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.)
Xavier Dolan wrote, edited and directed this film and it won the Grand Prix at Cannes this year. Both Xavier and the film come to the Sydney Film Festival with a big reputation to live up to.
It’s Only the End of the World is based on Jean-Luc Lagarce’s play Juste la fin du monde. Gaspard Ulliel stars as Louis, a successful gay writer returning home after 12 years away, to inform his family of his impending death. We are given no further information on this. Gaspard’s performance is consistently strong throughout and he is well supported by Nathalie Baye, Marion Cotillard, Léa Seydoux and Vincent Cassel.
Despite its success at Cannes, I don’t think this play has been translated well enough for the big screen. The cast do a great job with the roles and material they’ve been given, but it simply isn’t a convincing portrayal of a family who are all extremely intolerant of each other, all the time. It may have worked well enough on stage, but I think I’d have been similarly frustrated and unconvinced.
Xavier Dolan does a good job of building the tension and works in time spent exploring Louis’ individual relationships with his siblings, his mother and his sister-in-law, but whenever they are all together the mood quickly disintegrates. They almost never stop talking at each other and poor Louis is never given much air time. We do really feel very sorry for him and he never quite gets around to passing on his tragic news. The film built to what I felt was an extremely emotional climax right at the end, but I left wondering whether this was actually cathartic for all (or any) in his family, or not. I think this was because some of the dialogue was either awkward or incongruous.
It is mostly shot indoors in quite dark light, with some very tight framing and music is well used for dramatic effect. Gaspard doesn’t say much, but he has a very expressive face and gives good tragic. There are some artistically lit interior scenes and a really beautiful lingering image of Louis when hugging his mother that is breathtaking on a big screen (you can see it from about 0:43 in the trailer above).
My Bruce McAvaney Specialness Rating*: 3/5 (Not especially special.)
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!”
My rather ambitious list.
Sorry I’ve not been around for a long while. It’s a long story and not really one I can tell right now. At least I can talk SFF. Last year I swore that I would be more selective and not try to see too many films or at least not see too many on any one day. Well, that just didn’t happen. So here is my list with a short explanation about why I selected that film.
Being 17 I’m a sucker for most French films that tell personal stories and this one is about a gay/queer relationship. Unlike many I also don’t mind coming of age stories. I may cry.
(I’m then away for work on the next two days of the festival, 9 & 10 June. Oh no!)
Goldstone I guess this outback noir thriller could bomb, but I’ve liked Aaron Pedersen in most things he has done and it looks interesting. I also like thrillers and it looks a bit eccentric. Hopefully the storytelling will be good.
High Rise “Tom Hiddleston heads a fabulous cast (Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller) …” Well you got me right there. This is also described as a sociopolitical satire, so that too grabs me. I’m sure Tom will forget to put his shirt on at some stage.
It’s Only The End of the World This Xavier Dolan film is sure to be one of the most talked about at the festival, if only because it is a film by Xavier Dolan. I’ve loved and hated some of his earlier work, but who could miss a film with both Gaspard Ulliel and Vincent Cassel? I guess some people could, but I cannot.
War on Everyone I’m a huge fan of John Michael McDonagh. The Guard and Cavalry were both marvellous. Not just for the laughs and the humanity that ran deep through both, but for his fantastic ability to tell a story and entertain with the English language. J.M. McDonagh makes brilliant films and understands what cinema should be able to do!
Goat Pure escapism. Oh, and the James Franco cameo.
Land of Mine I’m a bit of a sucker for good war stories and this one is bound to be surprising and somewhat confronting. It is based on a true story that I’ve not heard or read about so that’ll be good too. I hope I don’t have to cry.
Rosita I wonder whether this will be as good as an old John Clarke film on the same subject A Matter of Convenience? In any case I watch enough stuff on SBS to be a fan of both of the male leads Jens Albinus (The Idiots, The Eagle, Borgen, Everything Will be Fine and Deutschland 83) and Mikkel Boe Følsgaard (The Legacy, Royal Affair and he is also in Land of Mine, above). I like a lot of Danish productions.
Europe She Loves I added this one at the last minute to fill in some time between Rosita and Demolition with a friend of mine who is also going to both. I think this is my only documentary this year. It is said to be a frank and revealing look at four couples in four different countries. Hopefully it is more humorous than gut-wrenching.
Demolition No, I didn’t select this just because of Jake Gyllenhaal! It was mostly because he is said to be good in it, but it also sounds like a decent emotional yarn. And who can resist a sad Jake?
Desde Allá This queer drama from Venezuela looks confronting. I’ve seen a very similar story handled very well in a recent French film (that I cannot remember now but I will eventually), so it’ll be interesting to see how the psychological drama is handled here. I’ve heard good things about it.
The Endless River This one is a bit of a punt, but it was written up as being beautifully shot and brutally realistic, so I’m hoping for an engrossing experience.
Teenage Kicks Selected for most of the same reasons as Being 17, but this queer drama is Australian.
Red Christmas I had to have one horror film and it is in Newtown, so close to home if I get scared. Apparently this Australian film has an axe plus thrills and kills. Little else is required.
Everybody Wants Some!! Richard Linklater’s latest film has had some good press and it looks pretty enjoyable.
Closet Monster Another queer coming of age / coming out film. But this one also has a touch of horror and the young Canadian film maker Stephen Dunn is already attracting critical acclaim. Connor Jessup plays the main character and he was great in American Crime recently. So I’m ending my festival in much the same genre as I began it.
16 films all up. Wish me luck. (I hope my boss allows me to take my annual four days of SFF leave!)
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