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Entries in Retro Fashion (2)

Wednesday
Dec132017

SWINGING SAFARI

Stars: Radha Mitchell, Guy Pearce, Julian McMahon, Kylie Minogue, Asher Keddie, Jack Thompson, Alice Lanesbury, Georgia Mae, Jacob Elordi and Jeremy Sims.
Writer/Director: Stephan Elliott

Rating: 4/5

People of a certain age (i.e., me) love rose-coloured glassing what a freer, wilder, uninhibited time the 1970s was to grow up an Australian. As Richard Roxburgh’s dulcet tones confess in the opening narration of Stephan Elliott’s raucous ode to that decade’s suburban debauchery, such recollections are probably blown out of realistic proportion. In cinematic terms, that is called ‘artistic licence’, and while it will be the only time ‘artistic’ is used to describe anything about Swinging Safari, that won’t matter a bit to audiences primed for retro fashions, loose morals and capital-B broad comedy.

Playing like a boozy, floozy Antipodean mash-up of TV staple The Wonder Years and Paul Mazursky’s middle class mores romp Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), Elliott casts the terrific Atticus Robb as his adolescent alter-ego Jeff Marsh, a sensitive teenager whose obsessions know only two forms – movies and girl-next-door Melly (Darcey Wilson), an equally ill-at-ease tweenager barely coping with the madness that unfolds daily in their cul-de-sac existence. Jeff ropes in the neighbourhood kids to make life-threatening Super 8 action films under his ‘Deathcheaters’ banner, while Melly struggles with a Jan Brady-like life of perpetual moodiness and parental indifference.

While Jeff’s ‘backyard Spielberg’ narrative reflects Elliott’s early directorial flare, the bawdy adult exploits in Swinging Safari capture the essence of the filmmaker’s grown-up career output, as a maelstrom of sexual tension sweeps through the neighbourhood in the wake of a failed spouse-swapping incident. That antiquated alpha masculinity that plays as hilariously sexist in today’s climate is captured in Guy Pearce’s bottle-blond, moustachioed man-child Keith, Julian McMahon’s gaudily wealthy leer Rick and Jeremy Sims’ loud-but-decent third wheel Bob; their respective spouses are Kylie Minogue’s neurotic souse Kaye, Radha Mitchell’s sexed-up swinger Jo and Asher Keddie’s tightly-wound, image-conscious Gale.

Every one of the game stars plays to the back row with performances that demand the kind of largeness needed to dominate their director’s frantic pacing (courtesy of ace editor Sue Blainey) and raucous soundscape. Elliott’s work has favoured settings and circumstance rich in generally distasteful, occasionally funny comedy and characterisations as big as the Outback often, not coincidentally, filmed in the Outback (The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, 1994; Welcome to Woop Woop, 1997; A Few Best Men, 2011).

The red dust of Australia’s centre is replaced by the golden sands of Nobby Beach and shimmering bitumen of Wyong Place in Swinging Safari, but perhaps more than ever the mise-en-scène is the true star of a Stephen Elliott film. Every frame is filled with lovingly detailed recollections of the plastic period that will instantly engender that warm nostalgic glow in those lucky enough to have lived it. The fashions are the most obvious call back, but everything from Kentucky Fried Chicken TVCs, the entire K-Tel catalogue, moon chairs, Valiant chargers and cheese fondue sets are referenced. Colin Gibson’s production design, Jodie Whetter’s art direction and Justine Dunn’s set direction bring Elliott’s memories to vivid life in what must have been a dream gig; Oscar winner Lizzy Gardner’s costuming is, expectedly, a treat.

Even more resonant are the behavioural and social beats that Elliott skewers; parenting techniques and beach etiquette that seemed entirely appropriate in the day yet are now mined for instant hilarity. While some of his other pics have exhibited an occasionally bitter streak, Elliott seems to hold true affection for this time and place; despite its high-pitched shrillness, Swinging Safari is his warmest, funniest and most likable film since …Priscilla.

 

Sunday
Apr122015

THE AGE OF ADALINE

Stars: Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn, Kathy Baker, Amanda Crew and Anthony Ingruber.
Writer: J. Miles Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz.
Director: Lee Toland Krieger.

Rating: 4/5

After his acid-tongued, ultra-contemporary take on burdened romance in 2012’s Celeste and Jesse Forever, director Lee Toland Krieger embraces a far more fantastical and glowingly cinematic incantation of fateful love with his follow-up, The Age of Adaline.

Boldly departing from her small-screen persona in her first film-carrying lead role, Blake Lively plays Adaline Bowman, a well-to-do turn-of-the-century 29 year-old whose life appears cut short when her car plunges into river waters turned freezing by a freak North Californian snowfall. Taking its mystical cue from the likes of Back to the Future and The Natural, a bolt of lightning strikes her over-turned vehicle and affords Adaline the apparent virtue of eternal youth.

A soothing voice-over smartly imbues the premise with credible fantasy and a lovingly cinematic extended montage (recalling the weepy opening from Pixar’s Up) leads to the modern day, where the still 29 year-old Adaline lives a work-focussed life in a very photogenic San Francisco. After eight decades, she no longer indulges in notions of romance; her blessing has become a curse, her life spent alone, bar the companionship of her now aged daughter, Flemming (Ellen Burstyn). But Adaline’s existential defences are worn down by the persistent romancing of rich philanthropist, Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman, very charming), who whisks his dream girl off to a family get-together on their lush estate.

The second-act kicker brings added emotional depth, when Ellis’ father William lays eyes upon Adaline and both are gripped by overwhelming memories of the soulful romance they shared 50-odd years hence. As William, Harrison Ford emerges as Krieger's trump card; the moment when they reconnect, and William’s intellectualism is confronted by a torrent of emotions, represents some of Ford’s best ever frames of film. It is a raw, vulnerable performance that ensures the film soars and draws fresh reserves out of Lively (the definition of 'Supporting Actor', surely); their scenes together are deeply moving, transcending any ‘fantasy genre’ trappings. (Kudos, too, to the casting department for finding Anthony Ingruder, whose physical and vocal rendering of a twenty-something Ford in flashback is uncanny).

Krieger’s vivid, melancholic melodrama emerges as a major work in the tough-to-pull-off ‘romantic fantasy’ genre subset. The cult fan base that fondly recall Jeannot Szwarc’s Somewhere in Time, the Christopher Reeve/Jane Seymour weepie from 1980 in which self-hypnosis brings together lovers born 100 years apart, will adore the narrative boldness that Krieger employs and the visual richness that DOP David Lanzenberg paints with to sell the premise. Nor will they bat a tear-sodden eyelid at the multi-generational leaps in logic that scriptwriters J. Miles Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz slyly ask of their audience.

Revelling in the role that will come to define her transition from tabloid starlet to bigscreen A-lister, Lively exhibits maturity beyond her years and recalls the incandescent bigscreen presence of the likes of Jessica Lange, Eva Marie Saint or Françoise Dorléac. The Oscar-worthy work of Australian costumer Angus Strathie (Moulin Rouge, Catwoman) never overwhelms the star, although it has every right to. Fittingly, all below-the-line department heads - Claudia Pare’s production design; Martina Javorova’s art direction; Shannon Gottlieb’s set decoration - on The Age of Adaline bring their A-game.