The story of Brett Whiteley’s life is inherently interesting, and many of his paintings were exquisite. It’s just as well, because initially this documentary suffers from an over-reliance on whimsical and distracting graphics, of the sub-Pythonesque variety. Fortunately, though, it rapidly improves, as the filmmakers calm down and adopt a more measured and restrained approach – in which the man, his art and those who knew him best are allowed to speak for themselves. It’s engrossing stuff – enveloping, in fact.
There’s a lot of ground to cover here, starting with young Brett’s astonishing technical facility as a teenager in Sydney. Then there’s the scholarship to study in Italy… acclaim in swinging Sixties London…. the time in New York at the Chelsea Hotel… the bust in Fiji… return to Australia, and the mansion in Lavender Bay… And accompanying him through most of these experiences was his first muse, Wendy. She’s interviewed at some length, and there are verbatim quotes from BW’s own interviews and notebooks, recreated by actors.
As a young man, Whiteley had a tendency to ramble semi-incoherently, but there was never any lack of cogent expression when he communicated through a paintbrush. From the nightmarish depiction of unalloyed evil in the Christie paintings – or the screaming baboon ‘junkie’ pinned to the ground with nails in “Art, Life And The Other Thing” – to the glorious celebration of beauty and vibrant colour in the Sydney harbour works, he knew precisely what he wanted to convey and he did it with pinpoint accuracy. Even at its most surreal, his oeuvre somehow maintained a core of crystalline clarity.
This is a fair and balanced appraisal – and not all of them, written or otherwise, have been that – of one of Australia’s very greatest artists. He died much too young, at 53, but he left behind a magnificent body of work. Whiteley is an absorbing tribute to that legacy.
This is the latest contribution to what might be called the cinema of claustrophobia. There was Das Boot (set entirely inside a submarine), Lebanon (a tank), and Buried (a coffin). Excellent and gripping films one and all, and Clash – set inside a police truck – is right up there too.
The year is 2012, the place is Cairo, and it’s the aftermath of the Arab Spring. The Egyptian revolution has ended a thirty-year presidency, the military have removed the newly elected president – a member of the Muslim Brotherhood – and MB and military supporters are clashing on the streets.
The action here unfolds over a little more than 24 hours. About ten people have been arrested and locked inside the truck. They include supporters of both sides, so the atmosphere is volatile to say the least – mirroring in some ways the pandemonium outside, which we glimpse through barred windows. The arrestees include women, and (significantly) a couple of journalists. It’s hot inside, it’s hard to breathe, there’s virtually no water and most of the cops are unrelievedly hostile…
If all that sounds like a premise for a tense high-octane drama, it is – and an extraordinarily well staged one. At times you could almost believe you were watching documentary/news footage. Yet there are also further and more subtle strengths to Clash, as the dynamic between the characters shifts and we get some inkling of their respective strengths, weaknesses and blind spots. There are moments of relative calm and tentative solidarity, and even (very fleeting) ones of humour – but essentially this is grim material, rendered both stranger and more viscerally affecting by the intermittent green light of laser pointers.
Clash works really well both as a thriller and as an exercise in socio-political observation. The context is very specific, but some the themes – particularly that of human responses to dangerous and stressful situations – are universal.
Lazybones finds its main character Ben (Jackson Tozer) at an impasse: driving an Uber through Melbourne as he attempts to kickstart his comedy career, he turns his countless awkward romantic encounters into material onstage, trying to make it through life and find someone worthwhile in a world where everyone’s on Tinder. As he navigates awful dates, his fumbling old-fashioned parents and his drifting brother (Troy Larkin), Ben starts to wonder: is there more to life than this?
Lazybones’s laconic Aussie humour often softens the blow of the sadly realistic world it portrays as Ben floats through life, unsure of what is next, anxious for things to change but not doing much about it. Even though Ben has opportunities presented to him to change up his life, like meeting a perfect new girl, he never takes the chances, for fear of making things even more unbearable.
For a comedy, Lazybones is often quite sombre; however, its imperfect but hilarious characters provide wonderful comic relief in both the movie and Ben’s life. From the more-than-just-a-manic-pixie-dream-girl Jean (Tegan Crowley), to Ben’s off the rails best friend Lucy (Fabiana Weiner), and even his dog (aptly named Dog), Jones’ characters are easily the best part of the movie, setting the tone for a film that isn’t always happy, but manages to stay funny.
Co-written and co-produced by Caitlin Farrugia and Michael Jones, and directed by Jones, the film is a highly accomplished DIY effort that recently premiered at the Cinequest Film Festival in California. If you’ve seen Mike Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk With Me, and are a fan of the modern stand-up comedian lifestyle sub-genre then you will get a great a deal of enjoyment out of Lazybones and its barbed, self-effacing observations. It also captures a unique slice-of-millennial life, and although ultimately slight, it’s certainly an enjoyable ride and augers well for its talented fresh faced cast, and Farrugia and Jones, who will next tackle an indie horror film.
A young couple on a road trip, Ian (Ian Meadows) and Sam (Harriet Dyer), run afoul of two opportunistic back-block predators, German (Aaron Pederson) and Chook (Aaron Glenane), in Killing Ground, an assured survival horror from debut feature director, Damien Power.
Killing Ground is the latest in a long tradition of Aussie “don’t go into the bush” terror tales; Wolf Creek is only the latest, most visible example, but Power is savvy enough to draw influences from deeper cuts, such as 1978’s Long Weekend. While the two Aarons provide the most immediate, unnerving threat to our wayward city couple, the setting itself is also a villain. This is a classic Bad Place narrative. We’re casually informed at one point that the isolated camping ground where Power sets his horrors is the site of of an Aboriginal massacre, and it’s no accident that our lead antagonist is played by the Indigenous actor Pedersen (Mystery Road) in an incredibly menacing turn. A sense of foreboding is established early on in the proceedings that never lets up, only growing inexorably heavier and more agonising as the inevitable atrocities loom nearer.
The sense of terror is heightened considerably when the film makes the bold choice of splitting its narrative, jumping back in time to explore the fates of an earlier set of victims once Ian and Sam discover an abandoned family tent at their remote campsite. It’s a clever conceit, subverting the usual straight-forward plot construction of the survival horror genre.
It also ups the body count significantly. Power doesn’t shy away from confronting and, at times, genuinely upsetting imagery, although when it comes to actual depiction of brutality and assault he knows when to let viewers draw their own conclusions from what is implied onscreen. There’s a stark, harsh matter-of-factness to the violence we see; the film doesn’t bother with exotic weaponry or elaborate, ritualised tortures, instead reminding us that a cruel man armed with a rifle is terrifying enough. It’s the plausibility of the scenario that chills; add to that an element of child endangerment (a toddler is thrown into the mix at one point, and the film milks the poor mite’s terrible vulnerability for all its worth) and there are times when Killing Ground is almost unbearable.
In that good way, of course. Horror fans are in for an absolute treat here; Power and his team understand the conventions of their genre and know exactly when to subvert them and when to double down. Killing Ground might lack an iconic figure like Mick Taylor around which a real cult audience could form, but it’s the real deal; a taut and torturous journey into darkness.
In this Chilean drama, Juan (Sergio Hernandez) is a workaholic and distant father who believes that his country will always provide, and opportunities are made, not handed out. His son, Pablo (Andrew Bargsted), is a free-spirited teenager sleeping with his neighbour’s closeted nephew and performing in drag whilst his father is away. When Pablo is put into a coma after a homophobic attack, the scales fall from Juan’s eyes and he begins to revaluate his beliefs in himself and his son.
Marking the directorial debut of Alex Anwandter, You’ll Never Be Alone is a bitter film, and quite rightly so. When his son’s attackers are glibly described as a ‘third party’ by Juan’s insurance company, it’s another micro-aggression that the father wasn’t aware of outside of his wood-paneled office. It’s a powerful moment, but there aren’t that many more to be had. Anwandter knows the targets he’s aiming for – ingrained homophobia, toxic societal norms – but he seems more caught up in establishing an overall tone for his work rather than successfully addressing them.
As his beliefs are unpacked and scrutinised, there’s never an understanding of who Juan is or, perhaps more importantly, Pablo. You’ll Never Be Alone often cries out for a flashback that fleshes out the relationship between these two before the tragic events. Instead, come the second half, the film almost forgets Pablo entirely and simply follows Juan as he meanders through town aggrieved by the actions of his friends and neighbours. Admittedly, Hernandez’s performance is strong, but not enough to carry the film on its own.
You’ll Never Be Alone is a confused creation; one which has something to say but hasn’t the words to say it. Real life doesn’t often have final act redemption, no one is naïve enough to say it does, but there’s a dark tourist element to the film that makes it feel like the audience is wallowing in grief when they should be empathising.
Two American sisters, the fey Kate Barlow (Lily-Rose Depp) and her more pragmatic elder, Laura (Natalie Portman) travel to Paris on the last leg of a European nightclub tour. Our scene is set shortly before the advent of World War II, and the pair are on-stage mediums, performing seances (the providence of which is never really delved into) for paying audiences. Once in the City of Lights they fall into the orbit of Andre Korben (Emmanuel Salinger) a filmmaker who is entranced by their apparently supernatural abilities and begins to put together a film vehicle for them. Korben wants to film the ghosts the pair summon, but his own personal demons soon come calling, and jealousy between the two sisters threatens to tear them apart.
Planetarium is handsome, sensual, atmospheric, and so oblique in its thematic aims and narrative drive as to be almost impenetrable. The story splits off into a few different directions – Kate is studied by a parapsychologist, Laura fends off the romantic advances of a louche actor (Louis Garrel), while Korben’s private seances with Kate cross over into the sexual, even as Laura uncovers hints of his past perversions – but never quite come back together in a satisfying manner. There are a few vague stabs at mirroring the rise of fascism in 1930s Europe, but they don’t really connect; it’s easy enough to describe what happens in Planetarium, but rather more difficult to parse what it’s actually about.
The film is an aesthetic triumph, though, with cinematographer George Lechaptois and the design team constructing a dreamy, hypnagogic vision of period Paris, and it’s enjoyable just to luxuriate in Planetarium‘s languid, slightly paranoid mood for the length of the movie. Still, there seems to something vital missing here. Planetarium is a fascinating curio of a film, but not much more.