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The Man from Snowy River II (1988)
Beautifully shot and acted sequel
The Man from Snowy River II doesn't reinvent the wheel but is a crowd-pleasing beautiful film that hits some great notes.
For those fans wanting the elements that made the original Man From Snowy River film a hit, (breathtaking scenery, sweeping score, sweet romanticism and cracking action) this film really delivers. This story picks up a few years from the end of the first, Jim (Tom Burlinson) has been away gathering his fortune in a brood of stock horses. He returns to pick up where he left off with his pluckish well-bred sweetheart Jessica (played by Aussie divine lady Sigrid Thornton) who is still attempting to break out of her corseted upbringing on her feather's cattle station (Harrison is now played by American Brian Dennehy). The foil to Jim and character that shakes the plot is the well-to-do upper class snob Alistair Patton (Nicholas Eadie) who has his sights on Jessica. Add to the mix some social tension surrounding landholdings and the stallion with a bad attitude from the first film and that's the plot.
The best thing about this film is the acting. Tom Burlinson fits snugly into Jim's wide brim hat and laconic humour. Sigrid Thornton is a lovely heroine and the two manage some real chemistry on screen. Filling the solid shoes of Kirk Douglas was never going to be easy and Brian Dennehy stomps and shouts but never feels very authentic in this part.
The music is sweeping and lush and the cinematography could be a roll from a Victoria tourism reel. There are moment however that feel very self-indulgent, like the director wants just one more helicopter shot of the riders to show how gorgeous the landscape is without some personal human drama. A little more grit would have sufficed here, we are Aussie's, we can take it!! There are some very JAWSish moments with the stallion that defy belief. However the funny thing about this film is that in amongst some glaring clichés, there are some really inventive and touching scenes. Jim putting the saddle on the stallion (VERY Horse Whisperish before its time) Jim and Jessica setting up home, the fabulous scene where Jim shows up Alistair's riding with his trusty whip. I can see why this character is such an icon.
Altogether a very pleasing sequel. Here's hoping everyone involved wants to make another. the Man From Snowy River III: The CRAIGS. I'm sure we'd all love to see how Jim and Jessica are doing on their farm.
The Aussie DVD has a couple of extra scenes in it. Worthwhile if you are already a fan.
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Dodgy Re-telling of a great story.
Before The Passion of the Christ began in the theater, a trailer was played of a couple of B list Australian celebrities telling the audience that what you are about to see is true, and Jesus has changed the lives of these people and they hope it'll change your life too.
The Passion of the Christ is NOT a documentary. It is NOT a fly-on-the-wall perfectly unbiased account of Jesus's last days. It is a piece of entertainment; scripted, acted, lit, and scored.
Unfortunately, this film does not provide any glimpses into Christ's "Passion", why he died, for whom, what kind of man he was, his beliefs, feelings and teachings for humanity. It offers absolutely no insight into anything that Christ stood for. What a shame, because Christ is a character that no one could have dreamed up. A true one-of-a-kind God and man, Saviour, revolutionary, pacifist, humanist. A heartfelt, straight-up glimpse into his ideas would have been fantastic.
All this film gives us is a blow-by-blow account of his arrest and execution. All the film is concerned with is filling the screen with as much bloody misery as possible, and doing it with such Hollywood pizazz; the overbearing Enya-style score, the endless close-ups of Mary's tearful face, the completely unnecessary 'tear from heaven' CGI effects (not to mention the Crow), the grinding, spitting, sick Roman's beating Jesus and of course the suffering Saviour.
No one can argue that Jesus's death was a disgusting, horrible, terrifying event that probably was as bloody and awful as the film set. But the question needs to be asked, did this portrayal add up to great film-making? There did not seem to be any point at all in this film. Where was the human drama? Where was the conflicted conscience's? All we got was a stream of obvious symbols that are completely dramatic and constructed in every sense of the word. I cannot understand how people can be moved by this film, it was fake from start to finish.
A huge disappointment.
A heart-wrenching REAL romance. 10 out of 10!
The 2005 Greek Film Festival has come to Canberra, and this movie was the biggest attraction. Wow! What a film! A touching yet subtle story of love, longing and desire. The tragedy of the situation of these mail-order brides, lost without a connection to their homeland, without money, family or hope for the future. This was a beautifully shot and acted film. The director Pantelis Voulgaris should be congratulated. Damian Lewis has never been stronger, a gorgeous leading man, who gives his character Norman, such a natural on screen presence, that there appears to be nothing artificial about him. Niki is a fine leading female character, strong, resolute, yet naturally human and weak. The love story, not just amongst the principles simmered and grew, the sexual tension not forced or faked. Wonderful.
One of those "if all movies were made like this" films. Kudos to all involved. A real-life story of passionate love. Bravo.
In the Cut (2003)
sexy, smart and stylish: the ultimate thriller
In The Cut is the kind of movie that film buffs wait years for. A serious character-driven plot, directed subtly by one of the world's best directors, Jane Campion and brought to life by actors relishing their roles, and a crew willing to bring something original to the screen. The story brings women to the forefront, Frannie and her half sister Pauline. We reach into their lives, their thoughts, their dreams and their desires. They are not dolls or perfect, they are realistically flawed, yet are beautiful in all their complexity. Mark Ruffalo gives Detective Molloy a dangerous and deceptive feeling, but he too is written with depth. The camera diffuses colour and each shot is contructed to add to character. Kudos to Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kevin Bacon for their important supporting roles, and Meg Ryan is in her best role to date. Amazing
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
a logical leap of story
Spiderman 2: interesting,well-written action and romance film. Thank goodness the characters have tired to progress from the first movie, and a struggling Peter Parker is always fun to watch. Parker actually seems like most university students, trying to balance study, work and his own sense of self. His love for Mary Jane is eluciated as something deep and palpatable, and the scenes with Maguire and Dunst connect that sense of desire and love through the screen. The action, as always satisfies mostly because the bad guy, Dr Octavious is actually scary. There are times when we have no idea how Spidey will get out of this one, and even the elements of Dr Ock's get-up evoke many animal and philosophical tones. The actors are given a nice range, and the supporting players stand out strongly. This film is littered with small touches that give the film a backbone, and it proves that even the biggest, grandest blockbusters should incorporate some adult themes into the story. The audience aren't all kids - they can handle it.
Refreshing real-life Australian drama
Fireflies is the new Australian drama, currently screening in its first season on the ABC. It is interesting to look at this show, given that it timeslot was moved from Sunday nights to Thursday. This is sweeping drama, based on realistic people and realistic situations. One thing's for certain, it needs a 7:30pm Sunday timeslot. But lets not fault the ABc for actually encouraging fresh Australian content that is not situated around a hospital or police station.
This show is about a group of country volunteer firefighters. Primarily about three different couples, we watch as they deal with their jobs, their private lives and the issues of the local community. This is all set in the sweltering pot of a brutally hot Australian summer. We know there is going to be alot of bushfires, and we know that the characters are going to come into some serious conflict. There is some simmering sexual tension between the two leads, Jeremy Sims as Bakka, and Libby Tanner as Lill. She's moved from the city with her older husband Perry, (John Waters) and adds a sort of Seachange aspect to the mix. Bakka is married to Svetlana, a Russian woman, and they have two children.
Firstly, the countryside is breathtaking. Real bush is featured here, and the homes of the characters are frankly realistic in their humble construction. The production is of an excellent level, and the scripts aim to deal with alot of emotion without much pressure or contrived situations. Thankfully, there is not much blokiness or boofiness in the characters here, unlike Channel Seven's previous attempt at firestation drama in Fire.
The best thing about Fireflies is Jeremy Sims. Watching his acting proves just how versatile and underrated this actor is. He's got a wonderful natural delivery. He knows the laconic humour of the script, but doesn't throw it in your face with his lines. He's a great leading man, and it is a shame that more films and tv haven't used his talent to greater effect. The romance with Lill is palpatable, and audiences love to see a romance spark (no pun intended) - just look at David Wenham and Sigrid Thornton on Seachange. I loved Sims in Kangaroo Palace and Corridors of Power, "Now we're cooking with gas!" and its great to see a talented actor given some meaty material.
John Waters is tragically under-written as Perry. Waters is another legend of the Australian stage and TV. My memories of him on Playschool are taking over as Perry seems to all but fade into the background. Is he happy? Why does Lill stray from him? What does he do with his time? Let's see some more Perry.
Libby Tanner has a wonderful part as Lill. She's developing a quietness in her characters, and her looks and face convey some heavy emotion. She has real chemistry with Sims, and lets hope her relationship with Perry is fleshed out more.
It's a point of contention that we have another Australian drama set in the countryside - not the urban city. A show like Love is a Four Letter Word really tackled the issues of urban living head on, but there is something about 'bush living' that TV cannot stop pondering. Are the women on Mc Cleods Daughters 'real' Australians? I doubt it. Nevertheless, Fireflies attempts some hearty drama, without the pretentions of Australian stereotypes about identity and place.
A Master of The Interview
For those who enjoy TV with heart, brains and a willingness to explore humanity, Enough Rope is the perfect show, hosted by an Australian with a serious talent for real talk.
Forget all the chat shows, forget the incessant celebrity-fawning morning/daytime/afternoon/evening plugs for whatever movie/music or event is being advertised. Andrew Denton, an experienced comedian, writer, and radio announcer brings his irreverency to the most known format on tv, the talk show.
What sets Enough Rope apart is Denton's ability to cut through the hype with his guests. His questions are careful in their ability to get right to the heart of the issue, person or feeling. Sometimes brutually direct, but always intelligent, he allows his audience to get into the head of his guests, and allows the guests to express whatever they feel like expressing - without the publicity spin.
Highlights of the first season include the excellent interviews with celebrity stockbroker Rene Rivkin and the amazing Rachel Ward, whose frank emotional response to Denton's questioning about her love for her husband Bryan Brown was a truly sweet and wonderful moment.
Enough Rope is backed by the excellent ABC TV, a network which any Australian show be proud to call their own. Capable of the intimate and the expository, this 'chat' show continues to build a reputation for intelligence and wit: something not seen on most television in a long time.
Last night's brilliant interview with Lisa Marie Presley was another example of the reason why this show is the best. A frank insight into a very real woman, it was clever and interesting as well as a great laugh.
Already a winner at last year's Walkely Awards (for the journalism interview) Denton has received the reviews and the ratings to cement his place in TV history.
And all this without ads, and without the hype surrounding any tv product. Standing on its own merits, may we see more to come.
Hiding Out (1987)
Jon Cryer vehicle that goes nowhere
Starring: Jon Cryer, Annabeth Gish. Director: Bob Giraldi
There is an adage that if you see a shot in a film with a visible boom hanging over the actor's heads, then it is an easy indicator that the film is trash. Although an unfair test, while watching Hiding Out I counted no less that 15 boom-in-camera shots. It is difficult to suspend disbelief when not only is the boom microphone visible, the entire boom rod shifts across the screen following the actors walking across a shot.
A classic fish out of water story gets an 80's teenage makeover in this flawed vehicle for the very talented John Cryer. Jon plays Andrew Morenski, a successful stockbroker in his late 20s wanted by mafia hitmen after a sour deal with a criminal kingpin. After a workmate is killed he flees, and with the aid of a razor and strategically placed hair dye, he passes himself of as a teenager back in high school.
We are asked way too much of this film to go along with any of it. Firstly, his Aunty works as the high school nurse. Even if she never ran into him in the corridor, are we to believe that she wouldn't recognise one of the countless posters of him around the school, much less the fact that he's always hanging around? And even if he waits until his sweet girlfriend (Annabeth Gish) is in college until he can go out with her, she would still be at least 10 years younger than him. And why does the local 'Clinton Posse' adopt him as their nomination for School President when he clearly doesn't want the job?
The script wants to suck out all those silly 'I've been in high school before' moments, which it does unconvincingly. The real gem of this film is Keith Coogan as Patrick, Andrew's teenage cousin. Coogan, who people might recognise from the 1987 hit Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead, is charmingly silly as Patrick. His attempts at driving provide the few funny moments of the film. Cryer is stuck in a role that takes him nowhere fast. Without room to move and demonstrate at least some gravity or comic ability he is wasted in this dreary role. It is a shame to see that after his breakout eccentric performance as Ducky in Pretty in Pink this role in a top-billing movie is so run of the mill.
After he is voted class President, the rest of the film is so formulaic that even fast-forwarding through the last scenes is tiring. Even though the 1980's were famed for the `its-so-bad-its-good' films, Hiding Out is so bad it's tragically not worth seeing.
Fresh Horses (1988)
McCarthy and Ringwald: an attempt at a serious story.
After watching this film I had some questions. What does the title refer to? There are horses in this film but are they fresh? Does it refer to the couple at all? And what does that have to do with the love story? Who comes up with these movie titles? And why?
Silly questions aside, Fresh Horses is a film with an adult story aimed at using the onscreen chemistry of Andrew McCarthy and Molly Ringwald, (who were first paired as everyone knows in the excellent Pretty In Pink) in a serious love story. Ringwald is Jewel, a mysterious country girl, all pink lips and tousled curly hair. She meets Matt (McCarthy) a college upper middle class guy with a pretty stable and boring life. He's engaged to the perfect women, and has your typical annoying university friends. She has a past and a reputation, but he becomes smitten with her and attempts to change his life so they can be together.
As my Video and Movie Guide said, this film is just an adult version of Pretty In Pink. He's more classy than her, she knows who she is and he has to learn to be worthy of her, not the other way around. I don't know about that judgement. Yes, it is the same couple. Yes, the story is similiar, but with sexual themes. But the more I think about the ending, the scenery and the sets of this film the more its intelligence shines through. The film is about pushing you to change, propelling someone to see their life through other's eyes and making you believe in yourself.
As someone said in the messageboards, the settings are eerie, and the characterisations are spooky. Viggo Mortensen is great as Green. Ben Stiller, as Matt's friend is weirdly creepy. We never quite know what people's motvations are, and although the dialogue is terribly clunky in moments between the two leads, this is a film that knows it is not formulaic. For the plastic period the 80's, Fresh Horses sits nicely jagged in its themes and story. They should not be all be standard and set.
Dante's Peak (1997)
An underrated, intelligent film.
It would be easy to overlook Dante's Peak as just another disaster movie released in the late 1990s. Hollywood rushed out a cluster of disaster films in this era designed to shock and astound audiences with massive CG inspired effects, which were vast becoming mainstream and affordable in their application of major studio films. Each film attempted a larger, grander, direr situation for audiences to experience. We were stuck in the middle of a tornado, (Twister) trapped underground a city, (Daylight) saw massive tsunamis wreak havoc, (Deep Impact) nearly wiped out by an asteroid (Armageddon) and found out what damage a volcanic eruption would do to LA. (Volcano)
The unremarkable peers of Dante's Peak merely demonstrate why this film should not be underestimated or overlooked. This film stands out in the pack as an intelligent, carefully paced disaster movie.
The plot plays simply but effectively. Harry Dalton (Brosnan), a US Geologist, has come to the picturesque town of Dante's Peak with a team of experts to monitor activity of its menacing volcano, which for about 3,000 years has remained silently dormant. We know this 'sleepy' town is about to get a rude awakening. Unfortunately for Dalton, his colleagues and most of the town think his theory of an eminent big bang is rubbish and his only believer is the town's Mayor, Rachel Wando. (Hamilton) The volcano subsequently erupts and these characters are 'in the thick of it' as they say.
The surprising part of the story is the measured pace it gives the characters. We get a long build up to the eruption, and the characters aren't rushed in their romantic moments or exposition. We know that these characters have real lives, Dalton does field experiments on the mountain, and Wando works at her coffee shop. The build up to the action accentuates its dramatic qualities, just as the characters aren't rushed, the audience isn't artificially forced into danger the minute the cinema lights go down.
Perhaps the most intelligent aspect of the production is the casting. The choice of Hamilton as Mayor Wando is inspired. It is rare to see a female actor, chosen to play a romantic role opposite an attractive leading man such as Brosnan, who is over 30 and doesn't look like a variation of Barbie. Hamilton is an actor of courage and subtlety. She knows strong characters, women who rely on themselves and their resolve to make it through. However, her intelligence is stimulating, and in Dante's Peak she gives Mayor Wando a sexy, sassy grounding in her realness and integrity. She perfectly mirrors Brosnan, who is believable as the astute volcano expert. It's easy to see Brosnan in any role that requires him to be heroic and say `well, that's just Bond.' But that attitude is nonsensical. The fact is, Brosnan has an engaging appeal to audiences, we want him to win, and we root for him and really believe this man could save the world. No matter, not even a pair of glasses and straps hanging around his neck can make this man look ordinary. His face accounts for his knowledge. A funny moment sees him pick up a rock and stare at it, Wando then remarks, `A man who looks at a rock must have a lot on his mind.'
There is an adage about sexual tension that X Files creator Chris Carter used to say, in reference to the unresolved sexual heat between his characters, Mulder and Scully. It is the notion that if you get two intelligent people in a room together, sparks will fly. It is proved correct in Dante's Peak, and the fact that it works is testament to the talent of the two leads.
Roger Donaldson is a talented Australian director who understands action and suspense. His fourteen films to date as a director show an understanding of what makes tension on the screen. (The Bounty, The Recruit, Thirteen Days.) The minute the volcano erupts we enter the action breathlessly and the direction of Donaldson evokes the destruction and panic in fine form.
It would be easy for the story in Dante's Peak to be swept away violently by the river of lava gushing out the mountain's fiery mouth. Thankfully, we have an intelligent, character-driven disaster movie that provides lots of action, lots of suspense and a little romance for good measure. I think that's more than enough.