Animal Kingdom (2010) dir. David Michôd
Wake in Fright (aka Outback) (1971) dir. Ted Kotcheff
Proof (1991) dir. Jocelyn Moorhead
Mary and Max (2009) dir. Adam Elliot
Metal Skin (1994) dir. Geoffrey Wright
Dead-End Drive In (1986) dir. Brian Trenchard-Smith
I wonder if the Australian film community is beginning to assert itself as one with a new perspective on crime dramas. Two of the best crime films I’ve seen in the last year were both Australian productions. While The Square felt like a perfect down under companion to the Coens’ modern noirs, Animal Kingdom was a beautifully tense slow burner about a crime family coming apart. I knew that I was going to love Animal Kingdom in the first five minutes and I wasn’t wrong about that. By the time the title card came up I was hooked. The opening scene sets the perfect tone for how the whole thing is going to play out and the sad inevitability of tragedy washes over every frame. Perfectly acted, shot, scored–it’s a fantastic dark crime drama that beats anything that’s come out of a Hollywood studio lately.
I caught Wake in Fright at a special retrospective screening during the 2010 Actionfest and it was in many ways a spiritual predecessor to the work that John Hillcoat is doing now. It wallows in the dirt and muck and blood and lawlessness that made The Proposition so striking. In fact it was too much for my wife to stomach and she (as I imagine many movie goers during the film’s original theatrical run,) had to walk out during the kangaroo hunting scene where the marsupial carnage was very disturbing and very real. Watching Wake in Fright felt masochistic but the film’s brutally honest depiction of life in the outback was worth the squirm.
If it sounds like Australian films are all grime and crime then titles like Proof and Mary and Max are worth a look for a little change of pace. In Proof, a young Hugo Weaving plays a blind man who doesn’t trust anyone, least of all the housekeeper who desperately wants to get him in bed. When he meets a very young Russell Crowe, he finds an outsider who might earn his trust, but it’s a delicate relationship. Weaving’s character takes photographs of everything and then asks Crowe’s character to describe them, but when a lie invades their relationship, the drama is on. This was a great gimmicky set up for a movie about trust and human failings and it ended perfectly.
Mary and Max enjoyed a brief theatrical run here and it’s the kind of film I wish that I had seen with an audience. Adult animation is rare these days, but Mary and Max is a great example of a film dealing with adult themes that just happens to be animated. It’s a delightful if melancholy tale of unlikely pen pals who find friendship over the years and across the ocean and it’s one of the best character pieces I’ve seen recently–even if all of the characters are made of clay. Mary, the picked-on kid living in the very brown world of Australia somehow connects with Max, the anxious, middle-aged New Yorker who lives in the gray city. This would make a great double feature with the similarly adult (and Australian) $9.99, though I liked Mary and Max quite a bit more.
Aussies love their car movies, right? What with the Mad Max films, Stuntrock, Road Rules and a bunch of others I’ve never heard of, it seems that Australia has provided a disproportionate number of films where cars are the stars. In Metal Skin, an awkward gear-head and his buddy both chase after the town witch. She is predictably unstable which leads to some creepy sex and some fantastic stunt driving that includes a car chase climax where a souped up Charger and some NASCAR ride beat each other to scrap. Dead-End Drive In starts with some car mayhem then gets weird as the hero finds himself stuck in some kind of drive in turned government internment camp. The film hints at some sociological depth but never tackles it, instead turning to closed-quarter car chases and a fantastic fence-jumping escape that beats anything from The Dukes of Hazard or Knight Rider. Neither of these is a classic but both were worth a look and added some to the Australian car mythology.
This week I barely scratched the surface. There’s a good Ozploitation section at Videodrome that I need to make my way through and I’m still missing some classics like Walkabout and even The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. That’s why there’s next week.