Film Review: William Kelly’s War

This review was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 11th November 2014.

William Kelly’s War is a new independent Australian feature film that has been released to coincide with Remembrance Day. With a gradual rollout starting in regional cinemas (and sure to include Orange at some point), the film follows the trials and tribulations of the Kelly Family through the eyes of Billy (Josh Davis).

Brothers Billy and Jack Kelly (Matthew John Davis), along with cousin Paddy (Lachlan Hulme) volunteer to join the Diggers fighting in Europe. As the Great War ravages across the continent, their shooting and survival skills learnt from cattle farming and living off the land earn them reputations (and medals) as war heroes. Forever changed by their experiences, both physically and psychologically, the brothers return home to discover their family and farm is under threat from bushrangers.

If that sounds like two stories in one, then you are correct. I found the Great War storyline compelling and satisfying enough to be a film on its own, with the cattle rustling plot feeling tacked on and a little too Boys’ Own adventures for my liking. The other consequence of such an expansive story is an array of underwritten characters, especially the titular hero, whose headspace we never really get a glimpse into, short of a few nightmarish flashbacks.

A great example of the superficiality of the script is the stoic matriarch of the family, Marjorie Kelly (Helen Davis) who has little to say but then somehow manages to give two dramatic speeches out of thin air. It felt like rendering Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men an extra until the final “You can’t handle the truth” speech.

Director Geoff Davis certainly makes the limited budget go a long way. Filmed in regional Victoria, the majority of the production appears to be set on location. The recreation of the outback town of Proserpine is appropriately rustic, and I truly feel for the farmer who volunteered to have his fields dug up to recreate trench warfare. Despite a few scenes where World War One appears to have been fought by a handful of soldiers only, I found the war sequences to be disorientating and claustrophobic.

Less successful was the clunky voice over narration and the overused location and date subtitles which appeared with every new scene. One or the other (or perhaps neither) would have worked for me.

The depiction of gun violence is particularly graphic, even if the majority of it consists of CGI blood splatter, both on the battlefront and in the outback. There is also some gruesome hand to hand fighting. Although pitched at an older demographic, I’m not entirely sure I would be comfortable taking my grandparents to this flick.

Provided you can handle a couple of heavy handed metaphors (men grinding mince in the middle of the field hospital), and a few period continuity issues (cattle with red plastic ear tags and bushrangers wearing oilskin coats with modern press studs), William Kelly’s War is an admirable effort that deserves some attention.

Published in: on November 20, 2014 at 17:08  Leave a Comment  
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Film Review: My Old Lady

This review was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 19th November 2014.

In this gentle comedy, Kevin Kline plays Mathias Gold, a broke divorcee who returns to Paris in order to claim the property bestowed to him in his late father’s will. To his horror he discovers that the elderly resident of the apartment, Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith), is protected by an obscure French law which allows her the right to live there until she dies. Mathias’ attempts to find a way to sell the apartment to settle debts puts him at odds with the old woman’s daughter, Chloe, played by Kristin Scott Thomas.

Directed by first time feature helmer Israel Horowitz, based on his own play, My Old Lady benefits from the chemistry between the three leads. Smith perfectly inhabits her forgetful (or manipulative) old duck who takes her evening meal at exactly the same time, and exchanges english classes for domestic services, including doctor’s appointments. Kline is also a welcome presence on the big screen, after what seems like several years away from leading roles in mainstream films.

Although unsurprisingly somewhat stagey, Horowitz enhances the film with some wonderful Paris locations.

Romantics will find My Old Lady a charming experience. For everyone else, it may not make you laugh out loud, but you’ll definitely leave the cinemas with a smile on your face, and some useful knowledge about French real estate.

Published in: on November 20, 2014 at 17:03  Leave a Comment  
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TV Review: Under the Dome

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 2nd July 2013.

The latest adaption of a Stephen King novel arrived on our TV screens last week. Premiering on Channel 10 just hours after its US broadcast, Under the Dome was watched by 1.7 million Aussie pairs of eyeballs. That’s a pretty good rating for a network that has been consistently failing in the rating of late. Reef Doctors anyone? I didn’t think so.

The premise is ripped straight out of The Simpsons Movie. A small town in the USA is encased in a mysterious dome. Even said dome’s crash landing was reminiscent to the completion of new buildings in The Simpsons Tapped Out game. I half expected Homer’s voice to exclaim “Kaboom”. Unfortunately, there are no further references to The Simpsons in this review. Doh!

The debut of the titular transparent structure hopefully set the tone for the rest of this 13 part mini-series. Landing on a farm, the dome wall managed to turn an unlucky cow into one of those Gunther von Hagens anatomy art installations. Wait, there’s one more Simpsons reference. Don’t have half a cow, man!

With two occasions of severed arms, told from the two available perspectives, Under the Dome introduced itself as an episodic thriller with lashings of gore. Finally, there’s something to watch each week alongside Hannibal and MasterChef.

Over the course of sixty minutes, we were introduced to the central characters and the subplots were laid which will hopefully entice viewers to stay for the entire season. The show opened with Dale “Barbie” Barbara (Mike Vogel), a war vet with a stupid name and mysterious motives for being in Chester’s Mill, burying a body, which we later discover was the husband of investigative reporter Julia Shumway (Rachelle LeFevre). Of course, by the end of the episode, Julia has unknowingly befriended Barbie. Why does every two bit American town have an investigative reporter? Wouldn’t the majority of stories in the local newspaper concern corn prices and weather forecasts?  And what’s with the ridiculous surname? The last TV character to have that surname was ALF.

Then there’s shady used car salesman and local politician “Big Jim” Rennie (Dean Norris) and Sheriff “Duke” Perkins (Jeff Fahey AKA The Lawnmower Man), both of whom seem to have known that the dome was coming because they were stockpiling propane gas. Maybe they were just preparing for a big town BBQ? After all, there is that half cow for disposal now. And do we really need to stoop to such silly stereotypes as car salesmen in local government?

For the younger demographic we have Joe and Angie McAlister (Colin Ford and Britt Robertson), teen siblings whose parents are locked out of the dome leaving them home alone. Let’s hope that the Wet Bandits are not around. The episode started with Angie in bed with local psycho Junior Rennie (Alexander Koch), son of “Big Jim”, and ended with her handcuffed in the basement. Breaking up is hard to do.

Overall, Under the Dome is shaping up to be an interesting watch but I’m going to give it one or two more episodes before committing. It won’t take much for the show to degenerate into a soap opera set inside a bubble. The producers need to tempt us back week with just a little more information about the dome.

Is it of human or alien origin? How is it powered? Where did it come from? Can you dig under it? Will it snow when you shake it?

Let’s hope the audiences stick around to keep Under the Dome running long enough for some satisfying answers.

Published in: on July 2, 2013 at 17:20  Leave a Comment  
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New Aussie Drama: Cops LAC SUX

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 9th September 2010.

In the same week that it was announced that perennial Australian soap, Neighbours, will be shafted across to new digital station, Eleven, next year, a plethora of new home grown drama has premiered on the idiot box. Cops L.A.C. (Local Area Command) is the latest in a long line of local police dramas, the first of which was Homicide which premiered in 1964, almost ten years after the introduction of television in Australia.

A starring vehicle for Kate Ritchie, most recently coming off a stint in radio with Merrick and Rosso, and prior to that, a short run on soapie Home and Away, the new series debuted last week to over 1 million viewers. Supported by the who’s who of Aussie acting veterans, such as Gary Sweet, Roy Billing and Denise Roberts, and a few new faces, Kate is miscast as Detective Senior Constable Samantha Cooper. Sorry Kate, I just can’t buy you as a hard-nosed cop. You’re just too nice, or wooden, or both. If she approached me with a gun and handcuffs, I think I’d give her a hug rather than running away.

The rest of the cast get an assortment of stereotypes to play. Gary Sweet plays the abrasive and cocky superintendent with a heart of gold. Denise Roberts portrays the hard working, no-nonsense inspector. A female head of detectives no less. Roy Billing gets the veteran old school cop, just three months from retirement. I bet his character dies sacrificing himself heroically just minutes before the end of his last shift. All we need is Colonel Mustard in the library with the candle stick and we’ll have the full set of standard police show characters.

The premiere episode centred on the first day on the job for rookie cops Priscilla and Daniel, whilst team Milko investigates a car accident that may be (yawn) a murder! Within minutes of starting in the morning, Daniel gets a milkshake thrown over him and at the end of the episode, which takes place that evening, he is still wearing his soiled uniform. I know the L.A.C. is under-funded but surely they have spare uniforms? 

The killer ends up being the first and least likely suspect, who in TV storytelling terms is actually the most likely suspect. Oh, and smug Detective Llewellyn, played by Martin Dingle Wall, hangs rookie Priscilla’s cap from the roof to teach her a lesson for forgetting it. What tension and drama! If I want to watch a show called Cops, it better be the one with the reggae theme tune and foul mouthed Americans getting arrested with blurry faces.

My verdict: Cops S.U.X.

Spirited debuted two weeks ago on pay TV station “W”. An eight part dramedy from the producers of Love My Way, Spirited stars Claudia Karvan as Suzy Darling, a dentist who leaves her arrogant husband (Rodger Corser from Channel Ten cop drama Rush) to move into a city apartment with her kids. In the apartment she encounters Henry Mallet (Matt King) who may just be the ghost of a pommy rock star. Only appearing to her, Henry and Suzy develop a friendship that might just lead to romance, but can love develop between our world and the spirit realm? Thousand of Michael Jackson fans say yes.

With a set of appealing lead actors, Spirited has a light feel to it that is a refreshing change from the standard teen soap or overacted police drama. Eight episodes is probably enough to sustain viewer interest with its high concept storyline which could go stale over more episodes. It may be a little too reminiscent of The Ghost and Mrs Muir but Spirited is worth a look.

My verdict: Spirited is ghostly good fun.

Offspring also premiered in Channel Ten last month. I’m yet to watch an episode but it looks like a quirky comedy drama about relationships and family. Hmm, that sounds original. Packed to the Rafters in Melbourne, anyone?