Posts by Andrew:
- Middle Kids – Lost Friends
About ten minutes into Mortal Engines, I became convinced I would never find out what a mortal engine actually is. Is it the giant behemoth city that is London on wheels? Or maybe it’s the centipede like vehicle that rambles across the wasteland with ease? Or, could it be the steampunk planes that defy gravity? Or, possibly it’s robot Dad who has green eyes that pierce through the night?
If there’s one thing for sure, there won’t be a second Mortal Engines film to give an explanation. Maybe that’s what a mortal engine is? The behemoth that is Hollywood endlessly creating bloated CGI-filled flicks that cost more than a small country makes in a year, all the while they’re destined to fail at the box office. Eventually, once the template of The Producers has failed one too many times, these mammoth production houses have no choice but to dissolve into nothing, leaving a field of producers standing alone scratching their heads with no idea how this ever could have happened.
Sure, this film does contain the best post credits scene of all time (as in, the film simply cuts to a black screen, oh? That wasn’t a post credits scene and instead was just the sweet mercy grip that this whole thing was finally over? Well then…), but even though there are apparently three more books in the series,there is simply no way that there will ever be a continuation of this series. Apparently the books are popular young adult fare, which given the content, I can easily believe that.
Now, damning this film with the faintest of praise for a brief moment, I will say that Mortal Engines is one of those eighties films (like The Goonies) that you fell in love with as a kid, and then you rewatch it as an adult and realise it was all bunkum trash. It’s a childish kind of good, but I fear that kids nowadays are a little bit wiser than we were in the eighties and wouldn’t stand for such mediocre material. Well, even though Conan O’Brien once said, ‘don’t be cynical’, it’s bloody well hard not to approach this tepid affair with a heavy dose of cynicism. There’s so little to hold onto with this film.
Plot? Oh, yeah, you probably want to know about the plot.Well, there’s a girl with a scarf over her face because she’s got a scar. Fear not BFI, she’s the hero of the piece so, y’know, positive representation and all that. Her name is Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar). If you forget this, the film will remind you every thirty seconds as supporting characters are endlessly shouting out her name, HESTER SHAW!, even though as a ‘main character’ she’s surprisingly devoid of any kind of agency.
Instead, the guy driving the plot is Han Solo Mark 9, this time played by Robert Sheehan. Sheehan has been in films before, I know this because I quite liked him in Three Summers, but his casting here feels like it happened simply because he was in a film called The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. Good on you Rob. Alas, there’s little to suggest that he’s going to go on to do bigger, brighter, better things in this flick.
Hugo Weaving appears because New Zealand isn’t very far from Australia and Peter Jackson has his phone number on speed dial. He’s Hugo Weaving. The biggest crime of Weaving’s casting is that the film never allows him to chew on the dialogue it throws at him. Heck, when Weaving’s villain calls someone a dinosaur, and then remarks that he’s ‘the meteor’, the film presents this solid line with all the impact of a wet paper towel. Soppy and annoying.
Then, there’s Stephen Lang as CGI robot Dad, Shrike. He’s a robot. And he’s Hester Shaw’s surrogate Dad. For reasons, he is real mad at her and now stalks the world searching for her. The character design is admittedly quite impressive, but it’s impossible to shake the feeling that Shrike walked out of a Pirates of the Caribbean film into this one by mistake. No doubt the character has some kind of emotional resonance in the books, but here it’s just another subplot that makes no sense and goes nowhere.
Which is the best way to explain Mortal Engines. It’s nonsensical pap that would have been better serviced under the title Steampunk and the World of Tomorrow. It wants to make some kind of fun at the way we’re obsessed with technology, but in a film fuelled by said technology, well, it carries no weight. And, on top of this, for a film that’s released by Universal, it’s exceptionally poor of them to include a joke about how Minions are deities that we are obsessed with. Ho ho, funny stuff there guys.
Look, there’s no reason to see Mortal Engines. It’s not ‘so bad it’s good’. There’s no one set piece that is overly impressive – unless, that is, you’re easily impressed by CGI noise, then by all means, giants cities on wheels eating smaller cities might be interesting enough. The endless swooping camera movements, the overly dramatic music, the inconsequential characters, and the nonsensical plot leave you with an empty feeling. This is the sort of film that has people commenting about they could never ever spill a secret they’re sworn to keep, and then in the same breath tell that secret to a stranger. It’s the sort of film that has flashbacks to something that happened five minutes ago. It’s a film that should have you asking, how the heck did this get made?
Director: Christian Rivers
Cast: Hera Hilmar, Hugo Weaving, Robert Sheehan
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson (based on the book by Philip Reeve)
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Top Knot Detective was one of the best films of 2017. A raucous, fun, over the top exercise in genre nostalgia that was an extreme blast to watch. Smart, effective jokes that hit every single time.
Now, finally, thanks to Umbrella Entertainment you can watch Top Knot Detective on demand.
Head over to the website right here and settle in this weekend to watch a truly great film.
A man is stranded in the great white nothing of the Arctic.We meet him digging into the frozen ground, ploughing a legible SOS into the snow. His watch beeps, and he puts down his shovel and moves onto his next task. He climbs up a nearby hill, stopping momentarily to wipe the snow off a cairn that he’d set up for someone he’d lost. Atop the hill, he manually winds a search beacon in the hope that somebody will come and find him. After sometime, his watch beeps, and he packs up the beacon and moves onto his next task.Near the plane crash site that he uses as his base, he has fishing lines set up to catch Arctic trout. He pulls the fish he’s caught out of the water, storing them in a box to eat later on. His watch beeps again, and he heads back to the plane to sleep.
This is the opening to Joe Penna’s feature debut, Arctic.
The man is Mads Mikkelsen, a weathered individual who has been missing for an indeterminate amount of time – at least long enough for him to grow a beard and form some kind of routine within his makeshift camp. The plot is deceptively thin – on paper, this is a basic survival story, but what transforms it from being a run of the mill ‘man against the wilderness’ tale is the stunning performance from Mikkelsen. It’s no surprise that Mikkelsen can bring class and quality to whatever film he is in, but when he’s paired with a great script from Joe Penna and Ryan Morrison, you see how he manages to elevate great material to something truly special.
There’s no backstory as to how Mikkelsen ended up where he is, instead Penna opts to open the story in media res. Mikkelsen’s character is a clearly empathetic one. He carries the weight of having lost someone and being the lone survivor of a traumatic event. The empathy that he has for others extends to the creatures of the land that he’s occupying. When his store of caught fish is raided by a polar bear, he looks at the creature with an understanding of why it ate the fish. There is literally nothing around for miles,and instead of being angry at the bear for stealing his food, he recognises the desperate situation that they are living in.
Thanks to the cinematography from Tómas Örn Tómasson, we’re given a survey of the land that Mikkelsen is dealing with. It’s a wide field of nothing, with white fields of snow rolling across the land, the occasional hill breaking up the vista. After an event, Mikkelsen’s survivor has to make a path over the treacherous hills to reach a cabin where he might be rescued. It’s here that the physical demands of surviving in a harsh environment are fully realised.
Mikkelsen treks across the snowy landscape with cargo that adds extra weight to his journey. He never complains, instead approaching each problem that arises with a mildly positive outlook. He survived a crash, and he’s survived this long, it’s clear that his resilience will be enough to carry him through whatever difficulties lay ahead for him.
Where survival films have long shown stories of men kicking nature in the nuts and taking no prisoners, Arctic wishes to show an intelligent man who knows his survival techniques, and puts those skills into practice. There’s a clear desire to show the seemingly never ending monotony that comes with trying to survive. The routines, the long stretches of walking, the vast distance that needs to be traversed to get to safety, and most importantly, the unwavering hope that all is not lost. If there’s one element that pushes Arctic above other survival films, it’s Mads Mikkelsen’s moving portrayal of a man who simply cannot – will not – give up hope.
This is the sort of film that you discover years down the line on Netflix, wondering how you’d never heard of the film beforehand. It’s a deftly crafted film that provides an actor with the platform to deliver a powerful,physically and emotionally challenging performance. Seek Arctic out – it may appear deceptively simply on the surface, but come the climax, you’ll be sitting on the edge of your seat carrying the same hope that Mads Mikkelsen’s weathered man carries – the hope that everything will turn out alright.
Director: Joe Penna
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir
Writers: Joe Penna, Ryan Morrison
Oh hey there. How are you going?
It’s been a while between drinks, but here we are with a new rambling episode of Not a Knife, the podcast that’s all about nonsense. On this episode, I start off by talking about social anxiety and how that’s been playing on my mind lately. I then move into talking about the best game of the year, Celeste, before branching into a huge discussion about a bunch of films – Sorry to Bother You, Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story, Cargo, Suspiria, Book Week, Anna and the Apocalypse, Shirkers, The Night Comes for Us, Roma, Instant Family, and Can You Ever Forgive Me?
This is a long, rambling episode with no editing! Such skills! Much Wow! Hopefully you enjoy it.
If you want to get in touch, send an email to TheCurbAU@gmail.com
The year is almost over, and short of some masterpiece dropping out of nowhere, the best albums of the year are out there already. While I’m not as fluent in the world of music at large as I used to be, I do still find time to enjoy some of the latest albums. So, with that in mind, here are ten albums that I’ve been listening to a lot during 2018.
10. Gurrumul – Djarimirri (Child of the Rainbow)
Best Song: Gäpu (Freshwater)
In the documentary Gurrumul, there’s a beautifully comic scene where Gurrumul discusses the lyrics to The Police’s Every Breath You Take. After being invited to sing a duet with Sting, Gurrumul questions the lyrics that essentially carry no meaning. There’s nothing to the song other than it being a bunch of words. In contrast to Every Breath You Take is the final masterpiece from the late legend, Djarimirri (Child of the Rainbow).
Here, Gurrumul blends Yolgnu culture with western music in a way that you can’t help but be moved. These songs about Gurrumul’s life and his culture.They’re about the legacy of the first nations people of Australia and the long history that goes untold in Australian culture. To Gurrumul, every song is personal, every song tells a story that comes directly from his life. We’re lucky to have been able to experience such a profound talent.
9. Urthboy – Turning Circle EP
Best Song: Have and Hold
It may feel like a cheat to slap an EP on a ‘Best Albums of 2018’ list, but when the EP is made up of five of the best songs that that artist has ever written, well, you damn well bet it’s going to end up on the list.
Urthboy’s Turning Circle EP is short, but full of the explosive, angry, and inspiring themes that have flowed through Urthboy’s previous works (Turning Circle is the perfect companion to his previous album The Past Beats Inside Me Like a Second Heartbeat). Whether it be slamming the conspiracy theory morons who fill the internet with Flat Earth, or the ode to marriage equality with the heart breaking Have and Hold, there’s not a dud on this release. With the realisation that The Herd will probably never release another album, it’s great to see that Urthboy is still carrying the political flame for Elefant Traks with essential release after essential release.
8. Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer
Best Song: Screwed
Now, I’m a bit of a novice when it comes to R&B music, but good music is good music,and there’s no denying that Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer is one of the most enjoyable, exciting, invigorating releases of the year. It embraces LGBTIQ+ life. It embraces sex. It embraces feminism. It embraces living a life and questioning the establishment.
It’s bright, it’s exciting, and it’s subversive in all the right ways. Take the best song on the album, Screwed, where Monae joins up with Zoe Kravitz to sing about sex. At first it’s all about owning sex, and owning who you are, then it morphs into questioning the power of sex, culminating in one heck of a line – everything is sex, cept sex, which is power. Even if you don’t dig into the deeper themes of Dirty Computer, you’re still going to walk away with an album that rewards you with great music. Isn’t that enough?
7. First Aid Kit – Ruins
Best Song: To Live a Life
It’s been a while between albums for First Aid Kit,with their last album being the pitch perfect Stay Gold in 2014. Before Ruins landed, there was a barn burning track that landed out of nowhere – You Are the Problem Here. As an acerbic song that landed just as the #MeToo movement was beginning, You Are the Problem Here suggested that there was going to be a change of tone for First Aid Kit going forward.
But, with that anger out of their system, they returned with Ruins. A quiet album that is contemplative, reflective, and, as is expected from a First Aid Kit album,embraces the bond that Johanna and Klara have as sisters. Ruins crosses genres, with a touch of folk and an element of country being blended into the mix, coming together to show a cohesive theme of growing from the troubles of your past. The quietest song on the album, To Live a Life, is also the most heartbreaking, with a single guitar gradually building to an immersive harmony that washes away any feeling of grief or sorrow that you may be holding onto, allowing you to be ok with the difficult decisions you’ve had to make as your life rolls forward.
6. Camp Cope – How to Socialise & Make Friends
Best Song: The Opener
How to Socialise & Make Friends opens with a bass hook that you’ll fail to get out of your head for ages. Then, as The Opener unfolds, you hear the most timely, powerful take down of men in the Australian music industry. As Sticky Fingers apparently have no issue getting headline slots on festivals around Australia, How to Socialise & Make Friends works to make listeners blatantly aware of the rampant sexism going on around in Australian music.
Two albums in, it’s easy to get the impression that Camp Cope have become exhausted with the music scene as this second album moves on into some dark areas. But, equally so, it’s hard to escape the feeling that while the band may sound angry and frustrated, they’re also aiming to tear down the establishment from the inside while creating some damn great songs. Almost as great as their self-titled debut album, but no less essential listening.
5. Tropical Fuck Storm – A Laughing Death in Meatspace
Best Song: Rubber Bullies
Taking a break from The Drones, Gareth Liddiard and Fiona Kitschin went and rounded up Erica Dunn and Lauren Hammel to create Tropical Fuck Storm. The last Drones album was full of the trademark Liddiard yips and yelps, but felt lyrically exhausted and repetitive.Working as a creative reboot, Tropical Fuck Storm still carries the vibe of The Drones, but here, Liddiard feels refreshed, revitalised.
Sure, opener You Let My Tyres Down wouldn’t feel out of place on a Drones album, but as the track list whittles through the nine songs with alarming speed, we become witness to the varied styles that Liddiard and co. are working with. No longer does this feel like a Gareth Liddiard and ‘a band’ album, instead, it feels like a Gareth Liddiard, Fiona Kitschin, Erica Dunn and Lauren Hammel album – purely collaborative and explorative. As the dream like Shellfish Toxin makes way for the title song, and in turn, bends into the albums finest moment, Rubber Bullies, one can only feel comfortable with The Drones hiatus taking a little longer than expected just so there can be another Tropical Fuck Stormalbum.
4. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
Best Song: Be Careful
Now, just like Dirty Computer and R&B, I’m even less in touch with the rise of women rappers in America. I know that embracing sexuality and luxury isn’t something that’s new for rap music – heck,try find a male rapper in America that doesn’t have some misogynistic song about owning women -, but Cardi B kind of just exploded onto the scene in a way that made you sit up and pay attention (and not in the way that Nicki Minaj did with Anaconda).
Invasion of Privacy drips with great lyrics that Cardi B throws outwith ease. The beats get you moving – I Like It in particular has you moving on the spot – which is probably why Invasion of Privacy has become my ‘exercise album’ of choice. Most importantly, just like Dirty Computer, Cardi B fully embraces her body and owns her sexuality completely. After decades of male rappers going on about‘bitches’ and ‘hoes’, it’s refreshing to see the same kind of lyrics changing hands and being owned by a woman who knows exactly how to use them in a positive way. This album surprised the heck out of me. Dig into it folks.
3. Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
Best Song: City Looks Pretty
Courtney Barnett has always been open about her mental health, managing to tuck the talks about anxiety in with energetic rock on her debut album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I just Sit. With Tell Me How You Really Feel, Barnett reflects the anger and anxiety in the lyrics with the music. This is a more pointed album, one that – just like Camp Cope’s record – reckons with the way that masculinity rules over society.Nameless, Faceless confronts this head on, with the death of women in Australia at the hands of men growing to terrifying heights in 2018.
Tell Me How You Really Feel came out in May. Less than a month later, Eurydice Dixon was raped and murdered on her way home. The lyrics ‘I wanna walk through the park in the dark/Men are scared that women will laugh at them/I wanna walk through the park in the dark/Women are scared that men will kill them’ have never been more potent. This list is full of great women who all have their own stories to tell, it’s devastating that those stories are relegated to the side while they use their platform to sing songs about the misogyny and danger of men in society.
2. Abbe May – Fruit
Best Song: Freedom
Look, I’ll be honest, I’ve been addicted to Abbe May’s music ever since I saw her live some twelve or thirteen years ago or so. She stood on a stage by herself, a glass of whiskey on the floor, and she belted out the most insane blues vocals I’d ever heard. I was hooked. Ever since then, I’d picked up release after release and made sure that I caught her electric live shows when they’d frequently pop up around Perth. Howl & Moan kicked off with a deep,dark blues vibe, and ten years on it’s still one of the great West Australian albums. Design Desire and Kiss My Apocalypse saw May move into different areas – the guitar was still there, but the vibe was changing in different ways. There was a bit of a groove that borrowed from R&B, a small touch of disco here and there,yet, it was still unmistakably Abbe May through and through.
Five years between albums, and Fruit lands like an atomic bomb. The working title for the album was Bitchcraft (which is a banger of a song), but Fruit feels more appropriate for an album which is exceptionally reflective. If you follow Abbe May on social media (and you really should), you’ll know how open she has been about her life. It can’t be easy to be as open as Abbe has on Instagram/Facebook, where May talks about the difficulties that come with alcohol, the pressures of touring life, what it’s like to live with anxieties, and just the day to day struggles that she goes through. But, gosh darn it am I glad she does.
Fruit feels like the culmination of years of working through issues, and getting them out of her life so she can live a more positive, fruitful life. The album is littered with songs that embrace everything that makes Abbe May, well, Abbe May. Whether it be love (Seventeen is a gut punch of a song that carries May’s blues/soul voice to a rocking pop aesthetic that just devastates you), or the environment (Doomsday Clock feels custom made for an audience to clap along to), or sexism in the world (I’m Over You, a harmonic companion to Nameless, Faceless and The Opener), Fruit is Abbe May operating at her peak.
After three interludes that litter the album, where Abbe talks about her sexuality and coming out, and the difficulties of coming out, the album closes with an eight minute epic song called Freedom. Profoundly self-reflective, Freedom feels like a love letter from Abbe May to herself. This isn’t new – given past songs have May talking about those who have criticised her (after which she replaces them with a drum machine) – but with Freedom, it feels like May is ready to let all of this go and move forward with her life. As she sings ‘babe, you know I had to let you go’, Freedom moves into a medley of other songs from the album, with the cry of ‘I love you’ from Seventeen ringing loudest. This time, May isn’t singing this to anyone, but finally, to herself.
While I’ll always love Abbe May’s previous albums, I know that it’ll be Fruit that I’ll be reaching for the most when it comes to deciding which one to give a spin.
Best Song: Never Start
I haven’t been hit by an album this hard for a very long time. Since its release, there hasn’t been a day where I haven’t listened to Lost Friends. Sure, Hannah Joy’s voice is one of the finest out there at the moment, and her band mates Harry Day and Tim Fitz do a cracker job filling out the band. But, it’s the song writing that carries this album through every day for me. The entirety of Don’t Be Hiding is one open wound that has Hannah Joy singing about being there for someone – about being able to accept everything that’s good and that’s bad about them. Or maybe it’s On My Knees, a song about seeing the world from a different perspective as you kneel there begging for it to not be so.
Yes, the song that got them on the radar is still one of the best out there – Edge of Town – but Lost Friends is an album that’s full of ‘best songs’. I know that’s a cop out when it comes to explaining why this is my album of the year (‘oh, y’see,they’re just all so good’), but really, they are that good. In an interview with NME, Tim Fitz mentioned about how rarely listens to a full LP, stating ‘if you make a whole album nowadays, then you’ve done a very good job’. Well, Lost Friends is a whole album full of songs that other bands would be envious of.
Look, I don’t know if I can properly explain just why Lost Friends works so damn well, it just does. It’s open in an extremely personal way, but not so personal that it becomes exclusive. Joy sings about personal issues with all the rawness that you’d expect deep, personal issues to be sung about. But, this isn’t a tear jerking album. It’s an indie-rock album,and it has everything in it that makes folks think that they have what it takes to make an indie-rock album.
Whatever it is, Lost Friends by Middle Kids is easily the best album I’ve heard this year. An album which I can easily lose myself in.
Creed II is a film of no consequence. Working as a sequel to not just one, but two films (Ryan Coogler’s continuation of the Rocky saga with Creed, and Rocky IV),this entry in the boxing saga feels devoid of purpose. Steven Caple Jr. (The Land) takes over directing duties from franchise re-invigorator Ryan Coogler, and like a winded boxer, all the energy and urgency has gone out of the fight. Sure, it’s still interesting, and it’s still entertaining, but by gosh is it desperately vacant.
Where Rocky IV brought the Cold War to the boxing front, Creed II relegates any notion of antagonism with Russia to the background. There’s no time for subtext here when there’s biffo to be had. Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren doing his best) was exiled to the Ukraine after losing to Rocky, and he looks to regain some kind of honour in the eye of Mother Russia via his son, Viktor Drago (real life boxer Florian Munteanu), and the fight that he wants to set up with Adonis Creed. That’s about as deep as it gets.
At the end of Creed,Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has become a man who has reckoned with his legacy and transformed into his own icon. At the end of Rocky IV, Apollo Creed (Adonis’ father) is dead at the hands of Russian boxer Ivan Drago. Logically, the son of Ivan Drago was inevitably going to meet up with the son of Apollo Creed and whack it out in the ring. It doesn’t take a genius to realise where Creed II will end up – just like it wouldn’t take a genius to realise how Creed was going to end.
Yet, the trick with most stories is to take the familiar, and make it unexpected. Ryan Coogler managed to do exactly that with Creed. He brought new life to a franchise that had gradually wore itself out, and in turn managed to take the perspective of an up and coming boxer and make it feel fresh and exciting. Creed II rests on its predecessors laurels way too much, letting a legacy do the heavy lifting rather than actually working to further Adonis Creed’s narrative.
Now, that’s not an entirely fair statement, as for a film to work there does need to be some kind of forward momentum, and sure enough, with this iteration we’re presented with the groan worthy news that Adonis and his partner Bianca (an underutilised Tessa Thompson) are expecting a kid. Just like Apollo was when he fought Ivan all those years ago. Subtlety is not in the Creed II toolbox it seems. Michael B. Jordan is surprisingly flat this time round. He’s physically up for the task of playing Adonis, but outside of looking the part, he appears exhausted by the role most of the time.
But, I’m being overly harsh on a film that surprisingly still works. The formula still has life in it, and even though the film plays it hand exceptionally early, you’re still on board as that iconic theme kicks in and the bell rings the opening of the fight. There’s the obligatory training montage sequence, and this one is possibly the most brutal one yet. (Amusingly, at one point during the sequence the camera appears to linger on Michael B.Jordan’s chest for a just a moment too long, as if the cinematographer forgot what the heck they were there for.) Sure, everything is underwritten, and talented actors are given little to work with, but you’re still a little buzzed come the end of the flick.
Creed II lacks punch, and the energy it should have to make the fight sequences (and in turn,the reason for the fight) entertaining and invigorating simply isn’t there.But, with talent like Jordan, Thompson, and of course, Sylvester Stallone, filling the screen, it’s hard not to have a good time, even if they all look like they’re simply waiting for the cheque to land.
Director: Steven Caple Jr.
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Florian Munteanu
Writers: Sylvester Stallone, Juel Taylor, (story by Cheo Hodari Coker, Sascha Penn, based on characters by Ryan Coogler)
Without going on too long, here’s the thirty best Australian films of 2018.
Director: David Wenham
Actor David Wenham heads behind the camera for the first time with this Linklater-esque flick about two strangers bumping into each other in Sydney. Wenham chooses to show Sydney through the different folks who make the tourist destination such a unique place. Whether it’s the watch repairman (Ferdinand Hoang), or the exuberant sex shop owners, or the homeless guy, or the many other faces that line the streets of Sydney, there’s a warm respect and admiration for the folks that live on our periphery as we go about our day to day lives. Hopefully it’s not long before Wenham is behind the camera.
Director: Ben Lawrence
The first of a huge bundle of documentaries on this list, Ghosthunter is not an easy watch. Director Ben Lawrence follows Jason King, a part-time ghosthunter who helps those in need of dealing with any apparitions that may be lingering around their homes. Jason outwardly appears as a gentle guy, someone who loves what he does and cares about the people he’s helping. But, he’s also got some ghosts of his own that need exploring – namely, those left over from the relationship he has with his parents. Lawrence teases out a difficult story from King, while at the same time he forces viewers to question what the relationship is between a documentary director and their subject. Unsettling,and yet extremely moving.
28. Big in Japan
Directors: Lachlan Mcleod, David Elliot-Jones & Louid Dai
And now for something completely different. The world of Japan is one of eccentricity – men dressed as women singing hard core death metal, or women dressed up as schoolgirls, singing pop songs in front of a handful of people, or, as is the case with ordinary guy Dave, a regular dude dressed up as onigiri. Through the eyes of Dave’s friends who try and embark on a social experiment to see if they can make their basic pal‘big in Japan’, the world of celebrity in Japan is explored. At times is outright hilarious, and then, at other times, it’s simply heartbreaking. While maybe not as explorative of the culture of celebrity as it initially aims to be, Big in Japan is still a unique and bizarre world to step into.
27. The Pretend One
Director: Tony Prescott
Director Tony Prescott brings whimsy to the farmyard, with this story of Charlie (Geraldine Hakewill) and her imaginary friend, Hugo (Michael Whalley). Single dad Roger (the ever reliable David Field) has had to raise Charlie as best as he could, with him seeking out help from a hypnotherapist to help with Charlie’s imaginary friend problem – a problem that lingers long into adulthood. While the concept slightly falls apart near the end, the core performances from Hakewill and Whalley are charming. Whalley’s Hugo initially appears grating, but his humanity starts to shine as the film progresses.
Director: Stevie Cruz-Martin
Written and starring AACTA Award nominee Daniel Monks, Pulse is a film of two minds. It grapples with the complexities of being a high school kid growing up disabled, as well as the difficulties of also being a gay highschool kid. Monks performance is superb, delivering one of the best Australian performances of the year. While Pulse struggles to grapple with the transgender subtext of its body swapping concept (to live an able bodied life, as well as to make a move on his best friend, Olly embarks on an experimental body swapping transplant that allows him to move into the body of a woman), it does so by exploring the reality of being gay and disabled. Daniel Monks is a genuine talent, and Pulse shows that he’s someone that needs to be paid attention to.
25. I Used to Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story
Director: Jessica Leski
There’s a unique charm to this documentary about boy bands. The charm being simple,unfettered joy. It’s infectious. It’s deceptively simple, yet, you can’t help but leave I Used to Be Normal walking on air. This documentary made me remember the pure joy of being a fan of the Spice Girls (Baby Spice was number one then, but I’ve grown to greatly appreciate Ginger as the years have gone by, and I stand by the fact that nobody, and I really mean nobody, liked Posh Spice, and if they say they do then they are lying). The comfort in knowing all the lyrics to a band, in being quietly (or, in the case of this documentary, very loudly) obsessed with every member of the band. There’s so much to love here, and so much to applaud with the purely innocent world of women loving boy bands. Gosh, it just makes your heart beam with warmth and you can’t help but smile. Genuinely lovely stuff.
24. The Merger
Director: Mark Grentell
23. Book Week
Director: Heath Davis
22. Swinging Safari
Director: Stephan Elliot
Aussie comedies worked hard in 2018. After the downright essential Three Summers in 2017, there was a fair challenge for the films that were coming through in 2018 that they simply might not make the scratch. Well, this triple whammy of The Merger, Book Week and Swinging Safari managed to do exactly that. One brought the social awareness of refugees to the football field, another brought the pitch black comedy about the doomed shenanigans of a failed author and his students, and the other brought the flammable polyester of the seventies to the beach and blew it all up. All three showcase Australia with charm and affection, and all three have a wealth of comedy gold.
Now, who the fuck said that Australian films were too serious?
Director: Travis Beard
Following on the steps of one of the best Aussie films of 2017, Meal Tickets, producer Brooke Silcox doesn’t stop for a moment with this killer doco about heavy metal in Afghanistan. Journo turned director Travis Beard brings a lived in awareness of Afghanistan to this story about District Unknown, the first Afghani heavy metal band. All the societal issues that come with tearing down a system that has kept culture out for years is dragged over the guitar strings, left to wail in the auditoriums that provide an ounce of freedom. Raucous, exciting, and terrifying, RocKabul is a brilliant doco that demands your attention – just as the work of Brooke Silcox demands your attention.
Head over to the next page for entries 20-11…
The old myth of riding a kangaroo to school is shot dead in the dark of the night in the opening moments of Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story. Said kangaroo springs into the air as the bullet pierces its neck, the pain clearly evident as it flees into the dark petrified. Unlike the seals of Canada, this slaughter occurs at night, when the roos are most active and the public can’t see a thing. They don’t scream out in pain, instead suffering in silence, the palpable fear clearly evident in their eyes.
This is not an easy sit. That shot kangaroo bounds off into the darkness in fear to either die a long, drawn out death, or to be hunted down and finished off like they’re nothing. The person behind the camera that’s capturing the footage of the kangaroos being slaughtered voices their alarm that this is happening on their property again. As an opening to a film, there’s no bigger slap in the face to ensure you’re going to pay attention to what will unfurl over the next hour and forty five minutes than here.
Kangaroo is a searing, unrelenting, devastating documentary that looks at the way Australia treats its national icon. It makes up one half of the Australian emblem. It stands proudly atop the Australian parliament in Canberra. It flies across the world on the tail of QANTAS planes. Yet, it’s long been considered a pest, a source of irritation for Aussie farmers. There’s admiration and adoration for this unique marsupial, yet equally, there is disgust and hatred directed towards them for simply existing.
Directors Kate McIntyre Clere and Michael McIntyre have crafted Australia’s answer to The Cove and Blackfish. This is not to say that there isn’t a bid to try and have a fair and balanced discussion about kangaroos in Australia, with farmers who are affected by kangaroos being given a fair amount of time to discuss exactly why they want kangaroos eliminated from their property (as well as neighbouring properties too). However, their discussions, when presented alongside the clear evidence of brutality directed towards kangaroos, feels more like they’re talking from an era long gone.
ABC News footage from the 60’s and 70’s is presented to give an understanding of how the perception of kangaroos has changed over the years (spoiler alert: it hasn’t changed a heck of a lot). The impact of colonialism on Australian wildlife is giving a thorough assessment with the British penchant for hunting shown in all its terrifying glory. Men on horses ride through the bush, rounding up swathes of kangaroos into a fenced off funnel, where they are in turn beaten to death until there is a bloody pile of corpses.
Flash forward to today, and the reality of the night time hunts that occur every night throughout Australia is realised with harsh, gut churning footage. After the kangaroo is shot, they are dragged to the ute that will carry their corpses off to be butchered for pet food, human food, or to be turned into football boots. Their heads are cut off, their feet and tail are removed with secateurs, thrown aside like unwanted junk. Their carcass is strewn up on the back of a truck. The driver then cuts a path through the darkness with their spotlight, seeking out their next victim.
But what if the kangaroo that is shot is a female? Well, in some of the most unsettling moments I’ve seen in recent years, we bear witness to footage of joeys that being beaten against the side of a ute by young kids with glee. Later, the corpse of a hairless joey is found in a tree, having been thrown aside like trash. And yet, the footage goes even further by showing an emaciated joey – the bones of its hocks having worn through its fragile skin – stumbling across bare ground in fear, its mother long gone in the night. For some, this footage may be too much, it may be too gut churning or upsetting or traumatising – and yet, that’s the exact purpose of it.
Just like The Cove and Blackfish, Kangaroo doesn’t shy away from the exceptionally brutal actions of mankind. Yes, it’s devastating, but not without reason. After all, we should know what’s happening in our country, especially when there is a government that is complicit in the downfall of the national icon. The kangaroo hunting industry is one that clearly is eating itself whole, an ouroboros that continues swallowing with glee, telling itself that its actions are positive, and that every gulp is a step forward for Australia as a whole.
The perception that kangaroos are ‘pests’ is one that’s been built up throughout the years by the public and the governments that perpetuate this fallacy just to help fuel the industry that has sprung up in response to the continual slaughter of these unique beings. In turn, the wellbeing of farmers is paramount. With inaccurate population data inflates figures of how many kangaroos Australia has, and the opinions of the hunters that are employed to rid famers properties of kangaroos, the narrative that the directors present is one that questions whether there will even be kangaroos left in the future.
And while this could be seen as heavy handed direction, relying on sensationalism rather than quiet, meditative consideration, there is little need for a moderate take on this story. There simply is not time. Australia is one of the five countries that hold 70% of the worlds untouched wilderness, yet, it’s also one of the countries that at the forefront of deforestation, with comparisons to the destruction of the Amazon being made by the WWF. All the while, there is an extinction level event occurring in front of Australia’s eyes. Australia stands by doing little for its environment and the fauna that live in it, instead willing to open up the land for more mines, more farms, and more destruction. It’s painful to watch this happen, and this documentary simply puts the deaths of kangaroos into context of the world at large.
There is a lot more to Kangaroo:A Love-Hate Story, with Russia and China being major players in the way kangaroo is consumed around the world, but these concepts are best discovered for yourself. This is an important documentary. This demands to be seen. If there was any justice, just like The Cove and Blackfish, this documentary would inspire a country wide change, but I fear that the Australian public is simply too complacent to care about the death of the kangaroo to get up in arms about the treatment of this iconic creature.
Directors: KateMcIntyre Clere, Michael McIntyre
Watching Boy Erased in Australia is a curious affair. It’s written and directed by one of the great modern Aussie minds – Joel Edgerton (working with the production company he started with his brother, Nash, and many others, Blue Tongue Films). It stars two of Australia’s most iconic actors – Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. And yet, this is a film that’s about the madness that thrives in America.
Focusing on the real life story of Garrad Conley, Boy Erased takes a look at the life of the son of Baptist parents (Kidman and Crowe), and how he is forced into participating in gay conversion therapy as being gay goes against their religion. The son, named Jared Eamons in this adaptation, is played superbly by Lucas Hedges. His father, Marshall, is a car dealer and a Baptist preacher, and is portrayed by Russell Crowe as a behemoth of a man, his body towers over the lectern he reads the Word of God from. Nicole Kidman’s mother, Nancy, is all hair spray and lipstick, living her life in due diligence to Marshall, merely towing the line as she escorts Jared off to the conversion therapy camp.
Said camp is run by a terrifying Victor Sykes, Joel Edgerton bringing the same crew cut hair that he sported in his equally unsettling directorial debut The Gift. Jared finds himself amongst a group of men and women of varying ages, all of whom are there to – essentially – have the gay beaten out of them (both literally and figuratively). Victor demands the subjects pore over their family trees, looking for all signs of guilt and treason against the Bible that may be a reason for their sexuality. Some, like Xavier Dolan’s Jon, appear to have shirked their sexuality and work alongside the program to be ‘normal’, while others like Troye Sivan’s Gary have found that simply giving the allusion that they have changed, and working with the program, will get them out of this program safely.
All of this is explored through the eyes of a foreigner – both Joel Edgerton as a writer and director, and also the character of Jared Eamons who is discovering his sexuality while he’s also being pushed through a trial of fire by his family who believe they’re doing the right thing. For Jared, his eyes are opened to the fragility of love and comfort, and how prejudice creeps into life in the most disturbing, insidious ways. When he is forced to explore his families history, and in turn, try and dig up dirt about the people he loves, he does reluctantly, as it goes against everything he has learned from his religion. The same religion that has fostered and created a toxic, noxious entity that is the gay conversion therapy camp.
Joel Edgerton, a foreigner to America and to the LGBTIQ+ community, peers into this world with curiosity, and an impressive amount of respect. Now, granted, there is no respect given for the actions that his character, but there is a fair amount of respect and understanding for the Eamons family and the other folks who are pushed into living through this horrific mind torture treatment. While there are very few acts of violence – outside of a horrendous family beating laid upon a gay son, with his father, siblings, and others wailing on him with bibles in hand -, the trauma that is inflicted is purely psychological. The monopolisation of ones commitment to their faith to inflict guilt and fear onto them is a heinous crime, and Edgerton explores this in heartbreaking detail.
There’s a permeating feeling of the whole world being askew that thrives in Boy Erased. This is not just because of the subject matter, but because of the way that Edgerton fills the cast with non-American actors – Crowe, Kidman, Edgerton, Canadian Xavier Dolan, Australian Troye Sivan, Brit Joe Alwyn, and Australian musician turned actor Flea. Whether this was a conscious choice or not, this kind of casting works to reinforce the feeling that the world Jared is forced to live in is one that’s foreign to him, and in turn, it carries a very ‘otherworldly’ feel to it. Yes, the faces look familiar to him, and the words they’re saying sound familiar, but his world has been flipped on its head and morphed into something entirely devoid of reality. The only time that there is some kind of warmth and safety extended to him comes from Cherry Jones (American) Dr. Muldoon, who advises Jared that how he feels, and who he is attracted to, is normal and is ok. The warmth that Jones bring to her brief appearance is greatly welcome in a film that carries a huge wealth of coldness. It’s an immensely powerful moment in a film that’s peppered with immensely powerful moments.
Kidman’s Nancy is a caring mother who lives in a world of social expectations – she is the wife of a preacher, and in turn, has to act as such. She cares deeply for her son, but is limited in what kind of protection and care she can provide him. The scenes between Kidman and Hedges are sweet and tender. On the flipside, there is also a form of tenderness from Crowe’s preacher, a man for whom his faith trumps everything. Yet, his tenderness is muted by his dedication to the Word of God. For me, as someone who does not follow a faith, I sometimes struggle to understand how someone can put the words within a book ahead of the clear suffering and pain that exists in front of them. Russell Crowe’s performance here helps inform how someone can reject the pain and suffering that their son is going through in lieu of being faithful to their faith. Edgerton never condones Marshall’s behaviour, but he certainly does allow us to understand how a man like Marshall could end up making the decisions he does.
Edgerton shows how ludicrous and money grabbing this whole conversion therapy endeavour is, with the manual the subjects have to work from being riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. Subjects have their personal belongings removed from them when they arrive at the facility, and any instances of possible ‘gay-ness’ is removed. Their phones are taken off them, with the threat that any stored number may be called at random to verify that the subject is no longer gay. To see families hand over their kids or loved ones willingly, and to subject them to a massive invasion of privacy, is in itself a disturbing endeavour.
While it’s easy to sit here in Australia and peer into the world of America and think ‘well, that country sure is messed up’, it’s also extremely hypocritical of me to do so. As the America the world once knew changes and bends to the will of Trump and his administration, citizens of the world look on in horror – almost helpless to the decisions that Trump makes. While Boy Erased focuses on an era where Trump was still a reality TV star (with the story taking place in the 2000’s), the spectre of what Trump and his anti-LGBTIQ+ Vice President Mike Pence looms large over this narrative. Gay conversion therapy still occurs in America, with religious institutions employing the techniques that Victor Sykes and many others utilise.
While I can look at Boy Erased and be thankful that I’m not subject to such actions, I’m kidding myself in thinking that this doesn’t occur here. While gay conversion therapy thrives in America, it also lives in secret in Australia. To call it ‘therapy’ is in itself a terrifying endeavour. It’s like calling waterboarding a ‘heavy shower’. It’s psychological torture, through and through, leaving many who are subject to it mentally scarred and, worse, feeling like they have no choice by to take their own life. Within Australia, there is only one state that has banned this treatment (Victoria), with other states yet to follow suit after the landmark decision to introduce marriage equality for all passed in 2017. Current opposition leader, Bill Shorten, has advised that if voted in, his government would work with the states and territories to help implement a comprehensive, nation-wide ban. One can hope that this is something that is implemented as it’s terrifying to know that in the Australia I live in, there are people going through what Garrard Conley and many others have gone through.
Boy Erased may not leave you infuriated that such things can occur, instead aiming to leave you understanding how such actions can occur, leaving a ruined family in its wake. Edgerton continues to impress as a triple threat – actor, writer, and most importantly, director – but it’s really Lucas Hedges show to steal. He delivers one of the finest performances of 2018, understated, yet heartfelt. Hedges carries a lived in feeling to Jared. It’s his performance alone that makes this essential viewing.
Cast: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman,Russell Crowe
Writer: Joel Edgerton
The 2018 AACTA Award nominations are out! But, before we get to them, Andrew chats with directors Andrew Goldsmith and Bradley Slabe, as well as producer Lucy Hayes, about their short film Lost and Found.
Find out more about Lost and Found by heading to the website here.
Read the 2018 AACTA nominations here.
If you want to get in touch, send an email to TheCurbAU@gmail.com