I feel somewhat conflicted writing this review less than 24 hours after the Orlando massacre. The film is very violent, but not in the same way as Orlando and although it is lame to make comparisons to other film-makers, it is not quite in Quentin Tarantino’s territory, let alone Sam Peckinpah’s in terms of gun violence. I may have reacted somewhat differently if I’d heard of the Orlando tragedy before seeing the film, but to be perfectly honest about my reaction, I found War on Everyone hilarious.
John Michael McDonagh is a brilliant film-maker and he really understands how to entertain an audience. It isn’t going to be a film for everyone, but I think a lot of lesser directors could really learn from his method. His story telling in Calvary was so much more effective than a much darker heavy-handed approach that may have been taken by many others. This is no Calvary, but it is just as wonderful an experience as a film. Although it obviously deals with real issues like gun violence, corruption, greed, child abuse and the vast multi-cultural nature of many modern societies, there seems to be no attempt to impart a strong overall moral message: it is simply a lot of fun. It certainly doesn’t make me want to head out and shoot or beat up some bad guys.
Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Peña are great as Terry and Bob, two bored cops who enjoy the excitement of breaking rules and amusing themselves at the expense of others in Albuquerque. Their dialogue, written by John Michael McDonagh again demonstrates his great facility with the English language, even in an American setting. Some of the lines might be politically incorrect cliches in the hands of others, but in this film they very elegantly sewn together throughout the film and I just laughed and laughed the whole way through it.
Bob has most of the wise-cracks but every now and then Terry throws a very funny or a very stupid line in that broke me up. Alexander Skarsgård is very easy on the eye as Terry and his physical presence and character have me wondering whether he has become a contemporary John Wayne type of film hero. In this film he moves with the grace of a cat and even dances in one of the funnier sequences, but he also displays genuine physical vulnerability and empathy for a young boy who has been abused. His physicality is also on display during a fairly long on-foot chase sequence. It is perfectly framed and I’d say it is mostly Alexander doing his own running.
I know that comparisons are lame, but I felt this film was more like a Coen Brothers feature than a Tarantino shoot-em-up. The ludicrous lack of reality and its great use of the ridiculous make this film a stand-out for me. There are several very memorable sequences in the film that whilst completely absurd and unexpected, illustrate John Michael McDonagh’s brilliance with visual humour. These include Terry’s dance sequence, a brief sojourn to Iceland (go figure), the opening shot when they run down a mime artist getting away from a robbery, the cocaine sniffing shown in the clip above and Terry and Bob practicing their gun handling on an indoor shooting range. It doesn’t stop there. Through almost the entire film we are treated to Terry’s obsession with the music and lyrics of Glen Campbell’s greatest hits.
So, if you don’t mind this kind of thing, see it if you get the chance! You won’t regret it.
My Bruce McAvaney Specialness Rating*: 4/5 (Most people would think this to be special.)
High-Rise is a surrealistic film based on J.G. Ballard’s novel of the same name. It is about the descent into savagery and mayhem of the inhabitants trapped inside a brutalist high-rise block of apartments somewhere on the outskirts of London in the 1970s.
The film is much hyped, possibly because of the stellar cast including Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Elizabeth Moss, Keeley Hawes and James Purefoy and possibly because of Tom’s amazing nude scene. As they say in the movie, he is an excellent specimen! Overall though, that wasn’t enough to carry the film or make the story interesting or that meaningful. The road to their dystopia is rapid and told with a heavy-handed and repetitive method. It isn’t enjoyable for the most part, although there are a few mildly amusing observations of the excesses of modern society along the way.
For me, by far the best part of the film, which underlines the block’s feral nadir, was a long sequence scored by Portishead’s brilliant cover version of ABBA’s S.O.S. I think they played the entire song and I reckon it is better than the original.
My Bruce McAvaney Specialness Rating*: 2/5 (Pretty ordinary really.)
I saw this at the wonderful State Theatre where the sound system, screen and setting highlighted the brilliance of the multi-talented Director Ivan Sen’s cinematography and music. This mystery and thriller follows on from his previous feature Mystery Road, also staring Aaron Pedersen as the hero, Indigenous detective Jay Swan.
The film starts brilliantly just with some of Ivan’s music and some well selected glass plate negative images from various state libraries and archives. They looked brilliant on the big screen and I was reminded of the same technique being used in Ken Burns’ Civil War series.
The two leads and twin heroes of the film are Aaron as Jay and Alex Russell as Josh the local policeman. Alex takes us on a personal discovery of his true character and Aaron learns more of his past. Almost stealing the first part of the film with a very dignified and mystic screen presence is David Gulpilil as Jimmy, a local elder. One of the film’s highlights for me was the bark canoe journey that Jimmy takes Jay on through what looks to be a sacred local gorge. He seemed to me to be singing the local history to Jay through their journey in that gorge. Gorges like this always look like natural cathedrals to me.
Apart from that gorge, the rest of the scenery is almost all desolate – barren, rocky and dusty, but Ivan arranges some beautiful overhead shots that are perfectly framed to highlight the natural colours. These are almost like one of Fred Williams’ later paintings from a similar perspective.
The film reminds us of the choices we make in life and the costs and consequences they have on others and our environment.
The two key creepy baddies in the film are played by Jacki Weaver and David Wenham. Both seem to almost be reprising corrupt creepy bad character roles from previous films. Jacki is a convincingly strong-willed greedy evil manipulator, but I think it is too close to her matriarch role from Animal Kingdom. And David needs to develop a new creepy look that doesn’t involve an awful hair style, some 1980s glasses and clothes from the era of the safari suit. My only other small gripe is that I think we could have seen and heard more of Aaron’s Jay. Jay seemed to have a much stronger presence in Mystery Road.
Both Aaron and Ivan made brief appearances on stage before the film started and answered a couple of questions. The SFF do this kind of thing very well.
My Bruce McAvaney Specialness Rating*: 4/5 (Most people would think this to be special.)
Violence, not knowing, so many feels, adolescence, sexual identity and discovery, teenage angst, and sexual tension. No Griselda, I was not binge-watching Home and Away! Quelle horreur! And I say that with some meaning and cleverness because Being 17 is a very French film. Of course I mean that in the nicest possible way.
Being 17 is a long film at almost two hours, but the story is told very well without being heavy handed, and easily held my attention. (This is no small feat!) It is a gently-paced story that focuses on two teenage boys finding their way in life in a small village somewhere in the French Pyrenees. Part of their journey is their gradual sexual awakening that is accompanied by an increasing desire for each other. It isn’t all smooth sailing and nor is it predictable and full of cliches.
The cast are all well chosen and bring a rare authenticity to their respective roles. The acting from the two young boys is consistently great, even in the sex scene, and their attraction to each other seems very realistic. There are a number of touching scenes and these are all handled very sensitively. (I didn’t end up crying.)
The cinematography and scenery is beautiful, especially some scenes in the snow and high in the mountains, but it isn’t self-indulgent and the camera doesn’t dwell anywhere unnecessarily.
Being 17 was my opening film for SFF in 2016 and it sets the bar pretty high from the outset. I guess the film made me think about my own coming of age and brought up some memories of similarly confusing situations that were probably based around some kind of sexual tension or desire. It was good to see that it was probably a full house. What a shame that we don’t get the chance to see movies like this more often in Australia. They leave the pretentious Hollywood dross for dead.
My Bruce McAvaney Specialness Rating*: 4
1 – Special, but not in a good way.
2 – Pretty ordinary really.
3 – Not especially special.
4 – Most people would think this to be special.
5 – Especially special, or as Bruce would say “Oh, that’s special!”
The Invitation is supposed to be a slowburn thriller or a “riveting horror film”, set around a dinner party reunion of a group of friends (plus two others). Our hero Will (Logan Marshall-Green) returns to his old home with his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), two years after the death of his young son. His ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman) are hosting a dinner party for a group of old friends. Like most dinner parties, it begins very slowly, someone is late and it is all rather awkward. One of the problems with this film is that there are simply too many characters to be introduced and then ignored. This takes an age, isn’t effectively done and in doing so we are soon treated to a series of odd facial expressions straight out of the early years of Home and Away.
It continues to move along at a slow pace, with very little happening along the way. We know something is going to happen because you know, we bought tickets for a horror flick, but it just isn’t riveting, so I started getting distracted by things. From what I saw of the house, it didn’t look much like a contemporary home. It looked a little like a darkly-lit version of the Brady Bunch family home. Then it seemed that quite a lot of the guests (I won’t name them because most were not memorable) had been dressed by Alice the maid from Mr & Mrs Brady’s old wardrobe. Eden, however, was dressed and made up like the wife of one of those guys who runs tournaments for slaves, gladiators and lions in an ancient Rome TV series. But I digress …
Along the way we are introduced to a cult that has supposedly helped Eden deal with her grief. It was during this period that I started wondering whether this film was the Hollywood film version of an Instagram selfie. Let’s not get stuck there tho’.
Eventually, the ever suspicious Will has his first brain-fart, but his theory about what is happening is quickly assuaged when the missing guest finally shows up. Later on, much later on, after more gnashing of teeth (mostly Will’s), the proverbial does hit the fan and we are all relieved that something did eventually happen. It just wasn’t terribly thrilling and what does happen is left far too late.
Only lasts 90 mins but it seems much longer. 2.5/5
Billed as a mystery, I thought Phoenix was more of a complex exploration of forgiveness, love, betrayal and rebuilding in Berlin immediately after the Second World War. It moves at a gentle pace, allowing tension to build and this is very skilfully accomplished. We are left asking all kinds of questions about the reasons and motives for betrayal, and then perhaps wondering what we’d have done in the same situation. How much does true love influence forgiveness? And ultimately, are there limits to this kind of forgiveness?
It is easy to see the successful rebuilding of Berlin the city and now it is almost impossible to imagine the post-war destruction that obliterated some districts, but what of the people? How long does it take to heal, forget or forgive those wounds and losses? A generation or more? Phoenix made me think about all of this more deeply than my most recent visit to Berlin late last year.
The film is very well produced and presented and the story keeps you guessing right up to the end. It certainly didn’t end as I had expected and maybe that tells you something about how you might have reacted if faced with this kind of moral dilemma.
Everybody I spoke to thought highly of this film. Very well done. 4/5
This film very successfully blends romance, drama, comedy and the supernatural. It has something for everyone! The acting is good, the script is tight and contains some witty dialogue and it is very well shot in some spectacular locations.
My only minor complaint, and it is just a personal preference, is that the monster could have been defined a bit better and behaved more neatly. I prefer my monsters to be more predictable and reasonably good looking like most vampires or werewolves. The monster in this film is particularly messy.
A good night out. 3.5/5