. While this seems like an invitation for PG-rated hijinks to occur, Anders mines his own life experience for some genuine humanity and crafts a film that encourages the open discussion about adoption.
The reality of adoption with all its benefits and pitfalls are explored with a surprisingly frank tone. It’s impressive to see a big name Hollywood flick talk about issues like drug use and sexual assault in a manner that might actually encourage genuine, open discussions within families. It’s not exactly a Precious level exploration into the trauma that kids face in broken homes, but it is enough to applaud Anders for pushing this discussion into the open.
Instant Family also doesn’t shy away from the immense level of privilege that the Wagner’s have, with Wahlberg delivering one of the funniest lines of the film, afraid that they’re going to be white saviours ‘Avatar style’. Even better is the jab at The Blind Side that comes with a single woman who is specifically looking for a tall, athletic black teen that she can raise.
The casting of Tig Notaro and Octavia Spencer as the two social workers who guide hopeful parents down the path of being ready for adoption is inspired. Notaro and Spencer carry a beautiful warmth to their roles where they help show the care and dedication that social workers put into their career. Sure, it’s a little sugar coated here, but scratch beneath that surface and you’ll see the exhaustive work that goes in to the adoption process.
It’s not all smiles and cheers though, as Instant Family does unfortunately stumble near the end where Anders feels the need to vilify Lizzie, Juan, and Lita’s drug addicted mother. It’s a hard line to tread, and unfortunately Anders can’t help but lean into making Pete and Ellie a little too heroic near the end. A prime opportunity to show the harmonic relationship that can sometimes exist between adoptive parents and the birth parents is squandered.
It’s a small quibble in what is an overall heart warming, joyous, fun film. Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne are clearly at ease with these roles, bouncing off each other with great comedic timing, and a real sense that Pete and Ellie belong together. Instant Family is the sort of wholesome family entertainment we need more of. Enjoy.
Director: Sean Anders
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabela Moner
Writers: Sean Anders, John Morris
Director Pawel Pawlikowski is no stranger to brevity. All of his films have clocked in at under ninety minutes each, with an apparent concept of ‘get in, get out’ being employed. His latest effort, Cold War, is no different, coming in at a brisk eighty eight minutes long. I’m not sure exactly why his films are always so short, whether it’s a conscious effort on his behalf, or merely the way the works as filmmaker, Pawlikowski doesn’t want to monopolise too much of your time.
Yet, while this works for films like Ida or My Summer of Love, this extreme brevity robs Cold War of a lot of its impact. Starting in 1949, Cold War follows two lovers as they traverse throughout Europe, intersecting through each other’s lives. These lovers are Zula (a mesmerising Joanna Kulig) and Wiktor (a staid Tomasz Kot). They meet when Wiktor auditions a swath of women to sing in a group that he aims to tour throughout Poland, bringing the cultural relevance of peasant life to the masses.
As with Ida, Pawlikowski employs the talent of cinematographer Lukasz Zal to help bring stunning vibrancy to Europe with a black and white perspective. Visually, Cold War is a masterwork. Staging is precise, with sequences full of dancing and singing carrying a respectful level of pomp and pizazz that brings a showman quality to the proceedings. The way that Zal and Pawlikowski frame both Kulig and Kot makes every frame a work of art – it’s easy to lose yourself in the visuals, leaving you wishing that every filmmaker had this level of care and respect for their subjects.
But, visuals alone mean little when the film never affords you the opportunity to emotionally engage with the narrative as it unfurls. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge of Polish history is a little bit shabby (especially post WWII history), and, arguably, it is not up to the filmmaker to educate the viewer on world events, but for me, I found I was greatly out of my depth when it came to the political themes running throughout Cold War.
There are three narratives running concurrently within this film – a beautiful love story that never soars, an ode to culture and the immense value that embracing ones’ own culture brings, and then, the unsettled aspect of post-WWII Europe and the effects this has on the citizens of the world. While all three work in harmony, it’s a great shame that Pawlikowski never fully allows the narrative to simply breathe and allow the viewer a moment to gather what is occurring.
Major events occur off screen, and when they do occur on screen, they happen without explanation. Wiktor’s early departure from the singing troupe that he initially leads the charge for comes out of nowhere, at least for me. Later, when Zula and Wiktor meet up in a bar in Paris, they do so without relevance or understanding that there has been communication between the two. It’s perplexing and distancing, instead of embracing you, the film pushes you away.
Which is possibly the point of Cold War. Yes, it’s brief, and yes, it’s dense with thematic relevance, but is that brevity possibly the key? With major events unfurling out of view, is Pawlikowski highlighting the moments of tenderness that Zula and Wiktor share together throughout the years as way of saying, no matter how fast time may move, it’s these moments that will remain with you forever. At the end, I couldn’t help but feel that Cold War was a big screen adaptation of that famous John Lennon line, ‘life is what happens when you are busy making other plans’.
Selfishly, I wanted Pawlikowski to spoon feed me. I wanted the film to do the work for me. Cold War does not reward the lazy viewer, requesting you fill in gaps and moments that it simply does not offer.
Yet, Pawlikowski provides little reasoning why Zula and Wiktor fall in love, seemingly requesting that we take their affection on face value, and requesting that we accept that these people are drawn to each other. This is not to say that Kulig and Kot are not engaging. Kulig in particular delivers a powerful performance that rages and sings, even if we’re given little insight into who Zula is as a person. We’re given even less insight into who Wiktor is, even though Kot’s deceptively vacant expression manages to hide a wealth of emotions. It’s clear that these are characters with deep backstories, it is simply that only the actors were privy to that history.
When it comes to films that utilise historical events alongside a fictional narrative, we’re so used to seeing the same old event being utilised. We’ve already reached critical mass with the amount of holocaust films that have been made, yet they are perpetually used because of the emotional impact that the holocaust carries. So when a film like Cold War comes along that paints a beautiful love story against the backdrop of events that are rarely explored in cinema, then it should be applauded.
When I watched Michael Haneke’s Cache for the first time, I was blatantly unaware of the subtext of the Paris massacre of 1961 that Haneke was exploring. For the many that I’ve recommended Sweet Country to, there has been a large amount of people who are unaware of the history of indigenous Australia, and in turn, may not appreciate the film as great as if they were aware. These are films that are bringing history to life for viewers to engage with.
There is a lot more to Cold War than what I’ve written. I simply do not have the knowledge and understanding to reach a level of appreciation for a film that is clearly a fine work of art. And that’s ok. And, I repeat: I do not believe it is the filmmakers responsibility to educate viewers on history. For this viewer, I’ll do further reading and may possibly appreciate Cold War with more of a cultural understanding on re-evaluation.
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Cast: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc
Writers: Pawel Pawlikowski, Janusz Glowacki
After a sell out year last year, Perth’s own Revelation Film Festival will be back to celebrate Hollywood’s night of nights with an extravagant day of festivities in honour of the 2019 Academy Awards.
This is a great day out with a cinema full of film lovers at The Backlot Perth, where drinks, breakfast, and the best view of the Oscars that you could hope for.
With Aussie short film Lost & Found potentially in the running for the Best Short Animated film, this is one ceremony you won’t want to miss out on.
Tickets go quickly, so head on over to the event page and reserve your spot, and then as soon as you do, start getting your dress or tux ready as there’ll no doubt be a Fiji Water Girl ready to pose with.
The 2019 Academy Awards will be held on Monday the 25th of February with a starting time of 0830 AWST.
Ok, so this may not be the biggest news of the week, but as we work through our favourite films of 2018 list (a long one, so apologies for the radio silence) we figured that a quick dive into the NFSA’s Vintage Cat and Dog collection is needed.
The NFSA is the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia and contains a ‘living’ archive of over 2.8 million items that help catalogue Australia’s history through media.
Sure, cats rule the internet, but did you know that cats have ruled all kinds of media throughout time? The recently updated NFSA collection has a wealth of cat videos and images, alongside a treasure trove of dog videos and images to peruse as you wait for your work day to wrap up.
Meanwhile, if you happen to be in Canberra this week and are nearby the NFSA, you can check out their school holiday Dogs Versus Cats event.
For those who aren’t in Canberra, fear not, you can still take a dive into Australian history via the website right here.