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Much has been written about the art of bullfighting, but I can sum it up in one sentence: get out of the way of the bull, you idiot! Otherwise he will rip open your anus like it was a cheap velcro wallet.


In the seven plus years I've been writing AICN-Downunder, I've watched in dismay as the local industries have lurched from bad film to unsuccessful film. It hasn't been fun to watch, and as local filmmakers struggled and audiences opted for a brightly-packaged Hollywood alternative, criticisms were levelled at those who reviewed them. Often, I would hear Australian directors and producers accuse critics of being too harsh on local films. At the same time, readers would tell us that we were being too soft on them. With critics apparently part of the problem too, it has not always been lot of fun to be observing the industries of Australia and New Zealand.

This, I am apoplectic with excitement to report, is no longer the case. Still basking in the glow of 2009 successes like BALIBO, SAMSON AND DELILAH and MARY AND MAX, Australian cinema has seen the release of World War One drama BENEATH HILL 60, and will see romantic comedy I LOVE YOU TOO next week. (Both reviewed below.) And people are actually talking about these films. I mean real people, not we hopelessly-biased critics. In the coming months, we'll see the Sundance-winning ANIMAL KINGDOM, the romantic SUMMER CODA, the superheroics of GRIFF THE INVISIBLE, and the excitement-inducing RED HILL.

And it's not just our side of the Tasman, either. Steadfastly holding the top position at the New Zealand box office is BOY, which has just surpassed SIONE'S WEDDING to become the highest-grossing New Zealand comedy of all time. Pretty impressive stuff, given it's faced some pretty heavy competition.

I'm not proclaiming this to be any sort of Golden Age, nor am I trying to laden future films with an unreasonable burden. I'm just saying that, right now, it's a really, really good time to be a film critic downunder.


With Fred Schepisi now 70 and his last film being the 2003 Douglas family vehicle IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY (probably about to experience a resurgence, or, indeed, a surgence, thanks to Cameron Douglas's conviction...), I didn't actually expect to see Fred making another film any time soon, let alone one back home in Australia. Colour me surprised that he began shooting THE EYE OF THE STORM this week in Melbourne, his first local production since EVIL ANGELS (or A CRY IN THE DARK, if you prefer) in 1988. The film stars Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis, Charlotte Rampling, Robyn Nevin, Colin Friels and Helen Morse, and is based on the Patrick White book of the same name.

I'm going to list a few things and see if you can spot where a disaster might occur: writing/editing an AICN-Downunder at 2:30am after several nights of very little sleep; writing a news item about the new TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN trailer; having two different windows open, one with the real TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN trailer, and one with a fan-made YouTube clip you chanced upon. This is the sort of setup that sitcom writers dream of. So, to correct an error from the last column, this right here is the actual trailer for TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN. Use it wisely.

Short film THE APPRENTICE will begin filming in Melbourne this week, and will reportedly be included in an American feature film. Confused? Apparently, Peter Farrelly is in the midst of putting together a feature film that will comprise seventeen shorts by seventeen different filmmakers. Steve Baker, 2007 Tropfest winner and director of THE APPRENTICE, tells FilmInk that the style of the film will be akin to KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE. Baker will co-direct with longtime collaborator Damon Escott on THE APPRENTICE, which will feature Australian comedic actors Shane Jacobson, Colin Lane, and US actor Anton Yelchin (STAR TREK). The other shorts directors include Farrelly, Mike Judge, and Brett Ratner, and actors include Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts, Gerard Butler, Sam Rockwell, and Liev Schreiber.

Legendary Australian filmmaker Gillian Armstrong has been doing a SEVEN UP of her own over the years, and has been tracing the lives of three working class Adelaide girls since 1976 when they were fourteen years old. LOVE, LUST AND LIES is the fifth film in the series, and will release nationally on May 13. In the meantime, check out the just-released trailer.

PRISCILLA director Stephan Elliott's last film was the surprisingly-enjoyable EASY VIRTUE, so it's good to see him coming back to Australia to make a big comedy. Elliott will film A FEW BEST MEN, about a groom and his three best men "who travel to the Australian outback for a destination wedding that is as funny as it is disastrous". The film's script is reportedly from Dean Craig, who scripted both versions of DEATH AT A FUNERAL. As reported by Encore, casting is yet to be announced.

I was searching for some background on SALO's history with the classification board in Australia, when I suddenly remembered I'd written and narrated this very video about Australian censorship, which concentrates quite heavily on the history of SALO. So, while I become concerned about my lack of instant recall, you might be interested to know that (drumroll please) Pier Paolo Pasolini's SALO has had its Australian ban lifted, and will likely see a DVD release later this year. The system eventually works!

Having studiously avoided Australian comedy THE WOG BOY, I took a look at the trailer for THE WOG BOY 2: KINGS OF MYKONOS with my snark guns at the ready... and discovered, to my shock, that it doesn't actually look that bad. Maybe it's the soft tyranny of low expectorations, but it might not be that bad. It might not be any good, either, but the trailer is worth checking out.

Speaking of trailers, check out this one for THE WAITING CITY. The film stars Radha Mitchell, Joel Edgerton and Isabel Lucas, and the trailer is a strange mix of beautiful cinematography and oddly uninspiring dialogue. Still, I've heard good things on the grapevine about the film itself, so consider me there.

Finally, fans of both cinema and the Australian Human Rights Commission (for I know there are many) will want to take a look at this.

Australian/New Zealand films currently on Twitter. (Drop me a line if I've missed any.) Read about their fascinating journeys from production through post-production and into release! Click to follow crime epic ANIMAL KINGDOM, science fiction-slash-horror THE DARK LURKING, reality television/terrorism satire ELIMINATED, superhero movie GRIFF THE INVISIBLE, intriguing-looking horror film THE LOVED ONES, self-described "graphic novel-style bushranger adventure film" MOONLITE , star-studded romantic drama SUMMER CODA, giant shark movie THE REEF, giant squid movie $QUID, the Charlotte Gainsbourg-starring THE TREE, the very promising THE WAITING CITY, and left-field sequel THE WOG BOY 2. And for those still reading, this here is me.


63rd Cannes Film Festival

Many observers were surprised that not a single film from Australia or New Zealand got into Cannes, especially given it's a safe bet that the Sundance-winning ANIMAL KINGDOM was entered. But, all is not lost and we spoke too soon. Cannes has announced its short film lineup, and two films from Australia (both, if I was paying proper attention during a phone call late last night, from Melbourne's Victorian College of the Arts). The first film is MUSCLES, directed by Edward Houdsen, which is one of nine films in contention for the Short Film Palme D'Or. The second film is DEEPER THAN YESTERDAY, directed by Ariel Kleiman, which will play as part of the Critics' Week sidebar. Another short by Kleiman, YOUNG LOVE, received an honourable mention at Sundance in January.

2010 Dungog Film Festival

Far too often, the first time we hear about a film is when it's finished post-production. Australians: self-promote already! Still, it's nice to be surprised by a film jumping at you from out of nowhere, and such is the case with ROAD TRAIN, which will premiere at the Dungog Film Festival this May. The film follows four friends camping in the outback whose holiday is thrown into turmoil when a massive three-trailer truck runs them off the road. Sounds like WOLF CREEK meets DUEL. Which, to me at least, is a good thing. ROAD TRAIN is the feature debut of director Dean Francis and writer Clive Hopkins, and stars Xavier Samuel (THE LOVED ONES, THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE), Sophie Lowe (BEAUTIFUL KATE, BLESSED), Georgina Haig ("Underbelly") and Bob Morley ("Home and Away", "The Strip"). The film has already been sold in the UK and Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Russia, South Africa, the Middle East, Brazil, and is will be released on DVD in the US.


I know we all fear change, but I thought I'd try expanding the box office list to a top ten instead of just a top five. And then later I'll decide it was a bad idea and go back to the top five style. But until then, feel free to click on the linked titles to read the AICN-Downunder review of said film.



New Zealand

1. BOY


Geena Davis is in this film (that pretty much sums up everything I know about this film so far), Diane Kruger is in this film (also summing up everything I know about ANYTHING FOR HER), producers save money by making a minor alteration to the banner from Bernard Hill's sixtieth birthday, Gary Oldman and Tom Waits make this a quasi-sequel to DRACULA, part two of the Coco Chanel tetralogy hits cinemas, Kevin Smith's latest film accidentally comes out in New Zealand, the Spierig Brothers graduate from zombies to vampires, THE ECLIPSE betrays its biggest twists in its logline, another great high concept is wasted, Kristen Bell plays a beautiful woman who is believably unlucky in love, and typical Hollywood-esque short-sightedness changes the title from the much clearer OORLOGSWINTER.




Australian release: April 15 // New Zealand release: TBA

BENEATH HILL 60 does not have an easy time ahead of it. By the time this review is published, the film will have been out for a week, so you'll probably know better than I do (the me writing this review a week-and-a-half in the past) how it's faring. On one hand, it invites comparisons with that other great Australian World War One epic, GALLIPOLI. On the other, it comes amidst a crop of extraordinary Aussie films, including one I saw two months ago but am yet to review and is a strong contender for film of the year. So, BENEATH HILL 60 has quite a bit stacked against it.

All credit to the film, then, that it is really damned good. Not the perfect, zeitgeist-busting film so many local critics (myself included) hoped it would be, but certainly a damned fine film you wouldn't regret paying to see.

The true story of Australian diggers, both in the slang and literal senses, the film follows the attempts by Aussie explosives experts to... well, actually, I just deleted the rest of that sentence. Written in history it may be, but if you don't already know it, the film's strengths lie in the way the story unfolds.

Structurally, the script is impressive. It starts off nowhere near the titular Hill 60, cleverly introducing us to the characters in an unrelated campaign. By giving us two brilliant set pieces instead of just building to the one, the second and main set piece is actually all the more impressive. And we, as a thrill-seeking audience, are all the more thrilled. This decision works on every level, and makes the film so much better than it would have been had it gone with the more obvious and straightforward route and just concentrated on the second. All credit here to screenwriter David Roach.

What doesn't work as well are the flashbacks to Woodward's (Brendan Cowell) pre-war life, which focusing largely on his courting of the pretty Marjorie. Though not a complete disaster, the flashbacks don't really add anything to the main narrative, and this is a choice the film might have benefitted from losing. There are a lot of problems with the dialogue in these scenes; whilst not badly written, the Australian accent is one that does not lend itself well to any sort of formal, structured dialogue, particularly when it's supposed to sound off-the-cuff, and the mix of Australian actors reading dialogue in Australian accents usually doesn't work. It is a tremendously difficult thing to get right, and it's easy to forgive the film for this problem.

The acting is a bit of a mixed bag. Some performances are brilliant, and one or two are a bit terrible. Gyton Grantley, who goes from strength to strength, is terrific, even though he is bizarrely made to look exactly like Baldrick in "Blackadder Goes Forth". Brendan Cowell, fast becoming a ubiquitous staple of local films, holds the film together very well. But the actually film works best if you ignore individual elements and look at it as a whole.

When I said BENEATH HILL 60 invites comparisons with GALLIPOLI, this is particularly true of the ending. Painfully aware of its predecessor's iconography, some avoidable and very specific aping takes place. The fact that it is executed brilliantly helps, but the borrowed image prevents the film from attaining its own iconic status.

Overall, the films works more than it doesn't, and actor-turned-director Jeremy Sims does a superb job. And the final act simply must be seen on the big screen, so don't think of waiting for DVD. This is one that should be seen huge.


Australian/New Zealand release: April 22

Cards on the table, I absolutely loved the trailers for HOT TUB TIME MACHINE. I knew some people who thought it looked like a car wreck based on the trailers, and I suspected that this would be the division key: if you liked the trailers, you'll like the film; if not, you won't.

That said, the trailers contained a pretty big spoiler. It's not a puzzle of "Lost" proportions to piece together the trailer scene of Clark Duke seeing his mother, then Rob Corrdry picking her up at the bar, then her in bed saying "I feel pregnant". How I was hoping that this was a misdirect for something bigger and more surprising. (It wasn't.) But this wasn't the only spoiler in the trailers. Sadly, this is a comedy that suffers from all the good jokes being in the trailer.

Much like DATE NIGHT, this is a case of very good comic performances in a very lazy script. John Cusack, Rob Corrdry, Clark Duke and Craig Robinson are giving their all, but are doing so for a script that believes itself to be much funnier and much cleverer than it actually is. And lazy comedy is really the thing that drags the film down. Any time a film resorts to the tired old non-gag where a self-important character does a fake kung-fu move on someone, eyes wildly blazing, to take the form of a threat, you can pretty much discount there and then. Similarly, the script seems obsessed with what I'm dubbing Minutae Segue Digression. You've seen this before. It's when Character A says something like: "I have two things to tell you: one, I hate you. You totally ruined my life." Character B: "Was that the second thing?" Character A: "I haven't got to the second thing yet." Character B: "But that was two things." Character C: "Yeah, that wasn't really clear. The first thing was actually two things." Character B: "You can't put two things as one thing." Character A: "The second part of the first thing was to further illustrate the first part, it was a totally valid addendum." And so on and so on. This has been done well in the past (no examples spring immediately to mind, though), but in HTTM it's used as a standard. We come back to that style of gag many times, and each time it has about as much care and thought and humour as my above example. ie: none. Once again, the jokes in this feel like they were written by someone whose only experience with comedy is watching other, mediocre comedies. If you missed my theory on Hollywood films reaching a cyclical critical mass, take a look at my DATE NIGHT review, because the same thing applies here.

Time travel is explained using examples from THE TERMINATOR, a meta geek reference that's been done many times before, yet BACK TO THE FUTURE is not mentioned at all. This is possibly because the film steals wholesale from it. Clark Duke's disappearing trick, Craig Robinson breaking into an anachronistic song on stage to an appreciative audience, the standing-up-to-the-bully-you-regret-not-standing-up-to-in-your-youth bit... The casting of Crispin Glover seems like an almost apologetic nod to the theft, but it hardly excuses it. And it does the film no favours to constantly remind you of a much better film.

A very minor attempt is made to be clever with the time travel aspect, but it mostly falls flat, and you find yourself going through the motions as inevitabilities play out. It's hardly unreasonable to expect a film that hinges on the paradoxes of time travel to do something clever with the idea, even if it is a mainstream film: if BACK TO THE FUTURE and BILL AND TED can appeal to mass audiences and still be smatrt with its internal time travel logic, then there is no excuse for this film to be this lazy.

It's disappointing, but it's not all bad news. The lines that made me laugh in the trailer still made me laugh, which doesn't always happen. Although, as this is the best thing I can say about the film, perhaps it is all bad news. Look, I love the stupidity of the concept, I love the actors, and I loved everything I saw about it leading up to its release... but the film does not come close to matching its promise. Like DATE NIGHT, it commits its biggest crime by simply not being terribly funny.


Australian release: May 6 // New Zealand release: TBA

Comedy is very, very subjective. One man's Rob Schneider is another man's Shaun Micallef. One man's Broken Lizard is another's Monty Python. Whether you find I LOVE YOU TOO funny will depend largely on how you feel about Peter Helliar's comedy in general. Australians will already know their position on this, and as the film is, at present time, only being released in Australia, I don't feel the need to explain for an international audience.

One thing I will make clear right up front: I LOVE YOU TOO is much better than the trailer makes out. This is a huge relief, as the trailer was not very good. Or, at least, it didn't make the film look very good. Or, at least, very funny. Or, at least, very funny to me. (Subjective, remember?)

This is not to say that the film is a laugh riot. I laughed a few times, but not very hard, and not very often. It's a comedy that's curiously reliant on repeating situations from every other romantic comedy that's ever been made. And as someone who is more than happy to see Australian films that consciously play more to audiences than to film festivals, I kept wanting to say, "Yes, but... well, that's not exactly what I meant..." The film even has its own catchphrase, glimpsed in the trailer, where the two best buddies enter a bar, look around, and say in unison: "Into it!" It's tedious stuff, but it doesn't quite hit the depths of YOU AND YOUR STUPID MATE's "Corrrrrect!".

So if I LOVE YOU TOO is a comedy that I didn't find all that funny, why am I not calling it a failure? Well, to begin with, it avoided the biggest pitfall that the trailer suggested it would fall into. Whilst I do get a bit sick of romantic comedies in which men are seen as romantically retarded infants and have only to perform the most basic, straightforward tasks in order to get beautiful women to devote themselves fully, and whilst I LOVE YOU TOO certainly does use this as a launching point, it does not do so for pure comedic reasons. The idea of the romantically-inept manchild is given a lot more attention that is usual for these films. It's explored in a bit of depth from a few different angles; I can't help but give respect to a romantic comedy that has actually something new to say on the topic.

The cast does a decent job. Brendan Cowell, last seen a few reviews upwards tunneling about Europe in World War One, plays the gormless everyman quite well, especially given he's more inclined towards serious, darker characters. Yvonne Strahovski, an Australian who is apparently playing an American in the series CHUCK, here plays an English girl, and is also quite convincing. Writer Peter Helliar plays Cowell's best friend, and though his character does reek of being the sort of part someone would write if they knew they themselves were going to get to play it, he does well.

But the show is completely stolen by Peter Dinklage. This will come as no surprise to anyone who's ever seen Dinklage in anything, but it's not just his performance: his character has the best material in the film. In the original, English DEATH AT A FUNERAL, Dinklage was the best thing about it (Alan Tudyk notwithstanding), but largely because he was playing an underwritten role very, very well. In I LOVE YOU TOO, his character Charlie has the most interesting stuff to work with. Both he and Megan Gale (forever known internationally as the would-be Wonder Woman in the aborted George Miller JUSTICE LEAGUE film) possess charisma that absolutely jumps off the screen, so the scenes in which they both appear are the film's best. But what's surprising is how genuinely dramatic it is. One thing I was not expecting when the film began was to discover Helliar has a flair for writing good, solid dramatic scenes. It's very well-written, very well-directed (by the as-yet unmentioned Daina Reid), and is, surprisingly, the most confident and successful parts of the film. I'd be very happy to see Helliar develop his dramatic work in the future.

I LOVE YOU TOO is a surprising film. I suspect everyone who sees it will get something completely different out of it, but for me it gets a tick not for its comedy, but for its drama.


Australian release: April 22 // New Zealand release: TBA

It's hard to get a handle, at first, on what BUNNY AND THE BULL is trying to be. The promise of "The Mighty Boosh" director Paul King at the wheel will certainly pull in a lot of fans hoping to see something along "Boosh" lines, and the two leads are clearly cast with this in mind. Edward Hogg sports some Noel Fielding-esque hair as the meek introvert, whereas Simon Farnaby appears to be the spitting image of Julian Barratt, only with Colin Baker-esque hair. (No surprise then that Farnaby played Barrett's doppleganger in an episode of "Boosh"...)

For those unfamiliar with the film, it is possibly best described as WITHNAIL AND I as directed by Michel Gondry. The Gondry comparison is apt, though a bit unfair. Paul King seems to have arrived at a similar style from a completely different direction, and those who have charted the development of his directing from the early episode of "Boosh" through to BUNNY AND THE BULL will see the clear evolutionary line. King comes off as a reactionary to expensive CGI and literal interpretations, and that's where the film shines. The production design alone makes this film more than worth the price of the ticket; it's so good, it comes dangerously close to distracting you from the main film. But, most importantly, it's thematically and dramatically relevant to the main story, and when a single surprising moment occurs towards the end of the film, you realise that the production design has been telling its own story the whole time. It's very clever stuff.

At first, the humour of the piece seems a bit too familiar, a bit too samey. The setup -- extrovert takes introvert friend on European trip -- also seems well-worn. It doesn't take long, however, for the film to take off and inject its own addictive originality into many of its recognisable story beats. Original stories may be difficult to come by these days, but if familiar tales are all executed as uniquely as BUNNY AND THE BULL, this might not prove too big a problem.

Cameos from "Boosh" regulars Richard Ayoade, Rich Fulcher, Barrett and Fielding are also welcome, and help solidify BUNNY as a film that, despite its imperfections, is destined for deserving cult love.


Australian release: April 29 // New Zealand release: TBA

(Disclosure: my partner is the Publicity Manager at Sharmill Films, the company that is distributing AMOS OZ.)

I was concerned about how I would approach AMOS OZ, a documentary about a famous Jewish author travelling around and giving talks. My concern was that the film does not take an extensive or comprehensive biographical look at his entire life, but is rather a fly-on-the-wall, voyeuristic piece. As someone who was, despite an innate possibly inherited Jewishness, unfamiliar with Amos Oz, I thought I might be lost. Thankfully, the approach is not an exclusionary one, but a clever structural choice. We do, in fact, find out about Oz over the course of the film, as glimpses of his earlier life are woven seamlessly into the narrative. It is, despite my concerns going in, entirely accessible.

What I can't speak to is whether it is politically accessible. AMOS OZ: THE NATURE OF DREAMS is, by the very nature of its subject, very political, and the best way to judge whether a film containing such strident opinions and positions is accessible is to judge it from a standpoint far removed. Had I different political leanings from Oz, I might be able to judge it more clearly, but as his opinions are close to my own, I do not know how this will play to people who hold differing views. His reasoned arguments for peace with Palestine, his desire for Israeli political leaders to reach out to the peoples of Iran whilst condemning its leadership, are positions I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for.

Despite the potentially prickly subject of Jewish identity and Zionism, it is a surprisingly easy watch. Although there are people within the film who lecture their opinions, the film itself avoids doing this, and we are, thankfully, never made to feel uncomfortable. There are many documentaries that use shock tactics to make us feel a certain way, and there are many that do this well; this is one that opts for subtlety over shock.

AMOS OZ is an important, captivating documentary that should be played in a double alongside the brilliant and insightful doco DEFAMATION. See it with someone you kvetch with!


Australian release: May 6 // New Zealand release: TBA

(Disclosure: my partner is the Publicity Manager at Sharmill Films, the company that is distributing SOUL KITCHEN.)

If you're keen to expand your experience with international cinema, but don't wish to do so by watching a lot of pesky films, SOUL KITCHEN might serve as the perfect sampler: directed by the Turkish-heritaged Fatih Akin, the film centres on a Greek man living in Germany whose girlfriend moves to China. The "sampler" comment might be obtuse, but its internationally erratic style is telling in relation to its manner of storytelling.

SOUL KITCHEN, written by Akin and star Adam Bousdoukos, is a comedy about a man trying to run a restaurant in a converted warehouse. To go into any more detail about the plot would require a few comprehensive paragraphs, as an awful lot of ground is covered in the film's 99 minute running time.

The film is certainly funny, though more enjoyable than hilarious. There are a fair few laughs in the film, but in-between those laughs you find yourself smiling at smaller moments, which is markedly preferable to grimacing at an attempted joke gone bad. In a character-based realistic comedy, this is much more welcome than, say, a high-concept comedy like HOT TUB TIME MACHINE (see above) which elicits roughly the same number of guffaws, but leaves you utterly bored between them. SOUL KITCHEN is frequently funny, but, more importantly, it is charming between those laughs.

SOUL KITCHEN definitely works, but it's certainly an imperfect beast. The script feels like it was written in a stream-of-consciousness, and the film suffers a bit because of it. Are we watching a film about a man trying to get to China to see his girlfriend? Or a man trying to save his restaurant? Or a workplace comedy about disparate souls coming together to work as one? Or a heist film? Or... and so on. Though there's no reason that these elements can't all work together, the film does lurch slightly from scenario to scenario, and too much energy is spent trying to play catch-up to the film's whims.

Perhaps this is deliberate. Lead character Zinos seems just as confused about what he should be doing and how he should be doing it, and the final moments of the film actually tie the narrative up in an extremely satisfying way, as if he, like us, has found the meaning that was so elusive for so much of the film. Along with the fact that the individual scenes and sequences are, on their own, rather brilliant, it suggests that SOUL KITCHEN is a film designed for a second viewing.


- Clint Eastwood to reunite Ted Danson, Steve Guttenberg and Tom Selleck for hard-hitting boxing sequel MILLION DOLLAR LITTLE LADY

- Hollywood continues its trend of remaking overseas films without the nuance with THE BAADER MEINHOF STRAIGHTFORWARD

- Actor Walter Pidgeon revealed to have actually been Walter Rat with wings

Peace out,


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