Before The Survivors, Jane Harper had written three books: two set in drought stricken and lonely Australian wilderness, and one set in dense forestation. The drier books were intense and deep, but the forest floundered in not being able to locate a purpose for its characters or a compelling setting for them to come apart in. In The Survivors, Harper offers readers a new environment in the cold beaches of Tasmania, and she works it. That it's her third book about a pariah returning to the society that shunned them to reckon with their past is something that we'll politely gloss over at this point.
If the afterword is to be believed, the real star of The Wife and the Widow, Christian White's second novel, is White's own wife. At a time when White had an ensemble, a location, and a murder scene, it was his wife who told him who the murderer and victim should be. Quite how The Wife and the Widow would have worked without this information is mysterious. After the initial success of the continent hopping The Nowhere Child, White returns with a mystery set entirely within Australia. It hinges on a piece of narrative trickery that may not quite work, but at least it's different.
Animal Kingdom is out in Australian cinemas today.
Australia. It’s a tough country to nail down, because so many of us hate the image that we project. It’s called the “cultural cringe”. No one in Australia goes to see Australian films; if you talk about a movie and then say that it’s Australian, your audience quickly loses interest.
There is something utterly uncompelling about the promotion of our films that a lot of people don’t get through the door to find out if something is worth watching. Of course, it was not always like this. And it doesn’t always have to be like this.
Animal Kingdom is a magnetic movie. From its first trailer, featuring a home invasion set to Air Supply’s “All Out of Love”, I knew that I had to see it. A more conventional trailer only cemented that thought. The fact that it won at Sundance didn't hurt, either.
Suddenly Animal Kingdom had done what Beneath Hill 60 with its appeal to jingoism and I Love You, Too, with its appeal to the Peter Dinklage fanbase, had resolutely failed to do: it got me excited to see an Australian movie.
In an industry where apathy is the killer, where it’s easier to go to Transformers than it is to make an informed decision, where they let Robin Hood open Cannes, to set off someone’s radar means something.
Through no fault of Animal Kingdom, I had come to expect it as some sort of Holy Grail of Australian cinema. It’s pretty good, but it’s not close to sacramental.
We gots us a new Prime Minister! You can tell he’s going to be good because his face is so easily caricatured!
I was going to write about this anyway, but it also ties into a couple of other things that have gone around.
You may recall Flashbeer from last year. In it I lamented Australia’s lack of quality ads but then, in a freak accident involving dodgy Daily Show torrents, I chanced upon some American ads and saw how good we have it in Australia. For seriously, no wonder you guys don’t watch TV any more. I am familiar with the Superbowl ads (I believe that Coke ad in Shamus’ post is of that genre), but if Snickersgate is what they produce I’m no real fan of them either.
The above ad, which I believe is titled “Tall Men”, fills me with joy. Again, I don’t drink beer; my friend Pang, who was no big fan of Flashbeer, commended this ad on actually being about the product. This ad has been playing for a while, but when I have the TV on I rarely watch the ads; I was familiar with this song playing in the background. The first time that Tall Men had my attention was the second time I saw 300 (on that day I was awarded a special medallion for my services to masochism). It was the best part of that cinema session, and proved that the cinema is the only place where advertisements have me as their captive audience – except I normally talk through the ads. This ad, though, you have to watch. Tom Jones commands it.
Tom Jones could probably sing ice to eskimos, but he can’t sing Mars Attacks! to people with taste. Fortunately, beer to Australians is an easier sell than Tim Burton’s festival of horrors.
While I’m on the note of beer, and having already mentioned Flashbeer, The Chaser’s War on Everything featured an Ad Road Test of the Flashbeer campaign a couple of weeks ago. The results, for your delectation:
Back in the day, Australia had the idea of keeping the bastards honest. Maybe the Chaser folks aren’t quite at that point, but they’re certainly not averse to looking silly across Sydney. Every time I worry that Australia is losing a culture that I can identify with or respect, I look at this team of people and I see that not all hope is lost.
In summary: beer is entertaining.
I drink Pepsi or Coke, having frequently stocked my house with both … but have had such an uninterrupted run of Coke drinking that Pepsi isn’t exactly palatable at the moment. The last time I went to America, I found that Mountain Dew gave me headaches (it doesn’t have caffeine in Australia, but I don’t normally react badly to caffeine … so clearly American Mountain Dew contains poison).
The Third and Final Act of Australia Week
An excellent film presented by an excellent interviewer, and ably assisted by an excellent actor and director.
To cement the legendariness of this occasion in the eyes of the audience, one member said to Tim Robbins “I’ve been reading about you, and you seem quite liberal and committed to egalitarian causes. Why then do you always play dark bastards?”
Robbins, upon less than a moment’s reflection, responded: “The sanctimonious liberal isn’t a very interesting part.”
There you have it.
Part 2 of Australia Week!
We’re Boytown: population five/ At the end of each show, we go home to our wives
In September, I said that Boytown looked like a funny film that would be a success. In contrast to Kenny‘s $500,000 budget, Boytown boasted $5,000,000 in funding.
Kenny, having made $6,000,000 is, budgetwise, a huge success. The Australian mark of a smash (international) movie is $10,000,000. Yet, given that it is not a very likely sale to foreign markets, Boytown has to be loved all across Australia to achieve even vague success.
Boytown is not smash material. It’s funny and it’s sweet, but it hasn’t received good reviews. That can be attributed to its most sour ending that, while funny, left me feeling cheated.
Australia Week: Intermission!
A lot of the ads on Australian TV are either dubbed over American ads (which are a true pain to watch), cosmetics ads brought to you by the face of that brand (if we’re lucky, Natalie Imbruglia), or the singularly unimaginative Brand Power ads.
Very rarely do we get a true narrative ad anymore that is worthy of comment, short of that of a father telling his child that the Great Wall of China was built by “Emperor Nasi Goreng to keep the rabbits out. There were too many rabbits.”
The child then takes this information and disseminates it to his class in the form of an oral report. This is supposed to inform us of the great study aid that is broadband internets.
The most entertaining and polished ads on television are, surprisingly, for beer. The ads for Bundaberg are strangely ocker tales of a polar bear and his human mates, but they are nothing compared to the mighty power of the new Carlton Draught ad, “Flashbeer”:
I believe that beer ads are largely preaching to the converted, as beer drinkers generally know their own tastes, but this one is funny.
The strength of beer ads has been in question since last year’s “Big Ad”, which was beloved the world over, but did not really achieve its goal of “selling some bloody beer”:
Still, as a teetotaller, I enjoy these “expensive ads” because they are among the most creative on television, and the most Australian. As I approach the final sentence, I realise that I don’t really watch enough television to be able to present a full expose of the Australian commercial industry. Also, both of those ads are for Carlton Draught. Still, I’ve no doubt that the two ads I’ve presented represent the best of the best.
Part one of Australia Week!
Muriel’s Wedding is the sort of movie that I watched when I was far too young to understand it. Last time I saw it I probably appreciated it more (I remember giving a good case for it in an English class), but that probably counts for nothing because I didn’t remember it.
Muriel’s Wedding was the breakout role for Toni Collette, and it chronicles her escape from a suburban hellhole populated by shrill harpies led by Sophie Lee.
It came out at around the same time as Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and all foreigners who dared watch both of these films became convinced that Australia was obsessed with ABBA. What they may also have noticed is that while Muriel’s Wedding is promoted a comedy, and is quite funny, it’s also horribly depressing.
We can still do that with works like Kath & Kim (more funny than depressing, but still too true for comfort), but our industry has become in recent years largely bland and formulaic. Or so one would have to assume; no one actually goes to seem them. When our films of the last decade have been good, though, they’ve been excellent.
I decided that, if I was going to see something that wasn't going to be very good, I should balance it out by seeing something that would probably turn out okay. Kenny, a new Australian mockumentary by the Jacobson brothers, was just the movie to fill the gap.