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Entries in Australian film (43)

Tuesday
Jan222019

EMOCEAN

With: Brent Bielman, Baptiste Gossein, Mike Prickett, Jeff Schmucker, Dave Kalama, Jamie Mitchell, Jamie O’Brien, Trevor Carlson, Jeff Clarke, Matt Becker, Andrew Brooks, Paul Witzig, sacha Guggenheimer and Dave MacAuley.
Writer/Director: Tony Harrington

Reviewed at 2019 Screenwave International Film Festival, January 20 at the Jetty Memorial Theatre, Coffs Harbour.

Rating: ★★★★½

Part lyrical ode to the lure of the sea, part giddy sports adventure travelogue, Tony Harrington’s latest epic ocean odyssey Emocean is as heartfelt a love letter as man has ever penned for The Big Blue. In seeking out the essence of our attraction to and affinity with the wild, natural wonder of the planet’s water environments, the legendary cameraman has profoundly defined humanity’s oceanic bond, while also redefining just how insightful and moving the sports-doc genre is capable of being. In the film's own words, "That metre, above and below the water, has got something special...".

Drawing upon his experiences exploring the world’s most majestic coastlines and a rolodex of global contacts whose lives are intricately linked to life underwater, Harrington finds tragedy, joy and wonder in the recollections of his interviewees. His film is most engaging when he tracks generational ties to the sea, such as the love that Western Australian pro-surfing great Dave MacAulay shares with his daughters, pro international Bronte amongst them; South Australian coastal conservation pioneer Andrew Brooks, whose vision preserved the beauty of vast waterfront bushland for surfers for years to come; and, fisherman Jeff Schmucker, whose family have lived off the bounty and beauty of the South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula for four generations.

Few documentarians can claim to have as unique an understanding of their subject’s psyche as Harrington clearly does. The families of surfers, fisherman, scientists or beach dwellers who view their connection to the ocean as integral to their very existence mirrors that of the filmmaker; in drawing out their experiences, he is exploring and questioning his own life choices in a manner that strengthens the community of which he is part. 

Most soulful of the on-camera personalities are those who have fallen victim to the dangers of the deep yet are still drawn to the life. Young French surfer Baptiste Gossein, rendered paraplegic surfing Teahupo’o, or cinematographer Mike Prickett, left wheelchair bound after rescuing his scuba partner but suffering a crippling attack of decompression sickness, aka ‘the bends’, open up to Harrington’s camera with a courage and matter-of-factness that is truly inspiring.

Of course, Harrington’s legend was built upon his surfing footage, and Emocean is most energised when it explores the compulsion that otherwise sane men have to surf waves four-storey’s high. To the surfing community, exploring the passion and personalities of such icons as Maverick’s groundbreaker Jeff Clarke, fearless conquerors of the Maui ‘Jaws’ swell like Trevor Carlson and Dave Kalama, and Pipeline great Jamie O’Brien will be worth the price of admission; the footage that accompanies their accounts of lives spent hurtling down the face of a water-walls that can reach 50-feet into the air is breathtaking (the frame-perfect editing of Trinity Ludlow Hudson is technically superb). Wipeout footage is used sparingly but delivers the bone-crunching feels when called upon.

There is an undeniable sense of destiny about Harrington’s assured direction and storytelling in Emocean, that his latest film is the one he has been building towards. It is a work that not only displays the consummate skill of a cinematic craftsman at the peak of his prowess, but also of a man who has tapped what is most profoundly essential to his life to help him forge his most potent creative statement to date.

EMOCEAN - Trailer from HarroArt on Vimeo.

Thursday
Jan172019

SALT BRIDGE

Stars: Rajeev Khandelwal, Chelsie Preston Crayford, Usha Jadhav, Kaushik Das, Shoorjo Dasgupta, Adam Grant and Mayur Kamble.
Writers: Abhijit Deonath and Shvetal Vyas Pare.
Director: Abhijit Deonath.

Rating: ★★★½

Examining the Indian immigrant experience from a fresh and personal perspective, director Abhijit Deonath melds traditional male role-model expectations with contemporary relationship melodrama to largely winning affect in his debut feature, Salt Bridge. Shot entirely in Australia, with Sydney and Canberra locales doubling as the fictional township of the title, the long-in-production independent project will play well with diaspora populations, who all-too-rarely get to see their transplanted lives in a thoughtful big-screen narrative.

Most recently, of course, Garth Davies’ hit Lion (2016) cast an eye over the Indian expat existence; central to Deonath’s plot are the shared themes of memory and reconciliation with the past (though far less overtly stated here). The director introduces his protagonist, thirty-something medical researcher Basant (Rajeev Khandelwal) staring longingly from a train window, his mind revisiting a moment long ago that still consumes him. Khandelwal is terrific, exuding the soulful sensitivity of a man burdened with a dark past, yet every inch the classic Indian leading-man type (his brooding pout recalling Hollywood actor Jason Patric in his prime).

With his equally-photogenic wife Lipi (Usha Jadhav) and listless teen son Riju (Shoorjo Dasgupta) counting on him to fulfill his potential and provide for their new Australian suburban life, Basant decides to take driving lessons with instructor Madhurima (Chelsie Preston Crayford). Also immersed in the migrant life (she’s a New Zealander, married to an Indian), the pair soon bond in the most charming and innocent of ways. One of N.Z.’s most accomplished young actresses, Crayford (What We Do In The Shadows, 2014; Eagle vs Shark, 2007) and her leading man share a lovely chemistry, ensuring their developing platonic friendship is entirely believable.

Soon, their friends and then the wider Indian society take an interest in the new besties, assuming the most salacious, and Basant finds himself outcast from his community, his family and, regrettably, Madhurima. Having posed the question ‘Can a man and woman just be friends?’, Deonath dissects the issue within the broader context of the modern male’s role in Indian culture. His script (penned with the assistance of Shvetal Vyas Pare) succinctly embraces the hot-button topic of toxic masculinity and India’s patriarchal traditions, but does so through the filter of western cultural influence. If the story structure and momentum occasionally stumbles (most notably, a confusing sequence in the wake of a near-tragedy at the film’s midway point), Deonath’s skill with character and dialogue more than compensates.

Deonath drives home his gender subtext by focussing Basant’s research work on mitochondria, the power generator of any complex living cell, the existence of which is maternally inherited. The nods to modern science extend all the way to the film’s title – a ‘salt bridge’ occurs in proteins, creating a bond between oppositely charged residues that are sufficiently close to each other to experience electrostatic attraction; it is a deft, if slightly highbrow way, of defining the relationship between Basant and Madhurima.

Salt Bridge is a commercially savvy undertaking as well, including an explosively colourful Holi celebration and some neat dance moves, although it is far too influenced by its western setting to go ‘full Bollywood’. Australian viewers will be bemused by the people-free (and very green) parklands, empty highways, pristine cityscapes and autumnal suburban streets that provide the backdrop for the drama; it is a perception of life on these shores that plays well overseas, but is a bit of a stretch to those of us caught in the metropolitan crush of everyday life.

All tech aspects exceed any budgetary constraints, with the film looking lived-in and real while still seeming professionally polished in every respect. Especially noteworthy is Miguel Gallagher’s camerawork, whose eye for finding beauty is even on-song when framing the not-always inspirationally picturesque national capital.

Wednesday
Dec122018

UNDER THE COVER OF CLOUD

Stars: Ted Wilson, Colleen Wilson, Louis Modeste-Leroy, Jessie Wilson and David Boon.
Writer/Director: Ted Wilson.

Screening at the 2019 Screenwave International Film Festival, January 10-25.

Rating: ★★★½

A bighearted ode to the often-satirised middle-class white suburban upbringing, multi-hyphenate Ted Wilson has crafted a warm, winning low-key gem of a movie in Under the Cover of Cloud. A largely-improvised drama about a writer’s struggle to find inspiration, starring the director’s family and shot verite-style in the suburbs of Tasmania, this meandering yet meaningful take on the ties that bind will reward those seeking a different sort of cinema experience.   

Physically recalling the Matt Day/John Polson type of understated leading man, Wilson plays a journo suddenly without a steady paycheck, facing what he senses is a turning point in his professional development. When that proves all too much for him to deal with (by mid-opening credits), he heads south deciding to write a book about his home state’s best Test cricket batsmen (perhaps a sly joke for cricket lovers, as there haven’t been too many top order players from The Apple Isle).

In a manner that recalls the free-form storytelling styles of Henry Jaglom and John Cassavettes, Wilson re-engages with his mum, siblings and their spouses, niece and nephew toddlers, in scene after scene that seem to be largely about family matters, good memories and happy times. Frankly, a couple of crying 4 year-olds aside, every one seems to be pretty happy in Under the Cover of Cloud (although the title, which certainly corresponds with Tassie’s chilly grey pallor, might also symbolise Wilson’s depressed mood).

Neither Wilson nor his narrative seem to be particularly interested in the book project; he asks every one he knows if they can connect him with Tassie cricketing icon David Boon, which sums up the plot. At one point, the dishevelled author-to-be (who seems to have only bought the clothes he travelled in) sits down to start work, until distracted by chickens. Wilson’s film is not about writer's block or the struggle to create, but about shared moments with loved ones that coalesce as a portrait of a man's formative years. He picks lemons with his mother, plays board games with his sister, digs in the sand with his nephews; these are the daily events that refocus a soul chewed up and spat back from the mainland.

Detractors will say the film resembles an essay on entitlement; Wilson constantly seeks reassurance and aid from his family, who also offer free board (despite his complaints about a cold room) and plenty of meals, while gracing everyone around him with observations on their lives. That he emerges as an empathic and relatable leading character (and man) is arguably one of the film’s more remarkable achievements.

The end justifies the means in Under the Cover of Cloud. There is too much sincerity, charm and insight in Wilson’s family dynamic for cynicism to derail his film. A final frame dedication, which crystallizes the writer/director’s motivation, is a heart-tugger; it provides an added dimension of bittersweet melancholy that reveals what an extraordinary collection of ordinary people The Wilson clan truly are.

Thursday
Aug232018

CHASING COMETS

Stars: Dan Ewing, John Batchelor, Isabel Lucas, Stan Walker, Rhys Muldoon, Justin Melvey, George Houvardas, Gary Eck, Peter Phelps and Beau Ryan.
Writer: Jason Stevens
Director: Jason Perini

Rating: 3/5

‘The engaging true story of a rugby league player’s faith-based search for enlightened soulfulness’ is not the opening salvo a critic expects to ever write, especially given the pre-release marketing for Chasing Comets was all boozy blokes and locker room skylarking. Yet writer Jason Stevens, whose life transformation from laddish layabout to celebrity celibate provides the basis for director Jason Perini’s likably roughhewn sports/faith dramedy, exhibits a keen eye for gentle melancholy and good-natured integrity with his debut script.

Leading man Dan Ewing progresses from playing a country footballer fighting aliens in Occupation (2018) to playing a country footballer fighting temptation in Wagga Wagga. The Home & Away heartthrob stars as the improbably named Chase Daylight, glamour boy of local bush leaguers The Comets and well on the path to first grade NRL glory. Yet ill-discipline and a tendency to be easily distracted by his hedonistic mate Rhys (Stan Walker) threatens to undo all the good faith placed in him by his single mum Mary (Deborah Galanos), manager/mentor Harry (Peter Phelps) and very patient girlfriend Brooke (Isabel Lucas).

When one indiscretion too many proves the final straw for Brooke, Chase descends into a funk that sees him benched by Coach Munsey (Peter Batchelor) and his potential begin to stagnate. At precisely the moment that Chase has a (symbolic) breakdown, up steps ‘The Rev’ (George Houvardas) who, with his daughter Dee (the lovely Kat Hoyos; pictured, below), begins to school Chase in the character building properties of Christian principles, in particular an adherence to abstinence; Chase becomes a born-again virgin. This revelation proves a giggly delight to his teammates, led by player ‘personality’ Beau Ryan (one of several real-life league cameos, including South Sydney general manager Shane Richardson and commentator Daryl ‘The Big Marn’ Brohmann, as well as Sydney socialite-types DJ Havana Brown and gossip journo Jo Casamento).

In the early ‘00s, Stevens garnered sports-page coverage and copped some infantile ridicule when his life of celibacy became public fodder. At the height of his NRL fame, the representative-level tough guy did not skirt around what it meant to be devout, but he largely refrained from religious grandstanding (despite having the sporting stature and media profile to successfully do so). His script for Chasing Comets not-so-subtly redresses that balance; there are preachy passages that will fall heavily on the ears of non-believers and those that have turned up for that blokey yarn about country league shenanigans the trailer promised.

Of course, this tendency towards message-moviemaking does not diminish its legitimacy as a solid slice of local sector filmmaking. Notably, it sits alongside J.D. Scott's Spirit of the Game (2016) as an early Australian entrant in the burgeoning ‘faith-based’ genre coming out of the U.S; Stevens and Perini’s narrative is every frame as committed to the cause as such sports-themed Christian films as the Oscar-winning The Blind Side (2009), Soul Surfer (2011), When The Game Stands Tall (2014) and Woodlawn (2015).

Steven’s screenwriting inexperience cannot be totally ignored – his women characters are largely one-note, either pitched as redemptive angels or sly temptresses; Lucas is neither, but struggles to find much to work with as the hard-done-by Brooke. Also, the production drops the ball at a couple of key moments; for some reason, Chase’s re-emergence as the town’s sporting hero is staged offscreen, the thrill of the game-winning try (surely the very moment for which these sort of films exist) left to veteran Peter Phelps to convey – while alone, listening to a radio in a Chinese restaurant.

Taking into consideration the moments when it stumbles, the most satisfying aspect of Chasing Comets is that emerges as greater than the sum of its parts; it shouldn’t work so well as a contemporary mix of small-town charm, hard man mateship and heavenly intervention, but Steven’s story certainly does.

Wednesday
Aug152018

BOOK WEEK

Stars: Alan Dukes, Airlie Dodds, Susan Prior, Rose Riley, Rhys Muldoon, Pippa Grandison, Thuso Lekwape, Toby Schmitz, Khan Chittenden, Nicholas Hope, Maya Stange, Jolene Anderson, Tiriel Mora, Dean Kyrwood, Vanessa Buckley and Steve Le Marquand.
Writer/director: Heath Davis

WORLD PREMIERE: Melbourne International Film Festival, Wednesday August 15, 2018.

Rating: 4/5

That most engaging, enraging cinematic archetype – the boozy, lecherous but lovable literary talent gone off the rails – is given an Antipodean spin in Heath Davis’ charmingly roguish, bittersweet working-class drama, Book Week. Despite borrowing high-brow observations of the writer’s lot in life from such names as Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Bukowski, Davis’ occasionally coarse but lovably melancholy character study is a crowdpleasingly broad tale of personal redemption.

Lifelong support player Alan Dukes masterfully crafts a career-defining lead turn as Nicholas Cutler, the flailing author/reluctant academic wallowing in egotism, irresponsibility and mounting panic. If the actor starts the film walking in the footsteps of Michael Douglas’ Grady Tripp from Wonder Boys (2000) and Tom Conti’s Gowan McGland from Reuben Reuben (1983), Duke soon charts his own, equally wonderful acting path, resulting in a performance every bit as heartwarming/breaking as those revered characterisations.

Cutler once wrote a book that did well, but is now a high school teacher overseeing teens typically dismissive of literary greatness; as he tries to awaken in them a modicum of passion for Matthew Arnold’s poem Dover Beach, the students text, “Cutler is a dick.” And they are mostly right; it is a credit to Duke’s leading-man likability (the actor resembling a seen-better-days version of Richard Dreyfuss, by way of Bill Murray’s observational wryness) that Cutler does not come off as too pathetic or wantonly self-destructive to empathise with.

Over the titular period (an Aussie tradition created to drum up interest in reading and usually involving a celebratory dress-up day), Cutler remains either inebriated or trying to be, leading to clashes with upstart student-author Melanie (Rose Riley); drunken sex with free-spirited placement teacher and kindred spirit, Sarah (a terrific Airlie Dodds); inappropriate complications with age-appropriate co-worker Ms. Issen (Susan Prior, wonderful); and, a destined-for-disaster carers role, keeping wayward teen Tyrell (Thuso Lekwape) out of ‘juvie.’

The other key subplot tracks Cutler’s re-emergence as a writer, albeit of a zombie lark that reeks of career desperation, and his anxiety levels ahead of its not-quite-confirmed publication. This narrative strand, with some contributions from Rhys Muldoon, Toby Schmitz and Khan Chittenden, pitched pretty highly. Solid bit-part thesping from the likes of Jolene Anderson, Nicholas Hope, Maya Stange, Pippa Grandison and Tiriel Mora is all of the highest quality, although the film certainly feels overpopulated at times; the small-town complications and interactions occasionally echo beats of TV series formatting (with such a transition certainly viable, as there is the pulse of David Duchovny’s Californication cad Hank Moody in Cutler’s ways and a roster of characters ripe for expansion).

Book Week is most enthralling when Dukes is allowed to delve into Cutler’s darker psyche; several of the film’s best moments are when the actor has the frame to himself, or indulges in introspective angst with Dodd’s Sarah (a breakthrough role for the wonderful actress). Heath Davis announced himself as a skilful observer of damaged talents with his 2016 feature debut Broke, and his similarly-themed sophomore feature is as good a follow-up effort as the Australian industry has seen in some time. For an auteur so well versed in the existential misery of the ‘fallen idol’, Davis has to date fashioned two entirely winning films.

Saturday
Aug042018

LIVING UNIVERSE

Narrator: Dr Karl Kruszelnicki
Featuring: Natalie Batalha, Gentry Lee, Avi Loeb, Karin Öberg, Sar Seager, Steve Squyres and the voice of Prof. Tamara Davis.

Rating: 4/5

Melding mesmerizing CGI visions of interstellar starscapes and alien worlds with earthbound wisdom and state-of-the-art tech provided by some of the greatest minds in space science, the Australian/French co-production Living Universe will leave both dreamers and doers pining for what the future folds.

Not for the first time in movie history, posing the question ‘Are we alone?’ proves to be the entry point for a terrific film experience. Mulling over the connotations of that questions are the likes of Steve Squyres, NASA Space Science Advisory Committee chairperson; Swedish astrochemist Karin Öberg; JPL Chief Engineer Gentry Lee, currently serving NASA’s Planetary Flight Systems Drectorate; astrophysicist Natalie Batalha, Mission Scientist on NASA’s Kepler initiative; and, Avi Loeb, Harvard’s Professor of Science.

As the collective might of this academic hive-mind ponders the hows, where and whys of intergalactic exploration, the journey of the A.I.-piloted spacecraft Aurora to the distant ‘exoplanet’ Minerva B unfolds, 150 years from now. These sequences are gorgeous flights of fancy, conjured by effects gurus tasked with crafting galaxy clouds, meteor storms and, ultimately, ‘flesh and bone’ manifestations in answer to the question originally posed.

The production stops short of going full-Avatar; to undertake a dirt-to-civilization exercise in world building is best left to the budgets of Hollywood studios. Living Universe instead imagines that the very first moments of contact and discovery, enabled by drone-tech and spider-bot androids, will be at a base biological level but no less wonderful or awe-inspiring because of it.   

The narration of Aussie celeb-scientist Dr Karl Kruszelnicki will play better with international audiences; local patrons may be too familiar with his floral-shirt public persona to fully accept him in such an earnest mood. That said, his contributions clearly convey information and succinctly posit theories and conjecture that may be otherwise daunting for non-space types.

Emerging as the most engaging presence is Australian astrophysicist Tamara Davis (pictured, above), who vocalises the A.I. operating system ‘Artemis’ aboard the Aurora. Unlike ‘Mother’, the femme-voiced super-computer of the Nostromo in Ridley Scott’s Alien, Davis’ cyber-conscience proves empathetic, inquisitive and ideal as Earth’s ambassador at the point of ‘first contact’.

The WORLD PREMIERE Australian Season of LIVING UNIVERSE commences August 9 at Event Cinemas nationally; from August 11 at Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace (Sydney); and, from August 30 at IMAX Melbourne Museum. Check the official website for other venues.

Friday
Mar302018

THE RUN

Featuring: Pat Farmer, Katie Walsh, Kevin Nguyen, Dr Joseph Grace, Tania Farmer and Josh Cordoba.
Co-producer: Deepti Sachdeva.
Consultant producer: Penny Robbins.
Writer/director: Anupam Sharma.

WORLD PREMIERE: Screening April 1 at Cineworld, Newcastle upon Tyne, U.K., as part of the 2018 Newcastle International Film Festival.

Rating: 4/5

If it had been director Anupam Sharma’s intention to merely document the physical challenge of running 80 kilometres a day in stifling heat over 2 months, the resulting film would have been it’s own remarkable story of endurance and determination. The Run, his account of Australian long-distance athlete Pat Farmer’s 4647 kilometre journey from Kanyakumari in India’s south to the northern town of Srinagar, proves to be more than a triumphant tale of mind-over-muscle sporting achievement; Sharma has crafted a fascinating and moving study in group dynamics, shared goals and, most importantly, the unifying goodness of the human spirit.

Farmer has shown repeatedly to be a salt-of-the-Earth individual; a quintessentially ‘old school’ Aussie bloke whose enormous heart allows him to empathise with the disadvantaged of the world, then undertake ultra-marathons in aid of their causes. He became front page news for his record-breaking Centenary of Federation run in 1999, when he spent 191 days traversing 15,000 kilometres of his homeland; other undertakings include running Pole-to-Pole to benefit the The Red Cross and long-distance challenges for causes in the Middle East and Vietnam.

The Run production team was present from the earliest days of his latest project, capturing the initial mobilisation of bureaucrats in both India and Australia. Farmer and his team needed to ensure that the undertaking, to be called The Spirit of India, was fully supported as an act of international charity; the 56 year-old would run for The Nanhi Kali Foundation, a group who seeks to further the education of disadvantaged young women across India.

Having earned his industry stripes as head of the Sydney-based production company Temple and fresh off his directing debut UNindian (2015), Sharma proves himself a naturally gifted long-form documentarian (his 2013 doco-short Indian Aussies Terms and Conditions Apply earned international acclaim). Embedding himself within the event team, his skilful camerawork captures the majestic countryside and frantic city streets of India, while his deft storytelling reveals the determined individuals and intertwining personalities that drive the initiative forward.

Despite an outwardly understated demeanour and singular focus, Farmer himself proves a deceptively complex presence; nothing will deter him from his aim of highlighting the cause and imparting his message, yet he tolerates no slip-up or half-heartedness from his crew. Sharma is certainly on board with his leading man’s charitable objectives, but The Run is not an exercise in hero building; the physical and mental torment of the endeavour and how that manifests in Farmer and on those around him is central to the film’s integrity.

Strong-willed team manager Katie Walsh and medic Joseph Grace, both warm on-screen presences, butt heads with their boss when logistics or health issues threaten to derail Farmer’s schedule. Most dramatically effective is rookie photo-journo Kevin Nguyen, whose fresh-out-of-Uni naivety is tested to the limit by the sub-Continent experience and who feels the full force of Farmer’s most impassioned, occasionally uncivilised tirades (though Nguyen gives as good as he gets in one ‘enough-is-enough’ confrontational moment).

The tense moments are all part of the intricacies that made Farmer’s Spirit of India undertaking such an extraordinary social event; a coming-together of like-minded goodwill ambassadors to realise a remarkable act of resolute human determination achieves its goal. In so truthfully capturing moment after moment of the uplifting bond between the beautiful people and places of India and the soaring spirit of Pat Farmer, The Run forgoes the observational disconnect of most factual films and becomes one with the profound journey itself.

Thursday
Mar152018

THAT'S NOT MY DOG

Stars: Shane Jacobson, Paul Hogan, Jimeoin, Steve Vizard, Michala Banas, Fiona O’Loughlin, Tim Ferguson, Lehmo, Ed Kavalee, Paul Fenech, Marty Fields, Rob Carlton, Christie Whelan Browne, Stephen Hall, Dave Eastgate, Genevieve Morris, Bev Killick, Emily Taheny, Khaled Khalafalla, Hung Le, Ron Jacobson, Bec Asha, Ross Daniels, Lulu McClatchy, Spud Murphy, John Foreman, Stewart Faichney and Nathaniel Lloyd.
Director: Dean Murphy

Rating 3/5

Director Dean Murphy manages to wring a surprising amount of cinematic flair out of That’s Not My Dog, a film that consists almost entirely of comedians telling each other jokes at a night time BBQ in regional Victoria. Cutting with precision, giving the punchlines room to breath and interspersing the bursts of laughter with well-shot live music, Murphy and star/producer Shane Jacobson largely capture the ambience of such an intrinsically Australian event.

Jacobson concocted the night as a tribute to his ageing dad Ron, who has mentored his son in the art of joke-telling his entire life. The film eases up on the comedy just long enough for a sentimental Jacobson to tell his dad that the night is to allow the elderly crack-up a break from providing the giggles; all these chucklemeisters are attending in his honour.

And that’s what happens; from a naff opening that suggests all the comedians carpooled to the Jacobson’s rural plot, That’s Not My Dog settles into 88 minutes of material that veers from blokishly blue (the one about the frog that gives oral sex; the one about four nuns at the pearly gates) to performance piece (Michala Banas’ very funny ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’s One Night Stand’ routine) to traditional pub yarntelling (Paul Hogan’s evergreen ‘Harbourview Hotel Millionaire’ gag).

That’s Not My Dog (the title taken from a payoff to an old gag made famous in The Pink Panther Strikes Again, but oddly not featured here) wavers in hilarity, as you’d expect; some jokes are familiar, some just not funny, some winningly so. Some natural talents shine (Rob Carlton; Stephen Hall; Fiona O’Loughlin; Jacobson’s Snr and Jnr, of course), while others are mirthful passengers (Paul Fenech; Ed Kavalee; Steve Vizard). Musical contributions by such greats as The Black Sorrows, Russell Morris and Adam Brand give the laugh muscles much needed rest at crucial intervals.

Stand-up comics are notorious for not always laughing at other comic’s jokes (by their very nature, they always want to have the last laugh), but Jacobson’s mates genuinely seem to be having a good time with each other. Murphy convincingly captures the celebratory high spirits of the night and the sweet intentions of his leading man.

Friday
Feb232018

CARRIBERRIE

With: Bangarra Dance Theatre, Dubay Dancers, The Lonely Boys, Anangu, Joey Ngamjmirra, Mayi Wunba, Naygayiw Gigi Dance Troupe and Hans Ahwang. Narrated by David Gulpilil.
Writer: Tara June Winch.
Director: Dominic Allen.

Reviewed at the World Premiere, held at The Australian Museum in Sydney on Thursday February 23.

Rating: 5/5

Indigenous tradition dating back millennia melds with the future of fully immersive filmmaking technology in the breathtaking virtual reality mini-feature, Carriberrie. A faithful extension of the art and craft of the spiritual dance narratives it captures, this glorious film premieres at The Australian Museum as an integral part of WEAVE, a month-long festival celebrating First Nation and Pacific cultures.

Deriving its title from the word ‘corroboree’ as spoken by the Eora nation, the traditional owners of the land upon which the city of Sydney now stands, the 15-minute 3D/360° rendering of First Nation dance and music represents a deeply humanistic focussing of the VR lens. Director Dominic Allen has employed the Jaunt ONE camera (a custom-built VR rig offering unprecedented image quality) to capture not only the majestic Australian landscape from Uluru to The Torres Strait Islands to The Harbour City, but also the unique complexities and beautiful artistry of native storytelling in song.

A white Australian of Irish ancestry, Allen spent two years working with indigenous elders such as senior Kimberley Walmajarri woman Annette Kogolo and Marilyn Miller, Director of the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival and former Bangarra choreographer, to ensure authenticity and respect was afforded all the performers in the film. Several of the sequences, including the funeral performance “Kun-borrk Karrbarda” from the Northern Territory and a Kuku-Yalanji ceremony called “Mayi Wunba” that depicts the cultivation of Queensland rainforest honey, have rarely been glimpsed by the wider Australian population.

Contemporary First Nation culture is also represented, with contributions from the acclaimed work “Bennelong”, courtesy of the internationally renowned Bangarra dance company, and the anthemic rock song “The Hunter” from Lonely Boys, a six-piece band hailing from the Arnhem Land community of Ngukurr. A picturesque highlight is the all-women Dubay Dancers, of the Arakwal people from the stunning Byron Bay region of New South Wales, who dance a re-enactment of the seaside collection of yuggari (pippi) and jalum (fish).

Allen unites indigenous musical culture and the nations from which they hail with drone footage that frames the vast yet singular bond they share with the land, from deep within the red of the Outback to the green of the hinterland to the blue of coast. In and of itself much of this resembles high quality travelogue footage, to date one of standard uses of VR technology. In cohesion with the symbolic stories, however, the footage stirs with profundity.

The director’s other triumphant artistic flourish is his use of the 360° device, allowing the viewer to be at the centre of the dance rituals within the very environment from which they traditionally emerged. The sense of discovery one experiences with every turn of the head, with musicians in full flight and choirs in boisterous song often over one’s shoulder, will be revelatory to those new to the virtual reality viewing realm.

With Carriberrie, Dominic Allen, writer Tara June Winch and the production team have defined a new direction for the VR format – an affecting journey rich in ancient cultural significance, every bit as soaring as the viewing experience itself. It is a remarkable work.

CARRIBERRIE screens at The Australian Museum, Sydney, from March 2-27. Other states and venues to follow. Ticket and session times can be found at the venue's official website.

Sunday
Feb182018

THE BBQ

Stars: Shane Jacobson, Magda Szubanski, Manu Feildel, Julia Zemiro, Frederic Simpson, Lara Robinson, John Stanton and Nicholas Hammond.
Writers: Stephen Amis, Serge De Nardo, Tim Ferguson, David Richardson and Angelo Salamanca.
Director: Stephen Amis

Rating: 3/5

Determined to bulk-up the DNA of their home grown comedy with as much Ocker iconography as possible, star Shane Jacobson and a team of five (!) writers tie the legacy of Captain James Cook to modern day suburbia by way of the titular outdoor oven in The BBQ.  Director Stephen Amis’ broad farce lands a few gentle barbs at modern Australian society but this likably silly romp, a sort of celebration of ‘Dad Joke’ humour, feels most at ease when it’s just having a bit of a laugh.

At times recalling both the good-guy sweetness and naïve befuddlement of the great John Candy, Jacobson plays suburban every-man Darren ‘Dazza’ Cook, a husband-and-dad who puts great stock in a lineage that he believes dates back to the first Englishman to land on these shores. From the deck of a backyard HMS Endeavour built to honour his ancestor, Dazza holds sway at a weekly neighbourhood BBQ, a tradition that goes horribly wrong when dodgy prawns lay waste to his guests, none more so than father-in-law bully Herb (John Stanton).

In real world terms, such an incident would be a minor moment in a suburb’s unremarkable history, yet in Amis’ brightly-hued version of reality it ups the stakes of the redemptive narrative when Dazza is humiliated on national television. With his reputation in tatters, the weight of his bloodline proving burdensome and tension in his marriage to the very tolerant Diane (a terrific Julia Zemiro; pictured below, with Jacobson, left, and co-stars Frederik Simpson and Lara Robinson), Dazza employs the mentorship of fiery Scottish maestro-of-the-meat ‘The Butcher’ (Magda Szubanski; pictured top, with Jacobson) to win an internationally flavoured BBQ showdown and regain his status, self-dignity and patriarchal perch.

Stephen Amis’ last film, the 2012 wartime fantasy The 25th Reich, gave no indication of the naturally buoyant comedic touch he exhibits in steering a plot that takes some unashamedly daft turns. The BBQ never reaches the heights of suburban comedy slickness set by standard-bearer The Castle, but nor does it have that film’s slightly too acerbic take on our working class. The family at the centre of The Castle, The Kerrigans, were often the target of the script’s humour; Amis and Jacobson don’t judge their character’s middle-class idiosyncracies (a degree of respect also employed by the actor in his biggest hit, 2006’s Kenny), giving the film a tender warmth and sentimentality that helps smooth over some eye-rolling plot developments.  

The BBQ will play a bit too fast and loose with old-school racial caricatures for some, including but not limited to the cartoonishly arrogant French chef Andre Mont Blanc (TV celebrity cook Manu Fieldel), eccentric Indian neighbour Mr Chatterjee (Bashir Ally), Mr Miyagi-like Oriental shaman Mr Yoshimura (Kuni Hashimoto) and pompous Brit butler/butcher’s aide, Carver (Nicholas Hammond, channelling John Gielgud’s Oscar-winning performance as Hobson from 1981’s Arthur). But each rise to their own moment of triumph in a manner that respects them as individuals and not (or not just) broad stereotypes.

Others may rankle at the steady stream of real-world product placement deals done by the producers (the prominence of outdoor cooking retailer Barbeques Galore and Jacobson's and Fieldel's small-screen employer The Seven Network must have surely come close to paying for principal photography on the modest production), but one can't begrudge the sector finding funding wherever it can in this current climate.

If there is not a single surprising frame of film in The BBQ, it does not make the journey to its feel-good finale any less enjoyable. Our great backyard chefs can turn a charred chop into a culinary feast; with The BBQ, Amis and Jacobson turn a similarly unpromising premise into something just as warmly familiar and satisfying.