Tag Archives: Australian movies

The Good, The Bad, and The Australian — “The Rover”

The Rover lead

It felt like the summer needed to take a breather. Between the superhero movies and animated sequels and giant monsters, we needed a week off from visual effects, especially with the looming cloud that is a fourth Transformers movie on the horizon. This made it a very strange summer weekend at the movies. Nothing major opened – only a by-the-book comedy sequel and a classy but cliché-ridden band backstory.

It’s a perfect opportunity to highlight a smaller film, in this case a post-apocalyptic vengeance tale out of Australia called The Rover. It stars Guy Pearce, a veteran of these kinds of bloody art films, and Robert Pattinson, of Twilight infamy.

Its story is simple. A global collapse 10 years ago has left Australia a third-world country. Three bandits argue about leaving one’s younger brother behind, and crash their truck. They take a car belonging to Eric (Pearce), who finds that younger brother, Rey (Pattinson), and uses him to track down the car.

Why is Eric so intent on getting his car back? He’s left with the bandits’ better, faster truck. It’s at the core of the story, but for a long time, it becomes secondary to Eric and Rey’s journey. In an American film, the two would be good guys. They’d start at each others’ throats but through witty banter and close calls they’d grudgingly learn to work together. Not so in The Rover.

The Rover cap

Eric makes it clear early: the two are not friends. The more we learn about Eric, the more we realize he’s got very little soul left. He’s vicious and remorseless, and would sooner kill than be cornered into a conversation. Rey is slow, perhaps even mentally handicapped. In him, we see an impressionable boy who lacks the tools for this world. Rey’s growing loyalty to Eric breeds in the boy a growing need to commit violence. Drawing a parallel between Rey and the Elliot Rodgers and Dylan Klebolds of the world isn’t difficult – these aren’t murderers created by music or movies, they’re murderers created through misguided loyalty to someone who teaches them hate.

Australian movies have a habit for removing the usual gloss of Hollywood filmmaking. There’s far less violence in The Rover than in a single action scene of any of this summer’s blockbusters, but when it does happen, that violence is raw, quick, and brutal. Characters don’t get slow-motion death scenes with an orchestral crescendo; they get left in the dust with the buzzards. There’s eloquence in its hideousness, though. When there’s no room for escapism, the viewer is confronted by what a film has to say, and The Rover traps you in a corner.

Director David Michod and cinematographer Natasha Braier create a bleak and broken landscape – even the sky is sand colored. Yet the film always stays visually arresting. Scenes start at odd angles to where they’ll take the story; they don’t telegraph moments beforehand.

The Rover Pearce

Pearce’s performance is stunning. At one point, he thinks it’s all over for himself, that he’s going to jail for the rest of his life. He speaks with the knowledge that this is long overdue. It’s almost a relief to be caught. It’s a chilling moment, watching something so dead and soulless speak. Yet there are other times when the shreds of Eric’s remaining humanity peek through, brief moments when his eyes come to life just as quickly gone.

None of this should overshadow Pattinson. I’ve never held the Twilight franchise against any of its actors. (If you paid me a hundred million dollars to stare off-camera and look pained, I’d be there early every day.) But Pattinson is a revelation in The Rover, the best performance of the year so far. Rey is a character who could easily go off-the-rails into lampooning territory, but he never does. You can see him processing the world around himself, violence becoming easier, changing from a danger to a solution.

And then there’s the ending – unexpected, taut, graceful, tender. It changes everything that’s come before. “The Rover” asks challenging questions without offering answers. It’s a cynical reflection of all the hope we have in our cinema today. That hope – costumed heroes saving the world – is important to cling to. It’s crucial, but so are films like The Rover. They’re a worst case scenario – what if that hope doesn’t work out? A necessary question, though not one many viewers may wish to face.

The Rover is rated R for language and violence.

Wednesday Collective — Cyberpunk, Women Direct, Britain Whitewashes, and the Sharni Vinson Rule

There are so many articles for this week’s Wednesday Collective that we’re going to split it into two parts: today’s and tomorrow’s, which I’ll dub Thursday’s Child because it will be posted on Thursday and I’m a David Bowie fan.

ARTICLE OF THE WEEK
Cyberpunk Gets Old, Files Reverse Mortgage
Molly Osberg

WedCol cyberpunk lead

Cyberpunk isn’t just a component of my generation’s artistic outlook, it’s half the foundation. The post-industrial, dystopian narrative movement whose bones were laid out in 1979’s Alien and 1982’s Blade Runner finally muscled out in William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer. It’s re-formed the fashion and movie industries of Japan, changed Hollywood, and completely defined the video games industry, but – in recent years – technology has caught up to cyberpunk’s vision of a permanently jacked-in populace leading a real life and an online one. Perhaps more damningly, we’ve caught up to the future it once predicted, one characterized by lawless corporate feudalism and inanimate national goverments.

Molly Osberg writes at The Verge about how Cyberpunk’s evolved from social movement to aesthetic fascination, but also defines how its popular dissemination has clipped its social gravitas. What’s most interesting, and I’m projecting my own views onto this now, is how she touches on some of Gibson’s later obsessions, particularly in Pattern Recognition and Spook Country – a pursuit of iconography that borders on the religious, cultivated and refined by international groups of collectors into a borderless social Animism, forming unique languages of data and image to define views of the world that can only be completely understood by those who comprehend how the data connects.

After all, if the corporation-state is now borderless, and the nation-state has grown useless, it won’t be long before we’ll need a people-state. If Mitt Romney’s right that “Corporations are people, my friend,” then the correlation is that people are becoming less so. Maybe cyberpunk’s not quite done. Maybe we’re mistaking its teenage years, as it finds its footing in a changing world, for its retirement. Maybe its most powerful statements have yet to be made.

Female Filmmakers: Film’s Loss, Television’s Gain
Katie Walsh

Jill Soloway

Some directors have a harder time getting studios and indie investors to faithfully pony up the money for feature films. These directors are colloquially known as “women.” You see, women are considered more of a risk to helm a movie than men. Anyone who could give you a reason why could simultaneously give you a reason why he’s a fearful chauvinist living in a bygone era.

Katie Walsh at Indiewire describes the subsequent migration of women over to television directing. I can’t help but wonder whether limiting themselves to half the talent pool is why the range of viewpoints and styles in mainstream film tends toward repetition, while the range of popular TV narratives has grown braver, stranger, and more extensive. Actually, I can help but wonder, since we already know the answer.

Editing for Chinese Audiences
Shandongxifu

The Karate Kid training

While doing some research for “How China Keeps Bruce Willis Alive” last week, I came across a description by blogger Shandongxifu of how China edited the remake for The Karate Kid. It’s a window into the priorities of the Chinese censorship process, and how filmmakers worked around it to create a completely new narrative.

Britain’s Theatrical Whitewashing
Tony Howard

Adrian Lester in Merlin

Government censorship isn’t the only kind. Pictured above is Adrian Lester in Merlin. He’s an accomplished Shakespearian actor who struggles to land the jobs less accomplished white actors are given. Tony Howard at The New Statesmen pens a scathing article on Lester and other minority actors, who routinely have trouble getting roles on British stage, film, and TV. It reflects a problem that we here in the States still have, but explains how Britain’s centralization of arts funding, as well as their choice to focus on classical repertoire over newer plays, exacerbates the problem to a state of cultural emergency.

Of Charlton Heston & Antonio Banderas
A. E. Larsen

The War Lord

An Historian Goes to the Movies is quickly becoming one of my favorite blogs, a go-to source for investigating the historical accuracy of films set in the past. This week, there’s an engrossing historical analysis on The War Lord, a little-known Medieval movie starring Charlton Heston, and a discussion on why intelligent costume designers consciously choose to include historically inaccurate armors in their historical films, using The 13th Warrior as a case study.

The Future of Chinese and Hong Kong Film
David Bordwell

The White Storm

David Bordwell gives a rundown of the annual Filmart festival in Hong Kong. It’s the single biggest film market in Asia. He sets the scene to make you feel like you’re there before discussing the new system of shared productions between Hong Kong and mainland China. He devotes the bulk of his article, however, to the most exciting new films from one of the most well-established yet fastest-growing film industries in the world.

The Sharni Vinson Rule
Jordan & Eddie

Shani Vinson in Patrick

This review of Australian suspense film Patrick isn’t about the industry or any specific technical craft, but it earns a place this week because it gives me a chance to champion two things:

Firstly, actress Sharni Vinson is something special and I don’t want to miss an opportunity to point people in her direction. She led last year’s You’re Next, which achieved the rare trifecta of being my favorite horror movie, comedy, and mumblecore film of the last several years. This gives rise to the Sharni Vinson Rule – One never needs an excuse to post about Sharni Vinson. In the interest of equality, let’s say it applies to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, too.

Secondly, Jordan & Eddie (The Movie Guys) is my favorite site to learn about Australian filmmaking. Australia has a creative and vibrant filmmaking industry that is too often overlooked. These two tend to see Australian movies 6-12 months before we do here in the States, and they have a particular fondness for my kind of suspense and horror.

SUPER SECRET ARTICLE OF THE WEEK
“Post-Empire Strikes Back”
Lili Anolik

The Canyons

If you’ve made it this far, you’re in for a treat. This would be up near the top, but some of the subject matter is raunchy and I want to be respectful to all of my readership.

Believer Magazine features an excellent story by Lili Anolik on the wreck of a film that was last year’s The Canyons, a movie which accomplished the rare feat of being relentlessly interesting and boring as can be. Anolik interviews controversial novelist and screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis (The Rules of Attraction, American Psycho) and director Paul Schrader (American Gigolo, Adam Resurrected) about a movie that Lindsay Lohan single-handedly pulls from pure dreck to semi-watchable.

Anolik examines a true piece of performance art by Ellis, a post-theatrical movie in which the art on display isn’t the film itself but the cultural commentary housed within the tale of its production. The story of the real movie adaptation of a fictional novel that Ellis’s fictional alter-ego never got around to writing, starring Lindsay Lohan, a male porn star, and controversial director Gus Van Sant as his psychiatrist, is by turns fascinating, hilarious, and chilling. The Canyons may have been terrible, but the performance art of making it may be the best thing Ellis has done yet.