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The Irishman (1978)
Seriously challenging film for good and bad reasons
I found The Irishman to be a very curious and very challenging film in a lot of ways. It is not a "big picture" type of film - despite being called an historical epic it doesn't capture broad sweeps of history and themes; but it focuses on family relationships, in particular father/son, in an historical setting. This makes it a unique and interesting film. It is at times astoundingly serious and moving, but for most of the time it is hampered by a maudlin, even soap opera like, feel and pacing, which is made all the more worse by an extremely over sentimental score.
The acting is of varying standard - I didn't find Simon Burke very solid, although Robyn Nevin was suitably stoic and painted a great picture of a frontier wife. Michael Craig was gruff but not as authoritative as I would have expected, given his character's work.
The production design was fantastic and the natural light photography was stunning, and on a par with Barry Lyndon. The use of electric lights in the final rainforest scenes stood out like a sore thumb and almost made those scenes look like they were shot in a studio by comparison.
I'm not surprised this film wasn't a hit, but that is not to say it is with out merit. It made me think of the family tensions, relations and role modelling in that era - which is a good thing to do. It's definitely worth a look because when it does hit it hits well - but there's a lot of tedium and mis-pacing in between.
Interesting but somewhat flat
This telemovie is a biopic of the longest serving Labor Party Prime Minister of Australia, Bob Hawke.
With an engaging personality as it's focus, and set in a period of great change in the country it promised to be compelling viewing yet comes off slightly flat.
The strongest points are Richard Roxburgh's beautifully nuanced performance of Hawke. Roxburgh captures the voice and mannerisms of Hawke to a tee, and clearly feels everything the character experiences in the course of the film. The deathbed scene with his mother is particularly memorable.
The dialogue in the film was it's other strongest point - really grounding the characters in their immediate time and place.
Although offering a warts and all view of Hawke's character flaws (in particular his serial adultery) the film still feels to skip through all the major points in his life in no real depth. Rather than carry us through these issues in a connected journey that allows us to feel what he felt as it unfolds - and then building to the inevitable and tragic ending for Hawke. The film instead just seems to lay them out. Perhaps this is just a bi-product of the telemovie form and the need for ads and a short running length. A 2 to 3 hour feature would have done the story much better service.
The film is also reasonably biased in it's assessment of his political legacy. His numerous achievements are listed in the credits - but no mention of the failures and the $95 billion in debt the Hawke/Keating government left the country in.
By the end of the film one is left with the conclusion that his pursuit of power had tragic effects on his wife and children, and that although his achievements were great the cost to himself, his family and the nation he led were just as great.
White Angel (1994)
Problem in the script
I saw this film years ago - so am a bit rusty - but since I'm reading their book at the moment I feel compelled to write: The thing that I remember most about it is this: The main characters are two despicable types so you don't care for them - I found my self not caring what happened because there was nothing about the characters to like or admire or empathise with. This totally undid any weight or consequence or plot the film had for me.
Looking at their book they knocked up a first draft in a month or so and were shooting I think two months after that. They should have got feedback/reviews and done subsequent drafts and sorted that problem out first IMHO before shooting. It's was no surprise then to me that Mirimax and others wouldn't distribute it, and the offers they got were so small.
I guess I'm not saying a film like this is wrong - just that it has extremely low appeal. That said though - I admire their independent spirit and go get it attitude - and wish them well!
Friends & Crocodiles (2005)
Ironic for a film that deals with time
- Ironic that it doesn't do it so well. A very interesting story, themes and characters, but it was dealt with in far too episodic a fashion. You end up feeling you're dipping in and out of something that's happening, rather than experiencing it and travelling with it. Although the cinematography was good, it wasn't anything astounding either - it was nicely thought out but not groundbreaking or anything , so I don't understand why people are raving about that facet of the film here. All in all an enjoyable film, but a little self defeating as well. Apparently that's not a long enough review - so what else is there? The acting was great, the costumes were good - it didn't really feel like the early 80's to me, but then I wasn't in England at the time so what would I know! It could have been a pretty unique film if we travelled the journey more closely with the characters - connecting huge amounts of time in narrative drama is a challenge - but having black outs and characters remeeting and saying "i haven't spoken to you for 4 years" isn't the best way to do it! Of course you have to connect the story line dots, which is kind if fun, but you get too distant from the characters emotional journey.
Great themes but uneven as a film
I very much looked forward to seeing this film, after hearing so much about it since I was a kid in the 70's. And after having seen it I am both impressed and disappointed. The film had been raved about for years, and although it had an engrossing story and an admirable lead, it is still let down in many ways.
Some of the scripting is very uneven - particularly the growing tension in the relationship between Caddie and Peter - which comes across as clumsy and even amateurish (I'm thinking of the scene in the park), and in parts the film seems like a series of set pieces that are moved to; though at other times it does flow quite well. The main problem with the script is I think that you are often watching her journey from the outside, rather than always traveling it with her and feeling it with her from the inside. The script is saved I think by the overwhelming humanity of the subject matter.
The ending though left me gobsmacked - the film seemed about three quarters of the way through and then they stopped it - with a bit of text describing what happened subsequently. The strange thing is if they had filmed what the text was describing (spoiler warning) the film could have moved into the realm of great tragedy, and had a really moving and profound effect at the end - which would have enforced what they were trying to do with the rest of the film.
So why was it so popular and historically so well spoken of? As a piece of film making I think it is a mixed lot, but it's value and profoundness is in it's themes and subject matter - and in the context of the women's revolution in the 1970's Caddies struggle would really have struck a chord. It is hard not to be moved by her resilliance and humanity, in the face of an unfair and sexist society and I think this is why it was so popular as it resonated with the zeitgeist of it's day. Ending the film where they did would seem to support this as it appears the film maker's main aim was to evoke Caddie's struggle, rather than round out the story - but if they had rounded out the story it would have evoked her struggle even more! So great subject matter, and great performance from Helen Morse, but as a film I find it quite frustrating when you think about how good and complete it really could have been.
The music too was also a problem - it obviously evoked the era - but quite often slowed the film down and worked against the emotions of the scenes and the characters.
So a frustrating but enjoyable film - worthwhile, but not a great film, but full of great themes, and still at times moving.
Break of Day (1976)
Forgotten minor classic
This film is a forgotten minor classic of the Australian industry. It very effectively evokes post WWI Australia, and the values and society in a small country town, and a returned serviceman suffering post traumatic stress. The soldier is brilliantly played by Andrew MacFarlane in what must be one of his best performances. I don't know why this film isn't better known or more popular - it's subject matter isn't uplifting, but it is an engaging and important film - screaming for a DVD release! If you can find this film somewhere it's well worth looking at. It makes a nice companion piece to The Mango Tree, and is a superior film to that.
The Mango Tree (1977)
Well let's get one thing straight - it's the end of World War One not Two when the film is set (look at the cars, planes, sets etc). Anyway it's an interesting and charming film well worth a look as it meanders through the town and the characters of the time. From a film makers point of view though it's a bit frustrating - there's lots of shots where the focus is too shallow and some of the characters and action are out of focus or too soft - partly through the depth of field not being allowed for correctly, and also partly because of the lense not being that sharp to begin with I think. The DVD release also leaves a bit to be desired. The panning and scanning is pretty bad and it's impossible to get an idea of the framing and real feel for the film when 2.35:1 is cut down to 1.33:1 The transfer really should have had some colour correction work done on it too - there are quite a few scenes where the colours fade in and out a little bit. Not enough to ruin it, but enough to be a little bit distracting. There's also a few scratches that could have been improved or removed digitally.
For me the depth of characterisation in the script and then the acting wasn't enough to make it feel like a real piece. But enough of the criticisms it's an enjoyable and charming film that is worth a look if you want a relaxed pace in a film. The cinematography will definitely be worth a look if a proper widescreen release is made, and the film can be given it's due credit.
Helpmann's speech in the rally is interesting - imploring everyone to embrace their country - a speech clearly intended for the film's audience in the 1970's, not the rally audience in the film. If you look at the film in the context of Australian culture at the time, you can see why they were so interested in history - the 70's and early 80's was the tail end of British Australia - and all of these films were analysing that history from the point of view of it being part of their own culture. By the late 80's and early 90's multiculturalism, globalisation, Americanisation and political correctness all set in and history now is largely avoided or viewed through detached revisionist eyes. Not that that's necessarily bad - just that the culture that fueled the film industry here in the 70's is different to the one fuelling it now - each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and to consider the Mango Tree's position in that is interesting too.