Category Archives: Australian

The Year of Living Dangerously-1982

The Year of Living Dangerously-1982

Director Peter Weir

Starring Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hunt

Scott’s Review #1,266

Reviewed June 16, 2022

Grade: B+

The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) is a solid political drama with enough intrigue, romance, and superior cinematography by Russell Boyd, to recommend it. It’s not an American film but Australian which gives it an authentic flavor even though events are primarily set in Indonesia.

If Mad Max (1979) didn’t make Mel Gibson a full-fledged pinup star The Year of Living Dangerously certainly did because it made him a romantic ladies’ man in addition to a rugged action star. He has a ton of good looks and charisma at this point in his career and arguably has never looked better.

One could say (okay, I flat out will) that Gibson is upstaged, unintentionally so, by stage actress Linda Hunt who gets the role of her life as a highly intelligent Chinese-Australian man suffering from dwarfism and key to the entire plot.

Hunt won the Academy Award for flipping gender norms on its head and making the film more progressive and memorable than it deserves to be. Her performance is timeless and rich in character flavor.

If not for Hunt and Gibson as the standouts the film is lost in the shuffle amongst the myriad of similar political dramas to emerge in the 1980s.

Missing (1982) starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek and Victory (1981) starring Sylvester Stallone are the films that The Year of Living Dangerously reminds me of.

Blow Out (1981) and No Way Out (1987) are two of the best political drama films to come out of the decade and all are assuredly influenced by All the President’s Men (1976) which is one of the best from the genre.

There are so many others that The Year of Living Dangerously feels forgotten and too similar to a standard formula to stand out. It also suffers at times from being either a romantic drama or a political thriller and it struggles to mesh the two satisfyingly.

After journalist Guy Hamilton (Gibson) arrives in Jakarta, Indonesia, he forms a friendship with dwarf photographer Billy Kwan (Hunt), through whom he meets British diplomat Jill Bryant (Sigourney Weaver).

Bryant falls in love with Hamilton, and she gives him key information about an approaching Communist uprising. As the city becomes more dangerous, Hamilton stays to pursue the story. However, he faces more threats as he gets closer to the government putting him and others passionate about the political turmoil, in great peril.

The romance between Guy and Jill is not bad but Weaver has had so many better roles than this one that it feels throwaway. She’s a smart lady who falls madly in love with Guy so easily that the formulaic context is obvious.

The movie poster makes the pair look like Rhett and Scarlett in Gone with the Wind (1939), unintentionally providing humor and ambiguity about what the film is going for.

It does best when it sticks to the political message.

The film is laden with foreign mystique and intrigue largely due to the exotic locale of Indonesia (the film was shot in the Phillippines which is a good double).

The plot is absorbing for what it is and the peril the journalists face is exciting. This parlays well with the real-life situation in which the film is based. In 1965, Indonesia was a hotbed of corruption and danger, and director, Peter Weir, managed to pull these sequences together well.

The main flaw is Weir doesn’t seem to know if he is crafting a political thriller or a romantic drama.

Back to the astounding Linda Hunt, the best scene of the film occurs when her character dies in Guy’s arms. Forget Weaver, the emotional core of the film belongs to Gibson and Hunt who have tremendous chemistry. The ambiguity of Billy, mostly because we know the gender of Hunt, is delicious.

In the end, the conclusion is mostly a happy one albeit predictable and the storyline feels unsatisfying.

A nice effort and relevant in 1982, The Year of Living Dangerously has energy and polish. It just feels too familiar and similar to other genre films to stand out, save for Linda Hunt and Mel Gibson.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Supporting Actress-Linda Hunt (won)

Mad Max-1979

Mad Max-1979

Director George Miller

Starring Mel Gibson

Scott’s Review #1,070

Reviewed October 15, 2020

Grade: A-

Mad Max (1979) is a gritty and dirty film that is nothing like any other film coming before it. There are an edginess and an “off the beaten track” quality that sucks you in and pummels you into submission with its energy and ferocity.

The film is raw and not slick and hats off for that. This is all done with fun intentions and it’s meant to be enjoyed, but the film has brutality and power that must be experienced to be believed.

The plot is not the most important quality, nor is it the most believable, but it’s the trimmings that make Mad Max unforgettable.

I haven’t seen the two follow-up sequels, Mad Max 2 (1981) or Beyond Thunderdome (1985), but my understanding is they are more family-friendly films, disappointing to hear after viewing the raw power of the original.

The undesirable Fury Road (2015), is an enormous critical and commercial success, but the appeal lost on me, is to be skipped in favor of the first.

I disliked that film.

But alas, a treasure such as the original can never be duplicated. The revenge-themed, fast car-driving, lewd masterpiece, is a must-see cult classic.

It stands the test of time.

In a post-apocalyptic future, an angry cop Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is looking forward to retiring, having had enough of the derelicts that populate his region. One day, his world is shattered when a malicious gang murders his family as an act of retaliation, forcing a devastated Max to hit the open road seeking vengeance.

As he travels the Australian outback’s empty stretches of highway, he tours the bloodstained battlegrounds ruled by low-life bikers who feed on violence.

Mad Max made Mel Gibson a star. His breakthrough role, led to future work in the action and buddy genres, specifically the Lethal Weapon franchise (1987-1998) with tepid success from any artistic standpoint until he bravely took on more creative and challenging roles.

Max is his finest action character and most authentic feeling. He mixes a blend of rage, sentimentality, and humanity, perfectly, never missing a beat.

And his youthful looks are enchanting to see.

The multitude of scenes featuring super fast-cars, motorbike gangs, and leather-clad creatures with colorful tattoos and missing teeth are just the icing on the cake of the fun that lies ahead.

Names like Toecutter and Bubba give you an idea here.

These are all great add-ons, but the revenge-seeking Max is the one to watch. The scene is immediately set when the grizzled Nightrider is killed by Max in a chaotic police chase. His gang goes rampant and loots and destroys shops and businesses, raping both women and men. All hell breaks loose.

The best sequence is also the most horrific.

Taking place on the open road, naturally, a sweet vacation by Max, wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel), and son Sprog begins with a pleasant drive, only to result in a chase scene climaxing with Sprog’s death and Jessie languishing in intensive care.

The image of Sprog and Jessie lying on the open road, tattered and torn, is memorable and sticks with you.

The film is intelligent if studied thoroughly enough, and a study in film school is recommended. Credit must be given to director George Miller who knows his way around a camera.

The cinematography lends much to the film and a feeling of being there is the desirous result. The editors deserve a special prize for their brilliant efforts.

Undoubtedly influencing countless action genre selections of the 1980s and 1990s, most running the gamut between only marginally fun (the Terminator franchise-1984-present) or downright atrocious (The Running Man-1987), Mad Max (1979) breathes life into the genre.

Action films are categorically known to be one-dimensional but by adding a cool Australian locale, characters who are filled with cartoon bombast and punky zest, and a futuristic mystique, Miller crafts well.

It’s a low-budget flick, destined for underground viewership and appreciation, that is somehow nearly flawless.

Holding the Man-2015

Holding the Man-2015

Director Neil Armfield

Starring Ryan Corr, Craig Stott

Scott’s Review #612

Reviewed January 24, 2016

Grade: B+

Holding the Man (2015) is a brave love story centering on two young men and spanning fifteen years as the men begin as high school sweethearts and progress into adulthood and sadly both contract AIDS.

This is a pivotal aspect of the film as it is set during the 1970s and 1980s- a time when this disease was dreadful and more or less a death sentence.

The film is tender and poignant, but despite these characteristics, I felt something with more vigor was missing. I did not have the exact emotional reaction I thought I might have.

The film is set in Australia and adapted from a 1995 memoir of the same name.

The action begins in 1976 as we meet Tim and John, both high school students. They are from opposite social groups, Tim a theater student, and John captain of his soccer team.

Surprisingly, they connect romantically as Tim asks John out on a date.

The pair receive little hassle and are quite open with their relationship. Certainly, they face a bit of opposition from officials at the school, but this is not the main aspect that the film goes for.

Instead, the main problems come from John’s family- specifically, his father, but this is played safely. Tim’s family is much more accepting.

Over the next fifteen years, the couple encounters death directly when they are simultaneously told they have acquired HIV.

The film is mostly told chronologically but goes back and forth at times. Specifically, we are reminded of John’s youthful good looks in flashbacks, when he is close to death, bald and sickly looking.

The main point is the men’s enduring love for each other, which is a nice message.

Otherwise, the film (2015 and long since the AIDS plague), goes for a reminder of how harsh those times were for gay men, though there is a softness to the film that I felt instead of the brutal reality.

The actors playing John and Tim (Craig Stott and Ryan Corr, respectively) have decent chemistry, but this may have been stronger than my perception was, and the reason I did not feel emotionally invested in the film.

The film was nice and sweet-the romance part, but when one of the men succumbs to AIDS I should have been a puddle of tears and I just wasn’t.

I did enjoy how the film does not focus too much on the opposition by John’s father (Anthony LaPaglia). He would wish his son’s sexuality differently but is more concerned with how his son’s relationship with a male looks to Dad’s friends and neighbors.

The deeper story was the love between the men who knew no barriers.

It was nice to see Geoffrey Rush and Guy Pearce in supporting turns as a drama teacher (Rush) and as Tim’s father, Dick (Pearce). Both do well with limited roles and I adore how the film portrays Dick as a supportive father- even dancing a slow dance with his son at a wedding- free of embarrassment.

Also notable is the sweet ending where a photo of the real Tim and John is shown during a narrative from an interview with the real Tim before his death.

Holding the Man (2015) is a nice film, but does not have the power that other LGBT films in recent decades had. Brokeback Mountain (2006) immediately comes to mind as a similar film, but one that was more emotional and engaged me much more.

An honest effort, though.

Animal Kingdom-2010

Animal Kingdom-2010

Director David Michod

Starring Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton

Scott’s Review #519

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Reviewed November 15, 2016

Grade: A-

Animal Kingdom (2010) is an excellent Australian crime drama movie that is in the same vein as Goodfellas (1990), The Godfather (1972), or a myriad of other mafia/mob-type films- only Aussie style, which in itself piques interest.

The film has an indie feel, is raw and not slickly produced, and is not over-dramatized with explosions, CGI effects, and various other bells and whistles, making it character-driven.

It is simply a well-made drama about a seventeen-year-old boy named Joshua, who is taken in by his extended family of criminals.

Starting like an innocent, he slowly becomes entangled in the family’s web of corruption. This is similar to Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone from The Godfather.

Making the plot even more compelling, is the arrival of a goodhearted detective (Guy Pearce) who tries to steer Joshua on the straight and narrow.

The acting is topnotch (Jacki Weaver in particular is amazing as the diabolical leader of the family), shocking events happen out of the blue, and operatic music mixed in with dramatic events is well done.

Animal Kingdom (2010) is a diamond in the rough.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Jacki Weaver

The Babadook-2014

The Babadook-2014

Director Jennifer Kent

Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman 

Scott’s Review #247

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Reviewed June 14, 2015

Grade: B

The Babadook (2014) is an Australian (English language) psychological horror film that tells the story of a mysterious, haunted book, that torments its owner or owners.

Touted as one of the scariest films of 2014 I kindly beg to differ, though admittedly the film does contain some genuine frights and jumps.

What has happened to the horror genre where frightening films have not been made since the 1970s?

Exceptions like The Conjuring (2008) must be mentioned.

The Babadook attempts to be scary without CGI or any extravagant effects but has a classic feel.

Amelia, the mother in the story, has tragically lost her husband, Oskar, in a terrible car crash on the way to the hospital to give birth to her son Samuel. Now six years old, Samuel begins to exhibit signs of psychological problems as he becomes terrified of an imaginary monster.

After a child’s book, Mr. Babadook mysteriously appears in their home and Amelia reads it to Samuel, even stranger events occur throughout their house.

The film has remnants of The Sixth Sense (1999)- a loner, bullied kid is haunted and a disbelieving single Mom touting along as a ghost story or who is alive or dead questions are explored.

The father, Oskar, is instrumental in the storytelling. Because of this, the viewer is often confused throughout, but that is not necessarily a knock on The Babadook.

It is not exactly clear to me if Amelia is the central character or if that honor belongs to Samuel- the interesting part of the film is the relationship between mother and son.

The Babadook is a scary story. Can a book come to life and haunt? So says the film and that is worth thinking about.

In horror, there can be some ridiculous premise that is so unrealistic it cannot even be fathomed.

Where the film suffers in my view is that it is not that scary. Having something jump out at you or some other surprise is nice, but where is the terror? The exact motivations of the book also remain unclear.

I admire The Babadook for attempting to bring back old-school horror to modern audiences and telling a solid, haunting story.

However, the film did not quite measure up to the hype surrounding it.

The great film reviews are a bit much as I do not believe The Babadook (2014) is quite on the level of one of the scariest films ever made.

The Snowtown Murders-2011

The Snowtown Murders-2011

Director Justin Kurzel

Starring Lucas Pittaway, Daniel Henshall

Scott’s Review #57

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Reviewed June 23, 2014

Grade: C+

The Snowtown Murders (2011) is an Australian film, based on a true story, of a charismatic, manipulative man who influences a family of misfits into following his murderous streak.

The film is helped by a group of very talented actors (unknowns to me) who successfully relay a sense of bleakness and despair in their lives and some fine, emotional acting makes this film slightly above average.

The entire look of the movie is dreary, raw, and hopeless, from the lighting to the camera shots. The details of the film are impressive- from the confined, dismal house the family lives in, and the unhealthy meals consumed, all are filled with a sense of chaos.

The Snowtown Murders pushes the envelope with the explicitness of the murders and torture scenes, so the viewer is left feeling uncomfortable.

The downside of the movie is that it drags at times and meanders along at a plodding pace adding to the discomfort.

I’m not sure if this is intentional or not, but it harmed me.