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Wasted on the Young (2010)
A gripping and disturbing experience
(Full disclosure: I am acquainted with director Ben C Lucas)
I saw Wasted on the Young at its world premiere at the Sydney Film Festival,and it got a strong reaction from the audience. I'm not sure I can say we enjoyed it, because it is a disturbing film in many ways, but it was certainly a highly impressive debut from a rookie team.
A plot synopsis will make it sound like a generic high school movie; cool kids bullying uncool kids, drug-fuelled parties and so on. Halfway through, though, an event occurs which takes us into altogether darker territory and what the director terms "a moral fable".
Technically, the film has many virtues. The bleached-out cinematography, the strikingly shot swimming pool sequences and the nightmarish music/sound design during the party scenes all serve the story well, and are far more ambitious than most Australian movies.
Wasted on the Young shows high school as a horrifying and hermetically sealed environment (I don't think we see any parents or teachers at all), and a cast headed by the impressive Oliver Ackland really convey the tension and conflict of the story.
44 Inch Chest (2009)
Not as good as it should be
(I saw this at the Sydney Film Festival, but IMDb has it as "in production", so I may have seen an incomplete version.) The pitch would have been something like "Reservoir Dogs meets Last Orders". From Reservoir Dogs we get the basic set-up of a bunch of crooks played by fine actors meeting in a lock-up and debating what to do with their captive, plus an enigmatic title and a flashback structure. From Last Orders comes a group of top-notch actors clearly enjoying themselves in a brown, downbeat London.
Some of the dialogue is fun if you like expletives spat out in poetry-like rhythms. There are good jokes and the acting is, as you'd expect from this lot, pretty fine. I was particularly pleased to see Stephen Dillane get his chance to prove himself cinematically after such an impressive theatrical career.
The downside is the plot, or rather the lack of it. The basic premise is laid out early on in the piece, and there is no real conflict to maintain our interest. Contrast the uniformity of opinion here with the combustible dynamics of Mr Blond, Mr White et al and the problem is clear. Some dream sequences intended to open the tale out feel forced, and a couple of minor twists are inconsequential.
If this script had been produced with a younger group of unknown actors it might get hailed for its promise. With this cast, 44 Inch Chest can only be counted a disappointment.
The Castle (1997)
In praise of low-key brilliance
This is one of those movies, like "This Is Spinal Tap", that appears to aim low but taps into a certain subculture so precisely that it is elevated into something wonderful.
As a pom living in Sydney, I always insist that all overseas visitors watch this film in order to "get" Australia and Australians. The Kerrigan family are easy to mock, but qualities of togetherness, moral courage, unpretentiousness and un-PC earthiness embody a great strand of the national character and warm them to us.
Most of all, though, The Castle is just plain funny. You'll find yourself using the catchphrases over and over again, and you'll smile every time you do it. It's just one of those films. A classic.
Flawed but interesting
Just saw a screening of this at the Sydney Film festival, where it went down well with a partisan audience.
The story begins with the Goons and concludes around the time of Being There, taking in the most successful period of Sellers' career. The most enjoyable aspects of the film are the all-too-brief recreations of classic Sellers scenes from I'm Alright Jack, Strangelove, the Pink Panther movies etc. Entertaining portraits of collaborators, particularly Kubrick and Blake Edwards, provide a lot of fun for cinephiles.
However, the portrait of Sellers is far from flattering - indeed he appears to have been a childish, unfeeling, selfish sh*t. I don't know if this is true, but don't see this movie if you want to maintain a view of Sellers as a lovable entertainer.
The performances are strong from a fabulous cast. As Sellers, Geoffrey Rush doesn't quite look the part physically, but once you get involved this is a minor problem, as his acting is otherwise so strong.
A few irritating directorial flourishes aside, this is a solid biopic that exposes the dark side that seems so common among the great British comedians of this era.