In 2005, Australian author Tim Winton collected a series of 17 short stories and published them under the title 'The Turning'. The stories revolve around the character Vic Lang (Dougie Baldwin, Richard Roxburgh, Josh McConville, Casey Douglas and Dan Wyllie), with themes involving companionship, sentimentality and drug abuse. The book received multiple awards for the stories, and went on to become a part of the Western Australian English curriculum in schools. In 2013, the book was turned into a movie, nominated for numerous awards at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards.
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Life-changing moments feature in each of the nine short films in this Australian anthology, and each is told with remarkable artistry and sensitivity. While the filmmakers use different styles of filmmaking, there's a clever connection between the shorts, as themes of inner longing are made resonant by earthy honesty. So even if each brief segment film feels like just a fragment of an idea, taken together the film is remarkably moving.
It opens and closes with the animated "Ash Wednesday", using the T.S. Elliot poem to explore the idea of communal memory. From here a variety of mini-stories unfurl, often using the same character names even though the films are dramas, comedies or documentaries, and many have no dialogue at all. The lighter clips include "Reunion", in which a couple (Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh) are surprised that spending Christmas with his mum isn't as awful as expected. "Cockleshell" follows a young guy (Toby Wallace) who's obsessed with the girl (Brenna Harding) next door. And both "Big World" and "Boner McPharlin's Moll" take lively kaleidoscopic looks at how reality is often nothing like our idea of how things should be.
Other segments are dark and provocative, including "Aquifer", about a man (Callan Mulvey) who is pushed by a news headline to recall a painful childhood memory. Two young boys (Jakory and Jarli-Russell Blanco) have a creepy adventure while on a beach day out with their dad and uncles in "Sand". The most moving film is "Commission", in which a young man (Josh McConville) drives to the outback to tell his estranged dad (Hugo Weaving) that his mother is dying. The best performance comes from Rose Byrne in the eponymous "The Turning", as a trailer-trash wife and mother whose friendship with a rich woman (Miranda Otto) sparks a religious epiphany. And the most unforgettable short is "Long, Clear View", impressively directed by Mia Wasikowska, which follows a young boy (Matthew Shanley) playing with his dad's rifle.
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Strong characters and a vivid sense of life in frontier America give this film a kick of authentic energy that makes it a gripping journey. While it may be a little too serious for its own good, the movie is strikingly shot and played to bring out the gritty tenacity of people who dare to live in such a foreboding place. And a couple of shocking twists in the tale keep us on our toes.
In the Nebraska Territory in 1853, life was so difficult that three women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto and Sonja Richter) in a small community are driven mad by the isolation, desperation and harsh weather. Their husbands are too busy surviving to do anything about it, so the local pastor (John Lithgow) arranges for the strong-willed spinster farmer Mary Bee (Hilary Swank) to escort them back east to civilisation. She needs a "homesman" to help make the arduous five-week journey, so she drafts in drunken scoundrel George (Tommy Lee Jones). During their long trek across the plains, they have a series of potentially life-threatening encounters with the likes of well-armed Native Americans, an interfering opportunist (Tim Blake Nelson) and a cruelly dismissive hotel owner (James Spader).
The characters are strikingly feisty, starting with Swank's fiercely no-nonsense, self-sufficient Mary Bee, who one local observes is as good as any man around. She's also rather annoyingly holier-than-thou, which explains why she's has so much trouble finding a husband to help her. And these three women really push her to the breaking point: Gummer's Bella is consumed by grief, Otto's Theoline moans day and night, and Richter's Gro is a delusional menace. So it's a good thing that Jones provides some comic relief as the rapscallion George, a snarky realist who's the only likeable person on-screen.He also emerges along the way as the true protagonist of the tale.
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George Briggs is a claim jumper who has only ever known a dishonest life. When he finds himself in serious trouble (sat astride an impatient horse with his hands bound behind his back and a noose around his neck tied to a branch), he starts to think this could finally be the end for him. That is until he is found by a lone woman with a wagon named Mary Bee Cuddy who agrees to free him from his plight in exchange for a favour. Living alone, she is struggling to carry out an important personal mission; she wants to take three insane women from Nebraska to Iowa now that their husbands can now longer cope with them. Thus, she asks Briggs to help her on the dangerous five week journey and, despite his serious reservations, he agrees to act as her aide and protector against the brutalities they may face along the way.
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Based on a true story, this Brazilian drama has a lush authenticity as it tells a story that has strong historical relevance even as it sometimes slips into heightened melodrama. Filmmaker Bruno Barreto recreates the events with sensitivity, bringing the real people to life in complex, emotional ways. So while it's sometimes a bit tormented, it's also fascinating.
In 1951, American poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto) leaves her boyfriend (Treat Williams) in New York to travel to Rio de Janeiro to visit her old university friend Mary (Tracy Middendorf) and her new girlfriend, the noted architect Lota de Macedo Soares (Gloria Pires). They live in idyllic splendour in Lota's country estate, where the painfully shy Elizabeth is pried out of her shell by an overt display of affection from Lota. When Mary gets jealous, Lota agrees to adopt a baby, as long as she can keep Elizabeth as well. So they create a rather tense family together, which is strained badly by emotions as the years go by. But they find common ground when they get involved in the election campaign of their politician friend Carlos Lacerda (Marcello Airoldi).
This three-way relationship is clearly never going to last, but these women give it a go. Lota's complete rejection of society's rules is intriguing as it leads to some of her more iconic design work, but her Latina temperament also gets the best of her as she can't bear to let Elizabeth out of her sight. Intriguingly, the script reflects but never exaggerates repressed 1950s and 60s attitudes, layering in all kinds of dark meaning between every line of dialogue. Which makes every scene feel rather gloomy.
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